Ragar wonders what adding flying mounts means for the future of FFXIV
Hello and welcome to the 27th edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM’s column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this week’s column, we’re going to dig into one of the new features of the recently announced FFXIV expansion, Heavensward. In addition to all of the new zones, the Dark Knight reveal and the promise of more new jobs to come, one feature in particular caught my attention: flying mounts. What does the addition of flying mounts mean for this expansion and beyond?
Soaring Through the Air on the Wings of a Chocobo
While only a few details were given during the Heavensward reveal and the London Fan Festival afterwards, we do know a few things about flight in Eorzea. To begin with, there will be at least one zone where flight is allowed, the Sea of Clouds. This zone is comprised of multitudes of floating landmasses which will require the use of a flying mount of some sort to traverse. Players will have a familiar start to their journey into the skies since their first ticket to flight will be a new black Chocobo mount. After they’ve progressed further, players can move to new mounts such as a single-rider airship or, if your Free Company has the resources/Gil to make one, larger airships for group travel.
So what else do we know about flight in Eorzea? Honestly, not much beyond that. We don’t know what zones will allow use of these flying mounts. We could see anything from all expansion zones to just the Sea of Clouds since that zone requires the mounts. More than likely it’ll be all of the expansion zones given the level of work involved in making flight work in FFXIV. Well, that and I’m pretty sure most of the Free Companies out there would call for blood on the forums if they spent all that Gil on an airship and it was locked to a single zone.
There’s also the question of how many options players will have for flying mounts beyond this handful of announced mounts and if there will be any potential customization. With current mounts in FFXIV modification of your mount’s appearance is limited to your Chocobo companion. Will this flying black Chocobo be able to use the same equipment as the other Chocobos? If so, will they have separate levels from your previous companion or will it simply be a re-skin and use the stats/equipment of your original Chocobo? As for the airships, unmodifiable solo-rider airships would fit with all of the non-Chocobo mounts from pre-Heavensward FFXIV, but what about those Free Company airships?
I’d expect something like Free Company banners and sigils on the sides at the very least, but this is going to be a significant investment for your FC. We have no price point right now, but given the prices for Free Company housing I wouldn’t expect any bargains with these airships. That said, if we’re going to see similar prices for these airships, players are going to want a comparable amount of customization on these airships. This could include things as simple as exterior customization and colors to far more extravagant options like crafting stations below deck, a way for players to portal to the ship, etc. The developers believe Free Company airships will serve enough purpose to be worth the investment by players, so that means they expect you to spend a similar amount of time there as you would at your FC house. Of course, the amount of mount choices and potential customization all depends on just how much of Eorzea they plan on you flying over.
Everything Looks Great As Long As You Don’t Look Too Close
Flight is honestly not a feature I saw Square Enix adding to FFXIV this early. We’ve come a long way from the early pre-ARR days where players couldn’t jump, but it’s still a long leap of thought to go from “we can jump now!” to soaring through the air on your personal airship. Adding something like this is a monumental amount of work, even if they don’t allow flying in old world zones. While the system mechanics work has been done to support the new zones, the art and other assets of those old zones would require an overhaul to support people flying overhead.
If you’re curious why this would be such a tremendous task, let’s look at the World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm. In Cataclysm they rebuilt the old world of Azeroth with three purposes in mind: making sure the quests and other content to fit the aftermath of Deathwing’s attack (e.g. destroyed towns, sundered land with magma, etc), fixing the level flow from zone to zone, and making sure the world supported players flying above it. Cataclysm was the first time players were allowed to fly over the original (albeit modified) zones from launch without the use of a flying mount. The reason this was a big problem? Large chunks of that old world content was never meant to be seen by the eyes of players.
As you took your flying mount from point A to point B in a zone, it would take a meandering path to get there and every time you took that path, you would see the exact same sights from the exact same angles. The reason for this is because much of what you were flying over wasn’t actually finished. Those villages/ruins/etc you flew over that were inaccessible on foot? Those were the equivalent of a movie prop set – just enough color and texture to look good from a distance, but if players got up close, they’d see that most of the detail was missing. Something like this is common in many games – if the players aren’t actually going to interact with something beyond seeing it at a distance, spending the time and effort to fully render and design every piece like it was a questing hub is wasted effort that could go towards more useful content. By doing something like these prop backgrounds, the world feels more furnished and the player feels like there’s more to each zone than just quest markers to clear out.
So what happens if Heavensward comes out and all of the sudden Eorzea’s skies are filled with flying mounts, but none of those zones have been updated to account for them? To begin with the world’s going to look a lot less polished. In a game with flight points between zones those mountaintops and other inaccessible by foot bits of scenery have to at least look good from the ground and directly above, but with FFXIV’s teleport system there was never any reason to polish any angles other than those on the ground. Players will take their new flying mount to check out that mountain or village or other bit of scenery they were always curious about while leveling, just to find out that the textures aren’t as polished, there’s no props and ground clutter to make the world feel lived in or there’s no NPCs/mobs around to interact with.
The other issue that flying mounts in old world content, and to some degree expansion content, brings about is something WoW and other MMOs with flying mounts have been fighting for years now: how players experience the content. When a player is landlocked, their options for getting around the map are limited by the terrain between them and their goals. Quest objectives? You’ll have to find a good path there, dealing with the monsters between you and your target, whether by avoiding mob patrols or by obliterating all that lies before you. Farming crafting materials? You’ll have to be far more cautious here about avoiding monster patrols while still finding the most efficient route. While you’re doing all of this, you’re observing the world around you and more likely to pay attention to the artwork, combat mechanics, quest text, etc.
When you give those same players flying mounts, that all changes. A quest designer may layout NPCs and monsters in such a way that a player should flow through an area at a certain rate, perhaps with respawn rates to encourage haste or patrols to train players to avoid unnecessary fights; instances like these can serve as practice for players before they move into dungeons and other instanced content. With a flying mount all of these plans go out the window – a player can fly above all of those non-objective monsters, drop onto the targets head, take them out, then take off for the next objective. Any art or extra tidbits the developers may have wanted players to experience goes out the window because their primary goal is completing quests to level, gain rep, etc. and skipping trash is more efficient.
The same can be said for gatherers: they’ll just pick a general height to avoid most trees/hills/etc and do loops around the zone until a gathering node pops up. They’ll swoop down, loot the node, then go back up and continue to the next. Admittedly for gatherers content skipping is not as big of a concern as it is for questers, but it does make the stealth aspect of their gameplay a moot point in many cases, barring a mob patrolling on top of a node. When flying is faster than stealth movement, why bother with it?
Once Heavensward opens up the Pandora’s Box of flying mounts, they’ll have to deal with the benefits and consequences of it for the duration of the game. If Square Enix restricts flying mounts to Heavensward content, that will help control the work involved, but they’ll still have to deal with players flying over content for the sake of efficiency. Once players have had a taste of flight, they’ll start to clamor for it in the old world just like WoW’s players did prior to Cataclysm. If they release additional expansions and prevent players from flying off the bat, their forums will be flooded with complaints from various players clamoring for efficiency over scenery. Personally I’d be happy if they gated flying in those subsequent expansion similar to how WoW has done it, but I tend to get into the lore while questing, reading every quest, listening to the cutscenes, etc. I know other players who avoid reading quest text like the plague and just want the quickest route to level cap possible – for them, losing their flying mounts even briefly would incite all kinds of rage. Regardless of how Square Enix handles things, someone is going to be unhappy.
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do you think about flying mounts in Eorzea? Do you long to soar above the clouds or were you happy on the ground? Is your Free Company already pooling your Gil to buy an airship at launch? Would flying mounts affect how you quest, gather, etc? Tell us in the comments below. If you've got any requests for column topics, add those as well – we’ve been doing this column for a year now and I’d love to involve the readers more. Until next time, see you in Eorzea.
Michael “Ragar” Branham