"I'm constantly amazed at the creativity, devotion, and most importantly, openness that Yoshi-P and his team exhibit with A Realm Reborn."
I should know by now not to underestimate director Naoki Yoshida and his Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn team, yet I keep making this mistake. You see, I had been under the impression that December's massive Patch 2.1 was a fluke. That additions like the 24-person Crystal Tower raid and Wolves' Den PVP mode were meant to be part of the original relaunch last August, but were moved to December to make them the best they could be. As it was somewhat playing catch-up, I thought that 2.1's added features would be larger than most dot-one patch updates, and further patches would be more conservative in scope, right? Because honestly, how much content can you add to a game on a regular basis?
Quite a bit, it turns out, as evidenced by the positively massive Patch 2.2 Notes
Through the Maelstrom's headlining feature is, of course, Leviathan. Sadly for you, I'm leaving that discussion for a future entry by another editor. What I can say about his integration into the game is that I've been pleasantly surprised at how FFXIV handles new story-centric content. The new story quests added in patches don't simply bring in new compartmentalized content; the important stuff — and fending off a gargantuan water dragon is somewhat important — is woven into the main storyline. While there was a conclusive end to the main events of 2.0, seeing more events unfold and characters moving forward with their lives has played out like an extended epilogue. Yoshida and team could have easily saved the key players in Eorzea for major expansions and left exposition in these patches to lesser characters. That this isn't the case makes the quests and story truly matter, and it's a great method for appeasing both the MMO player mindset (to seek new content and gear) and the traditional RPG player mindset (to likely desire story and character development above all else).
The other story-based addition to Patch 2.2 is the continuation of Hildibrand's adventures. This time, our bumbling detective — who reminds me of Maxwell Smart and Inspector Gadget — is investigating a weapon thief and chasing clues across the realm. Hildy, as his friends call him, has you along to assist, as he gleefully ignores the other detective assigned to the case (and the fact that nobody really wants his help). Like in 2.1, this entire chain of events is just bizarre, hilarious fun, and I wouldn't dare spoil any of it by talking specifics. Suffice to say, it's something that needs to be experienced, and is a welcome contrast to the serious tone of the main story. You probably know about it by now, but the quest line ends with a new rendition of a classic Final Fantasy battle, and it's a joy to take part in. Thankfully, it's a battle that can be experienced again whenever you desire via the Duty Finder. The Hildibrand quest line also gives you access to the most wonderful dance emote the MMO world has ever seen, but I'll let you discover that on your own.
Like December's patch, this latest update includes many new dungeons. New Hard modes are available for two of the existing dungeons, and like in 2.1, the Hard versions feature different appearances, structure, and enemies. On paper, hearing that you'll be going through the same dungeon again seems lazy, but in practice, they're entirely new experiences, and award high-level items. The all-new dungeon, The Lost City of Amdapor, is beautifully melancholy. The still air in this desolate, spore-covered city invokes a serious sense of abandonment only amplified by the sparse instrumentation in the music. Adventuring through the area is interesting, especially when you reach the end and fight a boss you'll recognize from Final Fantasy VIII. All of the new dungeons feature creative new boss mechanics that make each area unique, as opposed to simply a new fortress to run through in which you employ identical tactics in each. Amdapor's final boss requires some real communication and coordination with your teammates if you hope to succeed, which makes victory all the more satisfying when you achieve it. Oh, and did I mention it's gorgeous? Because it's gorgeous.
A Realm Reborn's hardest dungeon, The Binding Coil of Bahamut, has seen multiple updates in Patch 2.2. For those players who have yet to finish the grueling 5-part endgame dungeon (you can't see it, but I'm raising my hand right now), certain battles of the instance have been toned down. Furthermore, every two weeks since release (up to the 8-week mark), players will be granted a slight buff upon entering, increasing HP, damage dealt, and healing potency.
Feelings are mixed among current players about making older content easier. For me, and many of the people I play with, it's a welcome change. I believe Yoshi-P's thought was that if you haven't finished this content after the game has been on the market for seven months, there's a good chance you were not going to be able to. Plenty of people have cleared this content, and the most hardy of the hardcore won't be put off by a "dumbing down." And for the rest of us, we get to see things we may never have been able to before. Which is good, because 2.2 has seen the addition of The Second Coil of Bahamut, offering up 4 more areas in which you'll square off against tough bosses in hopes of winning the best gear in the game. But this new area can only be accessed if you've finished the original five turns.
Following the debut of daily quests in 2.1 that dealt with the sylph and amal'jaa beast tribes, 2.2 adds daily quest hubs for the sahagin and kobolds. Like the sylph and amal'jaa quests, you can accept up to six quests per day, and will be awarded with gil, EXP, tribe reputation — earning you the right to better and better items from each tribes' vendor — and more. There are only so many total available quests, so like any MMO offering daily quests, they could feel like a grind if you habitually do them every day. If you don't let the routine take over though, what you get is an interesting inside look at these tribes, who, up to this point, have merely been enemies to contend with. Since you rarely spoke to any non-humanoid character prior to the daily quests' introduction, it adds some nice variety to character interactions. Adding friendly factions within each beast tribe enables you to get to know them and hear their side of the story, proving that every fishman is not alike. A good message to learn, really.
Of course, if you really want a grind, hearkening back to the Final Fantasy XI days of long quests and adventures for a masterful weapon, you're in luck! Many players earned their relic weapons — the class-specific best weapons in the game, with one exception — long ago. The newly implemented Saga of the Zodiac Weapons offers a way to enhance these weapons further, but it's not a walk in the park. It involves searching the world over and taking part in the randomly-appearing FATE battles, in hopes that an Atma shard, specific to that region, will drop. It's completely random, and with 12 shards needed to forge your Zenith weapon into an Atma weapon, it requires healthy doses of patience and/or insanity to see through. Oh, and that's the easy part; it's the second leg of the mission that's truly time-consuming. This method of upgrade isn't for the casual players, to be sure, but is sure to please people who wanted a long-form method for earning ultimate power. This doesn't end in 2.2 either, as the weapons once possessed by the legendary Zodiac Braves (yes, my FFT-loving heart skipped a beat, too) will be further modified in upcoming patches, starting with patch 2.28 in May.
A completely random aside before we get to the next big thing, but player housing saw some nice upgrades in 2.2: Not only is there a gardening system available now for growing your own crops, but the smallest of the three house sizes got a nice update in the form of a basement. This means smaller Free Companies like RPGfan's own The Emerald Shield have a decently-sized place to live now, until they can one day afford one of the larger plots of land. It's certainly given us all cause to hang out at our home more often and be social, which is my favorite thing about owning a company house.
Now, let's talk shop. Or crafting, as it were. Since the maximum item level of gear has increased in patch 2.2, so too has the array of items craftable by the goldsmiths and blacksmiths (and you others) of the land. New tiers of crafting equipment are available — although they are not that easy to get your hands on — that enable these classes to build not only gear, but components for other classes, and new housing items such as a Carbuncle-styled clock that I have a burning desire to make. Like the Zodiac Weapons on a smaller scale, this stuff requires a bit of a time investment, so the new tiers have some staying power and should keep everyone busy for awhile.
For those vain among us (myself included), crafters can now also make special "prisms" that give any player the ability to project the look of one piece of equipment onto another. This means that you can equip that Allagan chest piece with amazing stats, but you can have it appear as any other chest piece that your character can wear. There's a sizable amount of armor available at lower levels that just feature lovely designs (shout out to my Black Mages and your sexy Battlemage gear), so being able to customize your character's look and stats independently is a huge bonus. This system came at a perfect time in the game, as more and more people were reaching the high-end gear and were all starting to look the same. Considering how much control you get over your character's appearance, having more customization in what they wear is a great addition, and allows you to tailor your miqo'te or hyur even more to your liking.
Wait, one more random thing that doesn't fit anywhere else: big fishing. Up until now, fishing has been an interesting side job, but outside of supplying alchemists with reagents, it hasn't gotten a lot of attention. The new ability to whip out a wooden chair to comfortably sit while fishing is nice, as is the casting light for night fishing. But the real new draw is "big fishing" — essentially a new tier of high-level fish that are immensely hard to land, but earn you bragging rights and better fishing gear (one would imagine these kingly fish will be used in future alchemy or cooking recipes as well). Big fish are going to be available in more locations in subsequent patches too, so it's nice that the class won't be left to linger on the sidelines.
I'll touch on one last big thing here in this entry, and that's retainer ventures. Since A Realm Reborn's launch, you've been able to hire up to 2 retainers that can store and sell items for you. Both are helpful and essential, but these indentured servants can now play a more active role in helping you out. In a system that reminds me of sending soldiers away on jobs in Final Fantasy Tactics, ventures enable you to assign your retainers a class, equip them as needed, and send them off. They can simply venture out and acquire certain items of your choosing, or, and much more interestingly, go off and fetch something completely random. The quality of the items for the former will increase as your retainer earns EXP and levels up, and presumably, the same is true for the "quick expeditions" that net you random goodies. That said, I've had my retainers bring me anything from a purple sea slug worth 3 gil to a deadly knife-laden Tonberry chandelier that sold for 40,000 gil. They can even bring back some surprisingly high-end gear, so it's been an immensely fun system to play around with. It's also helpful for crafting classes who have needs for specific materials normally obtained randomly from specific monsters. There's a reason the venture-related achievements are called "Can't Someone Else Do It
I think Square Enix is betting that people find this system so rewarding that they'll want more than two retainers. This is now possible, though these additional retainers will come at a cost of $2 real-life money per month (your initial two retainers cost nothing). Some see the addition of a microtransaction as awful, and while I've all but stopped playing mobile games lately thanks to the proliferation of in-app purchases, I don't see this as horrible for FFXIV. Offering items or in-game currency for real money is sure-fire way to break the game experience and balance among players; offering a completely optional service like additional retainers doesn't. If anyone really wants to have more items gathered on their behalf, enough to pay for it, I see it as mostly a time-saver. The random nature of some item returns — and the fact that ventures still rely on a unique in-game currency, and can't be bought with real money — means this should do little to hurt anyone's experience. And if it earns Square Enix a bit of money to keep funding patches like this, I'm all for it.
All in all, my experience with Patch 2.2 has been a thoroughly positive one, and I haven't even seen everything it has to offer. Okay, I haven't even seen certain things from prior updates either, but don't tell anyone. What I can say is that, as a devoted World of Warcraft player for several years, the amount of freely-added content in Final Fantasy XIV is staggering. These two large patches could easily have been bundled and sold as expansions, yet we get them as a simple update. I'm constantly amazed at the creativity, devotion, and most importantly, openness that Yoshi-P and his team exhibit with A Realm Reborn. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some golden gears to craft.
There's still much more I didn't touch on in 2.2: The aforementioned Leviathan battles, the new difficulty for Good King Moggle Mog XII, the huge shift in the endgame currency system, the staggering amount of new gear, the amazing Challenge Log, increased rewards for players who assist others, and other things that I shall leave to my fellow editors. Stay tuned for Book IX!