There’s a whole lot to be said about the Diadem. Let’s start: It’s kind of a mess because it’s a really solid idea lacking the clarity of purpose found in most of the game.
Well, that was quick. Who wants lunch? Or, no, you want me to elaborate on that point for another several hundred words as I always do. I suppose that’s fair.
In the broadest terms, the Diadem is sort of meant to be a new style of content for Final Fantasy XIV, something that it hasn’t tried before. The designers have showed that they know how to design dungeons, large-group challenges, massive raids, solo content, crafting content, and so forth. What the game hasn’t yet had is content aimed at loosely banding several players together for content at a lower stress threshold. That was the idea behind Hunts, but due to a number of factors, they didn’t quite work. And most of those same factors are hitting the Diadem just as hard, just from different angles.
The biggest complaint that people have leveled against the Diadem – or the biggest one from particular quarters – is that it makes acquiring gear too easy. Instead of having to focus your efforts on earning level 210 gear, you can just randomly get it for showing up! It decouples any idea that you should be getting the best gear from more challenging content!
This is not my complaint. Leaving aside the sheer numerical improbability of getting a full set of level 210 best-in-slot gear from the – I can’t stress this enough – totally random process of the Diadem, if it happens? I don’t care. I’d be perfectly happy if everyone got a set of the best-in-slot gear when the patch launched and then it was a matter of unlocking vanity appearances. I think there’s something to be said for those pointing out that there’s now pressure on progression groups to run the content because best-in-slot gear might randomly drop and might prevent all progression groups from starting on the same footing with patch 3.2, but that’s a minor concern.
What bothers me far more is that the Diadem is, for lack of a better term, boring.
Any open-world content suffers for this, at least in part. Instead of having to balance something to provide interesting challenges for four players, or eight, or 24, you have to balance for interesting challenges for four players up to infinity. That is nigh-on impossible for several reasons, not the least of which being that most of the tools in one’s arsenal to make such fights interesting start vanishing against the fact that players won’t be able to see it any longer.
Instead, what winds up happening is the same thing that happened to FATEs and Hunts: Everything simply turns into a damage sponge. Spam your abilities, eventually reduce its health. Hope you did enough damage to get a solid rating.
FATEs, by themselves, did a lot of damage to players leveling solely via spamming them rather than actually playing content, since they emphasize nothing so much as “spam abilities and use whatever AoE you have.” There’s nothing in that style of content which teaches players about positional awareness or solid rotations or adapting to mechanics, and so a lot of players hit walls in more developed content requiring all of that. Hunts, meanwhile, created a backward economy wherein the most rewarding course of action was to go right back to “spam and wait” instead of pursuing any other content, with a huge amount of drama over when someone pulled the boss.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes content rewarding to clear, and I think you could pare it down to three basic axes: challenge, company, and compensation. When one of those skews pretty badly, the content itself gets skewed. Dungeons offer solid challenge and compensation, but random queues can make the company you keep a bit dicey. One of the big complaints about Alexander Savage is that it offers plenty of challenge, and since you’re running with a static group the company is presumably solid, but the compensation lags behind significantly.
Hunts, FATEs, and the Diadem all jacked compensation up to the point that you kind of can’t ignore them. Challenge was nonexistent, and company was no assurance either, since you mostly just needed enough live bodies to pour damage into a target. Thus, we get the attitudes we see in the Diadem: Get Gold clears, kill enemies quickly, hurry it up, don’t waste time gathering because I’m here for me.
Some people have proposed that the core problem is that this content was designed for Free Companies, not for groups of random players, and if it had been restricted to just companies things would be better. And it may very well have been better in that regard, but at the cost of breaking down the game’s current flexibility regarding free companies, weakening the game in the long run.
Leaving aside the fact that there are tons of companies out there with the members and resources to buy a house but no actual houses to buy, I’d argue there’s currently nothing in the game requiring a free company. Chocobo stabling and gardening require some form of house, but not a free company, and a friend who lets you access those features ensures that there are options available. (Not as many as I would like, but that’s another discussion.) You do not need to be in a free company to do anything, up to and including advancing.
Tying the Diadem only to free companies would eliminate that. Suddenly, the game would swing pretty severely in the direction of the megaguild, something that the game as a whole has tried pretty hard to avoid. Why join a small free company when a bigger one can ensure you get into the Diadem and get better rewards, after all?
That’s disregarding the fact that the Diadem is still open-world, and that means you’re going to have different groups clashing with one another for different goals and rewards just the same, and we’re right back to the problem we currently have. This, I think, is ultimately a lack of focus for the Diadem as a whole.
Most of the content in the game has a pretty clear picture of whom it’s for and what it’s doing. The Diadem is a place with gathering nodes, and also monsters to fight, and a lot of very powerful rewards for doing both. There isn’t a clear sense of what one “should” do in the Diadem, and as a result people are butting up against one another trying to figure it out while looking for the best possible compensation along the way.
All of this is good. I am glad to see the designers trying something without knowing how it’s going to turn out. And the hope is that the designers are watching what’s happening, seeing the various bits that are still very disconnected, and taking notes about what can be done better the next time around. Yes, it’s a mess due to a lack of focus, but that doesn’t mean a focus cannot be found and developed over time.
I would rather hope the next iteration has more interesting forms of content in place, though.
Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around, I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart – job stones, roleplaying, and the cultural place of various jobs within the setting.