Eorzean Evening Post: Calm After Storm .

TIME :2022-06-06

At the time of writing this it has been forty three days since patch 2.55 landed and forever altered the story of Eorzea. While not an expansion in the traditional sense, “A Realm Reborn” has been the continuation of the story leading from the original launch of Final Fantasy XIV. With its conclusion we are left with a number of questions hanging in the balance as to the future of our characters, our compatriots and the world we have come to know and love. With thirty seven days until the Heavensward head start and another four days before the official launch we are left in a natural “calm after the storm”.  What better time than this to reflect upon the journey we have taken to get to this point.

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You could not call Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 a success by any objective measurement. When the game released in 2010 it was plagued by issues, so bad that they did not actually start billing players the monthly subscription fee until January 6th of 2012. Traditionally this tale would have ended in the layoff of development staff and the closing of the studio, and culminating in the eventual shuttering of the game before it faded into history. This however is not the tale of Final Fantasy XIV as Square Enix chose to take a different path. Instead of writing the game off as a loss they doubled down on the concept making sweeping changes that brought about the 2013 launch of Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 “A Realm Reborn”. The name itself is extremely fitting given that like a Phoenix it rose up from the ashes of its former incarnation.

The result has been a trip quite unlike any I have taken in any other Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. While there were some fairly monumental challenges at launch, primarily centered around the unexpected demand for the game, and struggles scaling infrastructure they managed to stabilize and have been a quiet juggernaut looming off most radars. When it was announced in February that they had surpassed 4 million accounts it was taken with a certain amount of shock, by anyone that was not actively involved in the community already.  Final Fantasy XIV set out and accomplished what most MMOs set out as their goals: The regular release of quality content.

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During the year and a half the game has been active they have averaged a major content patch every three months, and at least one minor “quality of life” patch each month. Each major patch marching the storyline and the events of Eorzea steadily forward, while at the same time fleshing out its people and settings. I feel the success of Final Fantasy XIV is that as the game has grown they have managed to avoid focusing on only one small segment of the population. Traditionally an MMO continues to grow by expanding only the highest tier of content, dedicated to only the most “hardcore” player base. What I found refreshing is that in Final Fantasy XIV they kept coming up with new reasons for players to re-experience old content through fresh eyes by adding in charming quests like the Hildebrand and Post-Moogle series that give the world more substance.

In each game I have played there have always been a long list of features that players would love to see, but never actually get implemented due to time constraints. The strange thing with Square Enix is that they actually seem to prioritize some of these ideas. For example, today saw the launch of the 2.57 patch which in large part was a series of minor tweaks. Snuck in among these however was a feature that players have requested for some time. The primal encounters in this game are known for their fabulous custom battle themes. One of the rarest items you can get from each of them is a dropped mount that reflects the elemental nature of the boss you do battle with. In today’s patch they snuck in the functionality of allowing players to hear the boss battle theme as they ride their shiny mount around Eorzea. While this probably did not take a significant amount of resources, this is the sort of request that would simply not be taken seriously by other developers, and in many ways is exactly the sort of thing that endears players to the team.

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When I saw the account announcement in February I have to say I was not terribly shocked because in this strange tale of MMO resurrection, Final Fantasy XIV has managed to do precisely what they promised. Regardless of how magical the game, there will always be a massive turn over after launch. However after the first three months, the players that are still playing the game are likely to keep playing unless you give them a reason to stop.  Through their broad content approach Square has not only kept players engaged in the world, but convinced many of them to slowly keep pulling other friends into the game they are enjoying. One of the critical successes to this I feel is the fact that the game is playable from PC, PS3, PS4 and soon to be Mac with the release of Heavensward. Instead of having isolated “console servers”, the game can be played with your friends regardless of their chosen platform.

The true magic of Final Fantasy XIV has not been in the game itself, or the constant introduction of quality of life features. What makes the game special is happening on a completely different level than I have seen in any game to date. There is an understanding of human nature and sociology that goes into the design of content. As each new phase of content has been brought into the game, it has taken note of what was working before and what needed further improvement. Much of this is gained by simply bribing players to be running content that they would not normally do, but in many ways this takes things that are often looked at as negatives in other games and places them in a positive light. When the game notifies me that I have a new player in my party, I don’t think about the potential frustrations of teaching them the encounters, but instead I think about the increased rewards that come from the first time player bonus.

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At launch there was a significant problem with certain zones becoming hubs of FATE grinding, allowing players to level through a quick but mindlessly procession of zones, ignoring the traditional content leveling paths. With the introduction of the Atma step of the relic weapon quest, there was a clear intention to fix the problem of FATE hotspots. To complete this step in the weapon chain players had to spread throughout the world and complete FATEs in twelve different zones, each one having an extremely low chance of dropping an “Atma” item.  None of the zones that were previously considered to be efficient FATE grinding zones have “Atma” drops drawing the focus of players to the zones that were already underserved. While players have long been frustrated about the relatively low chance of drops, enough that this was eventually buffed, it did manage to serve the purpose of directing players to areas of the game that were previously underpopulated.

The game design has been this delicate balancing act of drawing players to precisely the places they are needed most. As such each patch has been like a game of chess, and each buff or tweak placed on the board to counterbalance another already in play. In a future post I will talk about what I feel is the game giving players a “Hand Up” instead of a “Hand Out” and how precisely it reinforces players actively wanting to work to catch up the extreme amount of content. When I say extreme I mean it, because since launch they have released fifteen dungeons, six tiers of raid content, and twenty two trial encounters. Unlike most games, there is quite literally more quest content after reaching the level cap then there is before doing so. Fortunately I have found that there is a willingness in the community to help new players learn the highest tiers of content, and this sense of charity is instilled through all of the “social engineering” I was speaking of.

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What this means however is that a player that is new to the game has an uphill battle to struggle against the overwhelming onslaught of content. This is in part why I find it interesting that Heavensward will be a literal continuation of “A Realm Reborn”. So often when a new expansion is released, MMO companies tend to give players an express lane to skip past all of the content that came before.  Square Enix seems to treat this content with more reverence and has stated that in order to play the new expansion, players will have to have completed the content through the end of 2.55. This means none of the new classes or areas will be unlocked until players have experienced everything that came before. This is a gamble that I am hoping will work out, because there is a phenomenal amount of good content that I would had to see cast asunder by the shiny newness of Ishgard.

So while some players view this eighty day lag between the launch of the 2.55 patch and the Heavensward head start a lag on content, I view it as somewhat of a blessing. Now is the time to catch up on all of the content that you missed because you were too busy doing other things.  I personally have restarted work on my relic weapon quest, and have been trying to get caught up on my beast tribe faction dailies. Additionally I have been focused on trying to level my crafting professions in anticipation of being able to help out on crafting our Free Company Airship. While there is this calm after the storm, I realize before long we will be in yet another flurry of activity as we try and conquer the new and unknown lands. Additionally with today’s 2.57 patch they have added additional echo to the Final Coil of Bahamut and lessened the difficulty of the Steps of Faith trial, in the hopes of letting more players finish these before the expansion.  We have exciting times on the horizon, and I personally am afraid that I will not be quite ready to say goodbye to the experience of “A Realm Reborn” when the time comes.