And here's why: This is a significant update for the game. It's the last update before the release of Final Fantasy XIV later this month, it's the second stage in the level cap increase, and it's the second-to-last additional content that we know we're getting. And what it's doing for Final Fantasy XI says volumes about what's going to happen in the game in the coming months, as well as what we can hope for.
So far, we've seen two of the level cap increases, and each one of them has been five more levels. That gives me a lot of hope, because it means that to follow through with the promised cap, we'll either need a 14-level jump in December... or we'll be seeing at least two more updates after the December version update to hit 99. And that requires a long-term plan of added gameplay and content.
Square-Enix has not released any official numbers about the add-on scenarios, but logic seems to dictate that the company is doing fairly well. Certainly I don't know a lot of people who haven't picked the scenarios up, and the $10 price tag helps them fall outside of the price range of concern. Plus, scenarios give out visually striking rewards or offer you access to big new parts of the game, always a popular element of expansions. So if we're getting more updates, it stands to reason that we'll be seeing more mini-expansions in the game for players to enjoy.
With that having been said, I'd imagine that most of the regions involved with these mini-expansions will be the regions of the game we already have. As much as I'd like to hope for an expansion that brings us to the Far East, possibly giving us another chance to smack Tenzen in the face, the odds seem against it. Still, there are a lot of areas that could stand to be fleshed out, so expect more vacant areas of the world to be further improved.
I'll even go out on a limb and say that by the time December's update goes live, we'll have a clear picture of the next add-on trilogy and at least some idea of what's coming around the bend past that. Who knows? We might even get another boxed expansion with a new job or two.
Not the favorite son
I've spoken at length about how I feel that FFXI has too many barriers for new or returning players. If we assume (reasonably) that the current three-month schedule for new patches persists into the next year, by June a full half of the leveling game will be locked behind a limit break. And while this is definitely a problem, I have a dim hope that this might change a bit once FFXIV is the new hotness.
EverQuest, while never my game of choice, has made some big strides toward making older content in the original game accessible. It only makes sense -- the game isn't going to pull in a lot of new subscribers, but with the mix of subscription options it's conceivable that someone might pick up the game here and there. The best bet for the development staff now is to make goofing around in the old world as entertaining as possible.
I still have at least a little bitterness over the fact that the team behind Vana'diel has locked so much of the game behind barriers that made sense at the time but have long worn out their welcome. Removing those barriers once the game is no longer the only online game in the market, though, helps encourage people to pick the game up again and stay subscribed to it at the reduced rate. For those already playing FFXIV -- and it seems that many FFXI veterans will do so -- it'd be convenient to hop back in and go through old content they might never have seen before.
I'm not totally sure how Square would accomplish all of this, but I have faith in the team's ability to find a way, if it so chooses. Considering the strength of the game's storyline and visual presentation, it would be a shame to let it languish because of its age if that can be avoided.
In a year
A year from now, we'll have had a direct competitor to the game live for quite some time -- and it's a competitor in a way that no other game has been. There's no doubt that Final Fantasy XIV is going to steal a lot of thunder, and a huge portion of the audience is likely to be out the door when the sequel comes storming in. With that in mind, does Vana'diel have a future?
I think it does. I don't think we're ever going to see another boxed expansion; I doubt we'll see any huge system updates (Abyssea and Walk of Echoes are it as far as battle systems go); and I think players will slowly bleed away as computer upgrades become more cheaply available. But the game will continue, quietly shifting its focus from the existing playerbase to the nostalgic veterans recalling better times, looking for a vacation back in the familiar environment.
It's not a glorious future, but I'd say it's livable.
That's our column for this week, and next week will be the community talk leading up to that most celebrated of events in less than two weeks. Comments and suggestions can be mailed to email@example.com or left in the comment field, as always. And if you have a more or less optimistic view of the potential future for the game, by all means, I'm listening.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.