It’s the day before the last patch of the Stormblood series in Final Fantasy XIV… technically. Yes, you can argue (correctly) that we’ll actually get more patches in this sequence to fill out this patch, but they don’t change the fact that 4.5 is where our second expansion comes to a close. So that’s going to dominate our January, and probably players will start thinking about the future a bit more once we get into late February and have gotten through most of this content.
Which is around the time when the next fan festival is happening. Gosh, they sure do plan these things.
4.5 and selling the concept
The part of 4.5 that has the most riding on it is Blue Mage. The rest of it can be mediocre, but Blue Mage needs to land well. Not just for itself, but for the very concept of limited jobs and future such releases in this style of content.
Saying that Blue Mage has inspired some controversy would be understating the issue. It went over great at the fan festival, went over badly on Reddit, and subsequently has involved a whole lot of back-and-forth speculation about its implementation and whether or not it was worth adding it to the game if it had to be limited. Obviously, I’m on the “pro” side, but the point here is that the job needs to work and demonstrate its relevance in the overall scheme of the game.
We’re going to see how the learning, open-world hunting, and spell mechanics feel when the patch goes live, and I don’t see Blue Mage itself changing. But if the developers want to do another such experiment (which seems likely), Blue Mage needs to prove its worth and its fun right from the start. This is a bit of a tall order, but it has six months to take care of that.
The reason I’m stressing this is that beyond that, 4.5 needs to do nothing more than to provide a coda to the game’s current expansion for half a year or so. It’s got a staggered release and plenty of things to draw the eye over time, so it’s definitely reasonable; it isn’t a taller order than what has happened pre-expansion before now. Blue Mage is something that hasn’t been done before, and thus it’s an experiment.
The Shadow fulminates
Of course, one of the things that’s going to help make up the difference between now and the launch of Shadowbringers is the fact that we’re going to have plenty of time to get hyped. The actual scheduling is pretty solid; about a month after patch 4.5 comes the second fan festival, and the third is in late March (which means the second half of 4.5 will probably be slightly before or the week after). So up to the start of April, we’ll be getting at least one new piece of “and now, here’s a new exciting thing to look forward to, please!”
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I doubt we’re actually going to Garlemald proper, given how evasive Yoshida has been on the matter; my personal suspicion has long been Meracydia, but there are an awful lot of references to the western continent cropping up in close succession lately. The section header image always reminds me of Angkor Wat, for what it’s worth.
One of the interesting elements of the first fan festival was just how much of it was built around subverting expectations, so I think a lot of what’s going to be needed for the next two fan festivals is to keep up that playful aspect. Not outright denying expectations, but still messing with them to a certain extent, letting us think we’ll learn something when we won’t or vice versa. Obviously, you can’t replicate the surprise of the new race and Blue Mage, but we could get a reveal of one job and our destination at the European festival, or two new jobs, or… you get the idea.
And the fine details…
I’ve been saying for years now that FFXIV really needs to give us some options to actually put a personal mark on our characters, but it keeps not actually happening, and role actions failed to fulfill that need. It’d be nice to hear about that as a feature of the expansion, even just some basic talent-ish options or Merit Point-style customization, but I’m not really holding out hope.
That having been said, with the new level cap there is the opportunity to do something with that, if for no other reason than because we’ve got a new level cap and thus the usual adjustments to leveling.
Oddly, as much as the story needs justifying, it’s the part of this expansion I’m least worried about learning about in more detail. We’ll no doubt hear more about it and more teases, but more important from the standpoint of what the expansion will need are features and mechanics. I’d expect to learn about the new raid we’ll embark upon and the new 24-person content, as well as the new Deep Dungeon; I don’t see Eureka moving forward into the new expansion, honestly, although I suspect it’ll become fodder and feedback for a new form of content.
Equally important, of course, will be what’s going to go wrong. That’ll coincide with the expansion launch in June, and let’s be realistic, the expansion launch always has something go wrong. We’ve hopefully learned from the Raubahn debacle and avoided that particular hurdle, so I doubt it’ll be that bad; at the same time, there’s probably still going to be growing pains for a bit. Like there always are.
Our first patch will be in October, of course, so there’s space for the team to adjust and address issues as we all start playing the new content, get up to the level cap, and start working on our weekly tomestones. I would expect that it’s going to follow a familiar format in that regard; as always, the format works, so there’s good reason not to rewrite it. But I suspect and hope that the expansion will, like before, offer something new and unexpected. And we’ll get to learn about it together.
At this point, though, the stakes feel higher because we’re entering the third expansion. The base game and two expansions have gone over well and proven that the team can do this, but this is a time when it’s easy to feel the temptation to just change everything for the sake of changing things. Yoshida and his crew have experience and wisdom; let’s see what we’re getting as we get closer to the launch proper.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week? Why, reactions to the patch, of course! What else would it possibly be?