It’s been about ten weeks since Stormblood came out — and man, maybe it’s just me, but it feels like years since Heavensward was current. I had to go to Ishgard for something a few days ago and my girlfriend, who was playing in the same room as me, said: “Where ARE you?”
But for all the expansion’s differences, some things never change. We’re still capping Tomestones every week, Tanks still have instant queues, and getting Steps of Faith on Trials roulette is still one of the worst things that can happen to you. So I thought now would be a good time to look back over the past two months and consider how much the expansion has really changed the game for long-term players.
Some of the initial criticism reviewers had was that the gameplay loop once you hit max level was much the same as it was in Stormblood as it was in Heavensward (and, indeed, A Realm Reborn). And, indeed, it is. Now we’re more than two months away from launch, I’m already starting to see a couple of people I know bounce off the game. They love it, sure, but they’ve always been fairly inactive between patches, and Stormblood didn’t do a huge amount to change that for them.
That said, I think the fact that Savage is so much less crushing than it was in Heavensward (at least on release) has done a good amount to boost how much further people are willing to go. It’s anecdotal, of course, but I’m seeing many more people trying to tackle savage with Party Finder.
Even O3S — which is probably the piece of content most people will find themselves stuck on until 4.2 — is getting a good amount of groups, despite being rock-hard and very heavy on mechanics. It feels like there’s more to do than there was on Heavensward’s release, and I’m pretty sure that’s because there’s nothing in the vein of Living Liquid out there coaxing raiders into giving up early. Honestly, if they did something about the awful, restrictive loot system, it’d be perfect.
Changing PVP was huge, and added a dimension to the game that pretty much didn’t exist before now. Every week I’m kind of surprised by just how much the system changed. Consider that before now, as you just used the same abilities as PVE, Square Enix couldn’t really balance abilities for the game mode. Now they can. While at first I suspected I’d lose interest in PVP pretty fast, I’ve actually found myself queueing for Frontlines or the Feast when I don’t have much else to do, and rarely do I come away feeling like I’ve wasted my time.
It still feels like more people need to play it and get good at it. There’s definitely a community there, and breaking into higher ranks seems to be genuinely difficult, but the game mode continues to suffer from lack of interest; shortly after last week’s column praising The Feast went up, a friend messaged me jokingly asking me to update it as he just faced the same Dragoon four times in a row. He wasn’t playing at some weird time of day, either. That doesn’t take away from how much PVP has changed for the better, of course, but it shows that it still has a long way to go before it attracts the numbers it needs to be genuinely competitive.
The further we get away from release day, it feels like what the expansion is really missing is content outside of the daily grind of tomes, raids and primals. I enjoy that part of the game a lot, but I understand why friends of mine who don’t find it engaging enough to stick with don’t. Stormblood delivered FFXIV at its best — PVE design is better than it’s ever been, and rebalancing combat jobs breathed life even into years-old content — but in terms of how it built on what the game already offered, it wasn’t particularly daring. True, PVP might as well be an entirely new addition with how much it’s changed, but it still only attracts a minority of the player base.
It seems like patches between expansions are when the dev team is most comfortable with experimenting. I understand why, because nobody wants to launch a totally new aspect of the game only to have it bomb and eclipse all the good work you’ve done (I feel like I heard more about how much people disliked Garrisons in Warlords of Draenor than anything else), but I feel like there’s a hole right now for people who don’t have any grand PVE ambitions.
Consider Palace of the Dead; I bring it up not because it’s perfect, but because it’s the closest thing the development team have got to a game mode that’s totally separate from everything else. I’m really excited to see what the next Deep Dungeon looks like, because now PotD is outdated, being mostly the same as it was at the end of Heavensward, it feels like there’s a hole to fill. I can’t wait to spend a couple of months trying to hit floor 200 all over again.
If nothing else, PotD gave people a great alternative to most conventional ways of levelling up jobs. As it doesn’t really provide a huge amount of EXP from 60-70, the final stretch feels longer than ever. That’s a shame, because I’d love to experiment with alt jobs now everything has essentially been redesigned from the ground up, but it just takes a huge amount of time to get through those last few levels.
It also feels like the game is missing content you can do impulsively. Treasure maps are probably the closest thing to this; most of the time I ended up doing them with my free company as kind of a spur of the moment, get-on-voice chat thing, and it was really good. There aren’t any queues, you don’t need eight people to be successful, nor do you really need to play particularly well. But treasure maps are the only piece of content like that, and it’s the sort of thing that’d get boring if you did it every day. Moreover, it’s pretty much impossible for people who don’t have a close group of friends to play with to get involved in.
I definitely feel like I’d have a lot more to do if I was seriously interested in crafting and gathering, and, as I’ve said, PVE is better than it’s ever been. There’s already some interesting stuff on the horizon: the developers have hinted that they’re interested in looking at more difficult four-man content, a new 72-man PVP mode and a “super savage” fight is coming in 4.1, and I’m already itching to try and buy housing in Kugane.
But I think what I’m really hoping for in future patches and beyond is genuinely daring content that disrupts the daily grind. The developers have shown they can do it, and, with all the strides forward Stormblood took in improving the game’s core combat systems, I believe they can. This expansion provided a great basis for the future of FFXIV that goes beyond the routine established over the past few years — now I want to see what it looks like.