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Going Underground - This Month's Palace of the Dead Update is a Gem

Michael O’Connell-Davidson Posted:
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Another month, another Final Fantasy XIV patch: 3.45 brings gifts including a new season of ranked PvP and the next part of the relic weapon quest chain. But the most significant addition is the update to Palace of the Dead, the “deep dungeon” that debuted a couple of patches ago. Previously limited to 50 floors, it now goes on for a whopping 200. But where exactly are we headed? “Hellsward,” the unlock screen declares, playing with the title of the last expansion.

No pressure, then. For those who’ve ignored PotD since its introduction, it’s a procedurally generated dungeon. It’s less complex than something like Diablo -- rooms are boxy and consistent in shape and size -- but it takes the best of FFXIV and wraps it up into a package that’s never quite the same. Buffs and debuffs are random, traps and enemy placements are constantly varied, and the loot ranges from light novelties to some seriously valuable stuff.

One of XIV’s great achievements has been how well it handles alt classes. PotD adds another layer to that, boasting a separate levelling system that lets you rush from 1-60 in an hour or two, providing you have the job you want to play unlocked.

This is great for a couple of reasons. For one, it allows you to ‘test drive’ a class, and get a feel for all of its skills and nuances before committing to the long climb to the level cap.  But it also levels the playing field, mixing up endgame players with people who may not have any jobs at max. Both groups can learn a lot from each other, and both get fixed rewards appropriate for their level (gear tokens or EXP) for completing groups of floors.

Now that the challenge presented by PotD has been ramped up, it’s a way for anybody — regardless of skill or prior time commitment — to test themselves in an endgame environment. Videos are popping up on Reddit of people hitting the hundredth floor solo, which is impressive by itself, but more impressive is the fact that anybody can do that provided they own the full game.

In a game with a mandatory story that’s a 100+ hour slog, broadening the scope of what new players can do isn’t something to take lightly. I know plenty of people who’ve just found it too much of a task to trudge through the main scenario in order to see the best this game has to offer — its complex rotations, its vibrant community, and its determination to make sure you never waste your time. Here, you can, and thanks to the fact that the deep dungeon offers endgame gear and the aforementioned knick-knacks, even savage-level players babysitting lower-levelled friends stand to gain a great deal.

Be warned: floors 50 onwards are much more challenging than those that came before. People are also a lot more touchy about wipes; I entered a group starting at level 91 and someone immediately started raging about their prior group, claiming that they were ‘f***ing morons’. I abandoned shortly afterwards, figuring that it was difficult enough without fending off aggro from my own party members.

Still, the rage is a sign that there’s something worth raging over. Prior to this patch, PotD was a fun diversion with a piecemeal story, fit for levelling alts and messing around but little else. Now, it’s a legitimate way to spend an evening. If you’ve not tried it before, now is the time. The best part? Everyone’s got something to gain.

A welcome side effect of PotD is that it has thinned the number of DPS queueing for normal dungeons, because it’s faster to queue for the Palace with its lack of party composition restrictions, speeding up queue times across the board. Hopefully this will lead to better tanks, too, as opposed to the legions of people who roll a Warrior just for the instant queues.

But what has a third season of The Feast, also introduced this patch, done for PvP’s notoriously leaden queue times? Anecdotally speaking, not a huge amount. PvP in XIV is slowly getting better, but it’s still an afterthought, and one with no clear entry point. Players can elect to become PvP mentors, but, like the mentoring system more generally, it’s more of a fancy hat than an indication of skill. Even people like me who suck at PvP can take on that title.

Even if ranked game queues get quicker, unranked games take so long to get started that there’s no meaningful way to practice. The community has done an excellent job of organising days on certain data centres encouraging people to get involved, but Square Enix need to crank up the rewards for casual players, and maybe even push schtick like double EXP weekends. It’s trite, but it’ll get people in.

The duelling system introduced this patch isn’t particularly helpful on that front either. It’s woefully imbalanced, and because team composition is based around the MMO holy trinity (a fact that remains baffling), it does very little to teach you how to play this flavour of what the game has to offer. Don’t get me started on PvP healing — it’s actually traumatic.

It’s a shame, because there is a reason to get good at PvP. At the top level this season’s Feast rewards are better than ever, and I’d love to secure them for myself. Better still is the fact that Square have been doing an excellent job cracking down on win trading and other methods of gaming the system, so your ranking means something. It’s a good sign for the future of PotD, too, for if they introduce rewards for the leaderboards (and they should — otherwise, what’s the point?), they’ll presumably protect it from exploiters who want to gatecrash the top spots.

Now all they need to do is crack down on Triple Triad and Verminion win trading and there would be a reason to get good at those, too.


Michael O’Connell-Davidson

Michael O'Connell-Davidson is MMORPG.com's FFXIV columnist. Follow him on twitter @mikeocd.