Wisdom of Nym: Four years since Final Fantasy XIV’s relaunch
What was once shocking or surprising has now become mundane, and what was unexpected is now the most expected thing in the world. Another expansion is going to come out in a little under two years, we’re going to get more reliably paced patches, the game is going to continue on as it has to this point. Is there nothing interesting to say about all of that?
Of course there is.
The year that was
Even though Stormblood only came out in June, we’ve been waiting for it since October, and arguably a little earlier than even that. The result is that the last two patches were less about “how cool is what’s happening right now” and more about “how cool is what happens next going to be,” which puts a bit of a damper on the experience. The 3.5 series in particular felt like endless buildup for a big payoff that never quite happened, and so while the 3.3 conclusion was a solid wrapup, we spent a bit of time wandering with less direction story-wise.
Tragic? Arguably not; it set things up and avoided the major meandering problems of the 2.x patch quests, so I can’t find it in my heart to complain too much. But gosh, I really didn’t much care about what happened with the Warriors of Darkness, and it was rough going making the Far Edge of Fate feel moving instead of tedious. We were awaiting a big reveal, and instead we got rather mundane progression. Good for managing expectations and ensuring that we don’t expect a stunning reveal with every pre-expansion story bit, but still a bit perfunctory along the way.
Stormblood itself, though, covers a multitude of sins. It’s a whole new expansion of content, and to my surprise, it actually does journeyman service toward correcting a large chunk of what Heavensward did wrong. That’s not a tremendously long list, but it’s clear that many of the bits I mentioned as problematic last year were actually examined and addressed. We have a three-dungeon Expert rotation again, we’ve got crafting and gathering classes with more refined and enjoyable systems, we have an expansion that feels new and fresh in ways that Heavensward didn’t while holding itself to the same high standard.
It also, ultimately, tells a pretty firm story about what we should expect for future major system changes and unlikely they are outside of expansions. Which is good to know, if a bit on the slower side.
While the last year or so has been a bit quieter and a bit more about managing expectations, the payoff for all of that is, well, payoff. So I can’t find myself too upset about the former when the latter is the end result.
What happens next
Everyone has pegged the game’s next major patch as happening in early October, and we’ve got a live letter coming up very soon that’s likely to provide confirmation of exactly that. Then we’ll have 4.2 in late January, we’ll see 4.3 in May, and we’ll be looking forward to 4.4 very soon while speculating about the third expansion around this time next year. That’s what we all see coming, right? Right.
A bunch of stuff is slated to arrive with 4.1, too; we’ve got another new dungeon coming, more story after the wide-open field of the expansion’s ending, the Return to Ivalice alliance raid, and doubtlessly some other secret things we don’t know about yet. (I hope new egi glamour, too.) Also, Shirogane housing should be opening some time around then, so we can all look forward to the awkwardness of that rush. (It won’t be fun.) Plenty of stuff to keep us occupied through the end of the year, in short.
The two after that will be, well, what we’re expecting. More Omega, new gear sets, new lore, new story, and so forth. There will be new things to do and new ways to do old things (that raid roulette, for example), and we’re going to do most of them because the rewards are generally pretty well tuned.
Making the next year work
While I’ve usually opined that there’s something unique about making a game work this well for this long, the fact of the matter is that FFXIV is now at the point where its behavior is expected. No one is surprised when it continues to roll out steady updates that work well and have a nice assortment of content. It’s expected.
As always, the biggest challenge for the game becomes threading the needle, keeping what works consistent while also avoiding the stagnation of doing the same thing for all eternity. Heavensward introduced some new content wrinkles with exploration missions, map dungeons, the Deep Dungeon, and two different raid difficulties; we should be getting exploration missions soon, and the other two have already carried forward, so now it’s a question of when we’re getting more Deep Dungeon and what other new stuff we’ll be exploring.
We’re also hitting a dangerous critical mass, in a way, with the sheer amount of content available in the high end obviating the low end. The fact that we have level and story skip potions can be a bit worrisome, but not for the usually quoted reasons of “oh, people might not know how to play.” It’s a memory of how other games consider the current expansion relevant and everything else secondary, resulting in the older content being a complete wasteland.
So perhaps the best thing to focus on for this year as we keep moving forward is to give us reasons to look back as well. On a whole, the game is generally very good about it with only slight missteps, but now that you can literally hop past all of the base game (and the new jobs encourage that) it can be easier to lose sight of the past. We can only hope that this isn’t a constant trend but another option, that people still have just as much reason to explore the sub-50 game as we do to explore the newer areas.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. As an aside, I’d like to note how grand it is to have been writing about this game straight from its initial launch, through the relaunch, and through all of the subsequent expansions; I always get nostalgic around this point about the simple fun of having seen everything grow, change, expand, and improve. Thank you for four marvelous years since the relaunch; I’ll be back next week to talk about what we’ve got coming with the next major patch for the game.