Virtually no other game genre has the kind of social interaction that MMORPGs have. You can join with your friends to take on larger-than-life battles, and along the way you may meet other like-minded people and continue to grow your ranks. It’s not even that uncommon anymore for people to meet their future spouse in-game. Sometimes these in-game groups can get complicated, such as when you become good friends with people in another group — Free Companies, in Final Fantasy XIV terms — and you rely on them to get through certain content. But should you focus more on your own (admittedly smaller) group? Then again, if you all get along, why not just merge the groups for anyone willing to make the transition? That’s exactly what happened with most of our own Free Company, The Emerald Shield, as we joined Solaris, led by a former RPGFan Editor (and author of the most epic Final Fantasy X review you’ll ever see). Now that we are all Solaris, the name of these journals will change, but it’ll still be brought to you by the same people.
I have a lovely Regal Purple chocobo now, so I am content.
Speaking of change, 2.3 was a big patch! Once again, the new story content and key battle revolved around a primal, with these events focused on the guardian of the forest, Ramuh. Interestingly, Ramuh is the first primal to be voiced in FFXIV. The other primals have talked to you, but only via text windows. Whether it’s because he’s more humanoid, or because of his unique nature — shockingly, we don’t battle him because he’s threatening to destroy humanity — I’m not sure, but his appropriately thundering voice made his inclusion that much more engrossing. The main story quests in 2.3 aren’t only about Ramuh and the sylphs that he watches over, but cover a multitude of plotlines across all of Eorzea, with the finale being a cruel tease at what’s to come in 2.4 and beyond. Let’s just say we all better get our winter coats ready.Perhaps just as interesting in terms of storyline are the new series of Delivery Moogle quests. By becoming an honorary mail carrier, you get to help the Delivery Moogle network deliver letters to a multitude of people across Eorzea. This gave the developers a way to have us interact with some fan favorite NPCs without trying to shoehorn them into the political-heavy main story. Each letter gives us the chance to talk to characters we haven’t had a need to talk to in months and embark on a variety of quests, from tracking down a bar patron that owes Baderon for an obscenely-high bar tab to helping Mimodi rid herself of her unwanted not-so-secret admirer. They’re all fun little “slice of life” standalone stories, and I hope they continue to be added to the game in future patches. September’s Patch 2.38 added four more, so that’s encouraging.The perpetually off-the-wall and hilarious Hildibrand quests continue in 2.3, and they once again provide some much needed levity to the heaviness of much of the rest of the game’s story. Not that I mind the high stakes drama, but it’s nice to dip into the lighter side too.The last new type of quest is certainly the most divisive — the riddles of Winebaud. These quests require you to talk to people and read clues as usual, but the locations you must visit and people you must talk to to solve each riddle are not marked on your map or stored in your quest log. It’s a very hands-off, old-school approach to questing, which means you really have to solve something to progress, not just follow an arrow and talk to the person at the “!” on your map. Not everyone loves the approach, but I appreciate the difference, and feel it adds a nice type of variety to the quests. Hopefully we see these continue.Each major patch has seen the addition of a new tier of raid content, alternating between the soon-to-conclude Binding Coil of Bahamut and the Final Fantasy III homage, Crystal Tower. Much like 1990’s FFIII, patch 2.1 gave us access to a pre-dungeon to the tower in the Labyrinth of the Ancients. In 2.3, we got to see the tower proper — the main structure being named Syrcus Tower. With some cameos from FFIII woven into FFXIV’s Allagan mythology, it was a fine setup for the dungeon, and Syrcus Tower is simply gorgeous. You’d expect a tower made of crystal to glitter and shine, but it’s a sight to behold. More importantly, the battles inside are much more complex than those of the Labyrinth. The boss battles — all bosses pulled straight from Final Fantasy III, with loot to match — require much more complicated mechanics, although they’re still easy enough to grasp. Scylla, the first boss, is particularly a challenge when you have a room of 24 people that you all hope know how the fight works, since they aren’t vocalizing it either way. It’s certainly a move by the dev team to encourage people to communicate, share information, and of course, help each other out, because if any of the three 8-person teams fails, all 24 people get to start over.This gives us a series of battles that are much more satisfying to clear, and with a different party structure in place that only requires three tank classes across the raid (compared to six), the sometimes-boring nature of tanking the original 24-man raid has been alleviated. All in all, Syrcus Tower was a major step forward on all fronts, except for the goofy cosplay gear that the bosses drop. The tank gear is just not a thing my dear Paladin would be caught dead (or alive) wearing. Originally, you could only join ST as an 8-person party, where you’d be matched with two other random parties. Patch 2.35, released in August, gave us the ability to build an entire 24-person Alliance, which means that if you can get 23 other people together, no randoms! It’s a joyous experience, especially once you’ve had a dungeon run on what you discover is your server’s “troll night” (ours tends to be late Friday or Saturday night — stay away).Syrcus Tower wasn’t the only new dungeon added, of course. Once again, with a major patch comes three new 4-person dungeons. The all-new dungeon this time is the tropical paradise known as Hullbreaker Isle, so named for a ship that crashed into it. Hullbreaker is a refreshing dungeon, as the majority of it is outdoors, a stark contrast to the typically-indoor dungeons of FFXIV (okay, and many other RPGs). It’s fun, the music is peppy, there are bosses with interesting new mechanics, and, well, there’s a giant water worm named Sjoorm. What more do you need? The other dungeons are again “hard” modes of existing dungeons. This time around, it was The Tam Tara Deepcroft and The Stone Vigil that got the makeover. This meant different pathways through the dungeon, new lighting and other additions, new enemies — some completely new types, like the mini adamantoise in The Stone Vigil — and new quests to explain why you’re going back into these places and how they’ve changed since the last time you saw them. Tam Tara was never a super exciting dungeon to me, but the hard mode’s plot is something out of a horror movie, and the dungeon being filled with cryptic notes written in blood and hundreds of candles really amplified the mood. Oh, and the last boss can utterly destroy an unprepared party, which is a nice incentive to play your best!On the other side of the coin is The Stone Vigil, which was already one of my favorite dungeons. So here we are again, except with even more pesky dragons to battle, as well as regular fights that can wipe an unprepared party even easier than the bosses. Stone Vigil’s final boss is, I believe, somewhat of an experimental addition from the dev team: some players often request more “random” mechanics in battles for the added challenge of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen once you engage. This boss fills that request — unlike most enemies, a tank cannot hold him in place, and he targets whoever he wants and performs whatever moves he feels like, in no particular order. None of these attacks have markers on the ground as a warning either, so it’s completely up to each player to watch his stance and direction to see what will happen next. The random nature means you can’t just sleep through the fight, and the avoidable aspect of it means that if you’re incredibly nimble and vigilant, you can actually defeat him unscathed, which is a fun challenge when, say, your white mage accidentally dies. Oh, and did I mention he summons a second version of himself, requiring you to watch for attacks from two places? It’s quite a bit of fun, and it seems to have been received well enough that I think we’ll see more battles like this.Player housing saw three key things happen across 2.3: the addition of private rooms, personal housing, and additional plots of land for purchase. Both 2.3 and the recent 2.38 added additional plots, but they have yet to be sufficient to keep up with demand. Our own Free Company upgraded to a larger house shortly after the launch of 2.3, but the lack of land meant moving into Ul’Dah’s Goblet district, when we had our hearts set on one of the other two locales. We’ve embraced our nature as desert-dwellers, but it was a shame we had to settle at all. Further cramping the housing wards is the fact that individual players gained the ability to purchase land in 2.38, but as this system uses the same land as company housing, it didn’t take long for that land to get bought up, too. The developers said they wanted all housing to intermingle like this so it doesn’t create a divide between the housing types. That sounds great in theory, but the lack of housing plots has been a sore point for many. Patch 2.4 is set to double available land, however, which could go a long way towards alleviating this issue.Thankfully, private chambers have no such limits, so if you have a Free Company of 40 people, each of them can buy their own room in your house and decorate it as they see fit. I, and many others in our group, are perfectly content with this system, as it allows each of us to have our own space that still remains connected to everyone else’s as well as the main house itself. And frankly, even if my character had 50,000,000 gil, I don’t think I’d want to live in a giant mansion all by myself.Chocobos have been given quite a bit of attention in the 2.3 series. Not only can we stable and train our faithful companions now, but through the use of gardening, we can also level them up past their initial rank of 10, granting them extra ability points. Patch 2.35 added the ability to… well, in the game, your chocobos are described as “growing new feathers” of a different color, but everyone just refers to it as dyeing their birds, because that’s what it is. So if you wanted to dye your feathered friend like an easter egg and make him or her coral pink, now you can. Rather than make this a straightforward “pick a color” system, however, it became a deeply-involved game system reliant on planting and growing fruits with various color properties, each altering your chocobo by different (and semi-random) amounts. Take one look at the Chocobo Dye Experimentation thread on the official forums (79 pages as of this writing!), and you’ll see people have really gotten into this as they try to hit the color they want. Maybe it’s a little insane, and maybe it shouldn’t be this complicated, but I think it’s there to sate players who really like these complex systems. And that forum thread and others on the subject, plus the color charts and spreadsheets I’ve seen, tell me that it was exactly the right thing to do.Also, I have a lovely Regal Purple chocobo now (see screenshots), so I am content.PVP saw the biggest change since… well, the addition of PVP itself. Frontline (which perhaps should be renamed “Frontlines,” not only because it reads better, but because it’s what literally everyone ever calls it) is wildly different from the 4v4 PVP combat of The Wolves Den. A massive battleground for 72 people, players are split into three teams — each representing one of Eorzea’s three nations and Grand Companies — and compete for dominion over the land by holding key flagged locations. I’m not typically one for PVP, but I have enjoyed my time in Frontline(s). It certainly has caused me to play differently; it never occurred to me to be wary of White Mages when battling high on a platform. I mean, as a Paladin, I have the defense of a steel wall, and I can destroy a squishy healer in seconds. Then, as I’m plummeting to my death, I remember White Mages have an ability that pushes a target back, and in my case, right off a cliff. Well-played, random WHM. Well-played.The Hunt! Boy, if I described the silly riddle quests as divisive, I don’t know where to begin on the Hunt system. Widely criticized for balance issues for months after their introduction, Hunts have finally reached a point where they make sense. But when they first appeared in July, they were nigh-impossible to complete successfully if you didn’t have a dedicated party. While each person could search out specified enemies on their own each day, the rewards were pitiful: a single Allied Seal, a new currency type exclusive to Hunts. Among the new items purchasable with these seals are sexy new nation-specific armor and weapons, adorable minions such as a mimic and succubus, and more. But with these things costing 300-1700 Seals, earning 7 per day wasn’t cutting it. Luckily, we had Elite Marks. Elite Marks only spawned once in awhile, so you had to desperately… well, hunt them down. Appearing in three tiers, the B Rank monster was the same for all players. This meant that you would have a server of hundreds or more people, all searching for a single monster, that, when killed, might not respawn for hours. To say this incited rage amongst the player base is an understatement. But because B Rank Elites offered twenty times the Seals, everyone wanted to get credit. And if you wanted A or S ranks, which awarded even more? Yeah, go find a Hunt party.It was a mess. I love the developers of this game, I really do, but they really missed the mark (sorry…) on this one. Thankfully, nearly all of this was remedied in patch 2.35. Each player was assigned their own B Rank Elite each week (every individual one in the game has its own mark), so now everyone isn’t hunting the same thing. More importantly, the B Ranks award 50 seals assuming you’re tasked with killing it, and nothing at all if you’re not. Oh, and they respawn elsewhere on the map 5 seconds after dying. In short, it’s possible to find and get credit for your B Rank every week without competing with the entire server. Of course, the A and S ranks are mostly unchanged, and really do require you to party up with fellow hunters to not only get to them in time, but get proper rewards (rewards are based on a group’s contribution to a fight, so smacking it once or twice won’t each you much). What matters is that there’s now a balance between group and solo Hunt content, and while I wish they hadn’t taken over a month to fix it, I’m happy they did.We’re almost done here. It’s amazing how long these reviews get when you’re culling three updates worth of things together, huh?Next: Ixal quests! As Final Fantasy XIV has been updated, we’ve been able to access more and more quests in which we get to work the various beast tribes of the world. Up through 2.3, we got to meet friendly factions within the sylphs, amaal’ja, sahagin, and kobold tribes. 2.35 kicked off the story of the Ixal, flightless birds who long to take to the skies like their ancestors did. Completely different from the mostly battle-centric quests of the other tribes, the Ixal task us to break out our crafting gear and fashion parts for their airship-in-progress. While there’s a bit of fighting to be done on certain quests, crafting is the name of the game, and if you’re leveling various crafting classes (I am!), it’s a great new way to earn EXP and open up new gear and materials to buy. I’ve enjoyed the ever-expanding quests and story of the other tribes, but actually find the Ixal to be the most interesting, as they’re not at all driven by beating the hostile members of their tribe, revenge, or anything so violent. No, they just want to realize a lifelong dream and return to the skies in their magical balloon that only you can help them build. It’s a great chance of pace, and it has allowed me to use a variety of classes (alchemist, leatherworker, botanist, fisher, miner…) to progress, which keeps things interesting. Apparently this is the “last” beat tribe to be added, but there are clearly other beast tribes in the known parts of Eorzea, and there will be doubtless more as the world expands.Once again, the ever-growing relic weapon quest saw a new tier added in 2.38: the ability to grow your relic weapon novus into a relic weapon nexus, a process that involves glazing it and farming for light or… something. I’m still working on my novus weapon, so I’m not even ready for this nexus stuff. By defeating certain bosses and other content, your weapon inherits varying degrees of light, and once it hits a certain level, you’re able to transform it into an even more powerful version of itself. As it encourages you to play content you might not be doing much of anymore, it’s very similar to the “animus” tier of relic weapon quests, which tasked us to redo old dungeons to increase our weapon stats. It’s a good way to keep all content relevant, as long as it doesn’t drag on too long. But I really do want a blinding white sword on my Paladin, so it’s only a matter of time before I get to it.Oh, and there’s one last thing that’s not technically part of 2.3, but did occur in the middle of all this: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s first anniversary! The developers prepared a wealth of content to celebrate, as you can see on the anniversary site. Messages from the staff, some new lore, the return of every seasonal and crossover event over the past year — such as the Lightning Returns and Dragon Quest X tie-ins — a 14-hour live broadcast, and more went on to mark the occasion. My personal favorite was the new seasonal (and hopefully annual) event, The Rising, in which the characters in Eorzea were celebrating the anniversary of this new 2.0 world everyone now inhabits. This allowed us to purchase champagne, special fireworks that explode in a meteor formation, new minions, and more. But the best part was the haunting rendition of “Answers” (XIV’s main vocal theme) that played in the event areas in the main city-states. This was great not only because it’s an amazing song, but because this creepy melancholy rendition is the same (or eerily similar) to the one played in-game as the FFXIV 1.0 servers came to a close in 2012. It’s a great homage to what came before and to where we are now — for the people in the game world and us fleshies as well.(Also can we get this version on a soundtrack, Square Enix? Pleaseandthankyou.)And that covers all the big stuff of 2.3! There were also countless smaller changes to the game’s interface and some truly nice convenience updates, especially in 2.38. I won’t list them all (feel free to read the full patch notes, though!), but I’m very happy with them all. Searching for items in your inventory, trying on gear, riding chocobos in housing districts, new accessibility options for those with hearing difficulties, the long-awaited item comparison, teleporting via clicking on a map icon, a filterable teleport list… trust me, there are a lot of things that are small on their own, but add up to an improved experience. That the team has time to do all of these things alongside new dungeons, quests, and more continues to impress.As big as 2.3 was, it’s 2.4 — with the addition of the Rogue and Ninja classes, as well as Shiva — that is likely to prove the most massive update FFXIV: A Realm Reborn has seen since it (re-)debuted a year ago. But that’s a story for later. For now, 2.3 was grand, and in many ways, game-changing. The amount and variety of content one can do every day now is truly impressive, and quite a bit of these didn’t even exist before July. All in all, a worthy update.Also? Patch 2.38 added both the /hug and /slap emotes. Best. Patch. Ever.