It's been a busy year for Final Fantasy XIV, with recent months seeing the release of the first expansion, Heavensward, and the two year anniversary of the game's re-launch. Is there enough to keep subscribers playing?
by Leanne Austin
The seasonal event The Rising marked this milestone with a fourth-wall breaking in game appearance from director and producer Naoki Yoshida himself. The visit ends with a reaffirmation of the development team’s commitment to working with player feedback as they continue to build and shape Eorzea, in order to avoid a repeat of the events of XIV's disastrous launch back in 2010.
While touching, this reassurance has come at a time of great debate within the XIV community regarding the current state of the game. Since the expansion’s release many mid-core level players have found themselves losing interest as the content available to them becomes increasingly more repetitive. Many are deciding to take breaks from the game until the next major update, and some are considering unsubscribing completely.
It seems a strange time for interest to take a dive, just a few months into the game's first expansion, but it does not come as a complete surprise to long term players. Since the relaunch there have been no major changes to XIV's formula, and a lack of engaging new content has caused the gameplay to become stale. For those outside of the hardcore static groups working on the endgame Alexander Savage raid, the biggest problem is a distinct lack of variety.
Heavensward feels like more of an extension of the game's previous version than a true expansion. Upon hitting the new level cap of 60 the method of gearing up is the same as in A Realm Reborn: farm select dungeons and trials to gather currency tokens to exchange for your job's latest gear set. The type needed for the most up to date sets, Esoterics Tomestones, only drop from a small handful of instances, made smaller when version 3.0 saw the number of dungeons in the choice pool for the Expert roulette drop from three to two. While this does not seem like it could be much of an issue, in practise it is simply too little choice for a task you're expected to undertake daily, and the repetition quickly takes it toll.
There is little in the way of intermediate difficulty content available at level 60. The normal mode of Alexander is designed to accommodate a wide range of skill levels in order to access the linked story content, and the two newest primal fights have rigidly fixed strategies that provide little challenge once your group have them memorised. Many groups who are looking to break into the Savage raids find themselves taken by surprise by the sudden jump in difficulty, as the rest of the expansion's events provide little In the way of a learning curve.
There has always been a reluctance from the development team to draw too many similarities to the game's predecessor, Final Fantasy XI, understandable in the early days as they set out to establish XIV as it's own brand. However more than enough time has passed now for XIV to have developed a unique identity in its own right. XI has proven itself to be a hugely popular game, enduring for thirteen years, and could serve as a huge wellspring of inspiration.
While we can safely leave some of the more punishing gameplay elements in the past, features like Dynamis and Nyzul Isle Investigation given a XIV themed overhaul could fit very well with the established preference for low-man instanced content. Further floors with updated loot pools would help to keep the content relevant for longer, something current events struggle with due to the vertical progression nature of the game. Too many trials, including brand new ones like Bismarck Extreme, become irrelevant on arrival due to the item level of their rewards being too low on implementation. It's a real shame to see many pieces of content fade into obscurity so quickly due to a lack of incentive.
There is still a while to wait before the next big update to XIV. Yoshida announced during TGS that version 3.1 will be not be arriving until early November, bringing with it a new 24 man alliance raid dungeon, Void Ark and an exploration system for the game’s Free Company built airships. We've known that these events have been coming for some time, but it’s hard to get too excited about them bringing in something new when what little information is shared is either too vague or seems very close to existing content in the game. Void Ark is confirmed to be similar to the previous raid dungeon, Crystal Tower. It’s unclear just what the airship explorations will actually entail outside of a short description of NMs dropping gear with RNG elements to its stats and appearance. More details of how upcoming content is set to play need to be provided, the usual few pieces of concept art aren’t generating enough interest anymore.
Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that this is this same development team who were bold enough to take the unprecedented risk of rebooting a MMO. There is an increasing sense that they are playing things too safe in a bid to avoid repeating the failings of version 1.0, but if the gameplay of XIV continues to stick to these same patterns they are running the risk of losing subscriptions as interest in playing long term wanes. The team have built up a lot of goodwill with the player base over the years, now is the time to capitalise on this support and really start to push the game into new territory. The reception of the upcoming series of updates and delivering on that promise to listen closely to player feedback will be crucial in determining XIV's future success.