Sometimes I wind up starting these a bit early because there’s just not much to write about; other times I’m writing well in advance because gosh, we’ve already had so much stuff to discuss about Final Fantasy XIV and now I’m writing the last column of the year before we’ve even seen the live letter on the 21st. I might have actually had more to discuss post-live letter! I don’t know yet. But we’ll get to that down in the “next time” column because this is really my last chance to do a year in review.
Let’s not mince words here. As much as I think this game deserves its spot as game of the year (obviously), that doesn’t mean you can ignore the fact that the first two stages of Eureka had a frosty reception at best. Pyros seems to have gone over better as a whole, but the playerbase first saw Eureka as a chore and unpleasant, and subsequent additions have only recently softened things up.
This is a problem insofar as Eureka was the biggest “new” piece of content for the expansion. It wasn’t just a replacement for Diadem, and I would argue that the lack of a Diadem-like exploration mission was actually a loss for the expansion as a whole, but it was also new relic advancement and resurrecting Final Fantasy XI’s playstyle for all the people who would not stop asking for that.
Yes, there were definitely bits of schadenfreude there for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the first time content really didn’t have fans but just people who were all right with it. This, I think, is where some of the consternation over Stormblood comes from; unlike Diadem and Palace of the Dead in Heavensward, this content hasn’t really delighted anyone with its novelty.
And beyond that, yes, we have mostly gotten the stuff we got in Heavensward. Heaven-on-High is a new Deep Dungeon, new Alliance Raids and the end of Omega, all stuff that has been good but also pretty decidedly familiar to long-time players.
Other issues have trickled in over time, to boot. The huge extra set of houses helped things, but we still have the same core issue we’ve had with housing for… well, forever. (Again, for those of you thinking this is sour grapes, I own a large house as a personal plot.) Some jobs just are not performing up to snuff, like Machinist and Dark Knight; this goes beyond personal preference and into the territory of actual weaknesses in design. Content also tended to be tuned a little harder in this expansion, it feels, although how much of that is fact and how much is just anecdotal remains up for debate.
You may notice that I always start these posts off with the negative highlights. There’s a reason for that. The negative highlights tend to be new things, while the positive ones tend to emphasize the fact that everything the game has been doing right continues to be done right. And that’s definitely the case this year, even if there isn’t quite as much of a surprising new “wow, this was done very well” element.
Heaven-on-High does everything right that Palace of the Dead did right, and actually gets a bit more right besides that. (I find the more compressed format means that you spend less time chewing on filler and more time getting into either the repeated parts or the brutally difficult content.) We haven’t had a real clunker of an Expert dungeon yet; arguably the worst of the batch was Temple of the Fist, which was still good. Every Omega fight delivers a fun experience.
And while Return to Ivalice might be tuned a little hard (by which I mean it has definitely been tuned too hard at launch on both of its parts, so I expect the same from the final part), the actual mechanics of the fights are usually pretty fun. Sure, Famfrit has a couple of far-too-annoying mechanics, but it’s a genuinely different fight from other battles. Here you have to worry about math, about games of Simon Says, and about watching indicators other than the floor to know what to do. It’s honestly good stuff once you’re no longer undergeared for it.
The storytelling has continued the high standards set by Heavensward while also not feeling like a rehash of the same story beats; if anything about it has bothered me, it’s people missing important elements because they aren’t telegraphed as clearly. (I’ve seen people getting upset over Yotsuyu’s redemption arc, which misses the fact that Yotsuyu’s story is explicitly not redemption. The whole point is that she and Fordola both had shots at redemption, and Fordola actually is doing the work while Yotsuyu fell back to the same patterns.) Not having to wrap things up post-expansion gave us the chance to roam a bit more, which is a nice change from the more constrained antics in Heavensward.
More custom deliveries were nice as well, although the dress-up idea left me rather cold. The general implementation of stuff like the Doman reconstruction and the beast tribe quests was top-notch, as well. In short, there were no clunkers within the overall spread of content; it’s just that the biggest new piece of never-before-seen content didn’t quite go over as hoped.
Which… yeah, that’s actually all right.
I don’t mean to say that it doesn’t make any difference that Eureka landed with a thud and failed to be crowd-pleasing, since obviously the alternative would be better almost by definition. What I mean is that at the end of the day, it’s honestly neither surprising nor cataclysmic that a new idea didn’t work perfectly. Not every single addition to the game needs to be a slam-dunk, and even the Diadem required a rework to get into its current state. Sometimes ideas don’t work out perfectly! You can pull the parts that worked and discard the rest, something that FFXIV has generally been good at doing without losing the core of its gameplay loop.
Of course, next year is already bringing a new type of content in the inclusion of Blue Mage with 4.5, but that’s just missing the annual cutoff. It makes sense to have that as our other big feature, but it just happened to be a little too slow to be included with this roundup. So it’s been a solid, positive year, but not an absolutely flawless one.
And where do we go next? Why, that’s the focus of next week’s column, obviously. So tune back at the same time next week as we cover where we’re heading in 2019. Until then, feedback is obviously welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.