As Final Fantasy XIV’s new expansion “Shadowbringers” hits, I’ve seen a lot of curiosity from co-workers and friends about how to get started with the game. With hours and hours of content, tons of jobs to choose from, and multiple places to hop in, it can seem daunting, but it’s still well worth the time. Here’s some advice for curious adventurers eager to start their adventures.
Final Fantasy XIV first launched in 2010 to a disastrous reception before being revamped into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013. It was an immediate improvement, bringing faster combat and a more focused storyline, and the three expansions that followed brought further refinement. The most recent of these, “Shadowbringers,” came out just last week, and there are often fun events that keep things fresh, from crossovers with other games to the sudden arrival of new job classes.
The story focuses on the player becoming the famous Warrior of Light and getting involved in political intrigue, massive wars, and grand cosmic struggles. The main campaign is a slow burn that builds to fantastic heights and features some of the most compelling villains and allies in all of the Final Fantasy games. The world of Eorzea is sprawling and gorgeous. There’s always the promise of a new, spectacular area on the horizon. The game’s rich lore makes it both exciting and comfortable to be in. You’ll find yourself completing tricky dungeons, fighting ancient gods, and clearing tough raids with up to 23 other strangers (or friends) depending on the circumstances. Square Enix also offers a variety of purchasable level and story content skips that allow you to decide when and how you jump in and how strong you’ll be.
The game’s large community, numbering 16 million registered accounts, welcomes all kinds. There are communities focused on fighting tough bosses and completing raids, communities for role playing and crafting player stories, and servers for different languages. No matter what you want to do, there are players who will eagerly help you along.
If you’re curious about Final Fantasy XIV’s world and early combat experience but aren’t yet ready to buy it or pay the subscription fee, there is a free trial. You can only play up to level 35, but you can still sample the starting job classes and enjoy some of the story, dungeons, and boss fights. Be warned that the early portions of Final Fantasy XIV can feel slow, as the story takes a lot of time to acquaint the player with Eorzea’s various governments and major characters.
If you do buy the game, you have a few options. You can buy the starter edition for $19.99 and play the initial story. From there, you can use a cute little backend service called Mog Station to buy expansions. The first expansion, “Heavensward,” is a requirement for some higher-level job classes. It’s a good expansion which Square Enix sometimes offers for free. If you’re in for the long haul, there is a complete edition for $59.99 that has the base game and all three expansions. Buying the latest expansion, “Shadowbringers,” will grant you access to the previous two expansions as well. So if you pick that up later on, you’ll still have access to everything else
Some folks in the comments have suggested to avoid buying it through Steam and I agree. It’s easier to buy it standalone, without the extra hassle of having to use Steam to buy future content. Stick with the standalone version and Mog Station. For consoles like PS4, it’s totally okay to purchase through PSN.
Most of these editions come with 30 days of free game time. Following that, you’ll need a subscription. The subscription is $12.99 per month, which can increase if you buy optional services like retainers who can hold your gear in storage. For some, that price commitment isn’t feasible, which is understandable. That said, I think Final Fantasy XIV is worth the cost. I’ve met some of the most important people in my life through Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s hard to put a price tag on that.
Each server is a little different, but the most important thing to know is that there are four data centers with individual servers that fall into certain time zones or playstyles. Severs on the same data centers can be traveled between using a new “World Visit” service that lets you explore beyond your home server as a sort of guest. Keep that in mind as you select a data center.
For North America, there are three data centers:
- Aether: The most populated data center. Many of its worlds are “congested,” which means it isn’t always possible to make new characters, especially after this new expansion’s release. Aether’s popularity means you’ll find a little bit of everything. More raid content is cleared here than on the other servers. Really good for hardcore players.
- Primal: Primal servers are generally laid back, though some are more hardcore than the others. It also boasts a server with some Brazillian players and Australians. You’ll find some memelords from 4chan here and there, but it’s not too prominent. Overall, it’s a chill place.
- Crystal: Social players, crafters, and role players will be very comfortable here. While there are raiding teams, there are far less than in other servers. This is where you go if you want to tackle the game’s economy or build player-created stories. Some servers have a reputation for erotic role play (think: cybersex) but that largely happens behind closed doors and is nearly invisible for those not seeking it out.
In addition to the North American data center, there are the Japanese data centers: Gaia, Elemental, and Mana. Europe has two data centers: Chaos and Light. These data centers have some of the newest servers, which means you can get in on the bottom floor of new communities, but that also means things like player housing are limited for the moment.
As with most MMORPGs, if you know people playing Final Fantasy XIV, it’s best to try to play with them. It will make the early experience easier, and even if you’re somehow not on the same server initially, it is possible to visit other servers on the same data center and transfer to them eventually.
This will seem more daunting than it actually is. Although each of the game’s eight starting races has different stats, it hardly matters unless you want to min-max to an extreme. Instead, choose what you think looks best or captures your inner adventurer. Each race has two different cultures to choose from, which have slightly different visual designs. Mess around in the creator and see what you like. Trust your gut; Final Fantasy XIV is also about being fashionable and cool-looking. Express yourself!
Nothing is set in stone. There are potions called Fantasia (sometimes given out for free and always purchasable in Mog Station) that let you change your character’s gender, race, and more later on. The only thing that is initially locked in place is your job.
When you choose a job, be aware that they begin in different starting cities. Archers, lancers, and conjurers—the only healing job initially available—start in the cozy forest city-state of Gridania. Thaumaturges, Pugilists, and Gladiators start in the seedy city of Ul’dah. Arcanists and Marauders start in the sea port of Limsa Lominsa. You’re stuck in these areas for a while, and although I recommend choosing the job you like over the city, but it’s still good information to have. Characters have no limit on how many job classes they can take, so it’s easy to dip your toes into the waters to find what you like. Don’t like a job? Just look up where to find a new one and give it a go!
Final Fantasy XIV uses the “trinity” of tanks, healers, and damage dealers (aka DPS) for their jobs. Tanks draw enemy attention and guide the party’s progress in dungeons, healers keep everyone alive while tossing out some damage, and DPS mostly hit things with their weapons and sometimes buff the party. There are advanced job classes later on, such as the broody Dark Knight or high-damage-dealing Samurai, but here’s the breakdown for the initial jobs.
- Tanks: Gladiators, Marauders
- Healers: Conjurers
- DPS: Arcanists, Archers, Lancers, Pugilists, Thaumaturge
These jobs eventually upgrade to better version. For instance, conjurers can become White Mages. Arcanists can become either Summoners or a different healing job, the Scholar. There are also quest to unlock other jobs like Samurai, the fortune telling Astrologian, and new jobs like Gunbreaker and Dancer. Because you’re able to travel to all major cities after a little bit of story, I suggest experimenting with each starting job. Eventually you will find the one that suits your preferred play style.
With so much story and the ability to buy story-skipping items from the Mog Station, it can be hard to know where to start. You have a few options, each with pros and cons. Regardless of what you choose, I’ve written a handy section following this one that’ll help you get up to speed with the story.
Start From The Beginning: It’s a very good place to start. You’ll have a comfortable introduction to jobs and lore. The onboarding process isn’t too bad, and you’ll start with easier content that will help you learn the ins and outs of playing. This is also the cheapest option thanks to the free trial or lower-priced starter edition.
- PROS: Comfortable introduction to Eorzea and the game’s many jobs. Less intense initial experience. Lower cost.
- CONS: The story of A Realm Reborn starts slow and stays that way for a while. You really need to grind through to the end until things start to pop off. The dungeons and boss fights are also much less exciting than what comes after. Wait times for lower-level dungeons might be longer, as the majority of players are mid to high level.
Start From “Heavensward”: Using a story skip and level boost, you can hop right into the game’s first expansion. This is where the story really starts to find itself, but you’ll lack some important context as a newbie. If you don’t want to press through the slower main story, this is an excellent place to start.
- PROS: Exciting story with a lot of twists and turns. Jobs and quests are still low-level enough that it’s not too overwhelming. Gorgeous environments and music.
- CONS: The learning curve will be steeper, and you might find it harder to jump into dungeons or other content. Lack of context prevents the story from hitting quite as hard.
Start From “Stormblood”: With some boosts and skips, you can leap over “Heavensward” and play “Stormblood.” The story is a bit more grounded, focusing on a gritty war between the good guys and the evil Garlean Empire. This is where you’ll get the most context for “Shadowbringers,” the most recent expansion. Attempting to start with higher-level content is a huge risk, though, and this might actually be the least interesting expansion.
- PROS: Great way to quickly learn who the important characters are and learn the world’s current state of affairs. Dungeons and bosses will really test your skills.
- CONS: Not really the best of the expansion stories. It will be really hard to leap right in without spending some time learning the job classes.
Start From “Shadowbringers”: It’s also possible to start right at the latest expansion, but without a lot of investment in the prior storylines, some of the magic will be lost. Also, it’s hard, and if you don’t know your job’s abilities, you will get your ass kicked.
- PROS: Honestly? Don’t do this. You should definitely play it, but don’t start here.
- CONS: See pros.
Note: If you story skipped, you can watch the story by going to an inn and reading The Unending Journey in your room. It’s not everything you need to know, but you can jump to important scenes from each expansion to see what you missed. If you’re super interested in lore, there are two real-life books called the Encyclopedia Eorzea that outline the story and world history as well.
In A Realm Reborn, players mostly try to stop the rise of creatures called Primals, dangerous godlike entities summoned into the world. Joining up with the brave Scions of the Seventh Dawn, the player thwarts the Primals and learns that a shadowy group called the Ascians is causing everything. The evil Garlean Empire, led by General Gaius van Baelsar, revives an ancient super weapon called Ultima Weapon, which the player defeats. The rest of the story deals with beating up some Acians, and ends with the player blamed for a major political assassination.
In “Heavensward,” players flee to the snowy nation of Ishgard and get embroiled in the scheming of various noble houses and the theocratic clergy. The Warrior of Light contends with the dangerous Archbishop Thordan, who wishes to become a powerful god-king. Thordan is defeated. Following this, a centuries long war between Ishgard and magical dragons concludes when the dragon lord Nidhogg is defeated in a super-sad but awesome boss fight that ends the conflict. A new threat arises when a fallen hero called the “Warrior of Darkness” arrives from a parallel world called the First but he is defeated and willingly returns to his home world, which was flooded by magical light after the Warrior of Darkness and his allies previously thwarted the forces of evil there. (This seems random but it actually super important.) Meanwhile, a radical terrorist called ‘The Griffin” incites war between the Garlean Empire and the occupied nation of Ala Mhigo.
The war kicks off in “Stormblood.” The player clashes with the empire and face a stunning defeat against the emperor’s son Zenos yae Galvus. Scattered, they slowly build a coalition of rebels and resistance fighters who unite to drive the empire out of Ala Mhigo. We learn that the empire was founded by Ascians for the purpose of causing a world-shaking calamity. The war continues while the empire works to build a dangerous chemical weapon, and one by one, the Scions start to fall into comas as their souls are pulled to another world. The empire and the good guys face off in a huge battle, with each side ultimately falling back. The Warrior of Light nearly falls into a coma, and it’s clear that something else is threatening the world.
This all comes to a head in “Shadowbringers,” where the player is summoned into the First, the wasted world that the Warrior of Darkness hailed from. A massive imbalance of cosmic forces has created dangerous beasts called Sin Eaters. This is, of course, an Ascian plot, and the player (along with the other Scions) set off to defeat powerful “Lightwardens” and return the world to normal. Along the way, they will discover more about the Warrior of Darkness and learn about the cosmic tragedy that drove the Ascians to evil.
- First, there is a series of tutorial quests called the “Hall of the Novice,” which you can access to learn more about your job once you reach level 15. You’re also able to use a content-finding tool to play whatever dungeons you have unlocked. Playing lower dungeons is a great way to learn your job, especially if you level skipped.
- When you do run a dungeon, let people know if it is your first time. Most players assume everyone knows the details, but let your teammates know you’re new and 99.9 percent of folks will walk you through what you need to know. Beyond this, consider watching dungeon and raid guides from YouTubers like MrHappy or MTQcapture. They’re brief and informative, telling you everything you need to know about whatever you are facing. Want to learn a fight and without having to chat? Check out their channels for whatever you need.
- Know what quests to take. Quests that unlock new content have a blue icon and a little plus sign. These can unlock dungeons, raids, and other neat areas like super fun amusement park the Golden Saucer. Quests with an icon that looks like a flame are main story quests; run through these to level up and enjoy the narrative. Normal exclamation marks are side quests. For a breakdown of the HUD and other markers, consider this official FAQ.
- To level up, run your daily roulettes. Your duty finder allows you to do “roulettes,” which select random dungeons, boss fights, raids, and more for you to complete. These grant more experience than normal and will help speed up your leveling considerably. You’ll also earn currencies that you can spend to get quality gear. Between this and the main story quests, progress is very easy.
- If you’re interested in making items, know that there is a high barrier of entry to crafting. Unlike combat job classes, which you can jump into at higher levels via level skips, you have to start from scratch and build up as a crafter, no matter what level you start at. Buying materials is expensive, and you’ll really want to play as a gathering job like a miner or botanist to get what you need, but you’ll still have to trudge through the early stages of crafting. Reaching the levels required to make quality goods and make a huge profit takes a large time investment. Success as a crafter means taking on tons of jobs and leveling all of them in order to produce what you need. Just don’t be afraid to ask for some help.
Introduce yourself to people! Try new job classes and allow yourself to get swept away by the adventure. MMOPRGs are intimidating, but as long as you’re kind, you’ll receive kindness in return. Final Fantasy XIV offers spectacle, cool player events, tough boss fights, and more. Soak it all in and embrace the chance to really grow, not just as a Dragoon but as a person.