Still going strong since its release here in 2003, Final Fantasy XI has added lots of new content this year and recently implemented some new features and class tweaks. I got the opportunity to jump into Vana'diel to check out all of the recent additions.
Final Fantasy XI's most recent add-on is A Shantotto Ascension: The Legend Torn, Her Empire Born, released in November. This add-on, like the two previous ones released this year, A Crystalline Prophecy, and A Moogle Kupo d'Etat, doesn't unveil new terrain or jobs, but focuses on storyline content and a series of quests and battles. On top of that, completing each arc rewards an exclusive piece of equipment upon which the player can customize the buffs.
Shantotto, a well-known eccentric professor and heroine who has been involved in many aspects of FFXI's story, is the central figure in this episode. Kicking off the plotline is a cutscene that shows her experimenting and implies a case of magic gone wrong. Others actively worry about the professor's unusual behavior. It's up to the player character to sort out just what's going on and to stop the threat to Vana'diel when Shantotto reappears after a mysterious disappearance only to declare herself Empress.
In addition to scenarios like A Shantotto Ascension, the storyline from the 2007 expansion pack Wings of the Goddess is still ongoing. Quests in WotG take players via a mysterious magic 20 years into the past, during the time of the Crystal War and the battle against the evil Shadow Lord. Alongside these missions are a series of quests taking place in the same time period, but in different locations with scenarios unique to each nation. These Past Nation Quests, as they're commonly known, often involve NPCs we meet in modern Vana'diel, and show us some of the feats they accomplished that were otherwise previously only hinted at. A player must complete quests from at least one nation to proceed through the Wings of the Goddess storyline, but optionally, can also complete quests from the other nations. Completing all these quests expands the perspective on the history of the world available to players by a great deal.
In one of these past quests, "Songbirds in a Snowstorm", taking place in the snowy mountains of San d'Oria, I got to fight alongside a regiment trying to hold off an invading enemy army. There was a challenging battle against an enormous Orcish Bloodletter, and after he went down, the cutscene showing the turning of the tide and climax of the entire battle was pretty epic. I won't spoil it for anyone here, but it fits right in line with the Final Fantasy legacy.
But epic quests only go so far if you're frustrated. Certain job changes have recently been implemented, meant to make certain classes more balanced, more of an asset to their parties, and even more fun to play. During one of the battles I fought, a change in the Summoner's arsenal was demonstrated. As we buffed up for battle, our Summoner had Ifrit out as his pet, or avatar. Previously, I was informed, keeping an avatar out for battles wasn't done very often since there was no incentive to do so, since it just drained the player. However, now a Summoner has the option of a skill called "Avatar's Favor," which enables an avatar to grant a buff on the entire party for a limited time as long as members stay in proximity to it. The buff grows stronger over time until it reaches its cap. Ifrit granted all of us a Double Attack that would eventually cap at a 12% bonus. Other avatars grant different buffs, including HP regen and Haste.
Rangers had an almost opposite problem in that they were almost too useful in parties. They use up a lot of ammo and their high damage rates mean that they draw a lot of the Hate from targeted monsters, which make them the prime targets. The new skill "Camouflage" acts as a cover from which they can shoot invisibly for a random period, lowering the amount of Hate they draw to themselves and making party balance easier. "Unlimited Shot" allows them to fire without using ammo until actually connecting a shot, minimizing waste.
Beastmasters also got some attention when they were given the ability to use their charmed creatures in ways of their own choosing. Where previously, these pets attacked using one of their abilities at random, the new command "Ready" lets players choose their next move. I saw this firsthand in the Orc battle when our Beastmaster used a Sabotendar to blast the powerful 1000 Needles toward the monster.