Due to a general case of it's-the-blasted-holiday-season, I didn't get nearly as much playtime with Final Fantasy XIV following the November patch as I would have liked. I had to wait a couple days to really sit down and engage in a nice play session to really get a feel for all of the changes that had been wrought on the game by the update. And in a way, I'm glad I knew that I would need some time and thus focused on the community piece last Saturday, because it's meant more time to really appreciate the improvements.

The short version, if you're allergic to page breaks, is that this patch solves a huge number of issues, to the point that I imagine many players who couldn't see past those issues to the core game will be better able to see what's at the root. But there's a lot of unpacking to do, so I'd still recommend hopping past the cut for a breakdown of the patch as a whole as well as a brief look for what the December update still has to do for Final Fantasy XIV.

If I had to summarize the whole patch in one word, it would be pretty simple: speed.

If you were one of the not-inconsequential number of players who thought that the UI lag or lack of decent keybinding was loathsome enough to merit death threats, you probably felt like a weight had been lifted when the patch dropped. I was not one of those people, but it was still a joy on par with getting paid twice when I found that menus and screens were loading in milliseconds rather than taking a second or two each time. The lag was never unplayable for me, possibly as a function of my connection or my machine, but that's not to say the improvements to such weren't appreciated.

Leveling to 20 is faster now, and significantly so. Not just because of the reduced requirements to hit Rank 20 in any given class (although that helps), but also because you don't have to start a leve and desperately hope that combat takes just the right amount of time and you get the right number of points for each enemy. I can't tell you how frustrating it got to head out to do leves with friends and find myself actually getting fewer SP than if I had gone solo, because each enemy died that much faster. The switch to awarding skill at the defeat of an enemy does mean you can no longer get lucky with some insane skill gains, but that's functionally immaterial. It also benefits healers or support characters, players who would mostly be casting buffs and restorative spells that don't net a single SP under the old system.

Really, I'm surprised this system wasn't put into place far earlier, more surprised than I am about any other systems that were not adjusted earlier. I'm guessing the thought and/or hope was that it would even out with time, but kudos to Square-Enix for determining that it wasn't averaging well and that we needed flat rewards. Your actual gains should be either improved or unchanged, unless you were one of the fortunate souls in the Will I Get Skill Points Lottery of before.

Travel is also a fair bit faster, since you can now teleport to your camp of choice, do your leves, and teleport back on a day's worth of anima. (Less than, actually, since you generate six per day.) I was a little worried when the patch notes mentioned that a small price was required for binding a favored location, but I needn't have worried, since it's almost a trivial sum. Gil is ridiculously easy to come by in the first place, which makes prices far easier to shoulder.

Oh, and more spawns means more targets means more to do if you really feel the need to go nuts and farm at a given location. Speed again.

About the only major update that didn't somehow make things faster was the simultaneous expansion of inventory space and removal of +1/+2 items, and even that could be argued to require fewer trips back and forth to manage inventory space. To be sure, you're not going to be rid of the lesser quality improvements immediately, since there are still a lot of them sitting in bags and retainers around the world -- but no more are being dropped, and the result is better use of inventory space all around. I think equipment still comes in the old varieties, but equipment didn't stack in the first place, so it's not a loss in any real sense of the word.

Crafting also supposedly takes fewer steps to get started, but what that's supposed to mean is a mystery for the ages. It seems to take just as many steps to pull a requested item together, so I can't guess at what SE improved or streamlined. That being said, the fact that navigating the required steps takes about two seconds as opposed to about 10-15 makes a world of difference. It might refer to the history tab, now prominently displayed and allowing you quick access to recent recipes you've crafted.

Misses? A couple of minor ones. I'm not as fond of the new experience bars taking up the bottom of the screen, nor do I like having to navigate to my inventory to see how much money I have. The previous statbox when you opened the main menu was a nice at-a-glance format, and I miss it.

Furthermore, at least in Thanalan, the addition of monster spawns means even more aldgoats getting in your way whenever you want to cast an area spell. I'm of mixed thoughts on the whole idea of having certain roaming inhabitants who are curious about players. On the one hand, it's a marvelous touch of verisimilitude to have them follow along with no malice but rather a genuine sense of wonder at this strange biped. On the other hand, get out of the gorram way I'm trying to use Leg Sweep so that I can avoid dying, don't get pissed off at me when you got hit by a sharp object in front of someone clearly waving something sharp around!

It's a mixed bag, is what I'm saying.

And in the rush to greatly improve the game's quality of life, you might notice one glaring omission, namely, anything new to do whatsoever. If you're in the same boat as I am and could look past the flaws to enjoy the core game... well, the flaws have been smoothed and removed in many places, but the patch isn't bringing any rewards for loyalty or somesuch. That's waiting until the December update. So you might enjoy a few minutes of bliss as the game loads and plays more smoothly, followed by a hunger for more content.

Really, that's the game's remaining weakness, even for those who like it. There's not a lot of reason to do anything, no overarching goal to work toward, and the storyline quests are a bit too sparse even with accelerated leveling in place. We need more stuff to take part in, even for me -- and remember, I'm not at the head of the leveling curve. People who were dedicated enough to already start stocking up on rank 50 jobs are probably bored to tears by now.

Still, all told, this patch promises a lot and delivers on all fronts. If you dislike the game's sandpark structure, you aren't going to suddenly change your tune. But if you liked the ideas of what the game was trying to do before and didn't care as much for the execution, it's well worth stepping back and trying it again, because the superstructure has been greatly enhanced and it's far easier now to enjoy the game without having to look past anything at all.

And before you start complaining about having had to pay for two months of beta before the patch on the 25th, do recall that you haven't actually paid for anything yet.

That's my only slightly snarky take on the patch, and as usual I'm open to what you have to say either via comments or mail (eliot@massively.com). Next week... it feels like it's been forever since I've looked at Vana'diel, for many reasons, but I feel the itch to head back. I hear Final Fantasy XI is due for its own major patch, after all.

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.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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