Ragar looks at the new World of Warcraft expansion to see what bits Eorzea may be interested in
Hello and welcome to the 29th 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 be looking at FFXIV’s competition again. As many of you are aware, last month marked the release of World of Warcraft’s fifth expansion pack, Warlords of Draenor. Many have been claiming that this expansion is one of the best Blizzard Entertainment has ever released and the numbers support that: 3.3 million copies of the expansion sold on the first day, as well as bumping their subscriber count back above the 10 million player mark. Those are some fairly sizable numbers for a 10-year-old game, so they must be doing something right. Seeing as FFXIV is launching their first expansion, Heavensward, next year, it may be a good idea to take a look at WoD to see if anything can be learned from this successful expansion. Partly because it will help improve the game, but mostly because, barring any major shifts in the MMO landscape before Heavensward ships, this is the main competition.
Partly Done and We Haven’t Even Launched
To start things off, let’s look at those major features of WoD that the base game of FFXIV already covers. As much as it may shock people, Blizzard also looks to other games, MMOs and other genres, for inspiration just like we’re doing, so some of the major additions to the new expansion are already covered here in Eorzea.
Let’s start things off by looking at the main story. Leveling through WoD felt much more engaging than previous expansions and a good chunk of that came from the better storytelling and liberal use of both cutscenes and in-game cinematics to pull players into the world and give something to remember other than running around and killing X number of orcs. FFXIV has this covered in their main scenario and class/job questlines. Blizzard also made story a larger portion of several instances by incorporating cutscenes in some of those as well as better tying them to the storyline. While I may not have been forced to queue up and run through those dungeons while solo leveling, they were at least given some reason for being there other than “Hey there’s loot in here!” FFXIV has handled their story integration of instanced content fairly well as a whole and I’d expect more of the same from Heavensward. While I may disagree with their practice of locking game features like airships and retainers behind dungeon quests, I did appreciate their efforts to make the dungeons fit with the world’s storyline.
The next big feature WoD has been touting is their addition of Garrisons. For those who are unfamiliar with the system, your Garrison is WoW’s equivalent to player housing. Rather than purchasing a piece of land like FFXIV uses, you found a Garrison in one of the Draenor zones as you quest through the story. This Garrison is on instanced land and the moment I step foot into that area, I shift to my garrison; if I want to see any of my friends’ garrisons, I need to be grouped with them and teleport there by right-clicking my portrait. Inside the Garrison is a town hall, mine, herb garden, and plots of land where the player can determine what buildings they’d like to place to support their playstyle. Players can add crafting buildings to support their professions or to give them access to a profession they don’t possess, buildings that give them access to banks and auction houses, buildings that provide more resources for Garrison activities, and much more. The building loadout for a high-end raider will look very different from that of a focused crafter or pet battler and the differences mount when you include the ability to level up your buildings and the Garrison as a whole. In addition to all of this, your Garrison gives you access to followers, who can man those buildings to improve output or can be sent off on missions to bring you gold, equipment for either you or them, and much more.
FFXIV does have some of these features covered already through the Retainer and housing systems, including some improvements that WoD doesn’t offer. Garrisons have to be on a single instanced piece of land, while FFXIV houses can be on multiple different lots with vastly different looks. Speaking of different looks, FFXIV’s housing system allows players more granular control of what their house looks like and what features are inside; with Garrisons I can control what building goes in which socket on my land and what level it is, but that’s about it. Your home in FFXIV is a permanent feature of the world and other players can see it and potentially interact with it if you’ve given permission, which is something that the instanced Garrisons are lacking. As for the Retainers, this system covers many of the other options the Garrison provides players in WoD. Bank and auction access, sending NPC followers off on jobs for treasure, giving them equipment to improve their performance – all of these features are currently covered by the Retainer system. On paper this would mean that FFXIV could just strike those items off the list already since they’re already covered, but there’s a big difference between “covered” and “better than”.
Reinforcing Good Ideas
All of those concepts I mentioned earlier that WoD has focused on may already be part of FFXIV, but there’s still some features they’ve included that we could learn from over here in Eorzea. Let’s start with the story. After all, the story and its heavy integration into the leveling process was one of the things that drew me and many others into FFXIV in the first place. However, as good as that story may have been, there’s always room for improvement. The main scenario had all of these great cutscenes and subplots to go alongside the main story, but for the most part all of the separate zones you leveled in alongside the main scenario were fairly simple. The various towns and hubs would have a few quest markers and some dialogue to tie them into the zone, but in general they were fairly bland – your generic “kill 10 wolves” and “pick up 5 rocks” style of MMO quest. I remember quite a few levels as Warrior where all I did was guildleves and FATEs to level; it was effective, but not the most exciting playtime I’ve ever had in an MMO.
In contrast, while leveling through the various zones of WoD, each zone had their own storylines to complete on top of the overarching “stop the Iron Horde” plotline. In many cases while getting my Brewmaster Monk to 100, I outleveled the zone I was working in, but stayed there to finish the zone because I wanted to see the end of those storylines. Well, that and I needed the followers for my Garrison. When I think back to leveling through FFXIV, I can’t remember a single zone that I stayed in longer than strictly necessary since all of my story content came from the main scenario. If those zones would have had some decent subplots to go alongside the main story, I would have been ecstatic. Powerleveling extra classes and jobs would have been much more enjoyable if I’d had some story content to go alongside the FATEs, guildleves and Duty Finder queues. Well, that or if they’d given me something like Garrison followers to farm, since WoD’s proven I’m a sucker for those things.
FFXIV’s Housing system does offer quite a few features that WoD’s Garrisons can’t match, but there are some draws to their system that I’d love to see FFXIV learn from. FFXIV may let me tweak my house or my FC house to fit my needs as a crafter, raider or other kind of player, but the problem is that my Eorzean homestead is somewhat separate from my role as an adventurer. When I go to my home, I may have some trophies lying around from my accomplishments in-game, but in general my house has no tie to the game at large – my status as a property owner has no relation to the main story whatsoever. In contrast, that Garrison in WoD is your faction’s foothold into hostile territory. From the moment you finish the initial quest in Tanaan Jungle, you establish the Garrison as a base of operations from which you will organize the campaign against the Iron Horde menace. As the Garrison commander, you decide which buildings you’ll construct inside the base. You can build crafting stations to support your existing professions or to give you access to items from other crafting skills. You can recruit followers to support your cause either through missions or by working in your Garrison’s buildings. You can choose buildings to help your character gear up for dungeons faster or focus on your followers. There’s even gathering points inside your Garrison to support your main professions as well as give you materials to sell or use on your alts. While I may not be able to color-coordinate my Garrison to match my transmog gear, everything I do there feels like it’s connected to the plot in some fashion, especially the follower missions.
The followers and their various uses are actually the main thing I’d like FFXIV to learn from. At their core Retainers and their Venture quests in FFXIV seem like a similar system, but it’s that connection to the rest of the game that I’d like to see FFXIV learn from. When I’m sending followers off on missions in WoD, I get that feeling that I am the commander of this base. I have to weigh each follower’s strengths versus the requirements of the mission as well as the potential rewards (eg need for follower XP, how many missions need their trait, which missions are more important or give better gear, etc) before I make that assignment and send them out. When I find a follower from a quest reward or from an achievement, it feels more rewarding than just going to the Retainer NPC and asking for someone to do my bidding; functionally they may be the same, but the WoD method draws me in more. There’s also something to be said for having existing NPCs to recruit as followers over there. It may be the same mechanically to get a pre-generated follower or one based on a quest NPC versus picking the appearance and class for yourself, but it just reinforces that feel of being a commander when you’re recruiting someone with a name and backstory, even if it’s just from the few quests you did for them.
More Games Need Random Quest Item Upgrades
We’ve talked about those WoD features that FFXIV has, but could stand to improve on, but what about new features? What does WoD have that FFXIV doesn’t and absolutely should? There are a few features, but two come to mind right now: rare mobs and random reward upgrades.
While questing in WoD you’ll often see grey skulls pop up on your minimap in the corner. These skulls correspond to a rare mob, a named variant of another NPC with increased health, different abilities/extra damage, and most importantly shiny loot. Some rares keep it simple with Garrison resources and piles of gold, some have pets to collect, and some even have useful or fun items like Whispers of Rai’Vosh (slowfall once an hour) and Iron Buccaneer’s Hat (disguises you as an Iron Horde pirate). Most of these rares drop equipment for players – not all of these pieces may be usable by your class or spec, but quite a few are. In addition, these rares have shared tagging so you get credit and loot no matter who hit it first and the fancy loot only drops the first time, so you don’t have to fight for respawns. The addition of these rare mobs helped add a bit of variety to the questing experience with those “ooh shiny thing!” moments as you’re running around and the blue loot was a great way to supplement my quest and dungeon drops, especially if I got lucky and got an epic item instead.
I’ve already ranted in the past about FFXIV’s itemization system – there’s far too little variety in the equipment available to each class/job and what’s there is quite frankly boring. All of the ideas I threw out in that column are still valid ideas I’d like to see here in FFXIV, but WoD adds in some additional item variance I’d love to see here. To begin with, remember all those rare mobs I talked about earlier that would drop blue quality gear? Whenever you kill one of those monsters, the game does an internal roll – if the dice line up just right, that blue piece of armor could get bumped up to an epic version with a higher item level and better stats. The same thing can even happen with green and blue quest rewards as you make your way to 100, so in addition to seeing the story, you have that incentive to do all of the quests because the dice could land in your favor and you could be swimming in blues and epics. Your Garrison can even help you with this – I built the Dwarven Bunker (increases your chance of that blue/epic proc) on my second 100 before starting the last zone and by the time I finished the quests, my item level was so high that I could skip normal dungeons and move straight to heroics.
Now I’m sure some of you are thinking “So what if you can get better quest rewards? I’m gonna go straight to heroics and raids and won’t need to care about those procs.” Those potential upgrades aren’t limited to quest and rare mob rewards – instanced content can get improved as well. When a boss dies in a dungeon or raid and the game determines loot, more internal rolls are done to see if an improved version of the item is dropped. Lucky players could see anything from a Warforged item (a higher item level version with better stats), a gem socket, or a tertiary stat. Those tertiary stats can include Leech (self-healing when attacking or healing), Avoidance (reduced AoE damage), Speed (increased movement speed) and Indestructible (item does not take durability damage). All of these bonus roll modifiers occur fairly infrequently, so none of the encounters are balanced with them in mind – they’re simply bonuses to make your life easier as well as give you something to look forward to when rerunning content. Now when your friends ask you to run a heroic or raid that you’ve already snagged all of your Best In Slot gear from, you’ll still be crossing your fingers when those bosses drop and hoping for a free socket or that Warforged stat bump. When your game is as built around rerunning endgame content as FFXIV and other MMOs are, any carrot you can offer players to keep going just helps the lifespan of your content and minimize the outcry for faster patches and expansions.
We’re still very early in the news cycle for Heavensward, so none of us really know what to expect in the upcoming months. I was expecting more jobs, a level cap increase and extra zones, but I certainly wasn’t expecting a job with no base class or flying mounts. Our next opportunity to find out more about the expansion is the Tokyo Fan Festival later this month, so we’ll have to wait till then before we can figure out what Square Enix is bringing to the table. In the meantime though, we’ve got the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft bringing one of their most successful expansion launches to date. As much as anyone may claim that FFXIV and WoW have different audiences or claim that the numbers will fade with time, it’s hard to argue with the success. Instead, the smarter thing to do would be to do as all great game companies have done and will continue to do: find what the competition does right and steal get inspired.
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. Have you tried Warlords of Draenor yet? Has the expansion had any impact on your Free Company’s numbers? Do any of those features I talked about sound appealing or do you have an argument for why FFXIV’s way is better? 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