FF14 (a.k.a. Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn) is absolutely fantastic. It’s tied with Final Fantasy IX as my personal pick for the best game in the series, and easily my favorite massively multiplayer game of all time. It’s got a tremendous single-player campaign, too, the best dungeon design around, and just a whole lot of charm. Its endless parade of Final Fantasy fan service isn’t half bad, either. And now FF14 is getting its third full expansion in the form of Shadowbringers. That’s sure to have even more goodies for fans new and old alike.
But the game has been around for a while — nearly six years, in fact. There’s a lot for beginners to catch up on. Story missions, crafting professions, raids, Deep Dungeons, Job quests: it all adds up. Where do you even start? And more to the point: Is it too late for new players to get into FF14 in the first place?
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The short answer is no, it’s not too late at all! Ninety-nine percent of the game’s content is always available. Even old school raids, dungeons, and trials are easy to jump into — thanks to smart decisions around how FF14 distributes loot.
However, there’s also a longer, more complicated answer to the conundrum of starting FF14. The ultra-long (and ever-growing) campaign, as well as potentially brutal queue times, are only the start of your problems. There are plenty of factors working both for and against you in FF14. So why don’t we break down what does and doesn’t work, as well as help you answer that difficult question: Is it too late to get into FF14?
The Obstacles – Starting Out in FF14
A lot of the very best things about FF14 are also its biggest hurdles. That single-player story, for instance? It takes ages to beat. That’s not a major problem unto itself; the story is great! In fact, it only gets better as you progress past the base campaign (A Realm Reborn) and into Heavensward and Stormblood, the first two expansions. The characters get more interesting and the intrigue gets more… intriguing. More and more voice acting helps, too. All of which adds up to one of the best Final Fantasy stories ever told.
The issue is that FF14 gates nearly all its multiplayer content behind single-player progress. Many of the dungeons and trials (the FF14 name for boss fights) first appear in the story. And you have to clear them at least once to progress. Matchmaking makes that much easier, but not always instantaneous. That’s doubly true if you play one of the many, many DPS Jobs in FF14. This is by far the most saturated role in the game — meaning you necessarily have longer queue times than healers and tanks.
FF14 also gets wildly complicated in spots. Even normal dungeon bosses can have complex moving parts. You might have to stand in certain spots, watch body language to avoid attacks, and activate special items throughout an arena — all at the same time. Once you get to Alliance Raids (24-player super-dungeons) that complexity triples. One boss, for example, asks you to add and subtract to create prime numbers on the fly, or adjust to multiples of other specific integers.
Long story short: Even if you get into a specific piece of group content, you might screw up the first time. That can lead to frustration and even despair! The natural way around this is to play with friends. That way you can all work together at your own pace, without fear of someone losing their cool. Well… That depends on what kind of friends you have, too.
Speaking of friends, getting together with a group in FF14 has never been easier! The game recently rolled out a system where players on different servers, but still on the same Data Center, can hang out. The only restriction is that you can’t join the same Free Company (i.e. guild). Not having that option is still annoying, though. It’s even worse when server populations fill up. If one becomes too full, or simply has too many players logged in at the same time, you might not be able to create or transfer a character there until it cools off. Thankfully you can track this “Congested” status on the FF14 website.
The Advantages – Starting Out in FF14
Now for the good stuff! FF14 features a ton of great reasons for long-time players to engage with newbies. For one, veterans get rewards for playing old content thanks to the “Duty Roulette.” This list of daily challenges matchmakes oldies with amateurs looking to clear something for the first time. In exchange, the vets get currency used to buy endgame gear. So there’s usually a group of folks rotating in to teach you the ins and outs of complex encounters.
And they very likely will teach you! The FF14 player base isn’t perfect; nothing ever is. But it’s far and away one of the most welcoming online communities I’ve ever been part of. As long as you actually ask how to do something when you don’t understand (rather than charge in headlong and die) there’s very nearly always someone willing to explain things.
And, if you’re not having fun even when you’re winning, maybe it’s time to try a different Job! That’s the name for advanced classes in FF14. These can be anything from a dashing Red Mage that dishes out consistent damage, to a hardened Warrior that tanks enemy aggression to keep the party safe. You don’t have to choose just one, either! The beautiful thing about Jobs is that they level up independently of each other. So you can play as a maxed out Dark Knight, White Mage, or Bard all on the same character — without having to play through old story content or lose progress on your other Jobs.
Speaking of story content: holy cow is there a lot of it. FF14 doesn’t just have the base campaign it shipped with in 2013. It doesn’t just have the paid expansions it came with, either. The game also adds free single-player chapters periodically.
Right now, the story basically starts as a straightforward battle against an evil empire. But it becomes so, so much more after you hit level 50 (the original level cap). There are inter-dimensional hijinks and political conspiracies strewn all around. Then Heavensward, the first expansion, mostly focuses on a religious war between a fantastical version of the Catholic church and immortal dragons. Stormblood ups the ante further with a truly brutal tale about the human cost of imperialism — and the lengths people will go to to escape it. Finally, Shadowbringers ties the inter-dimensional stuff together with a battle between universes.
It’s a lot to take in all at once. But if you do, it quickly becomes the most arresting Final Fantasy story in more than a decade. Of course, if you haven’t played an FF game in more than a decade, there’s still plenty to latch onto. The game is chock full of clever references to classic titles. One raid has you battle aboard the Phantom Train and even against Kefka himself from FF6. Another lets you duke it out across Ivalice: the setting from Final Fantasy Tactics and FF12. This somehow all makes perfect sense within the FF14 lore.
The raids and trials have more than just nostalgia, too. Those complex mechanics I mentioned earlier? They make for some impossibly satisfying feats of coordination. Just wait until you deflect a 100-foot demigod’s building-sized sword back into its own face. Yet the battles rarely feel unfair or frustrating, like what you might find in less traditional MMOs. This is partly because FF14 raids smartly split into 20-30 minute chunks. Rather than force players to play everything or nothing, you can knock out just one encounter and call it a night.
You might stick around for the music anyway, though. It’s really, truly something. The NPC allies you make along along the way are memorable… eventually. But the custom songs during various boss fights are practically characters themselves.
Some Tips on Where to Start in FF14
The especially great thing about starting FF14 now is that all of this stuff will be new to you (and perhaps your friends)! You have years of content to experience — particularly if you haven’t jived with modern FF games. That said, the later content is unarguably much, much more interesting than the (still solid) first 50 levels. So you probably want to skip ahead as quickly as possible. Besides spending real-world money, here are a few tips to get you through the FF14 main scenario as painlessly as possible!
- Play a Tank or Healer – Healers and tanks (especially tanks, in my experience) are a blast to play in FF14. The game constantly throws wrinkles at these roles that force them to think on their feet. Healers have to play around powerful enemy “ultimates,” for instance, that do massive damage to the other party. Whereas tanks… Well, tanks are a lot of responsibility. Tanks in FF14 must learn a lot of strange mechanics nobody else has to worry about — on top of positioning enemies in very specific ways. Tanks and healers also queue into matchmade content way faster, which should allow you to burn through early dungeons.
- Join a Free Company – Stand in any capital city in FF14 and you will get spammed with Free Company invites. Some of these are better than others, of course, but most of them come with distinct advantages. One of the best is that Free Companies typically provide experience boosts that are vital to chugging through the content quickly.
- Stay on the Path – The Main Scenario Quest (i.e. the single-player campaign) is a tremendous source of experience points. It’s also what gates the vast majority of content in FF14. I recommend staying on the main path as much as possible. You’ll level up faster and unlock way more variety of stuff to do.
- Start on a Preferred World – If you’re not playing with friends, and so don’t care about what server you’re on, pick a Preferred World. These offer massive XP multipliers just for joining. It’s Square Enix’s way of distributing players more evenly among the many servers. And playing in one of these places will let you power level new Jobs, as well as crafting professions that offer some very vital gear and abilities later in the game.
- Use Expansion Classes for New Roles – Let’s say you do want to switch to a new class midway through your FF14 career. The best place to start is with classes that came as part of the game’s expansions. Dark Knight, Astrologian, and Machinist all start at level 30. Samurai and Red Mage begin at level 50. Dancer and Gunbreaker are even higher by default, but you need to get all the way to Shadowbringers to unlock them.
So… Is It Too Late to Get Into FF14?
So… Is it too late to start playing FF14? It largely depends on how much time you have. The game is a tremendous commitment. You’re honestly looking at hundreds of (largely very good) hours of content — just to reach the most recent stuff. But know that you haven’t actually missed much. FF14 periodically works in very small, time-limited events and crossovers, but most of the gameplay relevant stuff is still there.
The Monster Hunter: World tie-in, for example, deposited a Rathalos for players to battle as a permanent boss. Whereas the comparatively minor FF15 crossover is gone for good. But the cosmetics you could once receive as rewards for such small events usually cycle into the real-money store. So you might just have to wait a while to get the goods you didn’t before.
Overall, now is a pretty fantastic time to start FF14; that goes double if you have friends to start out with. On the other hand, if you’re looking to level up and play with buddies that are already maxed out… Things are a little dicier. It’s possible. You just run the very real risk of burning out before you get to what your pals are doing. So if you still want to play, take it slow! Stop and smell the Malboros. There’s a whole lot to do and plenty of time to do it.