Last Tuesday saw the release of The Legend Returns, Stormblood’s first major content update. Patch 4.1 brings a wealth of features including a new 24-man raid, an extreme primal and a continuation of the storyline after the liberation of Ala Mhigo.
It’s the first patch in which the development team released only one new dungeon to include more improvements to the user interface and general quality of life on the game (4.2 will return to Heavensward’s model of adding two new dungeons), but it still feels like there’s a lot to get through. Let’s start with The Royal City of Rabanastre, the 24-man raid.
It’s the first raid in the Return to Ivalice series, which will all be based on the world of Final Fantasy Tactics and FF12. The story was written by Yasumi Matsuno, the mind behind both FFT and FF12, and bosses were designed by Keita Amemiya, creator and director of the GARO series. It sees the Warrior of Light (and 23 semi-functional allies) venture to the Royal City of Rabanastre, in order to track down a member of an esteemed Garlean theatre company who is seeking a long-lost play.
Those familiar with games set in Ivalice will find a lot to enjoy. I was on voice chat with people who were pointing out all the cool throwbacks and where certain music was taken from, and they were really impressed by what’s on offer here. But if these games are unfamiliar to you, don’t fret — I’ve never played tactics, but I still found a huge amount to enjoy here. Return to Ivalice feels a bit like Crystal tower in that it does enough new stuff that if you’ve never played what it’s based on you might not realise it’s borrowing from a past Final Fantasy at all.
Indeed, Return to Ivalice does a lot that’s new. You can really feel that they brought in guests to work on this raid because it has a distinctly different feel to anything else so far, with plenty of mechanics that have never been seen before. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say that, mechanically speaking, there’s more new stuff in Rabanastre than there was in the entirety of Omega. The last boss has an interesting trick in which depending on which mask he’s wearing, indicated by a devil or angel flash on the screen, you’ll either have to follow his instructions or do the opposite.
While 24-man raids tend to be pretty frustrating in the first few weeks as people try and figure them out, I actually really enjoyed the learning experience here, because it wasn’t like people were failing old stuff, and what we’ve seen so far has left me really excited to see the rest of the series. It’s nothing as frustrating as Void Ark or Weeping City, and I’d really recommend giving it a try even if alliance raids aren’t your thing.
Elsewhere, the new extreme primal brings players back to the Royal Menagerie to fight a powered-up version of Shinryu. It was already a brilliant boss (though I suspect those who found it difficult to clear may disagree), but this version takes it to a whole new level. Everything you have seen in normal mode is there but cranked up a gear, while latter phases are entirely new.
The fight looks and feels spectacular. To transition to the last phase, for example, you need to run across Shinryu’s back Monster Hunter-style while dodging beams of light it shoots at you. Once you get into a rhythm the battle flows really well, with no mechanics that feel arbitrary or random. It’s firm but fair, and worth clearing.
Be warned that it is tough — certainly far harder than fights like Sophia or Susano — and I’d say that those who aren’t that confident in their abilities may wish to find either a relaxed group before they give it a try. Those who are able to jump right in won’t be disappointed, though, because this is the best primal fight Square Enix have put out in ages.
I don’t want to say too much about the continuing storyline because I risk spoiling it for those that haven’t completed it yet, but both the new dungeon you visit as part of it and the later quest duty are really something special. The Drowned City of Skalla is full of neat touches that help it tell a story; you’re told that some of the enemies were once people, and if you hover over the buff bar you’ll notice that the foes in question have a transformation buff applied to them. It’s little things like that which make it feel like it goes a step beyond previous level 70 dungeons, and the game feels richer for it.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like only adding a single dungeon has really boosted quality elsewhere. I was concerned that this release would feel a bit empty, but so far it’s been the opposite; everything feels like it’s been finessed to a point beyond what I’m used to.
No doubt there will be those who get through the content quickly and burn out faster than usual, and in the long term the patch will likely suffer from the lack of a relic grind or something equivalent, but what I’ve played so far has been really impressive. It says a great deal that this column is over 1,000 words long yet I’ve only been able to cover about half of what was added, and the new PVP mode Rival Wings and the Ultimate-series raid aren’t even out yet.
I want to devote the last word to housing, which has been a hot topic on FFXIV as of late. Followers of the game will note that one of the features set to be introduced in this patch was player housing in Shirogane, the eastern-themed district next to Kugane.
Players have been waiting months for this, but all houses sold within minutes, leading those who got caught in login queues or who faced servers errors unable to make a purchase. Understandably, this has left some very upset. (I was one of the lucky few who got one — Ward 8, Plot 1 on Cerberus, pictured above, if you’re on my server and fancy visiting.)
Producer Naoki Yoshida has already written to the community and said that further plots in all housing districts will be introduced before the next major patch. This is good news, but I hope they can go further because people will probably still miss out, particularly those on bigger servers. I’ve written about housing before, and I want to reiterate that I really do believe it’s time to limit houses to one personal house and one free company house per player per account.
New plots are good, but the Shirogane debacle should serve as a motivation to do something about those who exploit the system and make the housing market even harder to get into, like the two players on Mateus who bought 28 plots between them. It’s inexcusable, and only underlines how unfair the situation can be.