There are no second acts in politics or MMOs. We’ve seen this come into play with every game that shifts from a subscription model to free-to-play, every game that’s a sequel to a massively successful prior game, every retool of a controversial but workable gameplay mechanic. There are no respawns for MMOs.
Except Final Fantasy XIV.
A Realm Reborn, the 2.0 version of the disastrously bad 2010 MMO, launched in the late summer of 2013. It seemed destined to fail, because it was trying to thwart not only its own history but the rigidly unforgiving marketplace, which to that point brooked no dissent of “da rules”. In the subsequent year, FF14: ARR was responsible for bringing Square-Enix out of the red, launched one of the most generous upgrade plans of all MMOs, and introduced players to an entirely new world that they had thought destroyed forever. It was nothing short of a cast of Raise for a franchise that was succumbing to its own legacy.
But what made ARR such a fascinating success? Fittingly enough, there are fourteen reasons.
14: A Splendid Story.
Each of the major content patches (2.x-level) has included new additions to the main storyline of the game, continuing to unravel the threads of the Ascian plot. While there’s no additional experience to be gained from completing these end-game quests, players will still find lots to do as the Scions of the Seventh Dawn in Vesper Bay become the Crystal Braves of Revenant’s Toll.
13: An Enchanting Eorzea.
The 2.28 patch introduced a new non-combat challenge for players in the form of the Sightseeing Log. By reading cryptic clues to locations, times, and actions, the players search the world of Eorzea far and wide for specific vistas and scenic spots. Of course, you could just look the answers up online, but you’d be robbing yourself of the beauty of the scavenger hunt.
12: An Incorrigible Inspector.
One of the most notorious NPCs in the 1.0 version of the game was Hildibrand Manderville, Gentleman Hero, Agent of Enquiry. Accompanied by his lovely and pyromaniacal assistant Nashu Mhakaracca, Hildibrand returned to Eorzea in Patch 2.1 to usher in a new era of baffling and ridiculous insanity. His storyline continued in each 2.x level patch to follow, chasing a phantom thief and encountering foes with a plethora of arms… and tentacles.
11: A Dungeon Doubled.
Beginning with Patch 2.1 and continuing ever since, the number of Duty Finder dungeons in the game world has fair near doubled. Most of the early-level dungeons received “hard mode” upgrades– not mere reskins of the existing areas, but wholly redesigned areas building upon the lore and history of each of them. In addition, post-game dungeons such as Hullbreaker Isle and Snowcloak were added, giving players new areas to team up and take down.
10: A Prolonged Progression.
The Relic Weapon quest line, a returning feature from Final Fantasy XI, has been extended and expanded in ARR to become Zodiac Weapons. After upgrading their relics to their Zenith forms, players can embark on a quest to transform their signature weapons into ever-higher tiers such as Atma, Animus, Novus, and so on. Rather than rely on clearing Hard Mode Primals as the Relic quest did, however, each step in the process sends players hunting through the world, re-engaging players with content they may have cleared, or may have overlooked.
9: A Coiled Catastrophe.
The show-stopping “End of an Era” trailer that closed out the 1.0 service life featured the Doom of the Allagan, Bahamut himself, laying waste to the land of Eorzea. In-game, this event– the Calamity– had huge repercussions, but none so strong as the discovery of a hellish subterranean labyrinth called the Binding Coil. Patch 2.2 introduced the Second Coil of Bahamut, four more dungeons in which the secret of the dragon’s sleep are further explored; the Final Coil of Bahamut’s turns were added in 2.4. Moreover, 2.3 added the Savage Mode of the Second Coil, a brutally hard version of the already unforgiving dungeon that offered nothing in return but bragging rights.
8. A Dangerous Duel.
In case you thought that Bahamut was the only big baddie still kicking around the world, each of the 2.x level patches introduced new trials (boss raids). In 2.1, Extreme Primals– harder-than-Hard-Mode battles against Ifrit, Garuda, and Titan– were added alongside Good King Moggle Mog XII. Yes, a three-story-tall daemonic Moogle. Later patches introduced Leviathan, Ramuh, Shiva, Gilgamesh, and Ultros, while adding the Relic Weapon battles against the Chimera and the Hydra to the Duty Finder to ease player frustration. Most of these have Extreme counterparts as well.
7. A Blessed Bond.
Certainly a quirkier aspect of the game is the introduction in 2.45 of the Ceremony of Eternal Bond. The Eorzean counterpart to marriage ceremonies is tied to the introduction of an optional-purchase shop where players can spend actual money on in-game cosmetic items such as metallic dyes or wedding bands. The Eternal Bond cutscenes are nice, to be sure, and a no-cost option exists for players who prefer not to drop dough on a virtual engagement. Even with gender and species restrictions being completely absent, though, it’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes. Still, for hard-core role-players out there, it’s nice to have the option open.
6. A Stealthy Servant.
In Patch 2.4 players were treated to something most other games reserve for paid expansions: a new character class. Rogues are a fast-paced melee damage-dealer class that emphasizes getting in a target’s face and stabbing it repeatedly. When they reach level 30, though, they graduate into the Ninja job, adding adaptability through ninjutsu. The class also serves as a preview of the Doman people’s storyline, which is expected to be expanded upon in the paid expansion in 2015.
5. A Refreshing Rebalance.
No game gets it right the first time. There’s always massive game-breakers or exploits that keep developers up at night. In the early days of ARR, that headache was Paladins and Warriors. 2.1 rebalanced the two tank classes in order to bring them into alignment, making them equal but not identical in their capabilities, and made it easier for them to capture and keep enemy attention. In Patch 2.45, Dragoons gained a massive overhaul that dropped a lot of their positioning requirements and increased their magic defense, saving them from being the official representatives of the Floor Inspector’s Union in high-level content.
4. An Exceptional Experience.
When folks see the abbreviation “MMO”, the first thing that comes to mind is the word “grind”. Make no mistake, ARR still is a grindy game; you’ll be repeating content for experience, loot, money, or materials. But each patch has eased the pain of the grind somewhat, allowing experience to be gained more rapidly. Dungeons offered increased experience and gil rewards early on, and the introduction of daily Duty Roulette bonuses gave players even faster paths to level to 50. Coupled with the addition of weekly Challenge Log bonuses, as well as boosts to experience gained while crafting and gathering, players can reach maximum level in all classes with a minimum amount of elbow grease.
3. A Customization Cornucopia.
Everybody loves making stuff their own. Be it the color of armor, the stats on weapons, or the appearance of gear they love, players were given a tremendous amount of control over their gear in the past year. Each 2.x level patch added new gear for crafters to produce, and likewise for players to customize through the melding of materia (something not allowed on the highest-tier gear looted from dungeons). Part of the Zodiac Weapon quest requires players to make tough decisions about what stats they want to boost on their personal weapons. And the Glamour system allows players to equip that high-level gear while retaining the appearance of any other compatible piece of clothing, including dresses, swim trunks, or Chocobo costumes.
2. A Hearty Hunt.
This is sort of a mixed bag, but it bears mentioning because it is a major benefit to players. In Patch 2.3, The Hunt was added to the game, challenging players to seek out and defeat notorious Mark monsters in the world. In return, they would be awarded credits towards high-level gear previously made available through dungeon drops or end-game currency. The gear was bargain-basement priced compared to dungeon runs, and for about a month or so every server was overrun with Hunt parties, massive alliances dedicated to rapidly exterminating Marks for the hunt credit. This was because the credits offered per kill were pretty meager on their own, but they added up when run consecutively. As a way to expedite players’ readiness for current end-game content– which was the intention of the system– it worked. As a way to ensure people actually ran end-game content instead of endless Hunt stalking– not so much.
1. A Protector’s Promise.
The land of Eorzea is watched over by the Mother-Crystal, Hydaelyn, and safeguarded by the Twelve, the ancestral gods of the spoken races. In a sense, though, there is another protector of the realm: lead producer Naoki Yoshida. Having taken over the reins of the game in the midst of the disastrous 1.0 launch, Yoshida took great care to foster openness and communications between the staff and the player base, through Letters From the Producer and Live Letter events. These expanded into the Japan-only FATE events, mini-gatherings where fans mingled with the development team, and their international counterparts, the Fan Festival events. Through these, players were heard and answered, alleviating the concerns that the game was helmed by a despot; in the end, Yoshida has enjoyed a level of adulation and appreciation almost unheard of among any game’s community. Doesn’t hurt that his in-game avatar, the Wandering Minstrel, was behind one of the more touching and stirring events over the summer.
Very few online games offer huge swaths of content in their interim patches; even fewer still do so after having recovered from an almost fatal failure in the marketplace. Still, with the end of the 2.x era rapidly approaching, and the Heavensward expansion looking to arrive in the late spring of 2015, Final Fantasy XIV has proven that there are, in fact, second chances. I still contend that this is the best MMO I’ve ever played, and quite possibly the best MMO of all. I’ll catch you folks in-game.