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Is It Becoming Too Easy? Plus: Little Ladies’ Day & New Stormblood Info

Michael O’Connell-Davidson Posted:
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It seems like Square Enix are releasing a new patch for Final Fantasy XIV every week right now — and that’s because they are. Patch 3.55a hit on Tuesday, and another patch is due in the next few days.

With 3.55a comes Proto-Ultima, the eagerly anticipated 24-man trial. Or, at least, that was what everybody thought it would be.

You see, Proto-Ultima isn’t quite a trial at all. Rather, it replaces a Dun Scaith miniboss (the succubus, which was the encounter before Scathach). You’ll remember Ultima as one of the final bosses in the 2.0 Main Scenario Quest, and no doubt quickly realise that a hulking Allagan war machine is a little at odds with the gothic stylings of Mhach. But whatever! It’s new! It’s cool! Let’s do it!

I rocked up to Dun Scaith Tuesday morning after the patch — and man, what a disappointment. It’s not so much that the fight itself is bad, because it’s not. It’s got the awesome music from the first fight, some interesting new mechanics and AoE in interesting shapes. But it’s just so easy; in fact, it dies so fast that you barely get to see any of those mechanics.

The thing with 24-man encounters is that by their very nature they can’t be all that hard. There’s no reasonable way to approach them with a premade group, so they have to have a surmountable path of least resistance. I loved the fight with Ozma in Weeping City but it easily broke groups and wasted everybody’s time. What people were hoping for with this was an encounter of the difficulty that wasn’t surrounded by an hour of trash mobs.

Perhaps it was wishful thinking. People were referring to it as a 24-man trial even after producer Naoki Yoshida essentially said it wasn’t going to be a stand-alone thing. But whatever ‘realistic’ expectations may be, I don’t think anybody expected what we’d get is a new Dun Scaith miniboss.

Take for example the people who organized premades to tackle it thinking it’d be something really meaty: raiders from Elysium took a crack at it and were dumbstruck when they smashed it At the very least, this speaks to how muddled the messaging around Proto-Ultima was, because these are not poor players who don’t pay attention to the game and the messaging that surrounds it, but some of the best in the world — if they expected more, who wouldn’t?

Here’s the thing. With Yoshi-P saying the method to trigger the fight wouldn’t be in the patch notes and Savage-level rewards, people were expecting something totally different. Proto-Ultima has been playable at this year’s fanfests, and, while it’s been fairly easy, you’d expect that for a fight that people wouldn’t have a chance to practice. It also wasn’t in the context of a pre-existing 24-man raid; it was its own thing with its own arena.

It’s been suggested that Proto-Ultima might travel between encounters each week. That would explain its difficulty — if it was significantly harder and cropped up in Void Ark, you might present newer players with a problem — and it’d also keep those encounters fresh. It would still feel like a missed opportunity, though.

I suspect that people were expecting something they could get their teeth into. Maybe not something you’d need a premade for, but something a little harder than Ozma that played like a trial, if not a trial itself. There are so many options that it’s hard to believe making it a trash pull in Dun Scaith was the best one.

I played my part in hyping it up in last week’s column, but almost everybody did. I think that’s because people are just a little bit sad that there aren’t many challenges in the game right now. Zurvan extreme is easy; Sophia was the last piece of non-raid content that you couldn’t just faceroll (you’d just get swiped off the edge if you ignored mechanics), and you could easily complete that with time and voice chat.

Proto-Ultima fits the narrative that FFXIV is too easy. The rewards are nice, but what’s the point of having good gear if things that are introduced to the game don’t really require them? A new interview (see below) with Yoshi-P hints at challenges between raid patches for people that were ahead of the game, but what’s what Zurvan was alleged to be — a challenge for people that’d cleared Alexander Savage — and it’s not even close.

We’re lucky to be getting so many patches and so much content, particularly when there’s an expansion on the horizon. But there have to be challenges in the game that aren’t just grindfests like the Anima Weapon or else die-hard players will run out of things to do or at least aspire to. Nidhogg and Thordan were pretty awesome, and I think Sephirot occupied the sweet spot between being too easy and too hard where it was just right. Right now, other than Alex Savage, there isn’t that much challenging going on.

The Proto-Ultima hype might have been borne of wishful thinking, but it’s a sign that people want something that’ll push them hard outside of the conventional raid structure. Let’s hope Square Enix takes some lessons from this and we get something like a stand-alone Ozma in Stormblood. People have shown they wanted something similar by virtue of how excited they were for this, even if it did turn out to be nothing.

Of course, you could argue that The Steps of Faith was exactly that, at least in terms of difficulty… And it got nerfed after people complained it was too hard

Get the band back together

On a different note, Little Ladies’ Day is here! But something is amiss: Ul’dah’s pop idols, the Songbirds, are AWOL for their biggest moment of the year. Drafted in to help tackle rioting crowds, you’ll be tasked with getting the band back together and making sure things go off without a hitch.

Like many events, it’s short but charming. The /songbird emote you get for bringing the band back together is really nice — it’s far better than previous event emotes, and it’s also a level beyond than the Moonlift dance from the 3.5 beast tribe quests. The outfit you get as a reward is a pretty good replacement for the maid outfit if you missed the promotions that allowed you to earn one last year, and there’s an equivalent for that can be worn by men.

More stormblood info!

Last but not least, another Famitsu interview with Yoshi has come out about what we can expect in Stormblood. It ranges from everything to how expensive teleports between continents will be to what kind of gear Red Mages will wear, so check it out here. GameWatch also carried an interesting interview with the producer earlier in the week, too.

Here are some things to take away: On the difficulty question, the team is planning content for those that have cleared current savage tiers, so here’s hoping that some of the things we’ve talked about in relation to Proto-Ultima and Zurvan aren’t repeated.

It’s also interesting to note that damage synergy skills such as Disembowel (or a rough equivalent) may end up shared between DPS classes in Stormblood; this would fix some of the issues making Monk such a weak class at the moment (covered in a previous column) and give raid leaders more to think about when putting a team together.

Finally, are you thinking of booking a week off for Stormblood’s release? Maybe don’t. New raids and tomestones won’t hit for a couple of weeks until after the expansion goes live, so there’s no need to rush anything. You’ll be at the same point as everyone else, including those that take their time.


Michael O’Connell-Davidson

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