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A Shantotto Ascension Hands On Report

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Around the time these changes went live, there was also an update that introduced a host of new community and customization options that will let players have more control over their gear and characters. For example, player events are also now easier to plan, including character weddings. After various player requests, the wedding process is now handled via NPC and previous heavy restrictions have been eliminated. Players can set guests, decorate a location, and even leave special messages via event items. Besides weddings, player events may include parties and other gatherings in almost any location. But one of the most promising new additions is to crafting, with an emphasis on community participation as well. It's even in the name.

Synergy lets players craft items with special buffs on them and allows the creation of slots on weapons for special crystal pieces with inherent bonuses. These crystal fragments are known as Evolith stones, and the new weapon customization system is a cousin to the Materia system of Final Fantasy VII. Evolith stones drop from fights with tough Notorious Monsters, which you can take on by starting a hunt. These battles scale in difficulty and can require a full alliance to defeat, depending on which monster you're after.

These Notorious Monster battles are difficult, but after defeating one and recording the fight, each participant will get evolith. Bonuses on each stone vary, with some more suitable to certain classes than others, and evolith can't be traded, so it might take some time in order to get exactly the bonuses you might find most useful. Aside from the relative toughness of some of the battles, this seems to be the only other downside to the process.

I participated in a battle to take on Lugh, one of the stronger baddies. During the battle, he leveled up and got even stronger, so there are definite surprises to be had. The team is also using these named monsters to display some of the new gear options available. Weapon drops from named monsters form the base for those craftable weapons. Both Lugh's armor and his sword were all pieces that players can now create for themselves through Synergy.

The actual process of creation through Synergy is handled like a minigame. The existing crafting system, known as Synthesis, operates much more simply. With recipes in hand, players go to a Synergy Furnace and claim it, depositing items and evolith and then playing a game between feeding the furnace fuel and letting off some of the pressure that builds up. The goal is to achieve elemental balance in the creation process to produce a quality item. This process can be accomplished by one person with certain recipes, but more difficult recipes require teams of up to six people all working together.

Since this process is new, there's definitely still a learning curve. I asked how the community had received this new system and response so far has been positive. I've played several games that made my character look like she got dressed in the dark just to have useful buffs, so the Synergy system is a feature that I really liked, since it allows for a more personalized experience. The tough method makes sure players earn it, but there is one forgiving aspect; if a player fails to create an item and the furnace blows up (something that happened to me during my test run), the items required aren't consumed. With the relative difficulty of obtaining evolith and the complex synergy process, this is a welcome inclusion.

While the game has always had a large degree of player influence and social features, with both player-run events and the expansion of customization, Final Fantasy XI reenergizes the community experience with some of these additions. It's not always easy to maintain an MMO audience's interest after several years, but the FFXI team has put forth a solid effort. The new Synthesis system was perhaps the most impressive thing I had the opportunity to experience, but overall I saw a game still in good hands, with continued depth and promise.

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Guest Writer