Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – 11. Review Journal Book XI

 

Review by · January 15, 2015

Final Fantasy XIV saw three major patches in 2014, each with a host of new content, features, and things to do. Patch 2.4 debuted in October, and along with the smaller 2.41 and 2.45 updates, it brought some of the biggest changes to the game thus far and serves as a bridge to the upcoming Patch 2.5 and the Heavensward expansion.

Heavensward, launching this spring, will take us to the snowcloaked lands of Ishgard — a fourth, currently inaccessible city-state. But instead of just suddenly venturing there on a whim, patches 2.4 and 2.5 are gradually leading the story north. The main scenario quests are largely based around dealing with an Ishgardian emissary, who, unlike his countrymen, is actually willing to be civil to outsiders. His admission that Ishgard may have to finally take part in the growing conflict in Eorzea gives us the first glimpse of how and why the reclusive nation will open its gates. Running concurrent to this is a political story with the Ul’dahn sultanate that’s been brewing for several months. With both stories coming to a head, there’s no lack of intrigue here, and I’m more excited than ever to see how these threads will wrap up.

While the main story is about drama and conflict on a large scale, this patch brings several smaller scale quests that generally have a lighter tone. Inspector extraordinaire Hildibrand is investigating a curious plot at the Ul’dah Coliseum that just so happens to involve everyone’s favorite oddball octopus Ultros (of Final Fantasy VI fame). We also get another host of Moogle Delivery quests, in which Moogle Mail network tasks us to deliver letters to various characters around Eorzea. These are usually the lesser-known or lesser-used NPCs, and the quests give us a chance to get to know them better. The big epic plotlines are great, but it’s that combined with all the small stories of regular folk that really make the world feel alive, so I’m glad these quests are continuing to be introduced.

Several headlining features debut in this patch, but the addition of the Rogue class and associated Ninja job easily steals the show. With Final Fantasy’s history of job classes, especially given that most appeared in Square Enix’s other MMO (Final Fantasy XI), players expect that their favorite class will be added to FFXIV. Bucking expectations of making us wait for the expansion, Rogue and Ninja debuting in “just a patch” is a big move, as they’re the first classes to be added since the game’s launch in 2013. Ninja was also a highly requested class because… well, because people like ninjas.

The addition of another damage-dealing class has upset the balance of DPS, tank, and healer characters even further, but that hasn’t stopped a large population of players from making their very own ninja. Ninjas feel like they were implemented well, and differentiate themselves with a unique combo system to perform ninjutsu, as well as having helpful utility moves in battle such as one that can restore a fellow party member’s TP. These classes aren’t afterthoughts: rogue and ninja get a full plate of quests up to level 50, and while they share gear with the likes of bard at certain points, rouge/ninja have a unique weapon in their double daggers. And while I’d like to say that my favorite thing about them is how the ninja Artifact Gear resembles Shadow from FFVI, the most impressive thing is their Assassinate skill. To implement this finishing move — which causes your character to leap onto the head of your enemy and jab your daggers downward — the programming team had to tailor the move to every enemy in the game to make sure the animation was properly aligned. That’s every mob in the field, every dungeon enemy, every boss, every primal, every FATE boss, every Hunt mark… You get the idea. A lazier dev team would probably opt to style this attack differently, but the fact that they went to these lengths to make the ninja play exactly how they envisioned impresses the hell out of me.

Each patch prominently features a new primal as part of the story, as well as a new central conflict. This time, the integration ran a bit deeper, as our icy adventures lead us both to Shiva and the all-new Snowcloak dungeon. Snowcloak is tucked away in a corner in the snowy Coerthas, and it looks to be our heroes’ way into Ishgard if we can’t get past that pesky city gate. The dungeon gets a bit of flak from players as being sleep-inducing, and the excessively mellow and relaxing background music does support their argument. It’s a fitting dungeon for the story though, even if I weren’t a sucker for a pretty ice cave.

The bosses have interesting new mechanics as well, but I’ll admit the final boss is a bit of a letdown. In Final Fantasy XI, the wolf god Fenrir is notorious for being a maddeningly difficult battle that only the best of the best can survive. Fenrir has been seen in concept art for FFXIV for years, and finally shows up as the boss in Snowcloak. And he is ridiculously easy. He has about three moves, and the only one that poses any threat is so easy to avoid that it makes him one of the easiest bosses in the entire game. While his massive hulking visage is a sight to behold, Fenrir deserves better than to be a joke of a battle. I may not have played FFXI, but I respect the challenge that he offered. I actually hope that a future update will reveal that we aren’t fighting the real thing here, and the real Fenrir is capable of decimating an ill-prepared party.

Thankfully, Shiva is a far more fascinating inclusion. She’s less frustrating than Ramuh from patch 2.3, but I found her to be far more fun to battle, and the music… The music! Like Leviathan, Shiva has two musical themes: a rousing, dramatic theme that accompanies the first part of the battle, and then Oblivion, her true, J-rock-influenced vocal theme song that backs the real battle. It’s awesome battle music (unless you just can’t deal with J-rock), and sets the tone well. How Shiva comes into the world is also different from every other primal, and sets a disturbing precedent for our heroes in their efforts to contain the primal threat. I’m quite interested to see where they go with this story.

The long-awaited Eternal Bond system debuted in patch 2.45. Originally referred to specifically as a “marriage” system that would allow players to bond their avatars together, eventually the developers opened up the terminology a bit and switched over to “Eternal Bond.” This was partially to say that anyone can “bond,” whether it’s people who actually want their characters as spouses, or just best friends who want to solidify their friendship in game. The other logic behind the name change was because they wanted the system open to anyone who wanted to partake. Once it was revealed that players could marry, it wasn’t long before same-sex partners wanted to know if they would be included or not, and yes, they are. This is not at all the place to get into human rights, but I’m more than pleased that Square Enix and Yoshi-P didn’t shy away from the topic and instead opted to let anyone pledge themselves to whoever they wanted. It’s a very modern approach to the situation, even if I long for the day we don’t even have to question such things.

Granted, shying away from the “marriage” term itself is a little silly. I’ve been to two Eternal Bond ceremonies now, and they’re weddings. No sense in denying it. They take place in the downright gorgeous church/temple The Sanctum of the Twelve, and the interior is a blend of white stonework, flowers, flowing fountains, and everything a girl could dream of for her wedding day. There’s real invitations that you can send to friends, at a real-life time where only your wedding is being performed. It’s an interesting approach, as it causes people to gather in one place at one time exactly like a real-world event. The couple can prepare vows, there’s an exchange of rings, tuxedos, a wedding gown complete with veil… So yes, it’s absolutely still a marriage system. But if the name change means my gay friends can marry each others’ avatars, I don’t care what terminology they want to use.

Married or single, the bulk of many players’ playtime in Final Fantasy XIV is shared between battle, crafting, and gathering classes, and 2.4 brings plenty of new things to every play style. Six months after the last tier of purchasable gear, there’s another new currency type — Allagan Tomestones of Poetics — and a whole new level of gear for every battle class. While much pre-2.4 content will offer these new tomes, the latest dungeons offer the most lucrative way to upgrade your character. Joining the new Snowcloak are two Hard mode versions of existing dungeons. If you haven’t played the game or followed previous updates, these Hard versions don’t simply up the difficulty of the content you’ve seen before, but instead take you through a different path of a once-familiar dungeon.

Along with that comes new enemy types, new loot, and often, unseen mechanics on bosses that offer something new. These range from pelting a yeti with snowballs to interrupt an attack, avoiding charging mummies to prevent becoming a cursed mummy yourself, or targeting specific limbs on a boss to bring it down. This time around, we got Sastasha and The Sunken Temple of Qarn (which incidentally has awesome new music), which were good choices to implement. The watery caves of Sastasha is the very first dungeon in the game, and it’s always been one of my favorites visually. Getting to revisit the wet, glowing grotto by the sea but with more challenging battles does nothing but please me. Well, except the final boss that takes far too long to bring down, but that’s a minor blemish.

The biggest battle content in Patch 2.4 is the finale of A Realm Reborn’s most interesting story, centering around Bahamut. In this third and Final Coil of Bahamut, we see the climax of the tale around the elder primal himself that razed Eorzea, and his imprisonment within the earth. As much as I’d love to tell you my thoughts about how it all ends, my raid team has yet to clear all four new tiers. I can say that the difficulty, at least at the outset, seems to be slightly reduced from the final encounter in Second Coil, which is a battle requiring the utmost amount of skill and coordination. So, while Final Coil starts out mildly less difficult, I’m sure the challenge just goes up from there.

As for Second Coil, Patch 2.41 introduced the Echo — a system that increases damage, healing, and parameters by a percentage. Three of the four boss battles also had mechanics adjusted to make them less of a “one mistake and you all die” affair. Oddly enough, this practice offends the most hardcore of players, believing that those players with less skill (or, let’s face it, more real-life commitments) shouldn’t be able to clear such content. My take is that these battles have existed for over six months, so any hardcore players have mastered it, and this system gives everyone else a chance to see what they’ve been missing. At the very least, it allows players of all skill levels a lower barrier of entry to get some great gear for their characters, like that pesky robe that just will not drop for my White Mage… ahem. Patch 2.3’s Syrcus Tower also saw an important and expected adjustment: the elimination of the one-item-per-week loot restriction. As this gear isn’t top of the line, keeping the restriction in place would no doubt make it impossible to get a party together, making the gorgeous tower obsolete.

Patch 2.45 brought some key skill changes to a few classes. Following their introduction in 2.4, it seems that some players discovered a way to play Ninja that wasn’t intended, and were therefore able to do more damage than other damage dealing (DPS) classes. While that sounds good on paper, it alters the balance and makes it harder for other classes to find groups, who now prefer the “better” damage of Ninja. So along with altering some Ninja abilities to bring them more in line with other classes, Dragoons got several adjustments to improve their damage output for the same balance reasons. With Dragoon damage and combos being negatively affected by new content requirements, some abilities were changed and their requirements adjusted to allow them to consistently output damage, and be more useful to the team.

Of course, selfishly speaking as a Paladin & White Mage, the addition of Stoneskin II is my favorite skill adjustment. Traditionally appended before starting combat, Stoneskin’s damage mitigation is vital, but when attempting a challenging fight, having to cast the spell on 8 party members after each failed attempt is tiring. Yoshi-P admitted that even the dev team hates the process, and they all wanted a quicker way to apply this helpful barrier that isn’t such a waste of time. Thus, all White Mages now have Stoneskin II, which can only be cast outside of battle, but on an entire party. It’s a small thing, but it makes re-challenging a boss flow that much more smoothly.

Crafters and gatherers get plenty of attention in this patch, though the quality of the results are mixed, depending on who you ask. Along with new tiers of craftable gear (including some stylish new duds, some straight out of FFXI) came nearly preposterous costs and difficulty associated with making them. The materials required come from repeatable daily quests and desynthesis, a subset of crafting skills that quickly get expensive to level. Without getting too much into numbers, completing the maximum of 6 daily quests will earn you 1 “oaknot” each. The special material required for the new recipes costs 8 oaknots. And each recipe requires 3-6 of this material. So to get your blacksmith a new tool, you’re looking at 48 oaknots, or 8 solid days of quests. Plus, you either have to have amazing stats on your crafter or know someone who does to actually create the thing. Granted, MMOs are a long-term investment. If everyone could get everything easily, the perks wouldn’t be as rewarding. Still, the amount of time and number of repeatable quests involved can get a little tiring if you want to outfit several classes with new gear. But since I’m completely willing to do it all to get my Goldsmith and Miner to be the very best, I guess I’m playing into their hands, aren’t I?

Thankfully, much like the way in which the difficulty of older battle content was eased, previous tiers of crafting/gathering gear are now far easier to obtain. The new tools introduced with Patch 2.2 in March 2014 are now far more achievable, as their material costs have gone down. Each tool that once required crafting of 50 high quality materials now requires about 8-10. I should have been offended at the reduction, as mere weeks before Patch 2.4, I crafted these 50 things, and now any aspiring crafter doesn’t need to. But I don’t feel that requiring people to make 50 of a thing meant they were any more well-geared or skilled than someone who makes 10. It just meant they were willing to spend more time doing it. As such, I think this was a good move, especially for newer players. Anyone getting into the game now would have such an uphill climb, trying to get the gear from 2.0, 2.2, 2.3, and only then being able to even attempt the current recipes. For people like me that have been playing since July 2013, the gradual additions of harder difficulties wasn’t so bad, and I think a lot of players don’t consider the difficulty for new people trying to get into the game. Thankfully, director/producer Yoshi-P and crew do consider that, and they managed to make progression less annoying while preserving the challenge at higher levels. I think it’s the right way to go.

I often talk about fishing in these journals, so I may as well keep tradition going. The last thing to be added to FFXIV’s beta in the summer of 2013, fishing was always a second-tier gathering class to many people. It’s a very laid-back class to play, but one that rewards extreme patience to catch the biggest and best fish. Fisher always gets some kind of update in patches, such as a stool to sit on while fishing, or in this patch, an entire boat that was added solely to offer up a new fishing location, with new fish types. As FFXIV has been updated, “Big Fish” debuted, rare catches that require high stats and fishing in an exact type of weather, in an exact location, at an exact time period, answering to the name of Marty. 2.4 goes one step further and introduces some fish that can only be caught with a successive combination of weather, i.e. sun followed by rain, or two rainy periods back to back. Without the weather forecasters in town, this would be the worst idea ever. But with them in place, you can plan ahead and catch that white whale-like fish that you’ve been obsessing over. And since some fish can now be mounted and hung on the wall of your private room, you can really flaunt your fishing skill.

With how fascinating I find fishing, you now understand why, amongst all the cool titles you can earn in-game, my character walks around with the title of “The Ambitious Angler.”

The most time-consuming line of quests in all of Final Fantasy XIV continues to be the fabled Zodiac weapons. The continual upgrading of the class-specific relic weapons is a source of obsession and sometimes contempt among players, and the latest tier combines both traits into one. One overdue change is the improved drop rate of Atma, the gem stones that are required to progress from the initial relic weapon to this new Zodiac weapon. Introduced in Patch 2.2, the Atma drop rate, estimated at 2% but in practice seemed much lower, has been increased, allegedly by a factor of 5. Indeed, my attempts to gather a second set of Atma were infinitely more productive than the first time, continuing 2.4’s trend of making 2.2 content less annoying.

And then there’s the new level of Zodiac weapons. Once you get your Curtana Atma, then Animus, then Novus, and finally Nexus, it’s time to dive into old dungeons over and over and over and over again, hoping to get a rare item at the end. Add to that specialty-crafted materials that will either require you to befriend a crafter or shell out a ton of money, plus some other materials that you just have to outright buy, and it’s not a quest to be taken lightly. There’s a lot to it, but even so, some people on my server with more time, money, and obsessive tendencies than common sense managed to get their new weapons in three days. I’m not there yet, but I’m mildly terrified at what it entails. Still, the reward is an all-new weapon, named after legendary Final Fantasy weapons of yore such as the Excalibur, Aegis Shield, Ragnarok, Nirvana, and more. Since all previous quests simply added a new skin or glow to the weapon we already had, it’s nice to see brand-new designs accompanying this quest. It makes the effort a little more rewarding.

Finally, we have the unsung hero of every update: the little things. Every patch brings with it a host of UI updates, macro improvements, and more that seem silly to list. On their own, each of these things can evoke a “huh, that’s helpful” response, but each tiny quality of life improvement adds up to make a better experience. Things like the Favorites/Recents list in the crafting log that make it quicker to craft common items. Or making a flag marker on the map persist through closing and re-opening the map. Or having the option to sort the friends list via several filters. This sorting carries through to the in-game mail interface, and anyone with a sizable friend list who sends mail knows that it was an annoyance scrolling through a list of friends sorted only by the order in which you friended them. Simply giving us the ability to sort this alphabetically is a huge time saver for a small task. But these little things add up, so I’m glad the dev team spends so much time obsessing over and sweating the small stuff. All the big changes, updates, and new content are important to keeping us all engaged, but it’s vital that the smaller stuff doesn’t get overlooked while this new content is created. Thankfully, the FFXIV dev team is attentive to this and consistently looks at all aspects of the game. It’s one of the many reasons I keep going back to Eorzea.


Pros

Shiva's story, battle, and theme are great, new dungeons are fun, new classes well implemented, and the story remains interesting as it nears its climax.

Cons

The barrier of entry on much of the new crafting gear and materials is insane, Zodiac stuff still a little grindy and reliant upon luck, Fenrir deserves better.

Bottom Line

Despite the headaches associated with crafting, 2.4 is a well-done patch that lowers some barriers on older content to help people access the great new content.

Graphics
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Sound
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Gameplay
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Control
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Story
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Overall Score ~
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Mike Salbato

Mike Salbato

Mike has been with RPGFan nearly since its inception, and in that time has worn a surprising number of hats for someone who doesn't own a hatstand. Today he attempts to balance his Creative Director role with his Editor-in-Chief status. Despite the amount of coffee in his veins, he bleeds emerald green.