More than other Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), Final Fantasy XIV is aware of how intimidated new players feel when approaching the genre. MMORPGs often require a significant time investment. Veteran players have the best of the best in terms of gear, items, and skill levels, and new players sometimes feel pressured to reach those same levels in a short amount of time. That pervasive feeling of never being able to “catch up” usually discourages newbies from trying out MMOs altogether. But, for Final Fantasy fans in particular, the allure of playing another mainline game never quite goes away.
Square Enix is hyper-aware of this conundrum. They’ve gone out of their way to create new systems to welcome and retain newer players over the years. Final Fantasy XIV is an accessible game for players of all skill levels. Combat systems progressively become more difficult over time, never expecting too much from you too soon. More importantly, combat content is not the end-all-be-all for Final Fantasy XIV. The “theme park” nature of the game ensures that there’s something to do for everyone. Role-players, treasure hunters, housing enthusiasts, crafters and gatherers, mount and minion collectors, fashionistas who love dressing up their characters, and hardcore raiders who spend dozens of hours clearing a single battle—everyone has a place here.
The current free trial model for Final Fantasy XIV is downright generous. Brand new players, who have never played the game, have access to download the trial at any time. They can play completely free, all the way up to level 60. This includes dozens of hours of story content from the base game, A Realm Reborn, all the way to the conclusion of the first expansion, Heavensward. While there are a number of restrictions on the free trial, such as limited chat options and a cap on how much in-game currency you can accumulate, these aren’t too obtrusive. For new adventurers, who simply want to experience what Final Fantasy XIV has to offer but aren’t sure about paying for that commitment upfront, this is an attractive option. Play for as long as you’d like, completely free, all the way up to level 60. And, if you decide to purchase the game, you can continue where you left off with your free trial character, without having to start over from scratch.
Free trial and paid game players will experience the same, accessible learning curve from the very start. Final Fantasy XIV generally does a great job at explaining how its systems work. Tutorials, in-game help options, online official guides, and more are all available to everyone. The main story does an excellent job at introducing new adventurers to the world, teaching them how to get around and making sure they’re equipped with the basics from the get-go.
One major system designed to assist new players is the Hall of the Novice. This is a series of tutorials that offers hands-on training for your chosen battle class. Low-level players learn how to heal, deal damage, or handle enemies as a tank. Successful completion of these tutorials rewards you with useful gear. You can then take this knowledge into your first dungeon while playing with others.
As you level up, each dungeon gradually expects more of you in terms of handling mechanics and memorizing enemy boss patterns. But new players have little green sprouts next to their names, designating them as newbies. Other players will know to never expect too much out of younger sprouts. In fact, many players will be forthcoming with helpful advice, as their way of welcoming sprouts to the community.
Helpful veteran players—designated as mentors, with crowns next to their names—can also invite new players to the Novice Network, a special chat channel. In this channel, sprouts can ask questions of mentors, looking to their experience for guidance for just about anything in the game. It’s common for mentors in the Novice Network to go out of their way to help sprouts, joining them for new dungeons or helping them find quest locations. Novice Networks across all servers are usually packed with sprouts and mentors alike, so new players never have to be alone on their journey.
In addition to the Hall of the Novice and the Novice Network, Final Fantasy XIV ensures that new players are rarely unable to progress through the content. The Duty Roulette system matches players of all skill ranges together, both for content that has been out for years and more current content. Dungeons and raids that were first released in A Realm Reborn, for example, still have veterans and other adventurers available to join new players. The Mentor Roulette, in particular, allows mentors to participate, as needed, in nearly every battle in the game with anyone who needs help clearing the content. On occasion, new players may run into trouble finding other adventurers to join them for certain fights, but, overall, the Duty Roulette system ensures this problem won’t come up too often.
Once new players do get caught up to the current level, they’ll have a number of ways to obtain gear. Hardcore raiding isn’t the only way to gear up your character, but it will reward you with the strongest pieces of equipment. Running other content—such as 24-man raids—rewards players with gear that’s at least comparable to the more powerful equipment. Purchasing other such gear for in-game currency on the market board—or crafting it yourself—is another option. There’s no shortage of paths to take to getting your character ready for battle. “Catching up” to the hardcore crowd isn’t necessary—unless that’s actually your goal. It’s perfectly feasible for newer players to work up to that level through dedication and perseverance.
There’s no pressure to have everything in Final Fantasy XIV. Square Enix merely hopes you’ll find what you love and that you’ll stick with it. This more casual, open-ended approach has served the community well since A Realm Reborn’s launch in 2013. There’s every expectation that this design philosophy will continue to carry the game well into the future.