A Realm Reborn is a fitting subtitle for take two of Final Fantasy XIV, be it that the 2010 version was more or less a total disaster very much in need of a proper revival. A generally well-constructed reparation in the truest sense of the word, the game is Square Enix's way of getting back into the good graces of those who agonized for hours in the poorly designed, buggy battlegrounds of Eorzea for the last three years. With dramatically improved gameplay, graphics, customization, and virtual economy, not to mention an entirely new storyline that's a great deal richer than its predecessor's, the only aspect hampering A Realm Reborn from becoming the next must-have MMORPG is how long it takes to become fully enveloped in its sizable universe. Once there, however, leaving it behind for the everyday grind of the real world is a necessity that's easier said than done.
As the lingering stench of its prototype eventually begins to fade, getting lost is a common occurrence in A Realm Reborn, and by that I don't mean forgetting where your troops are location-wise, but rather, losing yourself in the expansive beauty of the various environments. The majority of the first game's backdrops were so plain-Jane that concentrating on mundane tasks became the only point of continuous laboring, leading to an endless cycle of irksome fetch quests that provided little enjoyment. Now, with a significant overhaul of the core engine, even the tiniest of details pop with a wide array of colors and visual textures. Excellent light shading throughout results in faraway horizons rarely blurring into pixelated blemishes. From harsh, sapless hinterlands to vivid stretches of waterfront tropics, nearly every atmospheric variety is covered and displayed with a refined smoothness any product bearing the Final Fantasy name should possess.
The game's plot takes place after a bit of do-or-die time-traveling, and involves warriors from the past and present joining forces to rebuild their kingdoms destroyed by the previously unleashed Bahamut, meanwhile keeping opposing organizations at bay. More than just a predetermined route to raising your character's stats, the narrative feels as if it has an actual soul, driving you to see it through, as compared to its lifeless precursor, which failed to ignite any sort of fire under the behinds of players falling asleep at the figurative wheel. Dungeons have been revamped too, albeit moderately, and filling out the class-specific Hunting Log is guaranteed to keep even experts occupied for weeks following main-campaign completion. Speaking of classes, A Realm Reborn does a decent job of not anchoring players down to one particular occupation. Cross-skills come in especially handy, like carrying over certain techniques from optimally outfitted characters to possibly less developed ones (Gladiators using Thaumaturge spells, for example). Creative features such as this allow for combat mechanics to be complex yet not overly so, with each class coming prepackaged with a distinct approach to battle. Finding the best combination of combatants to gel together in online scenarios with players from around the world is a component the game categorically nails.
The crown jewel of A Realm Reborn may perhaps be its item and crafting systems, which are the closest the game gets to feeling like a living, breathing open forum for semi-human interaction. Selling and trading materials is done through a mostly player-driven marketplace where individual storefronts are set up to initiate commerce. Stemming directly from Eorzea's own form of eBay is a nifty synthesis structure that eliminates much of the wearisome guesstimating that bogged down the 2010 misfire. Resource management is paramount, and quality control is presented in a generously non-randomized manner in the form of a status gauge that evaluates the potency of acquired components.
A tradition-respecting game through and through, A Realm Reborn isn't destined to reinvent the MMORPG, but rather, to suitably rearrange the hallmarks of the genre within the confines of the celebrated Final Fantasy franchise. Square Enix dug itself into a deep chasm with the original Final Fantasy XIV, and despite a draggy, unfortunately near-sighted crusade to climb their way out, A Realm Reborn is an immense improvement, and above all, a sincere apology for the emphatic blunder that came before.