That’s not to say that the game hasn’t had really new stuff added along the way, of course – hunts, the Gold Saucer, treasure maps, the game’s entire PvP system and all of the according modes. But the core PvE rotation has become fairly locked in place over time. There are some minor shifts, some slight alterations, but at the heart of everything is a very reliable cadence and pace. And it’s one that could, in theory, continue for a very long time.
None of that is stopping. But the Palace of the Dead seems poised to break that particular cadence by adding even broader options.
There’s no indication that we’re going to step away from our existing set of content releases, of course, which makes me happy. One of the many parts about Final Fantasy XIV that I like is that the game does not try to incentivize players to try out new things by obviating old things. Rewards are not removed or diminished over time; rather, new pursuits are added. The current Expert reward structure is the same as it was midway through the 2.x series, albeit with some extra incentives for running more diverse content and making use of more systems.
But the Palace isn’t part of that same structure. It exists outside of that climb. You could be sporting a perfect item level at max level and wind up pairing with a character who hasn’t yet unlocked jobs; there’s a different system at play within the Palace of the Dead — a different reward track that we don’t know about as of yet.
That’s the part that interests me the most, in no small part because of how little we know right now. There are basically just two established facts about the Palace progression structure:
- It is an independent system from the leveling system in the main game, but it does include levels; we’re told that it starts “from level one.”
- While within the palace, this progression is what determines your ability, not your item level.
By itself, that’s remarkably little to go on. But there are some implications contained therein, and I think it’s fair to read between the lines and say that some of that progression is coming out of the Palace along with you.
Why do I say that? Well, we know there are going to be rewards. There is almost nothing in the game that doesn’t have some sort of larger reward for the game as a whole. Sure, your PvP levels don’t apply for PvE content, but you can buy gear (for cosmetics) and you earn PvE tomestones by queueing. The question becomes what those rewards will be… and a bit of thought makes it clear that those rewards are probably not going to be simple gear. Why would you disable item levels and then force players to earn a whole new set of stat-improving gear that only works in one particular instance?
Yes, by making the Palace very fun, I know, but that’s still a bit light on rewards.
Logically, the obvious reward for this separate progression system is for said progression system to have an impact outside of the dungeon itself. Experience is a solid reward for sub-60 jobs, of course, but you’ll want something to show for your efforts at 60 as well. And giving players a form of horizontal progression from within the dungeon is the easiest way to do exactly that.
This is not a given, of course; it’s possible that the Palace will simply provide a solo-friendly way of earning tomestones for outside progression. But I wouldn’t be surprised if jobs get access to some new tricks for use outside of the Palace, even if I’m not entirely sure what form that might take. I may just have Final Fantasy XI‘s Merit/Job Points on my mind, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Of course, there’s more to the dungeon than just the progression system. The fact that the whole thing is also A) randomized and B) flexible in party size brings to mind systems that I quite loudly declared that FFXIV should steal from elsewhere, particularly Star Wars: The Old Republic. The dungeon is unlikely to be truly random, but rather assembled from random bits and pieces with an unpredictable order. Shades of SWTOR‘s Star Fortresses with World of Warcraft‘s upcoming Challenge dungeons, then.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the dungeon handles its save points over time and whether or not there will be any sort of reset; I half-expect that the dungeon will be something you don’t necessarily complete in one go. While there is a limit to how many floors exist, I wouldn’t be surprised if the party leader dictates the explored dungeon, with other players coming along for the ride (and possibly passing leadership to run another Palace instance). This also makes a certain amount of sense insofar as you will be racing time and trying to go as deep as possible, something which can be stymied early on just by the mechanics of progression.
We’re also going to need to see something addressing the fairly small number of mechanics that can make for interesting content and fights when you have a player running solo. In groups, you can provide challenges for each individual role, but when you’re dealing with a single player with a limited skillset, it’s more challenging to make a fight that’s not just “race down its health bar.” What little we’ve seen suggests that players will be facing boss encounters, so I expect to learn more about that over time.
Mostly, though, I’m intrigued by the promise of some new sort of progression, and very excited simply by the nature of this. For the first time in a long while, the endgame is throwing us a real curveball with something that’s meant not as a supplement to existing content but an outright new progression track. It’s the first hints of the diverse sort of endgame content that fills FFXI right now. Sure, it’s just the start of something, but I can see it being a system that accompanies us moving forward, just like the rest of the game’s endgame structure.
Also, it raises the question of what the heck is up with the Shroud.
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, there should be some live letter fun to gnaw on, so let’s just plan on discussing that, shall we?