Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came out almost exactly 7 years ago, revitalizing the original game, which was an abject failure (GamesRadar has an excellent piece about this) at the time. A Realm Reborn was a resounding success, leading to a game that is constantly neck and neck with World of Warcraft to claim the title of the biggest MMO around.
However, while A Realm Reborn truly did revitalize the game, it's ironically a gigantic hurdle for new players to jump as it exists right now. However with patch 5.3 "Reflections in Crystal", the game is about to become more beginner-friendly than ever before, knocking out a good portion of some of the most tedious required content in the game.
But that's not all, along with easing new players into the much better expansions, 5.3 is bringing some quality of life improvements and content within a free patch that rivals the size of some full expansions.
All of this comes at a time where I have both made it past the sections of the game that are getting trimmed down in this patch and haven't quite caught up enough to engage in the new story and raid content being presented in the patch. But, it's also the first time I've really had a chance to be excited for a Final Fantasy XIV content patch, and it's a weird feeling coming from World of Warcraft after so many years.
Looking back at a Cataclysm
I started playing World of Warcraft right before patch 3.3 – or, basically, three patches into the beloved Wrath of the Lich King. I did manage to hit level 80 and even clear ICC on Heroic (10-man, but still), as a newbie before the end of the expansion, which meant that by the time Cataclysm was on the horizon, I was ready to take on a new expansion as a dedicated player.
Looking back on the launch of Cataclysm, it's easy to just kind of assume that the 4.0 content at endgame was kind of bare because of how Blizzard focused a lot of development on revamping the "old world" content – as it had remained untouched since World of Warcraft initially launched in 2004.
This was basically in response to essentially the same problem that FF14's 5.3 patch is aiming to fix; make it easier for new players to get into the game. There were a lot of folks a few months after Cataclysm launched that were complaining about the lack of endgame content (surprise), with some people wondering why the update to old-world content wasn't a content patch later, rather than being such a huge portion of the content that went live with the expansion.
At the end of the day, this is kind of a pointless "what if" scenario, but what's particularly interesting right now is that this is almost exactly what this Final Fantasy XIV patch is doing – even if the scope of the content is so much lighter.
What's the big deal anyway?
One of the biggest barriers to entry for Final Fantasy XIV as it exists in 2020 is the vast amount of story quests that you're required to complete to unlock pretty much everything in the game.
Not only are a lot of these quests a bit "MMO by the numbers" in that you're simply walking from point A to point B either delivering an item or killing like two mobs before another 5 minute cutscene – but there's a huge brick wall of content after the first credits roll.
You see, story is incredibly important in Final Fantasy XIV. New patches, much like the one hitting the game today, add new main story quests to the game every few months, and you're basically required to do these to gain access to a lot of the content.
What this means for older expansions, and particularly for A Realm Reborn, is that after the initial content is completed, there are a lot of post-launch quests added that you have to complete in order to move on to the next expansion. The space in between A Realm Reborn and Heavensward is easily the worst offender here.
There are 100 quests between 2.0 and 3.0 – or the end of A Realm Reborn and the beginning of Heavensward. It's a lot of content to get through, and in terms of the scope here, it's like playing through a full single-player Final Fantasy game, just to get to the next expansion. It's easy to see why a lot of players give up during this grind.
I'm not quite sure the extent to which this vast desert of content has been trimmed down, but the patch notes say "to ensure a smoother journey through the main scenario for newer players, a number of quests have been revised or removed. These adjustments will not affect the overall story."
Having just gone through these quests just a couple months ago, however, there are a TON of quests that are essentially just filler content that could be cut. Here's to hoping that Square Enix has been extra judicious in removing unnecessary content. If all the boring stuff is removed and the really compelling writing remains – and this is also when the story starts getting good – the game could be a much more approachable beast.
Time to play FFXIV I guess
For the longest time, Final Fantasy XIV just kind of existed on the periphery for me, with this vast mountain of content that I knew I would have to tackle if I ever wanted to see the best of the game. For years I had heard about just how good the game is, but every time I picked up the game since the 2.0 beta, the low speed and vast scope of the first parts of the game stopped me dead in my tracks, especially when I always had WoW to fall back on.
However, when Covid-19 basically changed the way we all live, I kind of felt like the time was right to finally give the game a fair shake. Trust me, I spent a lot of time complaining about the game, especially during the more tedious parts I've already mentioned here. However, once I got through all of that?
I just finished the main story quests for Stormblood, and while I'm still not at the point where I can jump into the brand-new story when it releases today, I am entirely in this game for the long-haul.
Both Heavensward and Stormblood have stories that are up there with the best Final Fantasy games, and I've heard that Shadowbringers even knocks those out of the park. Getting through the limbo that is the content between A Realm Reborn and Heavensward was worth it, if only to get access to two of the best Final Fantasy games of the last decade.
Plus, now that I have found what is probably the best gaming community I've ever been a part of, I think I have finally found that game that I can just keep coming back to – something I haven't been able to do since WoW: Mists of Pandaria 8 years ago.
So, now that the biggest slog in Final Fantasy XIV has (hopefully significantly) been cut down, there's never been a better time to see what all the fuss is about.
Take it from someone who is currently making their way through the main story for the first time and hasn't even got to the best part: you're in for a treat. You have to be patient for a bit, but once you get to the good stuff, it's some of the best MMO content you'll ever play.
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Jackie Thomas is the Hardware and Buying Guides Editor at IGN. Previously, she was TechRadar's US computing editor. She is fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but she just happens to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop her a line on Twitter or through email.