You know, the same way we do every year at this point.
This year has been rather back-and-forth, I feel, even though very little of that is due to actual content. The quantity and quality of content seems to have remained largely constant all through Stormblood thus far, but there are some places where the game feels more uneven than it has in the past, and there are strong flairs of discontent from players in areas that don’t always make a whole lot of sense to me. Or if they do make sense, at least seem… off, just the same.
The year that was
I think, at this point, you can really define the past year by Eureka. Which is a brilliant bit of meta-commentary, a reminder to players about what’s being requested, and also something many people dive into while loathing every minute of it.
Eureka and Pagos are very much throwbacks to the older style of content in Final Fantasy XI and even bits of 1.0. That is intentional, I’m sure. And I feel as if they’re a useful bit of comment for the people decrying the fact that the game isn’t more like that, a reminder that approach isn’t actually super fun all of the time. I think that it’s a good thing to have in there. I even find it fun, under the right circumstances! As an upgrade method, it’s certainly less obnoxious than chaining FATEs for Atma and such.
It’s also, well, grinding and tedious. And for many players, this is just an unpleasant hoop to jump through in order to get that upgrade and that dyed artifact gear.
Eureka as a whole feels like a missed opportunity. The meta-commentary is neat, the idea behind it is neat, but the actual feel in play isn’t always a lot of fun, and it rewards a playstyle most of the world has rightly moved on from as mandatory. Moreover, it offers nothing for anyone beyond the people interested in grinding; compare it to Diadem, which had something interesting for gathering and crafting as well as some lighter combat.
This is where some of the aforementioned player discontent comes from. It’s easy to lose sight of all of the other things the game is doing right, and the fact is that there’s a lot of stuff out there which is not Eureka and is significantly better than it has been in the past. Eureka is an effort to do something different, but it’s not a terribly successful effort in that regard, and as a result it’s easy to find it more tedious than anything. And when you see that it’s the most unprecedented bit of content in the game at the moment when everything else is familiar…
Well, that’s just it. It’s familiar. We’re hitting that point in any expansion when people get a little more bored, just because we know the format, we know the new jobs, we’re accustomed to the pace. And while I don’t share any frustration with Eureka, I can understand where it comes from.
In short, it’s not that this past year was bad; it’s that a lot of it trafficked upon repacking familiar things and becoming more familiar. This is fine in and of itself, and I think if people were more fond of Eureka as a whole, it would have gone over better. It’s an interesting take on doing an open-world area, much like Diadem, but I feel like having nothing but Eureka might not have been the best way to handle things.
The year to come
While there are rumblings of discontent, I think a lot of them come down to being in the part wherein we all know the next expansion is on its way. There’s no mystery about that; November will see another expansion announcement. (Once we’ve gone through our next patch we’ll probably even know where we’re heading, although it’ll be subtle.) If 4.3 (just like 3.3) was the “heart” of the expansion, the next two patches are the transitional action to our next destination.
Not that this is a bad thing; it means that we’re going to see firm wrap-ups to both Omega and Ivalice and start moving somewhere with the story, which I feel has struggled a bit since the end of the main expansion. The straight shot of Stormblood was a great bit of storytelling, but the subsequent stories have felt much more like tying up loose ends, and it felt as if we had two patches building up Yotsuyu’s story because we didn’t get enough of it the first time through. So I shan’t be sorry to move on from these regions; it feels like we’ve been killing time for a while.
Of course, this also means we’re going to start seeing more hints about the next jobs. Keep your eye on Yoshida’s shirts once we start in on the fan festivals; my personal speculation will wait until after 4.4 in mid-September. After that we’ll get 4.5 in late January, and you can probably bet on a midpoint patch in March and the expansion in June of 2019. Just wait for it.
What the next year needs
At the end of the day, what we need to come along in September and November both is something that’s been missing for a bit. We need some hype.
Regardless of how you feel about Eureka, it’s been a little hard to get hype about the game for a while simply because we all know how good it is at what it does. It’s not news any more. We’re not going to be surprised by the fact that the game has reliable schedules or great boss fights or astonishing roleplay support or any of that. All of this stuff is known now, and what the game really needs to provide players is a reason to get fired up again. We’ve been missing that for a while.
September is a part of this because we need a story installment and such that’s going to have us wondering what happens next instead of one we already know more or less by heart. There were surprises in 4.3’s story, but most of them were of the “moving pieces in the right areas” sort; we need the “what the heck is happening, this is amazing” sort. We need a reminder of how far afield the game can go and what we can have crouching in the wings, in other words.
The next expansion also needs to surprise is. I’ve discussed how cross-role actions failed; we need a system that works, and one to be excited over. In addition to new jobs, even. We should be rethinking a bit of how to play our jobs at this point, not in the sense of “I no longer know how Dark Knight works” but in the sense of “I can make my Dark Knight stand out a bit more from the crowd.”
So what will we get? I suppose we’ll see after the next live letter, which I’ll cover next week. Until then, feedback is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.