Is FFXIV Free to Play? Do I Need a Subscription?

A highly popular MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV Online continues to release new features and content every few months, and will be around for years to come.

Its most recent expansion, ‘Shadowbringers’, received a lot of praise in particular and attracted tons of new players, showing that it’s never too late to start playing.

If you’re looking to try it out for yourself, here’s what you need to know about buying the game, which is available on PS4, PC, and Mac.

What’s the Payment Model?

Final Fantasy XIV Online (a.k.a. FFXIV) is a subscription-based MMORPG, which means it requires a purchase of the base game, the expansion pack, and a subscription. There is also a free trial with no time limit, but which has a level cap and some social restrictions. More details on that in a bit.

For purchasing the game, the payment model requires you to buy the base game, also referred to as the Starter Edition. As of patch 5.3, the Starter Edition includes the original launch (A Realm Reborn) up to level 50 as well as the first expansion, Heavensward, and its content up to level 60.

If you know you’re going to buy the expansions anyway, you could alternatively buy the Complete Edition, which bundles the Starter Edition with all current expansions. Unless there’s a sale involved, there is no cost saving advanatage to doing so, it’s just more convenient than making two purchases.

Registering the base game either through Starter Edition or the Complete Edition will come with 30 days of play time included. After those 30 days you will have to pay the subscription fee to continue playing.

What Types of Subscriptions are There?

There are 2 types of subscription: Entry (which allows you to create up to 8 characters, all on separate worlds) and Standard (which allows you to create up to 40 characters, with up to 8 on a single world).

Entry subscriptions must be purchased each month, while for Standard subscriptions you can choose to be billed monthly, or every 3 months (for a small discount), or every 6 months (for a bigger discount, at which point it is the same price as the Entry subscription).

Sometimes people ask this, so it is worth noting that your subscription time ticks down in real life time, not in time spent playing the game! Additionally, the game will be down for ~24h maintenance approximately once every 3 months for major patches, so plan your playtime accordingly!

Do I Have to Buy Every Expansion?

There are currently three expansions: Heavensward, Stormblood, and Shadowbringers which raise the level cap to 60, 70, and 80 respectively, progress the main story, and offer lots of other content including more races and jobs (what this game calls ‘classes’ in some other games).

Unlike some games, expansions in FFXIV are linear, meaning you cannot play them out of order, or play any of them without completing the base game first.

Because they’re linear, Square Enix will always include all previous expansions for free when you purchase the most recent one. In fact, they don’t even sell the earlier expansions on their own. So if you’re trying to catch up, you would just buy Shadowbringers which includes Heavensward and Stormblood with it.

This is great for new players since you only ever need to purchase the most recent expansion. Of course, when a new expansion comes out, you will still have to buy that to enjoy the new content, even if you already own everything up to that point. Historically, new expansions come out about every two years.

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Pre-ordering the Upcoming Expansion

Speaking of new expansions, Endwalker is scheduled to come out on 23 November 2021. It will raise the level cap to 90, introduce a new playable race (Male Viera), and two new playable jobs: Sage (a Healer) and Reaper (a Melee DPS).

Endwalker can currently be pre-ordered which gets you a couple of in game items immediately: a minion and an earring that gives an XP boost while below level 80.

Purchasing Endwalker will include all previous expansions, but only when Endwalker comes out in November. If you don’t currently own Stormblood or Shadowbringers, you’ll either have to wait until November or buy Shadowbringers to access that content right now.

Playing on Multiple Platforms

FFXIV is a game for Playstation 5, Playstation 4, Windows, Mac, and Steam. If you want to play on multiple platforms, you will need to purchase and register the game on each of them separately. Registering the game on a new platform comes with 30 days of free subscription time. This is applicable once per platform.

This includes expansions, so if you have the complete edition on PC but only the starter edition on Playstation, then logging in on Playstation would mean you can’t access the zones of the expansions you’re missing. Logging out in an expansion zone on PC would mean you’d be unable to login on Playstation.

You do not need multiple subscriptions to play on different platforms. Just one subscription per service account.

Buying Story and Level Skips

Skips or ‘boosts’ can be purchased on the Mog Station under ‘Tales of Adventure‘.

If story isn’t your thing, you can purchase a scenario skip to skip over a certain amount of Main Scenario Quests (MSQ). There are three skips: to the end of the base game (A Realm Reborn), to the end of Heavensward, or to the end of Stormblood. Remember the story is linear so buying a higher skip still completes all of your quests from earlier expansions.

Story skips do not level your character. Buying one on your first character pretty much requires buying a level boost as well, or else you’ll have to grind out levels to catch up to where you are in the story.

You can also buy a job level boost to level a single job all the way up to 70. This levels your character up on that job (remember you can play any and all jobs on one charater) and completes all of those job quests up to that point. You’ll also get a set of level-appropriate gear and 500,000 gil, though gil isn’t that hard to get in this game.

Level boosts do not complete any of the main story. That’s why a story skip and level skip are often bought together. They can also be useful on their own for quickly getting a new job up to where you are already. 

Personally I don’t recommend buying either of these types of skips on your first playthrough of the game. The story is pretty good, especially in the later expansions, and levelling a job on your own helps you gradually learn it rather than being thrown into the deep end. However, not everyone enjoys games the same way, or has as much time to put in, so the options to skip are there if you want them.

How Does the Free Trial Work?

Now, let’s talk about the free trial. The free trial is a great way to explore FFXIV before investing any money, and you can choose to continue on your same character/account if you do want to buy the game.

First though I have to clear up an EXTREMELY common misconception.

FFXIV is not free to play, it is free to ‘try’.

If you register the starter edition or the complete edition, you have purchased a license and are no longer eligible to ‘try’ the game. You’ve tried it, you own it. You will need to pay a subscription in order to play on that account. Remember that the base game comes with 30 days of subscription time included, which begin when you register your code.

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So while you’re on the free trial there is no time limit to worry about, however if you decide to buy the game you may not return to this unlimited-time trial on your account. From that point on you must have subscription time credited to your account.

You may create up to 8 characters, each on a different world, just like the Entry subscription. You are capped at level 60 on all jobs, though you may level as many of them as you like. Any experience you gain on a capped job is wasted (this is also true if you buy just the base game without expansions and you hit the level cap).

Patch 5.3 Free Trial Expansion – Level 60 and Heavensward

It’s extremely important to note that Square Enix is expanding the free trial with patch 5.3. So when that releases on August 11, 2020, the free trial will include the entire base game and Heavensward! That is honestly amazing news for any prospective players, as you’ll get access to the first four years of the game’s content for free.

A common complaint of new players was how the beginning of the game can feel a bit slow, and previously being capped at level 35 didn’t let you explore all the cool things the game has. This change in 5.3 will definitely allow you to see more of the selling points for yourself so you know if you want to make the purchase.

Again, this does not mean the game is free to play up to level 60. It means that if you have not bought the game, you may try it up to level 60. If you bought the game and then later let your subscription time run out, you will not be able to log in even for content below level 60.

Free Trial Restrictions

Some other notable restrictions to the free trial include:

You cannot use certain chat functions, including private messaging.

You cannot use the in-game marketboard or trade with other players.

You cannot hire a retainer (extra inventory management).

You cannot create parties or linkshells (chat groups) but you can be invited to them.

You cannot be in a Free Company (player guild).

I HIGHLY recommend downloading the free trial. Despite the restrictions it will still introduce you to the overall feel of the game, including main story duties (solo combat), dungeons and trials (matchmade co-operative combat), gathering, and crafting. You’ll also get tons of flavourful stories in the class quests and job quests, which each have a complete story arc of their own.

If you really want to squeeze all the value out of it, you can level all of the jobs as much as you can during the free trial, but personally I recommend just one or two to get a sense of their theme and style, and maybe a crafter or gatherer, then buy the base game to continue on with the main story.

The lower levels in this game aren’t terribly exciting combat-wise since you don’t have all your skills, and you may burn yourself out trying to level so many jobs when they are at their least engaging. I played the free trial for a week or two and knew I was interested enough to purchase the game after that.

Is the Game Worth a Subscription?

I think you know my answer, since I probably wouldn’t be writing all this if I didn’t enjoy the game, but I will state it here anyway in no uncertain terms. This is a great game with hundreds of hours of content to play through. I’ve been playing for over a year and there’s still plenty of content I haven’t really explored. A FFXIV subscription to me is totally worth it.

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Don’t feel like you have to do every single thing the game has to offer. If there are some jobs or pieces of content you don’t enjoy as much, you can focus on whichever parts of the game you do enjoy. Glamour, housing, treasure maps, endgame raiding, chocobo racing, jumping puzzles, and of course much more, including so, SO many stories to play through in sidequests in addition to the main story quest (MSQ).

If you choose to take a break and stop paying the subscription at any point, the only thing you may lose is your plot of land, if you had bought one. The reasoning behind this is to open up housing spaces for people actively playing the game, so if you don’t enter your house at least once in 45 days, it will be relinquished. If you buy an apartment, that will never be demolished.

Where/How do I Buy the Game? How Much is it?

Let’s get the prices out of the way. Prices obviously depend on your region/currency, but the quick breakdown in USD is as follows: $19.99 for the base game (includes one month FFXIV subscription), $39.99 for the current expansion pack (includes all expansions), and $12.99 for one month’s subscription. Note that the game and its expansions do go on sale on various platforms from time to time, so you may be able to find it for cheaper than these prices if you wait it out.

To get started with the free trial or to buy the game, go to the Final Fantasy XIV site where you will be prompted to create a Square Enix account. You can also get the base game on Amazon (PS4, PC).

When buying the game, the ‘starter edition’ is just the base game (A Realm Reborn) up to level 50. The ‘complete edition’ is the base game plus all expansions. Both options come with 30 days of subscription time. NOTE: The newest expansion Shadowbringers comes out July 2, 2019. Buying the complete edition right now only has the first two expansions. Wait until July 2, at which point the complete edition will include all three expansions!

If you have the base game and are looking to get the upcoming expansion, you can preorder it from the Square Enix store, or on Amazon (PS4, PC, Mac). The preorder gives you a bonus minion and a pair of in-game earrings that increase your combat experience gain up to level 70. Expansions on their own do NOT come with subscription time.

After you have bought the game, go to the Mog Station to manage your subscription, as well as to pay for various services like server transfers, cash shop items, name change, or extra retainers.

And that’s everything! Hopefully this has helped you figure out how to get started, or if a FFXIV subscription is right for you. Again, I do recommend starting with the free trial for a low-commitment peek into the game with no time limit, so you can explore it at your own pace. Let me know in the comments if you have further questions about subscribing or the different expansions. See you in Eorzea!

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