Seven years in (sort of; it’s complicated), Final Fantasy XIV is as popular as ever, with its shining reputation for storytelling, gameplay, and production keeping its flow of new players constant. Now that the latest expansion, Shadowbringers, is coming to a storyline close, the road to the next expansion will begin soon. But what if you’re still testing the waters? Or perhaps your friends being so hype over the last year finally broke you. But with so many options to sift through, it may be a little intimidating to start. So we’ve got you covered.

How to Start Playing Final Fantasy XIV

First of all, you have to decide which platform to play the game on. As a fair warning, no matter how tempting those low prices are, do not purchase any Final Fantasy XIV SKU for the PlayStation 3. That version of the game was discontinued. You’ll just be wasting your money! And speaking of wasting your money, that will also be the case if you purchase the base game, also known as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. You’ll see a “starter edition” on sale on every platform for around twenty bucks, but that’s twenty more bucks than you need to play to get started.

Here’s the best part of starting Final Fantasy XIV in 2020. On your platform of choice, be it PlayStation 4 or PC, you can download the Final Fantasy XIV Free Trial. Despite the name, this will allow you to set up a regular service account for the game, and give you the entirety of the Realm Reborn base game, and the first expansion, Heavensward. That’s a pretty big deal, especially if you aren’t sure if you’ll stick with this game or not. That’s dozens of hours of MMO content, entirely for free.

Related: How to Change Your Final Fantasy XIV Title Screen

If you do get the Free Trial, do not spend any real money on the game. If you buy a time card, or an extra expansion, or anything, your account will lose its Free Trial state and swap over to a regular account that requires the subscription fee. There’s no reason to pay to play Final fantasy XIV until you’re ready to move onto Stormblood, the second expansion. And even then, your entry purchase isn’t too bad, either.

If you decide you’re all in, all you need to purchase next is the latest expansion, Shadowbringers. It retails for $39.99 at this point, and that will get you all the way caught up. There’s no reason to purchase Stormblood and Shadowbringers separately, because the latter includes both. But again, wait until your free trial is over! If you are playing on PC, there’s one more weird hitch to be aware of, which only really comes up if you want to take advantage of a sale sometime down the line.

There are two ways to buy Final Fantasy XIV for PC. You can get it directly from Square Enix’s website(s), or you can get it on Steam. These are, in terms of the backend, two different licenses. If you get the base game on Steam you won’t be able to apply an expansion you buy from the Square Enix store, and vice versa. As you might expect, the PS4 version is also a separate license, and so is the Mac version. Your character and progress apply no matter which platform you’re playing on, but you will have to double-dip on purchases.

From there, all you need to do is follow the account creation instructions. The next important step is choosing your Data Center and server. While the game does allow you to play with folks on other servers, it doesn't let you play across Data Centers. So if you're trying to join your friends, make sure you ask them which to sign up for. Capacity is also a common issue in Final Fantasy XIV, and there are incentives for signing up on a lower-population server. If you're starting without a squad, this is an ideal choice. But if you're trying to join your friends and the server is full, it's always possible to hold off on completing the process and trying again every day or so. If you started with the Free Trial, and you should start with the Free Trial, you won't be burning any paid game time.

Are you interested in starting Final Fantasy XIV but intinimated by the multiple and redundant purchasing options? hopefully our buyer's guide here helped you out! Just make sure to read all the fine print, and you'll be set to get the most out of your starting hours in Eorzea. After that, it's a matter of following waypoints and getting through the recently-streamlined Realm Reborn storyline. It's a grind, but players swear it's worthwhile once the Heavensward content kicks in. Let us know what you think over at the Prima Games Facebook and Twitter channels!