I’m cheating slightly this year, as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn originally launched on PC and PS3 last year. However, as Square Enix’s latest MMORPG also released on PS4 in April 2014, I don’t think I’m bending the rules too much by naming it as my game of the year.
Much like Matt’s choice, A Realm Reborn isn’t an obvious candidate for me; if you told me at the start of 2014 that my favourite game of the year would be a subscription-based MMO, I absolutely wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, not only is FFXIV the first game I’ve ever paid a subscription fee to play, but it’s also the first MMO I’ve ever put any serious time into.
It all started with the beta, which launched shortly before the game’s release on PS4. After waiting an inexorable amount of time for it to download, I eagerly jumped into the game, even though I didn’t really know what to expect. What I found was a massive, beautifully designed world, full to bursting with people to talk to and things to see and do. I’m truly grateful that Square Enix chose to run an open beta on PS4, as without it I almost certainly wouldn’t be writing this article.
I only played the beta for a couple of hours or so, but it was still enough to dramatically increase the chances of me purchasing the full game. As it happens, I didn’t buy it immediately after launch, but finally did so about a month later, after I’d had the chance to peruse some reviews, and heard our own Mitch’s positive reaction to the game. I couldn’t resist getting the Collector’s Edition, which came with a mini soundtrack, art book, several in-game items, and more.
One of the reasons why I usually don’t get on with MMOs is because I’d much rather play on my own than rely on other players, so I was pleased to find that ARR is actually pretty friendly to solo players. True, certain quests require a party, and the end-game content is definitely targeted towards groups (not that I’ll be in that position for quite a while!), but there’s still a huge amount to do on your own.
Another aspect of FFXIV that I really appreciate is the pacing at which gameplay features are introduced. Having everything unlocked from the start would be ridiculously overwhelming, even for MMO veterans, so elements are instead naturally drip-fed as you explore the world of Eorzea. There’s so much to the game that I’m still unlocking major features dozens of hours in.
Although I played ARR a lot during the included 30-day trial, I decided not to take out a subscription straight away, as there were far too many other titles I was playing at the time, so I simply couldn’t justify it. However, a few months later I finally took the plunge, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s by far my most played game on PS4, and is easily among the best titles on the console.
With the first full expansion (entitled Heavensward) launching in the spring, I can see myself playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn for a very long time to come. Despite it being my most played game of the year, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer, so I’m hugely looking forward to discovering more of its secrets in 2015 and beyond!