The past 18 months have been, to put it lightly, have not been great. The covid-19 pandemic has and continues to warp our lives in ways big and small. But for me personally, I’ve been able to find joy and avoid burnout through something I never thought I’d indulge in: the critically acclaimed and much memed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV.
To make it perfectly clear, I’ve been lucky, all things considered. Most of my close family members have caught covid-19 by this point, sometimes severely, but I haven’t so far. Friends of mine have permanently moved away or lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, but I’ve been steadily employed and able to work from home — an advantage that I wouldn’t have had during most of my working life. And there have been many journalists who have experienced much more covid-related anxiety and depression than I have in the last two years.
All that said, it hasn’t been a cakewalk either. As a science and health reporter, I’ve had to stare at the pandemic in one form or another just about every single day. And like many, I’ve had my moments of crushing pessimism and disappointment, particularly in seeing covid once again resurge this summer.
Maintaining the bonds I have with friends and family has certainly helped me stay level, as has my longtime jogging routine and my obnoxiously cute cat Cheddar. But if I had to pick any pandemic-era habit to thank the most for keeping me coherent, it would be Final Fantasy XIV.
For those not familiar, FFXIV is a game in the vein of World of Warcraft that was first released in 2010, then re-released in 2013. That amusing saga is better covered by my colleagues at Kotaku, but in short, the original game bombed so hard that its makers, Square Enix, went back and somehow successfully rebooted it. The revamped version has had three expansions, with a fourth — Endwalker — set to come out next month. And all of it kicks major arse.
I’ve always loved RPGs and most Final Fantasy games (not looking at you, FFIV The After Years), but I had definitely cut down on my game playing before the pandemic. About midway through summer 2020, though, I had the sudden itch to dig out my Playstation 4 and I noticed FFXIV on it — a completely untouched game that I had forgotten I bought in 2014. I finally got to playing it and haven’t looked back since.
FFXIV is not for those with little time on their hands. With the expansions included, simply getting through the intricate and usually gripping main story, filled with dragons, a scheming empire, and alternative dimensions, will take you 100 plus hours. And the varied sidequests and other off-the-path amusements, which include a full on casino, chocobo breeding (Final Fantasy’s version of racehorses), and crafting fancy new gear, will take hundreds more to run through. There’s also the dozens of dungeons and raids available to complete, which are beaten by parties made up of three essential roles: healers, tanks to soak enemy damage, and DPS to knock the monsters down. For now, I’ve been a healer, which provides a nice mix of complexity and ease once you’ve got the mechanics down.
But the pacing and scheduling of all these things is up to you, perfect for someone whose hours can be sometimes in flux when some late breaking news comes in. Some MMORPGS, particularly World of WarCraft, are all about advancing through the game as quickly as possible so you can score the best gear possible. But although FFXIV definitely has a challenging endgame, I’ve only barely dipped my toes into it, being content enough to get through the story beats and then doing my own thing. Right now, I’m working on levelling all my crafting classes, and from there, maybe I’ll try my hand at glamours, which allow you to customise your gear’s appearance without losing their stats.
And while this has been said before by many others, the best thing about FFXIV is the community. Whether you’re going through a dungeon for the first time, or simply asking a question, most people are charitable and willing to help however they can. Seeing that much kindness and good faith from others — on the internet of all places — has been a balm for the soul, especially compared to everywhere else on social media during covid-19. Nowadays, I’m part of a free company, a loose-knit troupe of players, that prides itself on being for casual gamers. When I have the time on weekends, I run through dungeons with them in hopes of getting some nice-looking mounts to ride on.
I could rant all day about my love for this game, though I don’t really need to. FFXIV has become so popular lately that their servers can barely take the volume. And with the upcoming Endwalker expansion ahead, which is already getting some stellar reviews, the hype machine will only get louder.
But if any of this seems like fun to you, and you’ve got the time, I would definitely recommend jumping in with both feet.