If you follow me on xfire you’ll know I’ve been playing nothing but Final Fantasy XI lately. You might also be surprised to find out that the whole gang is back with me – Evan, Jim, Chris, Will, everyone. With Chris and Jim in particular this might be surprising since they had made it to the upper levels of FFXI and swore they’d never return to the game.
So why would a group of people who swore that such a hardcore game would never work for them possibly be back in the game?
Quite simply – Square has spent the last year taking out a lot of the tedium and injecting the game with fun. The problem with FFXI has never been content or really fun-per-say. The truth is the game offers one of the most rewarding sets of content currently available in the genre. No, the problem with FFXI is the unintended consequences of some of its greatest strengths.
The requirement to have a group to advance in the game is on one hand awesome – no other game forces community and strategic group play like FFXI. It’s amazing and truly engaging when you have a group, not so much when you are on hour 2 of waiting for a group invite, particularly with some classes who are considered sub optimal in certain level ranges.
The group focus of the game also caused another problem – getting anything done on your own was not always possible and seldom a rewarding experience.
So where has S-E taken the game in the last year that has moved the game away from this time and patience intensive formula? And have they done it while maintaining the risk/reward balance that makes the game so rewarding to play?
The first feature that really changes the game is Level Sync. The system works exactly like EQ2′s mentoring system in that it lets you select a lower level player and it scales you down to that person’s level. All of a sudden if you are one of those people who’ve been Looking-For-Party for 2 hours you can head to the lower level zones and join up in the more party rich zones. If you find yourself stuck in a so called hell level, a level or multiple levels where it is hard for your class to get invites you can just by-pass it by doing lower level tier content.
The biggest boon to a group of friends like us playing together is now it doesn’t matter if someone falls behind; we can always play together thanks to Level Sync. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard about groups of friends in FFXI falling apart because someone was too fast or too slow leveling. I’m pretty sure that almost every FFXI player has had this happen to them in the past and now it just doesn’t matter. You can join today as a new player and play with your level 75 top line end game friends. THAT is huge for FFXI.
Outside of easing the restrictions on grouping with friends they’ve also made the game extremely more solo friendly and they’ve done this in two ways: 1) Fields of Valor and 2) Experience curve changes.
Fields of Valor is a great solo mission system that more games should consider adding. At its most basic level it is a series of repeatable solo daily quests. Every game day (20 minutes earth time I believe) you can take on a new FoV quest. You will then go off and kill the required monsters and be rewarded with EXP and Tabs. Tabs are where the system really starts to shine – The tabs will give you a HP or MP regen and provide you with tonnes of other side benefits. Its like having a bard or other support class stuffed in your pocket. It makes the solo experience much easier and it flows with very little downtime.
The true and maybe unintended benefit is the system guides you along a solo leveling path. If there is something FFXI lacks it is a clear direction – You can level one of twenty jobs all on one character. Quests and most content are found by reading guides based on the hard work of other people – you’ll have no waypoints or clear instructions in game on how to complete a given quest. But the FoVs follow a very clear path and you can go from level 1 to 55 or so following the FoVs, zones that were completely abandoned before have some new life in them.
To top it all off while you are following the path you hit the other solo enhancement – a new XP curve. Easy Prey mobs, the soloers life blood, now give much more XP AND the XP required for each level has been flattened well past the mid levels. Leveling is just much easier over all now.
So does the game still offer the same level of depth even with the new enhancements? The fact is the strength of FFXI lies in its mid and end game story features and these changes make it much easier (and its still no simple task) to get there. I would venture that FFXI has more story and adventuring content than any other MMO and now there is a much more friendly way to get there.
If you ever played FFXI before – now is the time to give it a go if you ever left because of lack of invites or being unable to play with your friends!