"[Patch 2.2] shows that Yoshida and co. have taken great care not to ignore any aspect of the game, listening to and implementing player feedback."
It's crazy, but not surprising by now, that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn's patches are so massive that they require not one but two review journals these days. Okay, so it helps that we happen to enjoy playing the game, but the fact that it takes a long while even for dedicated players to consume the new content has to say something about its volume. Mike, my fellow Emerald Shield member, who also happens to be my favourite paladin, recently went to great lengths to cover housing, crafting, the latest dungeons, glamours and more in Book VIII. I, on the other hand, wanted to poke my spear at bigger, more dangerous monsters. So I did. And yes, one dragoon was harmed constantly in the making of this review journal entry.
Don't think for a second that all that quantity comes without quality in these patches, as each patch alternates what areas it gives special attention to, whether it be keeping crafters busy, adding and improving upon PvP modes, and opening up new sections of the two end-game raids: The Coils of Bahamut and Crystal Tower. While patch 2.1 introduced the latter as an easier-24-player dungeon, the Binding Coil is and always will be a much more difficult, and therefore much more rewarding instance which is more closely tied to A Realm Reborn's overarching story. As a result Square Enix had to add on an 'Echo buff' (increased HP, attack damage and healing potency for everyone who enters the instance) just to help more players progress through for this purpose. While I understand the need for such a buff, I would have personally preferred if it was simply added on upon parties wiping at any point during the raid, so that some of us could at least try to feed our egos by killing the Coil's final boss without the help of Echo.
In one of his many LIVE Letters late last year, producer Naoki Yoshida admitted he was surprised to see how many relic weapons had already been obtained since launch, and it's true that once The Navel (Hard Mode) — the hardest step in the Relic Reborn quest — became less of a hurdle, relic weapons became extremely common. In a followup Letter earlier this year, Yoshida advised players to hang onto their relics even though they could obtain slightly better weapons from Turn 5 of Coil. And so began the Zodiac: Trial of the Braves questline to enhance the weapons beyond their "Zenith" state. Unfortunately, the first step in the quest — the acquisition of twelve Atma crystals via FATEs — alienated and turned off many players, as not only were you not guaranteed the drop, but the drop rate was extremely low and purely luck-based. I could spend two days in one area before I would see an Atma, and go to another only for that zone's Atma to drop after the first FATE I took part in.
Upon getting all twelve, there's good news and bad news, players. The good news is that the tedious FATE grind is over. The bad news? While your weapon's item level is now increased to 100 and has changed in colour, its stats all remain the same and you must now move on to evolve your weapon to its Animus stage. This requires nine books (more on those later) at the cost of many, many Allagan tomestones of mythology, so your grind, if you're the impatient sort, is called Brayflox's Longstop (Hard) — a dungeon where it's incredibly easy to farm mythology tomes in a small amount of time (at least until patch 2.3). Each book requires the player to defeat different enemies, FATES, levequests and dungeons with their Atma weapon, and so fulfilling the book requirements themselves is much more fun, with one exception. These particular FATES are often ones that rarely appear, so to that end your patience will be tested and in my case, you'll learn very quickly to tank... as a dragoon, and through multiple FATEs.
What if you're really hardcore about getting geared up? The raiding types had finished off all of the first Binding Coil months ago, and have been waiting on new content that the Crystal Tower just wouldn't satiate. Sure, there are those primal battles in their Extreme Modes, but the truly dedicated collected all nine Primal Focus weapons by the time March rolled around. What more natural way to solve this than to add another Coil? Creatively called The Second Coil of Bahamut, all four turns offer up just as difficult a challenge as did the first Binding Coil when A Realm Reborn was first released. Not once do you find a straightforward fight; there will always be plenty of mechanics to dodge, boss spells to watch out for that can kill you in a single hit, and debuffs that require you to either be eaten by Rafflesia, run and hide from Melusine's shrieks, or stay away from the towers surrounding the Avatar in the Central Decks. Communication is key, and while it's possible to down this content with random players, having a static raid group (or at least voice chat) proves much more effective here, as everyone's role is much more than 'tank, heal or DPS in this battle.'
The headliner of patch 2.2, however, was Leviathan. The Lord of the Whorl presented a whole new challenge for players who had already exhausted the hard and extreme modes of the first three Primals. The Whorleater (Hard) is directly tied to the main storyline which sees a new race slowly make its way into Eorzea (along with a glimpse of the next classes to be added), but won't present much of a challenge by way of difficult battle mechanics. If you want that and some actual rewards, The Whorleater (Extreme) will do a better job of floating your boat... if you don't fall off Leviathan's boat, of course. One thing that I enjoy about taking on A Realm Reborn's 'hard mode' and 'extreme mode' fights is that where many games would simply add on more HP to the bosses and make them deal more damage, the game changes up the mechanics plenty, so while you still need to know the basics of the hard mode battle, new, tougher mechanics present themselves to be learned meticulously in extreme modes. In The Whorleater (Extreme), for example, the railings fall off the boat where you battle Leviathan, and so as it tips and sways, you need to take great care in not falling off, all while dodging Leviathan's dive attacks.
Similarly, an Extreme version of the Good King Moggle Mog XII was added in patch 2.2, where mechanics are actually quite the opposite of hard mode's 'kill all the little moogles' mechanic, for the most part. Naturally, rewards of water-themed weapons comparable to Allagan ones from Leviathan, along with necklaces from Moggle Mog, have drawn many a player into the trap of 'farming' these fights. Aside from the relic weapon progression, each patch has added more ways to obtain weapons and equipment, with a bit of a twist in 2.2. Previously, the best gear was available to purchase with mythology tomestones, as well as loot from the first Binding Coil, but with 2.2 you can only buy the second best available equipment with new soldiery tomestones, with the best being found in Second Coil. However, this raid also drops items that let you upgrade your soldiery gear to be equivalent, so while you have several options, at the moment, acquiring the very best options requires clearing the game's hardest content, as it should be, so accomplishing those feats feels that much more rewarding.
Patch 2.28: Novus Weapons & Roulette Changes
Not willing to wait until patch 2.3, A Realm Reborn's development team decided to keep players busy by implementing the next part of the Zodiac: Trials of the Braves via patch 2.28 in early June: Novus weapons, for those who had already obtained their Animus. It's clear that the team learned from feedback on the previous stages, as we now have options for enhancing these weapons. This stage allows players to add/change secondary stats up to 75 points total by way of materia, and one "alexandrite" stone is required for each of these to be infused. The alexandrites can be obtained in three ways: either queuing Daily Roulette: Expert, spending 800 mythology tomes on a mysterious map, or farming more FATES for the stone itself. Now, as you can imagine, the alexandrite drop rate is abysmally low in FATES, so having options this time around was a much smarter move. Most players would be queuing for an expert roulette daily anyway, making the alexandrite map an added bonus, and not requiring them to spend any mythology tomes unless they simply wish to get more alexandrites and progress quicker.
The downside to this process is acquiring materia itself. As a result of this system, the cost of materia has gone up significantly on the market boards, especially at the tier IV level; note that if you wish to invest in only two secondary stats for your Novus weapon, you will need equal amounts of materia of all four tiers. Invest in three or more stats and you can skip the tier IV materia entirely, but you will also get slightly less out of your weapon. In any case, I'd recently estimated the cost of upgrading to the Gae Bolg Novus (with 44 Critical Hit Rate and 31 Determination, apparently the two most expensive stats I could have possibly chosen) at around 6 million gil total, and let's just say, that's a lot of leatherworking glamour prisms I'd have to sell! Spiritbonding gear and accessories to create materia directly is a much cheaper option and worth a shot, but very luck-based at the same time with little to no guarantee.
Now, Final Fantasy XI players laugh at us and tell us 'pffft, that's nothing! We spent years and millions MORE gil on our relic weapons!' As someone who has never touched XI let alone any other MMORPG ever, I am still inclined to believe them, as I can foresee — and Yoshi-P has talked about — these weapons being upgraded again over time. As we are now at the stage where we're choosing its stats, it's safe to say that the relic weapon will most often be considered 'best in slot' unless you can clear the most recent turns of Coil and the Allagan-Weapon-du-jour (which is five item levels higher than the best relic) has ideal stats.
2.28 also added a feature players have been requesting for a while: queuing for Duty Roulettes as a party. Previously roulettes were only possible if you were playing solo, and for some players even the incentive of mythology and soldiery tomestones wasn't enough to deal with three random players. Though limited to Duty Roulette: High Level and Duty Roulette: Expert, this allows for friends and free companies to queue together and still earn the tome bonuses, gil bonuses and alexandrite maps. And it's nice to be able to work on even more content together, rather than having to run roulettes solo for bonus tomestones.
Though we have much, much more to look forward to in the coming days with patch 2.3 on the way, 2.2 and 2.28 made plenty of additions and features that still keep many subscribers busy from day-to-day without the feel of 'grinding' in most cases. The XIV team has also managed to keep gil, crafting jobs and gathering jobs relevant and, once again, shows that Yoshida and co. have taken great care not to ignore any aspect of the game, listening to and implementing player feedback. It's no wonder subscribers get so excited over these major patches, as there is always something in store for every type of player for months to come.