Ragar thinks every game could stand to add a little Skies of Arcadia
Hello and welcome to the 32nd 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 back to one of the main additions coming with the Heavensward expansion, flying mounts. In particular, we’ll be talking about the Free Company airships. As skeptical as I may have been about adding flying mounts to more MMOs, there certainly are some great things that could be done with them.
Bringing Fight to the Flight
Given how expensive Free Company housing had been when it was first introduced to FFXIV, I would imagine an airship large enough for your typical FC would be a significant investment for those players. As such, they should provide those players enough reason to buy them beyond “I have a shiny thing and you don’t!” At the least, I would expect the core elements we’ve seen from the FC housing: customizable decorations, crafting stations below deck and some way of gathering materials for the guild crafters – perhaps more varieties of skyfish or hauling in chunks of the floating islands to mine. These, along with an Aetheryte crystal or some other mechanism to provide rapid transit from the ship from the rest of Eorzea, are the bare basics these ships need to provide. We don’t want the basics though – if this is going to be a highlight feature of the first expansion, we need amazing, not basic.
So what can we add to this airship to make it “amazing”? Give it more purpose. As great as a floating clubhouse for your Free Company may sound, this is an airship and it deserves to be more than just a flight path you can steer to ferry your group from FATE to FATE. There should be plenty of reasons for your FC to come together as a group on the airship at the same time. The airship is already the means of getting to the content – why not bring the content to the airship?
We’ve already seen that it’s possible to have a small arena for a fight with Primals, so bringing a battle to the deck of an airship should be perfectly reasonable. These airship battles start as simply as small skirmishes as part of a FATE – the deck could be swarmed by clouds of flying monsters the FC crew must fend off until all the waves are defeated. Next we could scale up to more substantial monsters from sources like treasure hunts or a flying Primal-esque monster that take a well-coordinated group to defeat from the deck of your airship.
Why Use a Sword When You Can Use a Cannon?
So we’ve brought combat to the airship, but right now it’s the same as combat on the ground – the airship is just the arena you’re fighting in. How do we involve the airship itself in the battle? Here is where the customization options we were talking about earlier could come into play. We discussed adding all of these flavor customizations like décor, crafting stations, etc, but this is an airship after all. The nations of Eorzea and beyond didn’t design airships merely for civilian transport – they were created as engines of war. Just like ships on the water, these ships are designed to do battle with both man and beast through cannons, harpoons and other mounted weaponry. While there is certainly plenty of room for players to use their personal skills and weapons for attacking monsters on deck, as well as ranged attacks against those flying close to the ship, the FC should also be able to use ship-board weaponry to fend off their attackers as well.
There’s plenty of ways to equip this airship for work. On the traditional weaponry front we’ve got cannons for direct firepower and harpoons for bringing targets closer to the ship. If we mix in magic or even magitek, we could have technomagical cannons that add elemental damage to the mix. For defenses there’s hull reinforcement and magic shields. We can even expand on these options if we consider NPC crewmates like engineers to repair damage, weapon experts to man the guns instead of the players, helmsmen to keep the ship steady during combat, etc. All of these customization options also provide the Disciples of the Hand with plenty of extra work, bolstering the crafting community as well as giving Free Companies new reasons to support their guildmate crafters with materials to deck out the official FC airship. The better the ship’s equipment, the greater the dangers the team can face.
Open-world PvE content with an upgradable airship is certainly a great start, but we don’t have to stop there. We could bring the FC airship into instanced content! It wouldn’t be unprecedented for an airship to be part of an instance – World of Warcraft did it twice with the airship fights in Icecrown Citadel and Dragon Soul. The difference here would be that we wouldn’t need to restrict it to a generic “here’s your faction’s airship” fight. Sure you could have a generic ship for pickup groups, but if you’re queuing as a full Free Company group, who’s to say that you couldn’t bring your decked-out ship into the instance? Not only would it be a better way to make it feel more like your FC was clearing that dungeon as a group, but it would be yet another way to include the airship in more content. These dungeons (or even raids) could have the same general flow as those airborne FATEs we were discussing earlier (waves of flying mobs coming on the deck followed by a larger boss at the end) or it could be just part of the instance. You could clear your way to the dungeon from the ship at the beginning, do some work on the ground and clear a couple bosses, then after a cinematic-style explosion, jump off the edge onto your ship and fight off the final boss before sailing off into the sunset. There’s plenty of ways we could incorporate the airship into FFXIV’s PvE content. There’s more to FFXIV than just PvE though.
Time to Play Pirate
Bringing the airship into PvE sounds great for most of the players in FFXIV, but not everyone is into fighting against computer-controlled opponents. Some players, likely including some in your Free Company, have a different target in mind: other players. As intricate as some PvE fights can be, there’s often no substitute for the unpredictability of a human opponent in a PvP match-up. In FFXIV PvP-oriented players have two choices for their content: the quick 4v4 arenas of Wolves’ Den or the grander-scaled 24v24v24 alliance battles of Frontline. Currently these are the only two places in FFXIV where PvP focused players can experience and progress with their preferred content. So what reason would these PvPers have to provide resources for a Free Company’s airship, let alone ride on it? Simple – we bring the airship to the PvP.
Remember earlier when I mentioned the ICC Airship fight in WoW? This is our base model for a player vs player airship battle. Two groups of players can both be after the same resource, whether it’s simply victory and glory in a battleground-style scenario or, if we decide to go open-world flagging with this, a physical resource in the world that Free Companies will fight for control of. Regardless of the scenario, we can use the same principles we discussed earlier for equipping the ship for the task at hand, but now we can also incorporate new PvP-only loadouts that players can save for with PvP rewards. For the sake of PvE/PvP balance, we could introduce something like the scalable item levels for PvP gear in the new WoW expansion; the item level is X when you’re fighting monsters in the world, but the moment another player gets involved, the item level goes up by Y amount.
Of course with a scenario like this, the question of balance comes up. What’s to stop one Free Company from getting a maxed ship loadout before everyone else, and then rule the skies for the rest of eternity? For PvE content we can allow for a certain degree of outleveling the content through gear since that’s to be expected, but with PvP and bleeding edge PvE content, it’s expected to provide an even playing field. This problem is actually relatively simple to solve and can even be applied to balance in PvE content as well: loadout costs.
Let’s say we’ve got a loadout cap of 100 for our airship. For our hull we’ve got 0 for the basic hull, 10 for steel reinforcement and 20 for magically reinforced. Our three weapon sockets can be either free for the basic cannons, 10 apiece for incendiary rounds or 20 apiece for magic artillery. NPC crewmates can have costs as well. If we mix all of these options together, we’re now faced with options for PvP. If our team has a great crew for boarding enemy ships and keeping them distracted from attacking our own, then we can go lighter on the armor and deck out the offense for those running the guns on the ship. If instead our team’s more defensive, we can stack up the armor on the ship, bring a few engineers to put out the fires and try to outlast the enemy ship. These kinds of scenarios bring another element to counter in PvP matchups. Not only does the enemy team have to contend with whatever loadout of classes and skill you’ve brought with the players, but they also have to worry about what kind of ship you’ve brought to the battle. Sounds like a great venue for PvP to me.
I’m curious to see just how much Heavensward is going to do with flying mounts and airships. Will they bring plenty of depth to the system and make flying mounts feel truly unique compared to other MMOs, or will it simply be another set of mounts to collect to access a handful of new zones? I certainly hope they can do more with the system than other MMOs have up to this point. As a player I should think flying is awesome, not “oh this will help me farm herbs so much quicker.”
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do you think of bringing combat to the skies with airship battles? Do you like the idea of bringing your Free Company’s airship into combat and equipping it for battle? Does airship PvP sound like more fun than Wolves’ Den? 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