Final Fantasy XIV's 3.3 update isn't even two weeks old and already players are going to have something more to look forward to: Deep Dungeon. First unveiled back at Pax East in April, Deep Dungeon will be unlike anything Final Fantasy XIV players have seen to date. I got the chance to sit in on a group interview with game director Naoki "Yoshi-P" Yoshida to dive deeper how Deep Dungeon will work, the new raid finding tool, itemization, and more.
But first let's talk about Palace of the Dead, better known as the Deep Dungeon, that will be arriving in the coming months in patch 3.35. It has 50 floors to explore, but what's even more interesting is that Deep Dungeon uses a progression system that isn't tied to your usual class level and experience points. You'll need to be level 17 in order to enter, but once there everyone will start at level 1 and need to earn experience points by killing monsters in the dungeon, leveling up independently from their class level.
"The basic concepts are to have your first time players as well as your veteran players go into the dungeon at the same time together and enjoy the content," Yoshida explains using a translator. "The other one is not having to worry about maneuvering through the different mechanics and gimmicks of a typical battle, but enjoy playing and continue to progress deeper and deeper into the dungeon."
Like many roguelikes, certain floors of the dungeon will allow players to save their progress so that failure doesn't mean having to start from the very beginning, and players can also earn unique equipment and rewards to use while in the Deep Dungeon. For outside of the dungeon, players can earn a special glowing weapons that Yoshida confirms will have a "very high item level." Yoshida also confirms that experience points earned while in the Deep Dungeon will transfer back to your regular class experience, but at a reduced rate because leveling in the Deep Dungeon happens at a much quicker pace.
When interviewers from Gamer Escape wondered if the dungeon might not be targeted towards FFXIV's hardcore raiding scene, Yoshida says, "actually, Deep Dungeon will have a hardcore element. With the initial implementation in Patch 3.35 there will be fifty floors. In the future, maybe update 3.4 or 3.5, Palace of the Dead will have up to two hundred floors and that's definitely geared for hardcore players. I believe most players won't be able to get to that last 200th floor."
For now, completing the first 50 floors will grant players a glowing weapon that they can use outside of the dungeon in addition to experience points, which does suggest that Palace of the Dead will hold little reward for level 60s looking to earn Allagan Tomestones in order to upgrade their gear. Still, Palace of the Dead looks like it'll be an interesting departure from the usual dungeons and raids, and when Yoshida suggested he was borrowing ideas from Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon for its design, I was definitely intrigued.
Other topics brought up during the group interview surrounded other aspects of the game, including the new raid finder tool which now automatically parties groups together through a queue rather than needing to use the party finder to manually form groups. Better yet, the raid finder is cross-server, which will also solve a growing problem of players having to migrate from less popular servers in order to remain competitive. When I asked Yoshida why this was implemented now and not sooner, he says: "We wanted to avoid any conflict that might arise from any automatic matching. We didn't want people fight over skill levels or intent when automatching, there could be some frustration there."
Unfortunately, that fear was losing ground to the swelling tide of players demanding some form of automatic party finder for raid content. According to Yoshida, in the few years since launch they've noticed a trend of more and more players approaching the raids without the intent of clearing it the first time, and are more just curious to learn how the raids work. For them, a raid finder can quickly let them familiarize themselves without having to meet the extra qualifications normally found in premade parties. "We heard more and more demand from people wanting to jump into this content but are having difficulty getting into parties. We wanted to respond to that demand and implement a system that goes beyond just gathering party members."
Yoshida also said that a later update will also introduce a system to build premade parties across servers complete with a chat system to allow players from different servers to communicate together. The chat system should be arriving in update 3.5, but there's no word on when the premade cross-server matching will be introduced. While some might see this as a negative addition because it diminishes the need for players to play with those on their same server, this could also be the first steps of Final Fantasy XIV moving towards some variation of a megaserver, which are typically much better if handled well.
After that, the conversation switched towards the unnamed 4.0 expansion that should be announced early next year. With Heavenswards, a large bone of contention among many players was having to first complete all of the story content from 2.0 (including each of the later patches) before being able to jump into Heavensward. While Yoshida expressed a need to tell a continuous story, he says "we would still like players to get through the story content, but some of the elements in the expansion we're considering letting players access without having to complete content from 3.0"
That's good news if you're someone who plans on returning to Final Fantasy XIV once the 4.0 expansion launches since you won't be locked out entirely from playing. Yoshida then expressed that the team was looking into a level boosting mechanic similar to what World of Warcraft has been employing with recent expansions, essentially letting players skip the grind to start playing from a more relevant level. "Of course this isn’t so we can make money off players wanting to skip the content," Yoshida says. "But there has always been the debate of when we bring in new players, or if an existing player wants to bring in a new player, there’s disparity with the level gap between them, especially if the player has gone through all the content and their friend is just starting."
Yoshida is clear is stating that all of this is being considered by taking into account player feedback, and we'll likely need to wait until the official announcement for 4.0 before we know all the specifics about story-gated content and level-boosting mechanics.
Final Fantasy XIV's 3.3 update, Revenge of the Horde released just prior to E3 and, as far as updates goes, remains fairly standard for the MMO at this point. New dungeons, new raids, and a mountain of new armor, recipes, and cosmetics were introduced. And for many, that's exactly what they were needing. With Heavensward, Final Fantasy has been in a tough position since the expansion effectively narrowed all the ways players could spend their time, but with Deep Dungeon arriving in the next few months and more news of future updates and expansion just on the horizon, it's an exciting time to be a fan.