Welcome! This column is part of a regular series where we share what Tom’s Guide staff members are playing and enjoying right now, with the aim of helping you find great games you may have missed. Be sure to check out our recent entry, where we talk about Demon’s Souls.
Final Fantasy XIV is quite an entertaining meme. You’ve probably heard of it before: the critically acclaimed massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Final Fantasy XIV, with its extended free trial and Heavensward expansion, and no restrictions on playtime. But like most memes, the FFXIV copypasta went viral for a reason. And that reason is that FFXIV is very, very good.
Tom’s Guide has previously provided information on how to play the Final Fantasy XIV free trial, but we’ve never explained exactly why this expansive game is worth your time. (It goes without saying that it’s worth it, since you don’t have to pay anything for the first dozen hours.) stay like this for a while.
A kingdom is reborn
First, a little background on the game: Final Fantasy XIV is a Japanese MMORPG that takes place in the fantastic world of Eorzea. You create an adventurer and participate in a large series of story arcs, both by yourself and with other players. There’s real-time combat, quests, crafting, and all the other genre trappings you’d expect. As you advance from level 1 to level 60 (and beyond, if you pay), you’ll learn new skills, hone your playstyle, complete cooperative dungeons, and meet a group of affable non-player characters (NPCs) to help you on your journey. It’s a bit more story-driven than most MMOs, but if you’ve ever played World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, you should find yourself right at home.
FFXIV has become one of the most popular and beloved MMOs out there. But what’s interesting about the game is that it seemed destined for an ignominious end as soon as it launched. When FFXIV debuted in 2010, critics and fans alike excoriated the game, railing at its frustrating interface, shallow gameplay, and buggy design. Nothing less than a top-to-bottom overhaul could save the game – and that’s exactly what Square Enix did. The company revamped FFXIV and re-released it as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This time around, players loved the experience and stuck with it for four expansions, and counting.
I started playing Final Fantasy XIV when the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. With actual gatherings reduced, I wanted a way to hang out with my friends and colleagues. Some of them recommended that we give FFXIV a try, as the cost of entry was zero, and most of us had at least a passing familiarity with the Final Fantasy series. I expected to log in for an hour each night and use the game as, essentially, a virtual chat room. But between the engrossing story and the nuanced gameplay, I found myself staying for hours each night, continuing to hone my skills and gear. Before I knew it, I had finished the main story of A Realm Reborn.
Although I’ve had my fill of FFXIV so far, I haven’t fully retired. I continued to play the game, using it for an hour or two at a time to test out various mice, keyboards, headsets, and other gaming peripherals. But it wasn’t until recently that I started playing seriously again. – and I found myself faced with a difficult decision.
time and money
There’s an old saying in the tech world that “if a product is free, then you are the product”. I knew all along that Square Enix didn’t offer the generous trial of FFXIV due to the goodness of its digital heart. The company expected me to be addicted to the game and willing to pay to see the rest of the story. This bet may be about to pay off.
The reason I picked up FFXIV is because I found myself unable to complete the surprisingly complex questline between A Realm Reborn in the first major expansion, Heavensward. After researching the game’s peak difficulty online, I discovered that my gear wasn’t powerful enough and I had to run dungeons and earn late-game currency to compensate. Running dungeons knocked the rust off my skills and got me the gear I needed. But it also pushed me extremely close to the maximum level of the free trial.
Once I hit the max level, I’ll have to decide whether to buy the game ($60) and a monthly subscription ($13 per month), or just switch to another title. In terms of raw playtime, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth (so to speak) from FFXIV. But now that I’ve taken the time to build my character, I feel invested again, both in the gameplay experience and in the high fantasy story.
However, there’s also the main reason I love spending time in FFXIV: the community. I’ve played quite a few MMOs in my time, and I’ve never found a group of gamers as friendly, easy-going, or good-natured as the FFXIV crowd.
FFXIV requires you to run dungeons with other players in order to complete the main story. But unlike World of Warcraft, these players don’t demand perfection. In a dungeon run, the whole party was wiped out because our healer lost connection.
“It happens,” said our tank, lying lifeless on the dungeon floor.
I lost against my share of bosses. Responses range from community laughter, to advice for the next race, to proclamations of how things could have been even worse. The harshest response I received was mild annoyance. Eorzea is simply a much colder place than Azeroth, or any other MMO realm I’ve ever visited.
It’s not just my opinion either. FFXIV’s latest expansion, Endwalker, was so successful that Square Enix had to halt all new sales of the game for a while. The servers just couldn’t handle the number of people who wanted to play. This is a very good problem to have.
In the end, I can pay for the FFXIV subscription, and I can’t. But if nothing else, I learned that the meme has a point. It’s really not a bad idea to try the free trial.