I have a bit of a theory regarding television shows, you see. The first season is basically a matter of seeing whether or not your show can sustain interest over the first set of episodes. If you get a second season, the question becomes whether or not the show can do that again, whether or not it can be consistent. That means the third season is a question of whether or not you can play around with the established formula enough to keep interest while still repeating that initial success.
Final Fantasy XIV can, apparently, do exactly that. This means that the past year has been a success, even if it’s had a few checkered moments along the way.
The year we’ve had
Last year, I wrote about this topic when we were staring down the barrel of patch 3.1. This year, we’re coming toward the latter end of patch 3.3, we’re starting to wonder about 3.4, and we know there’s some expansion news coming out in October. And it’s been a pretty good year… albeit with some messy bits.
The two-dungeon-per-Expert rotation has continued, as feared, and it unfortunately hasn’t really ameliorated the central problem. Our current dungeons are pretty straightforward romps, but I think it’s hard to dispute that Hullbreaker is the easier of the two, and I know I’m always cheering for that when I queue up. We’ve still got the mess of the cross-class system, housing is still a problem (albeit one that 3.4 is poised to address, depending on how apartment housing shakes out), and so forth. As with a year ago, the problems the game has are not central but peripheral.
It’s easy to overlook most of them, though, because the actual point-by-point progress of the game has been pretty great. Story progress has been brisk and devoid of the meandering that characterized large chunks of 2.x’s MSQ, the new dungeons have been almost universally well-designed, we’ve had two entirely new forms of content added to the game (one of which I quite liked, one of which I did not, but hey), and the Alexander changes have ensured that everyone gets to experience content and story even if you’re not among the more progression-minded playerbase.
We also have seen a lot of attention paid to the leveling process with the beast tribe quests, which, while not perfect, certainly do smooth over the experience appreciably. I have no complaints there.
So while I do have some problems with those peripheral problems still hanging around well after they should have been addressed, the game has maintained a steady course at its core while also expanding and experimenting with new options. The result is a game that feels very similar to how it felt last year, but as a positive rather than a symptom of stagnation.
What’s around the bend
It’s a known fact that the next expansion is going to be announced in October. It has not actually been announced, but Yoshida has coyly hinted at it often enough that it’s all but a given. It’s also all but a given that the expansion will include at least two new jobs, probably three, and another level cap increase while we head over to Ala Mhigo. At this point, the pieces have been put into place, and while it would be possible to greatly change the course of events, the smart money is on a rather predictable series of big moves even without knowing the smaller ones.
The next patch will probably also be out in October, complete with a new housing system of some kind to handle the people currently upset by the housing fiasco and more stuff to do with Grand Companies. I am looking forward to all of this; the Companies have languished in place for quite some time, and housing is one of those big issues that’s been there for a year now, exacerbated by the whole Diadem setup. We also have a big question mark regarding the story, since the Dragonsong War wraps up pretty definitively by the end of 3.3; there’s lots of space to bring us into the next leg of our journey, but fewer definite markers by which a tale may be anticipated.
That is exciting in its own way. But it also means that we have a much wider path than the past, and it means that we’re expecting a cleaner transition between story installments than we had for Heavensward. I’m curious to see where 3.4 goes with the story, especially if – as I and many others expect – we’ll be seeing two more patches before the expansion launches in the middle of next year.
In a way, the next expansion would have had an easier time if Heavensward had included some major flubs. The next expansion has to walk a delicate line of both preserving what worked for this expansion and improving upon it while also introducing us to things we haven’t necessarily seen before. Sure, the game’s been doing well, but the potential for stagnation and loss of interest is real; no one wants Heavensward again, same as before. Not even me.
The result is that the next year is going to be tricky for the game on two levels. On the one hand, it has to show off its next expansion and show to players that the stuff that they love is still going to be there. On the other hand, it also has to show people who are getting a touch bored with the existing setup that more cool stuff is around the corner, unfettered by the same regular dungeon-and-big-dungeon format that has dominated the game’s patch cycle forever.
There’s also a real need for refinement in certain areas; gatherers in particular (and crafters to a lesser extent) have stagnated a bit following the most recent patches. There’s plenty to do with both, but we’ve had the same gathering/crafting classes forever, and the gameplay hasn’t significantly evolved or changed since the expansion launch. Collectibles were a neat idea that has some holes with implementation, and the crafts suffer a lot from over-reliance on low-level items along the way, including some things that were rather annoying to get when they were being gathered for high-end recipes. Now that no one is gathering them, it doesn’t exactly make the crafting process less irritating.
In short, the past year has been a good one. A very good one, even. But there does need to be some attention paid to the parts of the game that have grown a bit stagnant, and the next year will show how well that happens. Is the game going to continue to grow, or is it going to start locking into place? Only time will tell.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, I want to talk about the history of the Warriors of Darkness in the franchise and what they could mean here, given that it’s heavily implied they will be playing a bigger role moving forward.