Rise of the Zilaart was unambitious, but for most gamers in North America, it wasn't really a distinct expansion so much as another part of the core game. Chains of Promathia and Treasures of Aht Urhgan were both ambitious, with the former probably being the least successful of the lot and the latter probably standing out as the "best" expansion. That leaves WotG in the unenviable position of being the mediocre expansion, just good enough to beat out the nadir but not nearly good enough to reach the game's apex.
Part of the problem, of course, is the storyline. FFXI always depended on the strength of its storytelling to some extent, but WotG shot itself right in the foot by having a foregone conclusion. You can argue that no one really thought the world would end in CoP, but the conflict being resolved was something present, something in-your-face, rather than the conclusion to a conflict that happened a very long time ago. It's the classic prequel problem; you're not resolving new issues, you're setting up issues that will be resolved later in the game timeline and earlier in your personal experience. This wasn't helped any by the nation quests, which largely either set up conflicts that you already dealt with or were essentially bottle stories.
That having been said, the story did avoid one of the cardinal sins of time travel, and it did its level best to make the conflict feel urgent and vital despite taking place in the past. It served, in parts, as a reminder of just how close the three nations actually came to defeat, and it certainly stirred a reason to hate the beastmen you had been fighting for most of the game. But setting it in the past made it much harder to give players a real sense of urgency, and even revelations about the balance between preferred timelines didn't quite mesh.
Not helping matters was the pacing. Most of the expansion storylines unlocked with some degree of gradual progression, keeping players leveling to learn a little more about what was going on. WotG, on the other hand, tried to keep that feel of a slow unlocking by making the overall process of the story almost tormentingly slow. It took longer for the concluding missions to come around in this expansion than in any of the previous ones, and it was marked with a lot of the running around without accomplishing things that you see in any story trying to extend its running time. CoP and ToAU were guilty of this as well, in parts, but they had a stronger story overall.
That having been said, ironically enough, the biggest success comes from the element of design that might seem most inconsequential -- making the new areas of the game feel novel. Visually, they're pretty much what you're already accustomed to, but the change in environment and the subtle changes to the landscape do a great job of making the old feel new again. You aren't just visiting Bastok with a different map, you're visiting Bastok twenty years ago, and there are a lot of changes that the city went through between the start of the core game and the time of WotG.
Of course, the expansion isn't just story -- it's also new systems, new rewards, and perhaps most importantly new classes. The last one was a bit of an issue, as the stock Final Fantasy classes were running a bit low by the time WotG came around. So we got two classes, Dancer and Scholar, both of whom were good additions to the game... sometimes arguably too good.
Scholars were, without a doubt, meant to address the persistent issue of the game needing more healers than the class makeup allows. And it succeeded -- but to the point of making a Scholar more desirable at times than a White Mage, thereby sidelining an existing class in favor of another and creating the same population imbalance as always. It's a balance issue that's still being wrestled with, giving Scholars a distinct identity from Red Mages and White Mages without being more powerful than either.
Dancers, on the other hand, were meant to be somewhere between a new tanking class and a new option for melee classes to be a bit more interactive. The problem is that /DNC isn't a spectacular group choice compared to classic options, and Dancers get lapped pretty quickly in terms of survival compared to Warriors, Paladins, and Ninjas. The class does make an excellent solo class or solo sub, however, which was a niche that non-pet classes hadn't really filled in the game before. But the class still winds up as another melee DPS in a game already bursting with melee DPS, and it's tasked with the unenviable challenge of being more resilient and flexible than other melee DPS classes without overshadowing them.
I suppose the biggest problem WotG faced was a simple issue of player population and resources. The expansion came out after much of the game's population was either ensconced or had moved on, and as a result there probably weren't as many resources allocated to development. A friend said once that the expansion felt like it wanted to be bigger or better, but it was trimmed down to fit into a lot more available space and suffered as a result.
At the end of the day, though, I don't dislike WotG, I just can't bring myself to love it. It's not like the other expansions for the game -- it doesn't lend itself to strong feelings. And for a game that brings out such strong feelings in its playerbase, that's really the worst you can say about anything. It's a solid expansion, middle of the road, and if it weren't the last expansion we're likely to get, odds are good it would have long since faded into the background by now.
Agree? Disagree? The comments field are right down there, or you can mail it off to email@example.com. Next week we've got a big patch for Final Fantasy XIV, so I'm going to be doing my best to get some piping-hot first impressions up here for you fine folks.
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.