It's a big patch, that's what I'm getting at. And I've spent the past several days diving into it with all the time I've had because this is the sort of thing that really changes a lot of core assumptions about the game.
So it's been a time of empirical testing, a time of leveling, a time of dropping a lot of gil on new pieces of equipment and getting ready to tell my readers whether this patch was everything promised or fell flat. And truth be told, there's too much to address even in one column. But I can at least get started.
My equipment is dating itself
One of the big changes in the patch was pretty much unannounced: All of your dated equipment that was a level over your current level is now completely useless. That "optimal level" text no longer means "this is where you'll get the most benefit from this gear"; it means "if you do not wear me at this level or higher I will give you no stats and take a huge chunk out of your defense."
No, seriously. You're better off with no armor than higher-level pieces. I suspect that part's a bug in the algorithim, but that's just speculation.
Now, there's definitely a part of me that agrees this was necessary for two reasons. First of all, it was dumb to essentially be rewarded for buying a level 50 set and only replacing pieces with U/U items as you got them. Sure, you'd be a bit less effective on-level than someone with level-appropriate gear, but you'd save tons of gil and you'd only notice a slight drop in power. Second, there's a whole host of new items to fill in the leveling gaps, new setups and things to enjoy, and if you could just continue to wear what you had been wearing, there would be less incentive to buy new items from crafters.
That part is essential, since the patch has also pretty much killed crafter repairs. When you were talking about dropping 10,000 gil to repair a high-level item to 100% instead of 75% and NPC repair costs were notably higher, there was a reason to seek crafter repairs. Now you drop 5,000 at the NPC for a 99% repair, enough for any purposes short of trading the item to someone else. Bottom line, crafters are going to need to make money by crafting new things.
On the flip side, this change essentially renders "optimal level" totally irrelevant. You can't wear the gear off-level and find it useful to you in any way, shape, or form. You get more benefits from having something below your level and off-class equipped than something above your level on-class. That's kind of messed up, and it means that players will be devoting a lot of those extra inventory slots to finding equipment they can actually wear. Moreover, most of the new equipment, which players are meant to be wearing from here on out, is not yet actually available for purchase from crafters. The few pieces that are out there are currently overpriced because scarcity of goods is in full effect.
Still, kudos to the developers for having the foresight to anticipate and react to this issue via NPC vendors in each class guild that sell appropriate items for each class. Some of those prices are pretty insane as well, but if you're at an appropriate level, they're at least within the realm of affordability.
I initially was pretty put off by this change (the optimal level issue in particular bothered me), but a bit of time and adaptation served to definitely ease that anxiety. I'm glad we're going to see some changes to what had until recently been a stagnant environment for equipment. Between the vendors and buying old equipment where you can find it, re-equipping any characters that are left out in the cold shouldn't be too difficult, although it's the sort of thing that really grates on you at first. It's annoying, and it's going to be really disorienting initially, but the net benefits should outweigh the negatives in the long run. The market wards have already begun to recover as I type this on Thursday; a week from now, it should be much more even.
This is the other issue that players will encounter, and it's pretty much universal: You will not be hitting as hard as you were prior to the patch, and enemies will last longer under your assault. I noticed this right away -- that my Lancer at 29 was actually engaging a couple of enemies at level 22 rather than just skewering them and moving on to the next point. Large groups of enemies are actually threatening again. (To be fair, this was also before I had replaced some pieces of gear for my Lancer.)
Here's the thing: I definitely recognize that this change needed to be made. My highest-level class is a Gladiator, which means that I took the role of "tank." I put those quotation marks there because the actual process in a group of five or larger did not involve anything I recognize as tanking. When my group would approach leve targets, I would get ready, and then the archers would unleash a Raging Strike shot with a pile of arrows queued up, destroying the target before I'd had time to do much more than use Provoke on it needlessly. Or the Lancer and damage-oriented Marauder would kill it in two hits, and so on. Bottom line, tanking wasn't relevant because even at five stars, we just had too much raw damage.
That being said, going down in power is never fun. I'm reminded of one of the more heartfelt pleas I saw prior to the latest World of Warcraft expansion -- that we as players don't really want to learn how to play a Paladin or a Mage or a Warrior yet again. We've learned how to play; let us play. And a big part of me can't help but feel that this is exactly what's happening here. I don't want to learn how to play a Gladiator again. I want to just play a Gladiator, and I was having fun before the patch.
But then... I don't have to learn how to play again. I just have to get used to new numbers. I'm doing less damage, but so are the mobs, and we've still got the obvious hiccup of gear to overcome. Frankly, I think there's something wrong with a level 43 Gladiator's being able to run roughshod without backup over a leve filled with level 48 enemies. That makes levels nigh-on meaningless, and I've talked before about how it's a bad thing when you have no real standard of comparison for these sorts of numbers.
It's going to mean some adjustment, yeah, and there's a case to be made for fixing what isn't broken. But take it slow and cautious for a few days, and you'll be able to adapt. Monsters are also not hitting as hard as they used to, and even lower-level enemies seem to be providing greater experience rewards on a kill. It's certainly doable; it's just that the changes are so jarring. Adapt to the differences, and things will be much better.
Quests and birds
Let me just state, for the record, that having a chocobo to call my own feels endlessly gratifying. Getting one is not at all a difficult procedure if you've done the previous quests for your company of choice and grabbed your Foundation Day bonus; I wound up with about 1300 extra seals after the fact, and you'll have 3300 to blow in the other companies before you make the leap. (And yes, you are locked out of spending them once you make the decision, so be sure to purchase anything you'd like beforehand.)
Each company offers two new quests before you actually enlist. The first one you have to complete in each nation before you can enlist in a company, while the second you only need to complete in your nation of enlistment. Traveling to the other nations to complete all of the available quests first will net you an extra 300 seals to spend before you enlist, not to mention another 1900 experience each, so it's advisable to do everything you can before the point of no return.
Taking into account the changes I had to make with my equipment, none of the quests was particularly hard; each one featured a small instanced battle that generally went fairly smoothly. The hardest is the Twin Adders quest, which pits you against a level 30 target that you'll need a special trigger command to harm, and even that was probably made harder by the fact I was still wearing equipment too high for me at the time. But there's plenty of lore, decent rewards, and only a bit of running around necessary. Also, you finally get a chance to actually meet the three Grand Company leaders in the flesh, which in and of itself is pretty neat.
Of course, this was going to be the elephant in the room. With all that I've said about changing equipment and (others') complaints that solo play is now murder and leveling is stupidly easy, what was it actually like to buckle down and do some leves? I had a pile stacked up since patch day and before the patch, but the day of the patch and the day after I was too busy to even think about getting any leves done. So it was a little nerve-wracking to set up my classes with the best equipment I could for the level and start swinging into battle.
I'm happy to say that my fears were entirely unfounded. I started out on my Lancer, once again, and slotted the quest difficulty right to my level -- four stars for level 29. And the results?
Not only were the battles not harder in any significant fashion, but I was winding up with more experience than I got pre-patch even without Guardian's Favor. Outside of a new halberd, I was wearing all dated equipment, including a helm that won't even function for a few more levels. And I was still having an easy run of things. I didn't try jacking the difficulty up any higher, but I didn't need to in the first place.
Sure, that's a lower-level class; maybe it changes at higher levels. So I outfitted my Gladiator with a full set of Steel equipment (about 600k) then chose to wear Dated Chainmail instead of the Steel Cuirass just to up the amount of dated stuff I had on. My weapon, I'd like to note, was among that dated equipment. (That Iron Falchion had seen me through every level up until this point; it's going nowhere except the materia furnace.)
How was it? Again, I had to notch the difficulty to my level instead of a bit ahead, but it was in no way more difficult. Any slowdown was mostly due to the fact that my Phalanx was no longer quite as reliable and I was trying to bust out Rage of Halone more than was probably healthy. (The change in damage calculation is theoretically nice, but I think I need a much bigger pool of HP and much more lost HP for it to make up for the fire-and-forget skills on my bar.) Even without the chain bonuses, I was still getting more experience in the same amount of time for a leve.
But wait, there's more!
I haven't even touched on things like the crafting changes, the gathering additions, the materia fight... heck, I haven't had a chance to get in and tango with Ifrit yet. There's a lot in this patch, a lot that's going to require players to adjust a bit. You have to start fighting things at your level instead of above, you have to change out some equipment, and you have to roll with the changes.
That having been said? It's a great patch. And I've only just begun scratching its surface in a column twice my usual length.
As always, feedback is welcome through the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I'm probably going to continue on about this patch. Or maybe I'll start looking forward to the next patch in a very preemptive fashion. Time will tell.
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.