"'Convenience' is the keyword that describes life in Adoulin."
Review Journal 1
Before you ask, yes, people are still playing Final Fantasy XI. Square Enix has made more money with the long-running MMORPG than any other entry in the series to date, so the company's decision to continue supporting the game is not only a show of commitment to its fans, but it's also a smart business move. The latest sweeping changes to Vana'diel come with the game's fifth retail expansion pack, Seekers of Adoulin. Created via careful imitation of modern Western MMORPG design, SoA makes Final Fantasy XI more casual-friendly than ever before, despite almost the entirety of the new content being aimed at level 99 players. The theme of the expansion is "pioneering," as players utilize two new jobs and stores of powerful equipment to colonize the primeval continent of Ulbuka. It's been about a month and a half since the expansion was released, and while the developers still need to work on balancing some content, Seekers of Adoulin brings exciting new possibilities that make me glad I returned to Vana'diel.
So, why colonization? The player is drafted by the ruling powers of Adoulin to make their land more habitable, as a population boom has put the territory at max capacity. After obtaining a permit to travel to this bold new continent, the player lands in the savage Ceizak Battlegrounds, where he immediately has a run-in with the enigmatic Arciela. This sprightly young girl fends off some of the native fauna and directs the player to safety. Later, after becoming accustomed to the life of a pioneer, the player is invited to Castle Adoulin for a formal dinner, where he learns the true identity of Arciela and is surprised to find that not everyone is in favor of the colonization initiative. The story currently ends there, but like the rest of Final Fantasy XI's expansions, this tale will be woven over the next couple of years, so there's no telling what direction it will take yet. There isn't much to mull over at this point, but I remain intrigued.
"Convenience" is the keyword that describes life in Adoulin. Small teleportation waypoints exist not only throughout the new continent, but in the game's older Middle Lands areas as well. This is taken to a near-extreme in the two new towns, where waypoints are stationed in front of every major landmark, from Auction Houses and Rent-A-Rooms to the various Coalition Headquarters and vending NPCs. It makes getting anywhere worth going a breeze. Furthermore, questgivers actually specify map coordinates when doling out tasks, which is a remarkably refreshing change from the obtuse directions (which often necessitated Internet reference) that were commonplace in the earlier days of Final Fantasy XI. The game has come a long way in making adventuring less of a chore for busy players; a step that needed to be taken in order for the game to retain its popularity.
A few major activities make up the bulk of adventuring in Adoulin. The colonization effort is furthered by participating in Reives, which are bushwhacking excursions with lax entry requirements, and Coalition Assignments, which are tasks from various guilds that range from item delivery to providing moral support for stressed-out NPCs. Entering a Reive is as easy as walking up to an obstruction or monster nest throughout the wilds of Ulbuka; players can band together, regardless of party structure, and are rewarded for their efforts with Bayld, a new currency that makes the world of Adoulin go 'round. Bayld can be exchanged for fairly powerful armor and weapons among other things, and the relative ease of acquiring this currency means that any player can make steady progress towards acquiring good gear with enough perseverance. Finally, Wildskeeper Reives pit players against fearsome boss monsters known as the Naakuals, and the newly-introduced Delve system features challenges far beyond anything ever seen in the game, with amazingly potent rewards to match.
Because fundamental character progression has stopped at level 99, the acquisition of equipment is the primary focus for endgame players. Accordingly, the developers have envisioned a content hierarchy where players challenge easier battles like Colonization Reives and use the loot to make headway in Wildskeeper Reives and Delve. This is a smart system, but the reality is that most players just want to jump straight to Delve. As a result, I've already had difficulty finding groups for some content, and one particular event (Skirmish) has been almost completely ignored since its introduction. More egregious is the blatantly unfinished state of the two new jobs, Rune Fencer and Geomancer. Not only do these jobs feel like they were not fully planned out to level 99, but they lack the essential Artifact Armor (iconic Final Fantasy garb that adds important job-specific stats) and Merit abilities to make them viable at endgame. I leveled Geomancer to 99 and have had no reason to touch it since. A recent post on the game's official forums promises that these issues will be remedied in the next update, but without a time frame or any details, it's hard to be anything but skeptical.
When I first saw trailers for the expansion, I was underwhelmed by the design of the towns, but now that I've had a chance to traverse them, I'm in love with the convenient layout of Adoulin. There are also some surprisingly nice vistas; the dawn sun rising over the gates of Castle Adoulin is beautiful in its tranquility, and the bubbling hot springs of the Morimar Basalt Fields stand in fascinating contrast to the perpetual snowfall found elsewhere. The game still runs on the same graphical engine, and it's nice to see the developers striving to provide interesting areas despite their working limitations. Arciela, the heroine of the expansion, also has a striking design that I really enjoy. I can't say if she'll trump my beloved Aphmau, but she has plenty to time to make her mark.
I won't go into excessive detail about the soundtrack for Seekers of Adoulin, because I've already done that elsewhere!
I like the majority of the music in this expansion, but I was disappointed to find that "Into Lands Primeval — Ulbuka" plays in every new outdoor zone. I was not a fan of the track to begin with, and its overuse made me like it even less.
For players who have been on hiatus from the game for the last few years (like me), Seekers of Adoulin is a fantastic re-entry point to Final Fantasy XI. It marries convenient travel to fun new gameplay systems that provide equipment varying in potency from good to outrageous. I was intimidated when I started playing again, but before long, I settled into a groove and have come to enjoy the pioneer's life. You don't need a shovel or a machete to brave these wilds.