With the release of Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn (check out our official review) on PS4, the game has further solidified its position as an MMO with real staying power, perhaps unlike any other title seen in this space since World of Warcraft in its heydey.
It's all the more remarkable when you consider that the original Final Fantasy 14 was dead on arrival upon release in 2010. Square Enix sure did take its bruises, but it emerged from that debacle with some important lessons that it was able to apply to A Realm Reborn.
2014 is a big year for MMOs, perhaps unlike any other seen in the industry's history. Multiple AAA titles are on their way or are already out, and everyone's looking to make a great first impression. Titles like The Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar, EverQuest Next, and WoW's Warlords of Draenor are hoping to replicate the success of the reborn Final Fantasy 14.
To that end, we're taking a look at some of the key lessons that have made Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn a success to see if there's anything that some of these other hot MMOs could use to up their own game.
Level Sync (World of Warcraft)
Make no mistake, WoW is still the king of the MMO. Subscription numbers may be down compared to its glory days, but its still far and away the most successful subscription based game.
One of WoW's biggest problems as the game has grown older is the level gap that is created between players who quit the game and players who continue on. It's one of the reasons Blizzard now lets players buy their way to level 90. Players can now instantly jump to max level to be with their friends instead of being stranded in a low level zone leveling by themselves.
One way that Final Fantasy 14 has solved this problem is through its well-made level sync system. If an adventurer stumbles upon a FATE that is out of their level range, they can choose to sync their level to the area around them in order to play along with their lower leveled friends.
It was rumored late last year that Blizzard was working on such a system for World of Warcraft. This system might have allowed players to run through old end game content while synced to the correct level of that content. Players run through old raids in WoW all the time, but it would be a welcome addition to be able to run through old instances at the correct level to help out a friend, and maybe pick up some max level rewards for doing so.
With the free level 90 boosts now available, who knows if this plan will ever come to fruition. But a level sync feature similar to Final Fantasy 14's would go a long way to tapping into many retired players nostalgia and might even help stem those dipping subscription numbers.
Focus on Functionality, Not Polish (WildStar)
WildStar releases June 4. From everything we've seen, it appears that Carbine Studios know what they're doing. Their game is filled with hilarious jokes and some of the best overall polish I've ever seen in an online title. But if they should need a quick case study in how to successfully launch a game, all they need to do is look at the two different launches of Final Fantasy 14.
In 2010, Final Fantasy 14 launched with amazing graphics and not a lot else going for itself. Players immediately took to the forums to complain about bugs and broken quests. Their cries mostly fell on deaf ears.
Square Enix was so enamored with showing off the HD graphics that they forgot to worry about other gameplay essentials, like frame rate and combat. The lack of any meaningful response to all of the problems in the first couple of weeks after launch only worsened the problem.
But in 2013, they flipped the script. They cut down on all the bells and whistles in exchange for a game engine that actually worked. They have responded in a much quicker fashion to player complaints. Essentially, they've done everything right the second time around by making sure the game is fun and functional, and not just a visual masterpiece.
Again, WildStar seems, for right now at least, to have one of the best development teams in gaming going into its launch. But we all know that things don't go as planned during MMO launches. If problems arise in early June, WildStar would benefit from taking a look at Square Enix's playbook from A Realm Reborn. Stay in contact with the player base, let them know you care. If all of those combat telegraphs start causing problems with server load once millions of people are playing at once, dial back on the razzle dazzle in order to keep the game playable. I'm speaking in hypotheticals, of course. If Carbine is lucky, nothing that bad will happen. But if something does, they should remember that all the polish and funny jokes in the world will not fix a broken game.
So Many Classes, So Little Time (EverQuest Next)
Not that much information has been released about EverQuest Next's class system as of yet, but we do know that like Final Fantasy 14, there will be plenty of options, with more than 40 different classes.
We also know that EverQuest Next players will be able to switch classes on the fly much like they do in Final Fantasy 14 by simply switching out their weapons.
This means, like Final Fantasy 14, we're all going to be doing a lot of leveling, although I should note that EQN does not have a traditional leveling system. Regardless, Final Fantasy 14 has helped break up the monotony by providing various different ways to progress with your class. The game provides large bonuses for completing the occasional low level dungeon. Those tired of dungeon running can go grind FATEs instead. There are also special daily quests called leves that are designed specifically to help you level faster. I'm sure Sony has there own ideas, but I think keeping the leveling options diverse will be key to keep players from getting bored with the game.
The game also gives a bonus to players when they are just starting out with a new class, proportional to whatever your highest level class is. Some kind of similar system that would allow players to get up and running with EverQuest Next's large list of classes in quick fashion based on how much they've progressed with their main class would be very welcome.
The Elder Scrolls Online has released to mixed reviews so far, although developer ZeniMax Studios appears to be serious about staying with the game for the long haul. One of the game's biggest problems so far has been players complaining that it's basically an online Skyrim at times, that is to say, a single player game. Sure, there are large PvP battles to join, but when out adventuring on their own, some players are saying they're having a quite lonely PvE experience.
One of the problems is that while ESO does have its version of a dungeon finder, I've encountered a lot of players who don't seem to know it exists. Another problem is the game's heavy phasing. You could be running right next to another player, but if that player is on another part of the quest line, you may not even see them.
Final Fantasy 14 makes its groups play a large part of the main storyline. Characters are introduced to the group finder in short order. We've already mentioned how the game's level sync encourages gamers to help each other out when running out in the open field near a FATE.
Final Fantasy 14 is based on a series that is traditionally a single player game, but it truly feels like an MMO. ESO at times can feel like a single player Skyrim game that requires an Internet connection.
ESO recently revealed information on its first major raid, and we suspect that as more elements like this come to fruition, players will become better organized and start grouping more often. But until then, ZeniMax would be doing itself a favor if it could figure out a way to ramp up the multiplayer in its MMO.
End Game Content (Everyone)
One of the reasons that many gamers have stuck with Final Fantasy 14 since last August is that Square Enix has done a great job of patching additional meaningful content into the game that players actually care about.
We've gotten new dungeons, new raids, player housing, and, most recently, even PvP. What's also notable is that you can tell that Square Enix is listening to the player base and giving them what they say they want.
Too many other MMOs have died out over the years because the developers spent so much time on the leveling zones that they didn't have a road map ready when the majority of the player base hit the end game.
Of the games we've mentioned here, WildStar's dev team has been the most vocal at saying that they will be ready when players hit the level cap. We just mentioned that ESO released a preview for its first big patch. Blizzard has gotten better at releasing more frequent updates for World of Warcraft, but here we are, seven months removed from the release of Siege of Orgrimmar and the beta for Warlords of Draenor hasn't started yet.
If 2014's other hot MMO titles want to stay hot into 2015 and beyond, they'll need a dedicated plan to keep players logged in and in some cases, subscribed, long after the thrill of hitting the level cap has subsided.