Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward in review – odds and ends
We’ve covered the majority of the game’s battle content, but there’s still a bit more stuff to cover, and I could probably go into more depth on a few areas if I wanted this to be even longer. But let’s start by covering the content that, arguably, flopped pretty badly on launch, to the point where the whole system got yanked, revised, and returned in a much more tolerable form. Which has its own problems, but hopefully provides a good template moving forward.
Exploratory missions are one of the game’s neat ideas that it still doesn’t seem to know quite how to manage. The problem ties into several issues, not the least of which is the fact that housing in the game is still, to put it mildly, a problem. There was never going to be a situation wherein just letting free companies fly off to explore was going to work out, but the game had to also offer something to encourage sending out airships on missions. The result is… well, sort of a mess.
The current form of the Diadem is, to be honest, something I like. A friend and I will regularly pop in, complete the mission, then gather until time runs out. It reminds me a bit of Final Fantasy XI zone design in that regard, partly due to the whole sense of fighting things as a party but sneaking and gathering while solo. It’s not the most engaging actual battle content, but the overall flow of the place is nice.
What complicates the zone is that, really, its position is haphazard. It sits outside of the regular reward structure in a way that doesn’t really support anything perfectly; it gives gatherers some nice rewards and some nice opportunities, but you have a harder time getting in to just gather and you’re rather limited once you are in. It wants to be something you feel rewarded for doing, but at the same time it wants to not overshadow the structured battle content that makes up the core of group content.
If anything, the big problem with the Diadem has always been that it serves too many masters, trying to be compelling while being optional, and all of its rewards feel rather like random twitches in different directions. I think the current actual flow of the zone is fun enough; I think the rewards are still a bit unsteady, especially when you consider how late the current zone came to the game.
Still, we’re getting another take on this once Stormblood rolls around; I don’t know if Eureka is meant to be exactly the same style, but the hints seem to be that it’s a natural evolution. It needs refining compared to the current incarnation, but I can see how a zone similar to the current Diadem could enhance the expansion significantly. Mark this down as a learning experience.
Gathering and crafting with collections
I am, I admit, not the best person to talk about the overall impact of gathering and crafting. My interest in both comes down chiefly to the fact that there’s a lot of self-sufficiency involved; I can repair all of my own gear, I can gather materials to sell, and I can meld my own materia. Those elements are nice, but I don’t consider gathering or crafting to be my primary draw.
And it’s a good thing I don’t, because unfortunately the promise of scrips never quite lived up to the execution. This seems, in part, to be another element of the game which got improved at the eleventh hour; Zhloe’s turnins and the promise of custom deliveries does a lot to open up this area of gameplay.
But overall, a lot of the gameplay revolving around collectible ratings and turnins felt rather gated. I can only imagine trying to level up one crafting class; I was lucky to have everything leveled ahead of time, I’d have been in a bad situation otherwise. It’s not that the system was broken, just that it relied on a fair bit of luck, a lot of waitplay, and generally not a whole lot of improvement over 2.0’s crafting system. Either you sank a huge amount of money and time into it and got everything, or you were reluctant to do so and got absolutely nothing.
This, again, seems like something that can serve as a learning experience. And make no mistake, while it seems like a mixed bag, that mixed bag is still far better than what we had in 2.0. Any sort of unified system would be. I think it needs a little more adjustment, and we need more space for more casual crafters/gatherers to make use of blue scrips (or the equivalent) while leaving the red (or equivalent, again) for the dedicated crowd. Crafting and gathering needs a more expanded mid-tier, in other words.
The numbers game
The last big issue facing the expansion is just one of numbers, and this is something I want to discuss in more detail with the next (and hopefully final) installment. The short version, though, is that somewhere along the line, restraint went out the window with item levels. There were hints of this in the base game, marching around with level 130 gear at level 50, but the problem has been compounded with a full set of level 270 gear.
There are two problems here, as I see it. The first one is that the spread between our level and our item levels is growing uncomfortably fast; the second is that the spread between our starting and ending points is getting wider as well. A fresh 50 would be decked out in level 50 gear and would end with level 130 gear, an 80-level climb; by contrast, a fresh 60 would be wearing level 150 and would work up 120 levels to the end point. The climb is higher, the stats are more inflated, and the result is that things like individual stat bonuses increasingly feel less relevant.
In short, it feels like the spread here was just too wide. The goal was to give every different source of gear a place in terms of item level, but the net result was having too much difference between the high and low ends. It also resulted in situations where tanks wind up having so much health that you almost have to just forego defense in favor of offense; nothing can actually cut through your huge pile of HP even if you make yourself more fragile.
For Heavensward, it’s not a dealbreaker. But it’s the sort of inflation which can, over time, get out of hand. I feel like some slowing effort was put into the system by the end, but I’d prefer if Stormblood were a bit more contained.
However, I’ll talk about that more next week, when I finish up this series of in-review columns once and for all. Until then, leave your thoughts in the comments or mail them along to email@example.com.