In my previous entry, I remarked upon how Patch 3.1 felt like it would be looked back on as the point where some really interesting things started in Final Fantasy XIV, and so far that’s proving correct. I enjoyed the story in the previous patch, but there wasn’t a great deal to it. In contrast, Patch 3.2: The Gears of Change really lives up to its namesake, with some truly surprising story developments. There are some plot threads from 3.1 that are mostly put aside for now, but what’s here reaffirms the FFXIV team’s commitment to, and skill in, storytelling.
That storytelling comes at you from three angles in Patch 3.2. The main scenario is at once fascinating, inspiring, and heartbreaking, as it continues to explore the fallout of the events from 3.0 and its affect on the Ishgardian people. We see the lengths some common people will go to in order to cling to the past, and the extent Aymeric — one of the best characters in all of FFXIV — and his cohorts will go to bring about peace and unity to a nation that badly needs it. Thancred gets some meaty scenes this time around, along with several key Ishgardian citizens. I don’t think I can ever get enough Hilda in my life.
Meanwhile, the raid dungeon of Alexander continues, with four more challenging battles, one of which may or may not remind players of Voltron. We learn much more about Alexander’s reemergence thanks to the interesting and mysterious Mide, a female Au Ra who serves as one of the lead characters in this side story. This Midas section of Alexander not only has a deeper and more interesting story as we delve further into the mechanical primal, but the battles are a ton of fun, in some wildly interesting environments.
Third is the start of a storyline following the awakening of the Warring Triad, a series of god-like beings inspired by the same Triad referenced in Final Fantasy VI’s backstory. In FFXIV, the remains of the Triad have been visible since Heavensward released last June, in the form of three massive statues aboard the ancient Allagan Flagship in Azys Lla. Interestingly, these statues have slowly changed over time, though I’m unclear on the exact timeline. What was once a trio of shiny, reflective statues became more dull, and as of now, they are covered in moss and overgrowth. As is usually the case in Final Fantasy XIV when Eorzea is threatened with beings of unspeakable power, our heroes decide to summon a third of the Triad to say hello…oh, and to strike him down now, before he gains full power. The first to be challenged is Sephirot the Fiend, whose powers are largely inspired by plant life (insert your own theory about how this relates to his being named after the Tree of Sephirot). The two-stage battle is exciting, and not only because it features an awesome arrangement of one of Final Fantasy VI’s boss battle themes, along with Seph’s main theme that’s totally not inspired by a Powerman 5000 song (but might be). There’s some fun new fight mechanics to learn, and there’s a real thrill to facing down a larger-than-life foe (see screenshots!).
One constant with Final Fantasy XIV patches are new dungeons, and The Gears of Change brings two of my all-time favorite dungeons to Eorzea. The Lost City of Amdapor was introduced way back in March 2014 with Patch 2.2. The new Hard mode in Patch 3.2 shows us not only how the abandoned city has fared since we cleared it out (hint: It’s still full of creepy crawly things), but takes us to an unexpected place as well. While the initial dungeon led us down into darkness, and a battle with Diabolos in the blackest part of the city’s depths, Hard mode takes us down an alternate path, an area of the city bathed in holy light. It’s literally a lighter side of the city, and with it comes an interesting final boss that embraces both the light and darkness with a host of restorative white magic, as well as dark versions of each that damage the party. It’s a really interesting new take on battles, though it makes the White Mage in me really want that Cure IV spell for myself.
The all-new dungeon, The Antitower, is part of the main story. Along with bringing us to the first major plot revelation in Patch 3.2, the dungeon itself is simply gorgeous. Its upside-down tower design is perhaps best described as fantastical, and like the magicked brooms we’ve seen in a certain cave, it evokes an eccentric charm similar to Disney’s Fantasia. The only thing that could make it better would be if The Antitower was backed by gorgeous brand new music, contained a creepy boss from Final Fantasy IV, and featured references to the late, great David Bowie, along with not one, but two famous Kermit the Frog songs. Oh wait, all of that is in here. Seriously. It’s good stuff. And don’t even get me started on the extreme levels of adorable that the Wind-Up Magus and Viking reach. They’re clearly destined for acquirable minion status, and I look forward to it.
The Peers of Change
Patch 3.1 introduced two new kinds of gameplay to FFXIV: the cute tower defense minigame, Lord of Verminion, and the large-scale multi-class Diadem area. Patch 3.2 also brings some all-new elements into the game: the Mentor System, the new PVP mode — The Feast — and a training area called Stone, Sky, Sea. The last of these is the most minor to me, as despite being billed as a “training area” for the game’s major battles, it’s simply more of a check to see if you can do enough damage to a training dummy to properly contribute to specific fights. While that’s good and important information, I don’t think it serves to actually prepare players for these fights in general, as the stationary dummy won’t fight back. Damage output matters, but when a party falls in battle, it’s often because of incoming attacks, and each battle’s mechanics must be learned to succeed. Also, focusing only on damage output doesn’t give tanks practice to maintain threat or pick up additional targets, nor does it help healers in making sure their healing game is on point. Stone, Sky, Sea is an interesting idea in training players for battle, but I don’t think what’s here really works yet. If the developers can find a way to practice on other roles and avoid mechanics, there could be some value to it; but at that point, why not just go fight the actual battle?
Thankfully, there’s several new things that I feel are indeed helpful training. Anyone who’s played MMOs knows how grouping with strangers can be: The elite players who know the game front and back are either going to be helpful to new players or berate them for not also being experts. The latter type is supremely unhelpful to everyone. By adhering to their high and mighty “git gud” stance, they’re denying others the chance to learn, which would improve their own odds of assembling a group of seasoned players. It also hurts morale of the team and could discourage people from continuing to play, feeling that they aren’t good enough because of what some elitist Warrior said to them.
Final Fantasy XIV combats this toxic behavior of one’s peers in two ways: The Hall of the Novice is a new training facility for all players, while the Mentor System gives experienced players who actually want to help others the means to do so. The Hall is available from level 15 and offers a series of exercises in each of the three main roles (tank, healer, DPS). Exercises include learning how to avoid certain types of attacks and other general knowledge, plus role-specific lessons, such as how to maintain enmity on targets as a tank. There’s even a glossary that explains common MMO terms that new players are likely to be unfamiliar with. In all, it’s basic stuff if you’re used to the genre, but what’s important here is that not everyone is. MMORPGs have such a depth to them that it can be seriously daunting for people to jump into. This training stuff is something I feel all MMOs could use. It’s concise, it’s helpful, and it even rewards you with some unique gear with pretty solid stats at level 15. It can’t make that Warrior any less of a jerk, but it will inspire confidence in the player base, which is good for the future of the game itself, as an MMO is nothing without players.
The Mentor System is another great addition…or so I assume, as based on the requirements to be a Mentor, I can’t become one yet. There’s only so many ways the game can assess your readiness, and unfortunately for me, one of those is based on having a certain amount of player commendations from running content with strangers. Since I largely play with people I know (who can’t dole out commendations), I don’t meet these requirements. Such sadness. Still, there are plenty of people besides me who play Final Fantasy XIV and know the game well — sometimes frighteningly so — but want to use that knowledge for good. Mentors have access to an exclusive chat channel where they can invite newer players to impart advice, and can specifically queue for dungeons and other content with new players to give them a place to learn that’s judgement-free.
The short lesson in all of this is that everyone in the game will have more fun when people of all skill levels can get together and help each other. I think all of this is a major step in the right direction, and I’m glad to see so much effort was put into these systems.
While I’m not a novice to FFXIV in general, I am still pretty green when it comes to PVP, a fact I was reminded of when I tried The Feast, an all-new PVP mode with teams competing for medals. The most basic way I use to describe this mode to people is that it’s like Coin mode in Smash Bros, in which incapacitated players drop a bunch of medals, and the team with the most medals at the end of the match wins. The Feast has some interesting balancing to somewhat prevent highly-skilled players from completely trouncing newbies like me, in that the more medals you hold, the more susceptible you are to damage. That said, I’ve still seen several 30-second matches, so practice is definitely recommended. Like other PVP modes, you thankfully still earn some rewards and PVP EXP for losing, so you can gradually improve your abilities even through loss. In my limited time with it, The Feast is a fun addition — I like it more than The Wolves’ Den, and perhaps more than Frontline, but I really need more practice in taking on human opponents. Turns out they’re much craftier than monsters who just stand there and let me beat on them.
While every patch has lots of smaller updates, I think 3.2 has more than most. I typically don’t discuss much of them in these journals, but I think there’s enough here that’s noteworthy, so I’ll make an exception. Like the Vanu Vanu before them, the Gnath beast tribe have a story that will unfold as you do more quests with them. These insect-like creatures are trying to scrape by on their own in their tiny village, but they learn they can get by easier by opening an Adventurer’s Guild and dealing with other races. As the story progresses, you help the Gnath establish ties and trade with the Ishgardian soldiers stationed in the snowy Coerthas, the local hunters in Tailfeather, and more. I haven’t seen the end of this story yet, but it’s satisfying to watch their guild grow and see how they learn to integrate with other cultures they previously had little interaction with. The reactions of the other races are interesting as well, as they begin to learn that the Gnath are more capable than they thought, in their own unique ways. And yes, there’s a mission where you literally gather “weeds” for the guild to deliver to the local hunters, who claim smoking it eases their nerves. You can’t claim the missions are lacking in variety, that’s for sure.
The Orchestrion is a new furniture item for player housing that allows you to change the interior music to your choice of several songs in the game (with more selections being added in the future). But instead of just letting you set it up and be done, each song must be acquired, in a clever decision to make the process interactive. Some songs can be outright purchased, but all the ones you really want? You’ll want to dive into that dungeon or boss battle and get the materials to create the song. It’s a neat little system that keeps crafters employed and useful, and encourages players to revisit favorite content, if you’re committed enough to earn that song for your house.
There’s several more changes and additions worth a mention, but only minor comments, so I’m just going to list these in lazy bullet-point form:
- Many major patches include new hairstyles, but this one includes some really great ones, including some unisex styles. A nice touch, and a win for inclusivity! (See the first screenshot to the right for my favorite!)
- Another cool stylistic addition are the new victory pose and battle stance emotes. They differ for each job type and gender, and are just good fun. I’m mildly in love with my Paladin’s versions…
- The Aetherochemical Research Facility — the final story-based dungeon in 3.0, and more easily referred to as “ARF” — has been added to the dungeon roulettes with new rewards. This is good news as ARF is a wonderfully fun dungeon that sadly lacked any incentive to replay until now.
- For months, there’s been fan feedback about Paladin’s lack of damage output compared to other tanks, and following some welcome changes, they can at least contribute more DPS in battle, even though they still don’t do the kind of damage Warrior and Dark Knight do (not that they should all be equal). All tanks also get an important change that allows them to switch between tank and DPS stances without breaking combos.
- Every major patch contains new gear, but 3.2 has one of the overall best lineups of any recent patch, including a cool new line of primal-inspired gear, the slick black and gold Midan gear, and a ridiculous amount of gorgeous crafted gear.
- As more areas have been added to FFXIV, the Teleport menu has grown bigger, with a tabbed UI to streamline the window. The new Teleport History tab keeps a list of your recent destinations in one place, making it easy to zip around the zones with minimal clickage.
- I talked about the Idling Camera and Group Pose features last time, and both of these things see even further refinements in 3.2, such as offering direct camera control, the ability to focus on specific targets, and more. The perfect screen shot is now even easier to achieve.
- Everyone’s favorite inspector extraordinaire Hildibrand is back. It’s been far too long, and while this episode was literally just reintroducing him, I’m hoping future installments will be meatier.
For the Sky
After the 3-month cycle that Yoshi-P and team had stuck with during the 2.x days of Final Fantasy XIV, the wait for Patch 3.1 felt longer than usual. With the solid changes and additions in 3.2 coming in three months later, and what looks like a crazy amount of things coming next in 3.3, it’s safe to say the team is not resting on its laurels. Some really big things are brewing with the Heavensward story now, and I can’t wait to see the next chapter. I feel like I always wrap up these entries essentially saying that Final Fantasy XIV is both in a good place presently, and things are only looking positive for the future. So if you’re still reading, do me a favor — all of you — and just give the game a try so I don’t have to write these giant missives anymore, okay?