Producer Naoki Yoshida and the team behind Final Fantasy XIV's excellent relaunch A Realm Reborn have been true to their word: every three months since launch, the game has been updated with a significant amount of new content. The next of these, known as Defenders of Eorzea, is set to be with us in early July.
So far, the two major version updates have added a lot of value to the game. The first patch, known as A Realm Awoken, continued the game's main scenario beyond the "final" boss battle against the Imperials and Ultima Weapon to an enormously enjoyable conflict against Good King Moggle Mog XII. Through the Maelstrom, meanwhile, continuned the story further up to and including a clash with the sea monster primal Leviathan. Defenders of Eorzea continues the tale yet further, culminating in a battle against Final Fantasy mainstay Ramuh, the lightning-wielding old man and the primal that the Sylphs have been trying to summon since the game launched.
Here's a trailer for what's to expect from the new update:
As you can see, the new patch follows the tradition of both A Realm Awoken and Through the Maelstrom in that it doesn't just include a continuation to the main story. No, there's a whole host of other stuff, too; let's take an in-depth look.
Final Fantasy XIV's PvP has, to date, been limited to The Wolves' Den, an instanced area where two teams of four players each can battle against one another to see who has the best mastery of their character in a player-vs-player situation. Given that players aren't subject to the same mechanics as monsters -- tanks can't pull aggro on players, for example -- it's a remarkably different experience to battle against real humans than it is to take on the relatively predictable behavior of monsters. There's even more movement than in A Realm Reborn's already movement-heavy combat, and you'll have to effectively re-learn how best to use your class in most cases. It's surprisingly fun.
As fun as it is, though, it's still fairly limited. There's only one relatively simple arena to fight in, and it's not a terribly large, interesting one at that -- though there are a few sneaky places to hide for a few moments to get a spell or two off. And so we come to Frontlines, a new large-scale PvP area for up to 72 players at once, split into three teams of 24 players each.
Lore-wise, the Frontlines battleground represents conflict and strain between the three Grand Companies of Eorzea as they seek to take control of the Carteneau Flats, scene of Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0's final conflict. The three teams, each of whom will be representing the three Grand Companies, will battle for control of various points on the map over the course of a 30-minute battle, with points being awarded for controlling areas, defeating enemy players and completing other objectives. There are also monsters roaming the battlefield as well as players, and these tie into objectives that are worth further points -- expect conflict as groups fight for the right to take down these beasties.
It remains to be seen if Frontlines is any good. PvP in MMOs can be something of a hit-or-miss affair, particularly when there's a disparity in the gear levels of participants. All being well, there will be some mechanics in place to help ensure battles are fair and tactical rather than a numbers game, but we won't have a good idea of how successful that's been until it's live. Still, the premise is ambitious and promising, and looks like adding some much-needed depth to A Realm Reborn's fun but currently limited PvP offering.
The Main Scenario Continues
The "post-game" story in A Realm Reborn has focused on the continuing adventures of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn as they help Eorzea to rebuild after the Garlean threat is eradicated. Although the Garlean Empire has been brought to heel, the shadowy "true villains" the Ascians have been continuing their dark machinations, culminating in several of Eorzea's beast tribes summoning their primal masters.
This time around, it's the turn of the sylphs, who make their home in the East Shroud, part of the forest surrounding Gridania. The sylphs' attempts to summon their master Ramuh have been continually teased throughout the course of the story to date, and it seems they're finally coming to fruition. Expect another spectacular battle against Ramuh -- going on past experience, there will be both a standard level 50 "hard" version for the main story, and a loot-tastic "Extreme" version for well-geared players to challenge -- and further insights into what the Ascians are up to.
Yoshida also teased at E3 that Shiva would be making an appearance in A Realm Reborn in the future. While she won't be directly present in Defenders of Eorzea, her story will reportedly start, so expect that to unfold as part of the main scenario, too.
Hildibrand was one of the more popular characters from Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0, and veteran players and newcomers alike were delighted by his previous adventures in the last couple of patches. Through the Maelstrom proved a particular highlight for many players, teaching them not only the Manderville dance, which has become the emote of choice for people waiting around for something to happen -- it's not at all unusual to see mass, impressively in-sync Manderville flash mobs around the realm -- but also a hilarious battle against Gilgamesh. Yes, it takes place on a big bridge. And yes, it has the music from Final Fantasy V.
Hildibrand's adventures are so unpredictable and amusing that it's difficult to know where they'll go next. Yoshida has said that there won't be another fight against Gilgamesh just yet, but that there will be another large-scale battle involved in the questline in this patch. Who could it be against? We'll have to wait and see.
Although Final Fantasy XIV already has a Hunting Log for each class, tasking you with finding and defeating specific enemies as you level up, players have been hungry for something similar to Final Fantasy XII's Hunt system. The game already features "notorious monsters" who spawn as part of the random public "FATE" quests that pop up around the realm, but The Hunt allows players to pursue specific, powerful monsters in exchange for more substantial rewards -- much like in Final Fantasy XII.
We haven't heard many details about how The Hunt will work as yet, but judging from the trailer, it looks as if you pick up bounties from a board, then seek out your quarry in the appropriate area. The trailer shows a party hunting down a monster together; perhaps there'll be different levels of monsters to take on similar to how some of the treasure maps recommend you bring a full party to deal with the goodies' guardians.
In keeping with the previous two patches, Defenders of Eorzea introduces one brand-new dungeon -- usually the hardest four-player challenge there is -- and two Hard Mode versions of existing dungeons.
The new dungeon in this case is Hullbreaker Isle, an outdoor dungeon that sees players battling their way through the island's flora and fauna on the way to discover the treasure of the legendary pirate Mistbeard. Judging by the trailer, the dungeon's final boss appears to be a kraken-style sea monster -- it could perhaps be Ultros, though it looks far too competent at what it's doing for that -- that picks up players with its tentacles and hurls them around several small islands in the area.
The first Hard Mode dungeon is a return to Stone Vigil, the ruined castle-like dungeon that players first encounter during the main scenario when they visit the snowy, Skyrim-esque wastes of the Coerthas Central Highlands. Previous Hard Mode dungeons have maintained the look and feel of their original incarnation, while taking new routes through and facing players with entirely new enemies and bosses. Stone Vigil looks to be no exception.
The second is a return to Tam-Tara Deepcroft, formerly an early-game dungeon that culminates in a fight against the rather Mind Flayer-esque Galvanth the Dominator. Your second encounter with this underground network of passages appears to be an altogether more creepy affair involving ghosts, spirits and zombies. Lore-wise, you'll be uncovering the mystery of a broken-hearted maiden who refuses to let go even as the darkness threatens to consume her.
Housing is already in the game for Free Companies that have raised enough money to purchase a plot of land, but with Defenders of Eorzea you'll be able to purchase your own instanced private room within the Free Company Estate. It looks like it'll cost somewhere in the region of 300,000 gil, so get saving.
Within your private chamber, you'll be able to decorate it with the various furniture items as you see fit, and you'll also be able to engage in crafting activities -- something which you're not allowed to do in the inn rooms you can already hire in the game. Presumably you'll be able to invite people over to your room, too, making it another solid addition to the game's growing vanity system.
The current chocobo system allows you to acquire a chocobo mount at level 20 and begin using it as a Companion at level 30. As a companion, it can be a member of your party (except in dungeons and certain quests) and will gradually rank up as it gains experience. Up until now, it's been capped at Rank 10, and most players have specialized their chocobos as either Attacker (DPS), Defender (a fairly ineffective tank) or Healer.
Through Chocobo Raising, you'll be able to further customize your feathery companion. You'll also be able to break the 10-rank cap, eventually allowing it to learn all of the available skills and become a formidable adventuring companion. There will also be the opportunity for your bird to grow new feathers and change color -- you won't be able to "dye" your chocobo because that was regarded as somewhat cruel!
Details are a little slim on exactly what Chocobo Raising will involve so far, but it's another interesting means of progression added to the mix.
We took our first steps into Crystal Tower back in patch 2.1 with the 24-player raid Labyrinth of the Ancients at its base. This was an interesting, boss-heavy dungeon that took in battles against numerous enemies from Final Fantasy III, including Thanatos, the Iron Giant, King Behemoth and Acheron -- rebranded from "Titan" in Final Fantasy III due to another Titan's presence elsewhere in FFXIV.
In Defenders of Eorzea, we finally take our first steps into the main body of the Crystal Tower with the new Syrcus Tower raid. Like Labyrinth of the Ancients before it, this looks like it will be a boss-heavy dungeon with plenty of large-scale encounters to challenge. Returning bosses from Final Fantasy III will include Scylla, Amon and Xande, but no sign of Cloud of Darkness as yet.
Syrcus Tower will be an important source of new gear for many adventurers. Eventually it will drop items important for "unweathering" the item level 100 gear purchasable through Allagan Tomestones of Soldiery and turning it into item level 110 gear, but it will have its own unique drops, too. And, like Labyrinth of the Ancients when it first launched, there'll be a weekly lockout on loot, preventing you from simply grinding the new dungeon until you get everything. This lockout will be removed in a later patch -- likely when there's significantly better gear available from other sources, if the removal of Labyrinth of the Ancients' lockout was anything to go by -- but running the dungeon multiple times in a week won't be a fruitless endeavor; if nothing else, you'll be able to acquire Allagan Tomestones to purchase additional equipment in the meantime.
Defenders of Eorzea shows that Yoshida and his team at Square Enix are dedicated and committed to the game growing, changing and expanding over time. The good pace at which the updates are coming keeps endgame players interested and engaged with the game in the long-term -- and means that newcomers still working their way towards level 50 will have plenty to do when they reach the level cap. And not only that, in between these major updates we have significant additions to the game systems and content -- challenges like the unusual (and occasionally infuriating) Sightseeing Log, for example.
A Realm Reborn continues to set a great example for other MMOs to follow, then: regular infusions of significant new content; a commitment to the game world, its deep lore and its unfolding story; an increasingly large selection of things for level-cap players to do; and an admirable amount of communication with the community through regular Letter from the Producer posts and Live Letter broadcasts.
Long may it continue; I know I'm excited to continue my adventures in Eorzea for many years to come yet, and if you're yet to jump in and begin exploring, there's no better time than the present.