Also, we’re reaching the point where I know I’m going to forget to mention at least one or two things that were really keen from the expansion, but that’s a different discussion.
In terms of sheer volume, of course, Heavensward nearly matched what we got from the base game in terms of patches, and arguably surpassed it in some categories; sure, we only got 10 dungeons from patches rather than 15, but if you didn’t have any interest in Coil in 2.x, you got the entirety of Alexander, which was new. But volume alone isn’t the determinant of how good that content was. So let’s start in on that, albeit not with the dungeons.
The environs of Coerthas
One of the things I’ve complained about before is that Heavensward suffered a bit from being concentrated in a narrow field. While the relaunch had a dozen or so areas for every quest, Heavensward had just six, and several of them were largely off-limits. (With good cause, seeing as how Azys Lla isn’t really a place where many people hang out.) It helps, however, that all of the zones in question tended to be really big.
The open world areas also featured a nice trick with flying wherein you do not actually cover all of a zone on your first or even sometimes second trip to a region; there’s more stuff which you can only really access via flight. It’s a bit of wasted potential insofar as many places went on to not actually do much with those hard-to-access areas, but it addressed the obvious problem with flight unlocks per zone quite elegantly. Why would you go back if you have to clear the zone before flying? Because you don’t clear the zone.
The areas also have the benefit of largely feeling distinct and beautiful. I’m still not very fond of the brown ubiquity of the Churning Mists, but it’s not something you see anywhere else in the game. The Western Highlands feel a bit less elegant, but they are distinct from the central highlands, and if we didn’t have at least one snow-choked region we would have found it pretty darn weird.
Having flight also meant that there are fewer chokepoints where you absolutely have to ride through enemies, which is a nice touch. It’s fair to say that enemies in the open world are a touch more difficult than they were in the base game, but since you rarely need to just bypass them, it feels like continuity is preserved.
It’s also nice that enemies in the open world carried along Hunts as a mechanic, which was a nice way of expanding leveling and offering something neat to do while reclaiming a rather mismanaged system from 2.x. There’s a lot to like about the new zones, in other words; what’s not to like is a few odd removals and changes. I want to touch on most of that in the next header, though.
What is directly relevant to zone design, though? Aetheryte placement. The placement of these is terrible throughout the zones. There’s never one where you want one, and almost every single one is just placed right by a zone line. Compare that to the largely central placement in the other zones of Eorzea. If I teleport somewhere, I should not find myself thinking that it’s just a more expensive way to run across the map.
Where are the leves?
While a lot of mechanical adjustments for the expansion worked out quite well, the adjustments made to leves both pretty much sputtered and failed right out of the gate. Leves in general got shoved into an odd corner with the expansion, since they completely removed regional levemetes and instead forced players to run back and forth between Ishgard and leveling zones for… particularly slow gains.
On one hand, I understand this. The point of this expansion’s systems, in part, was to mix up the way that the leveling system worked a little. You don’t just sit and hammer at leves (or run around and spam AoE damage in FATEs, but that’s another discussion), you have to vary things up more. You have to do hunts, you have to follow beast tribes, and so forth. I can respect that.
At the same time, it has the downside of meaning that players who enjoyed just kicking back with stacks of leves (myself) were kind of out of luck, and it made them largely irrelevant outside of gathering and some crafting intervals. The Temple levequests were also something of a wash; they’re tremendously inefficient and don’t really offer much in the way of a reward buff, so there’s not a whole lot of point to them other than bragging rights and using up your stacks of allowances.
We got a lot of really great leveling options here, but this got unfortunately left by the wayside. I understand the reasons why the decisions were made, but I don’t altogether agree with them.
We got a pretty great lineup of leveling dungeons, really. For a 10-level interval, five dungeons is pretty good, although Dusk Vigil winds up feeling like the odd one out. It’s the only one not part of the MSQ, after all.
Dusk Vigil and Sohm Al also suffer a bit from having either absurdly easy or rather ignorable mechanics for the most part; the first bosses of both dungeons wind up being almost ludicrously simple piles of health to blow through, which is the sort of Big Al’s Discount Boss Emporium crap I expect from Blizzard’s design team. This is, however, short-lived, and The Vault is one of the most enjoyable leveling dungeons we’ve ever had.
The fact that each dungeon has a themed set of armor seems like it might have been a bit of overkill, though. Admittedly, one set of armor is just later models without dye options and one set is really just variants on the same set of hunting furs, but beyond that… it was a bit excessive.
Then again, seeing as how the initial tuning expected you to run these dungeons a lot to level, perhaps it makes more sense in the long run. But I still feel like it’s a bit of overkill, and more to the point, it’s a symptom of the inflation of gear stats that hit things hard once we got up to the endgame dungeons and content.
That, however, will have to wait for our next installment. For this week, you can leave your comments down below or mail them along to firstname.lastname@example.org; next time, I’m going to be hitting Palace of the Dead, high-level dungeons, and what I like to think of as the Numbers Problem. (Including how it could be solved without massively rewriting the game, if anyone cares.)