A Realm Revisited
Final Fantasy XIV is one of my big surprises for 2013. It was pretty well documented that the first incarnation of the MMO was not just unbalanced, but downright broken in many respects. Rather than abandon the project, Square-Enix took it back to the drawing board, and they didn’t just save it, they made it a surprisingly playable MMO experience that somehow worked on a console. Now, a few months after release, the PS4 version is finally available, and once again, to my surprise, it’s better than ever.
Shinier Than Ever
Let’s talk about main event here, the shiny PS4 bells and whistles. The single biggest thing to note about the PS4 version of FFXIV is that it outperforms the PS3 version by a significant margin in every conceivable way. I said in my PS3 review that I was amazed this game ran on the PS3 at all, but on the PS4, it’s found its true console home. Where the PS3 sported muddy, blurry textures, the PS4 version is sharp and crisp. Where the PS3 version frequently stuttered into a slideshow during hectic fights, or crowded areas, the PS4 manages to operate at 30 frames per second even under heavy loads and has an unlocked frame-rate that approaches 60 in less crowded areas, such as player housing and inns. Perhaps most important of all, the PS3 version simply could NOT handle highly populated areas (such as city hubs and big Boss Events), and had to simply stop rendering all the players on screen simply to keep from keeling over and dying. The PS4 version renders all players—and even their insane special attack effects—without ever needing to compromise on presentation. This is like the PC version running on high performance settings at the very least, and it finally gives FFXIV the room it needed to breathe and show off what it could really do. Simply put, there is no better looking MMO currently available on consoles; this is as good as it gets at the time of this writing. Unfortunately, there are no improvements to the audio, which is identical to the PS3 version, but since that audio experience was already working just fine; there was no need to revisit this area of the game.
Additions Up The Wazoo
It should be noted that one of the most pleasant surprises are the PS4 specific additions. Because of the lack of a mouse, PS3 players occasionally struggled with the interface for the game. This has been soundly remedied on the PS4 with both the use of the touch pad (a quick touch instantly makes a mouse pointer appear to navigate anywhere on screen) and, more importantly, the integration of mouse/keyboard functionality. Yes, that’s right, for people who prefer a traditional MMO set-up of mouse with hot keys on a keyboard, the PC control functionality has been transplanted wholesale to the PS4 version. Other frills like the screen shot/video capture/streaming features are all there, and party chat for the PS4 makes voice communication between players a snap without the need to drag out a laptop to take advantage of TeamSpeak and other online communication services. There’s also remote play to the Vita, and as expected, it’s perfectly serviceable. It’s not recommended that any complex raids or dungeons are tackled while using the feature, but running simple single player quests or crafting are safe enough. All of these PS4-specific additions improve a game that was already surprisingly playable on a console and make it an even friendlier, easier experience.
And of course, there’s the tons of new content. Player and guild housing now exists in the game, although it’s expensive. New side-quests and main story quests have been added, giving all the level 50 endgame players a bit more to do other than just striving for their ultimate weapon. Player versus Player combat has also been added to the mix with a special arena for players to duke it out, and big, complicated endgame dungeons have been added that require up to 24 people to work together to survive. Crafters have gotten new things to make, and there’s now even the ability to “glamour” your gear so that those valuable stats for an end level helmet can now be transferred to a favourite hat. This nicely avoids the monotony of seeing all the high-level players look the same because they’re all wearing and using the same gear. Now a female black mage can run around in a bikini if she wants to, and some have chosen to do exactly that. If there’s real weakness to this game, it’s that some of the tutorials—in particular actual communication with other players—are still a little underdeveloped. It’s a shame that such fundamental pieces of information are difficult to learn, but on the other hand, a little internet research or asking questions of fellow players can remedy this problem, though that’s hardly the ideal solution.
At the end of it all, Final Fantasy XIV on the PS4 is an easy game to recommend. Some will pass on it on principle simply because of the monthly subscription. But for FF fans feeling burned on FFXIII, or simply curious players that want to know what makes MMOs so special, FFXIV is the best traditional MMO available on a console today. Yes, PS4 players have the choice of DC Universe Online and in the future EverQuest and even The Elder Scrolls are coming, but it’s hard to imagine that any of those games could be so comprehensively console friendly—and content rich—as FFXIV is for the PS4 player right now. If you’re looking to jump into an MMO on the PS4, this is easily the one to start with.