It’s a strange time to be a games critic right now. We’re very much still straddling the fence between last-gen and new-gen; so much so that the term “current-gen” feels like a misnomer. Because of this odd see-saw between the past and the future, we’re very often called upon to critique a big release several times, once for 360 or PS3, then for Xbox One or PS4, then perhaps for PC, Vita or 3DS.
Sometimes, there’s no point even bothering. The recent PC release of Dark Souls II, for example, offers the exact same game as we played on consoles, but with slightly improved visuals. In the case of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, however, there’s already a version with shinier graphics and less bugs on the PC, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that the PS4 port is a pointless cash-in, but you’d be wrong in doing so.
In actual fact, the PS4 version we played is arguably the definitive iteration. Aside visual changes, most additions are subtle, such as allowing you to use the DualShock 4’s central touchpad like a mouse to better navigate the viper’s nest of menus. The option to resize and customise every box on the HUD is also a wonderful addition, especially as the screen can easily become cluttered.
Other changes come courtesy of the PS4’s tech rather than anything freshly developed. The sharing option is always welcome, as is remote play. The latter is handled very well here, as playing on the Vita even offers a tweaked HUD to maximise the smaller screen-space and utilise the Vita’s touchscreen functionality. The menu system is easier to navigate, having been slightly modified and streamlined – but once you get the hang of using the touchpad to select the different HUD elements, it becomes a pretty intuitive system. FFXIV also handles hotkeys incredibly well, allowing you to assign a total of 32 actions to the pad per job.
Questing in Eorzea is almost precisely the same affair as previous versions, and if repeated fetch & carry objectives or kill requests sound like a turn off then don’t bother turning it on. A great deal of the early game can be played solo, and unless you’re running instances as a pastime you’ll rarely need to buddy up – although it’s always fun to do so. The job system is deep and well structured, allowing you to switch class and profession at the press of a button (well, two or three buttons and a menu), and if you take the time to level your various jobs you can become very self-sufficient, fishing and cooking, mining and crafting, gathering animal skin and leather-working. It’s a solid system and offers a good deal of side content if the quest grind ever gets too much.
There’s always been a slight disconnect between gamers and the world of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, not helped by the fact that it tries to make you feel centre of attention rather than as a smaller cog in a grander machine. It’s harder to swallow such role-playing tripe when there are a few thousand other people running around, past and through you while on the same world-saving quest. Games like World of Warcraft give you a reason for thousands of adventurers walking the same paths, but in A Realm Reborn it feels somehow unnatural.
With little changed elsewhere, the biggest improvement is seen in the visuals. Character models are better defined and more detailed, the environments are busier, lit beautifully in places and much more textured and tactile. Also, the frame-rate is much improved, and action and animations are a lot more fluid. As a result the game feels slightly more playable, and faster loading times, greatly reduced slowdown, and no discernible texture pop-in make the whole experience seem that much smoother and more enjoyable.
VERDICT: Square Enix’s Final Fantasy-themed MMO doesn’t get everything right, even on PS4, but the things it does well outweigh those it doesn’t, and the end result is a fun and engaging open world RPG with some great multiplayer options that don’t really come into their own until end-game. For most of the pre-level 50 stuff, it doesn’t feel like an MMO in the truest sense, but A Realm Reborn is a compelling adventure in a beautiful, well-realised world; one that looks and works even better on PS4. It’s not a revelation over the PC version, but it does improve on the PS3 edition – and the option to port your characters means that, if you’re a console gamer with the means, playing on next-gen is well worth it.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.