PC Gamer’s Best Ongoing Game of 2020—awarded to an older game that offered up the best updates and support throughout this year—goes to Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV. We’ll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.
Steven Messner: Final Fantasy 14 is the most consistently excellent MMO I’ve ever played. I started back in 2013, with the re-launch, and have consistently played for seven years. What keeps me coming back isn’t just the memorable boss fights and beautiful locations, though. It’s that Final Fantasy 14 tells an emotionally gripping story that just keeps raising the stakes. Case in point: Its latest expansion, Shadowbringers, takes players on an interdimensional journey to a parallel universe while somehow also keeping a tight focus on the characters that I’ve come to love over these past seven years.
What makes 2020’s best ongoing game is down to how scientific Square Enix is with updates. While other MMOs have big ups and downs, FF14’s expansions and updates are always on an upward trajectory, adding more new dungeons, satisfying endgame activities like raids, and a hearty helping of episodic story quests. Even though coronavirus delayed it, the 5.3 patch was worth the wait. It offered a surprisingly emotional climax to the main Shadowbringers story as the narrative shifted to begin laying the foundations for next year’s expansion. I love this game, and I love how Square Enix has created such a wholesome and positive relationship with its fans.
James Davenport: Final Fantasy 14 represents one of the strangest eras of my life. I don’t care for mainline Final Fantasy games, I don’t usually play MMOs, and yet I played the pre-condensed A Realm Reborn all the way through the end of Shadowbringers in two months. It was compulsive play at first, something to do in a depressive bout. But all the time FF14 spends up front to lay out its cliched fantasy world is in service of shredding it to pieces shortly after.
Final Fantasy 14’s story is as heart wrenching, subversive, and surreal as videogame storytelling gets, and the best expansion by a mile is part of the free package now. Heavensward is a bleak real world analogy where two warring nations, one of which includes ancient all-powerful dragons, interrogate their shared history to find out where their hatred for one another first took root. Characters are driven by dogma without foundation, epic journeys end in intentionally empty denouements, and characters are plagued by sheer exhaustion and sorrow more often than convoluted twists and betrayals. And once it’s done, there are two excellent expansions that follow. I play Final Fantasy 14 strictly for the story and the game supports it. I’ll pay the action-bar tax, no problem.
Phil Savage: After years of thinking “I should really try Final Fantasy XIV,” it was the 5.3 patch that convinced me to finally take the plunge. I’m still muddling my way through the newly truncated vanilla campaign, which means I still haven’t experienced the story at its best. I’m still watching it build its—as James puts it—cliched fantasy world, and waiting for shit to get real.
Until then, though, I’m having a nice time levelling. The 5.3 patch has done its job. While the vanilla sidequest design is incredibly basic—fancy killing X number of a thing?—the rebalanced progression means you can skip all of it and focus in on the more important, and more interesting, stuff. Before long I was being pushed towards dungeons and impressive boss fights against FF14’s classic summons. Final Fantasy XIV is a trad MMO in a lot of ways, but already the direction, style and flair wring extra drama and spectacle out of proceedings. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.