"...these latest version updates have finally brought Final Fantasy XIV to where it needed to be at launch."
The ongoing saga to save Final Fantasy XIV has taken another dramatic turn. While awaiting the second of two highly anticipated updates to the game to address major problems, players got several bombshells dropped on them. Firstly, news that the PS3 version would be postponed until further notice and that the free trial period for FFXIV on the PC would be extended indefinitely until the quality of the game met the highest standards. Next came the announcement from the CEO of Square Enix, Yoichi Wada himself, that the company was completely behind the revision process. To that end, the development team was revamped using some of the most decorated talent Square Enix has to offer. Hiromichi Tanaka stepped down as Producer and Naoki Yoshida would take the reigns. Yoshida was quick to point out that while he and the new development team would be taking the game in a new direction, they were committed to fulfilling the promises made to players by the old team. In addition, an additional version update would be planned for late December to finish up the goals made for the remainder of 2010. Though this surprise version update is small, it brings about some major changes and will be included in this review of the mid December update.
One of the major deficits documented since the launch of FFXIV was the complete absence of endgame content. With the November patch improving the leveling process significantly, more and more players have started to emerge in the rank 40-50 range with each passing day. As promised, this version update brings about two flavors of endgame content. The first, and most basic is the introduction of world Notorious Monsters (NMs). These massive creatures are designed to challenge large groups of high ranking players. Like NMs of FFXI, they spawn during specific windows of time and will vanish if they are not claimed within their timeframe. Likewise, they aren't rooted to one specific location - so finding them also presents a challenge. Should a group encounter and engage one of these creatures, they have 30 minutes to vanquish the beast and claim its treasures before it enrages, making it nearly invulnerable and exceptionally pissed off.
This update brings us the massive Great Buffalo in La Noscea, Uraeus the silver-skinned basilisk of Coerthas, the ahriman lord Dodore and his minions, the regal Elder Mosshorn and his flock, and the goblin kingpin Haughtpox Bloatbelly and his entourage. Vanquishing any of these boss monsters may yield rare ingredients used in the crafting of extremely powerful weapons and equipment.
The next endgame content is based on the Factionleve aspect of the guildleve system. As players complete standard guildleves, they are awarded with points in one of three factions. Once players reach rank 20, they may begin spending these faction points to purchase guildleves from these specific factions. These don't vary much from most guildleves with the exception of much better rewards and the occasional humanoid boss fight. The Factionleve NM system introduced in the mid-December update introduces a three quest chain that culminates in the takedown a specific NM. Currently there are three that were introduced: the wolf general Deadeyes and his pack, the large buffalo Tarhb Uisge and his handler and the crazed drake Zanig'oh and his master.
Players can only begin these NM Factionleve quests at rank 40, and must spend 100 faction points to purchase each quest. Unlike the standard Factionleves, these quests are much, much harder, usually requiring a small party for each of the precursor quests. The third and final Factionleve NM quest requires 10-15 players to complete and costs a whopping 400 faction points to purchase. Successfully defeating the designated NM may reward any player in the party who is currently on the quest with a runestone. These runestones may be redeemed at an NPC for very powerful equipment set pieces. Players who successfully complete an NM Factionleve chain may purchase the finale as many times as they want as long as they can afford the massive point cost. Thankfully, even if you fail a NM Factionleve quest, you do not need to repurchase the leve. You simply have to wait for the next guildleve cooldown to try again.
After spending several weeks knee-deep in both aspects of endgame, I've found that while they're an interesting diversion, they still need some work. The world NMs suffer from poor drop rates of crafting items (even with incapacitation) and the simplistic strategies needed to defeat them are a bit disappointing. Their frequent respawn timers are a great offset to this, but killing the same NM over and over for a single drop is a tedious exercise. The Factionleve NM quests require far too many faction points to purchase, especially considering the random nature of obtaining runestones. Very few people would have the nerve to stomach several weeks of farming faction points only to be unlucky enough to not obtain a runestone for a successful NM kill. It's bad enough that the runestone type is random, even if they do appear in the chest afterwards. The fact that Factionleves also consume a standard guildleve spot is also irksome.
Still, as a window for future content, these endgame additions aren't bad. They are a good segue for future additions if some sensible revisions are made.
Old Friends & New Avenues
The version update also brought back some classic FF monsters to the bestiary. Goblins and Slimes now roam the wilds of Eorzea (and new crafting recipes for their loot were added in turn). The previous version update brought back Diremites in new and terrifying forms, but nothing generates quite as much nostalgia as the FFXI Goblin.
The next major aspect of these two most recent version updates is the coming-of-age of the Market Ward system. Previously, they had labeled the various floors of the Market Wards to designate where specific items should be sold. The tax rate on correctly assigned items was also greatly reduced to encourage players to stick with this organization. It's taken a while, but the player base has finally learned to follow this outline. The mid-December update brought about a revision of this division of wares with a more logical separation of Ward designation, and the late December update finally brought about the item search feature. While certain aspects of a stand-alone auction house such as price history etc. are still planned, the Market Wards are now much more user friendly. Players can easily search for items via category and see at a glance how many of their selected items are for sale in the designated ward, and marks the appropriate retainers with a star. Now this does not search all wards for the item, just the wards that are designated for the sale of the item's category. Thankfully, once an item is marked for search, the retainer star-mark is saved for all wards a player visits until the search item is changed.
Now, there has also been some streamlining of the UI, namely equipment durability is easily displayed on an item's display window. The previous update saw color-coding added to the item icons to designate state of disrepair; now opening the repair window for broken equipment will automatically place the needed materials in the synthesis menu for a much more streamlined process. Of course, you will still need the repair material in your inventory for this to work properly.
Thus far we've had two seasonal events take place in Eorzea: the Starlight Festival for the winter holidays and Heavensturn for New Years. Both were timed events added with the version update. These events introduced new seasonal gear as well as food recipes reminiscent of the seasonal events in FFXI. I was very impressed with the Starlight Festival decorations, music and snowfall. Heavensturn's music was also very good. The real treat, however, was that all players were given an additional retainer free of charge. Retainers provide not only the capacity to bazaar up to 10 of your items in the Market Wards, they are your own personal banks, able to store up to 100 items each and all the gil, crystals and guildmarks your hearts desire. This was a huge treat that helped a great deal of players resolve some of the inventory crunch of playing multiple classes.
Overall, the mid and late December updates brought some much needed content and revisions to FFXIV. Participating in the economy is much easier thanks to a heavily revised Market Ward and additional retainer. High-ranking players now have some activities to engage in outside of sulking around the Aetheryte. The ongoing changes to the UI are, as always, appreciated. While there is still a long way to go for the game to reach the high-standards of the Final Fantasy name, it's definitely one step closer.
An About Face
I would be remiss without saying a word about the great lengths Square Enix has gone to in the care and preservation of their newest MMORPG. The level of communication between the development team and the player base via Twitter, The Lodestone and fan-site interview translations has been unprecedented. Some might argue that had FFXIV been successful at launch we would not have seen a change from the secretive company we all came to accept during the heyday of FFXI, but I think we're seeing the dawn of a new era of transparency. The new producer, Naoki Yoshida, seems to truly understand what the players want and has been very open and honest about the new development team's goal of meeting those expectations. At the start of this year, they collected player information and opinion via poll to define their new direction. So far, the news is great. We will be seeing the launch of the official forums for FFXIV by Spring, as well as a focus on storyline and quests, aspects that define Final Fantasy. Heck, we may even see an auction house and jumping after all.
In closing, I have to say these latest version updates have finally brought Final Fantasy XIV where it needed to be at launch. It's taken several months to address what seemed like basic issues, but I feel that the game is finally there. Of course this doesn't mean there isn't more work to do. Player content is better but more variety is desperately needed. The game still remains console controller-centric, though the development team is working on a secondary UI that is specifically for the mouse and keyboard. On top of a vast array of additions and improvements to the game, Square Enix has also improved their public image by accepting responsibility for the state of FFXIV and being direct and open about plans for its future. I feel that the Eorzea that was offloaded on the unsuspecting public in September will be a completely different world by its first anniversary - and this is a great thing. Until then, we will keep you posted as the game evolves. For now, these additions were significant enough to warrant a revision of the scores from the last review update.
Graphics - 96%
Sound - 56% > 60%
Gameplay - 60% > 70%
Control - 60% > 65%
Story - 60%
Overall - 65% > 70%