The Mog Log header by A. Fienemann
I've had another week to digest the enormous patch that we got last week, and I have to say that... I'm still not done. Really. I'm no longer in the stage of absolute baffled disbelief, but I haven't yet gotten a firm grip on all the changes. Heck, I haven't had time to explore all of them to my satisfaction. I've been questing and riding a chocobo hither and yon and noticing how repairs now cost me essentially pocket change.

But I promised more talk about the patch this time around, and I've got more. I just want to emphasize how enormous this patch really is, bigger than any of its predecessors -- and considering how big several of Final Fantasy XIV's previous updates were, I'd say that's saying something. So let's talk about experience chains and powerleveling, class balance, and of course materia just past the break. Or rather, I'll talk. You know what I mean.

The Sultana is absolutely adorable.Spiritbond in a materia world

Even though it bears the same name as the little ability stones from Final Fantasy VII, materia really has nothing to do with all of that. It's just part of the tapestry of references that keeps some tenuous link of connections between a group of completely unrelated video games. No, this version of materia is... well, I hate to say it, but it's like if Enchanting and Jewelcrafting from World of Warcraft had a kid.

The plus side is pretty obvious. Not only does it mean that you can actually customize the equipment you're wearing, but it also means you get a benefit for having used up old equipment. Something that's been hanging around for several levels might be no good for you any longer, but you can still melt it and make use of it with a new piece of equipment. It also creates a way for crafting and gathering to be more steadily in demand -- crafters need to keep making new equipment because the old stuff gets melted down, and gatherers are the only ones who can find the reagents that actually cause the binding.

On the flip side, of course, it's one of those scenarios in which you have to jump through a wide variety of hoops for what seems like a simple process. There has to be the right reagent, the right item, and you can't be sure whether you're going to get a certain kind of materia or not, and so forth. I know, I know, heaven help you if you actually have to rely upon other people in an MMO, but it's a little bit frustrating to melt down an old piece of armor just to find out that your reward is totally useless except for selling.

I'll admit that I haven't played with the system extensively. I will say, however, that I've liked it thus far, even if it is rather ornate. Let me put it this way: I keep coming back to that question of being too complex and trying to find a part to cut without losing the heart of the system, but everything works together. So it's a good setup, if occasionally a touch frustrating to find the sort of crafter you need.


The post-patch week also saw me doing something that I've never before done in Final Fantasy XIV: I joined a grinding party.

It's not that I was unaware of the possibility before, just that I had opted out. The fact that Final Fantasy XI had been pretty much defined by that style of play certainly had something to do with it, but more important was the fact that I just wanted to do my leves and play the game that way. And traditionally, it worked out well enough. The per-hour gains were pretty much equivalent, to my understanding, and it wasn't until the entry of chains that that would really change.

So I got in the party and proceeded to gain a level in about 45 minutes, amidst the usual slew of jokes, references, and the occasional mishap when we wound up pulling an entire camp full of Ixali instead of just a couple.

Actually, it mostly just looks like she's taking a nap.
Is this a problem? Certainly it ties into the whole issue of powerleveling, something that's easier than ever to do with the chain system. There are stories about how good teams can blast through levels insanely quickly now, and some players are upset at the idea that with the right setup you can be 50 in no time at all. I was definitely feeling the big jump when we were grinding.

Of course, I did miss the gil from levequests. And frankly, if you just want to power through to the level cap as quickly as possible, you're going to find the most efficient way possible no matter what. The changes mean that you know the most efficient method -- it's right there, so just go ahead and level and then let us know if you're having fun. It's only an option for the Disciplines of Magic and War, anyhow, so it's not exactly game-breaking. And it requires friends with a lot of spare time and patience, to boot.

Also, I am fully in favor of the fact that grinding parties can involve pulling half the Ixali camp and then slaughtering them in huge AoE murderfests. No one ever cries "add" here.

Oh, seedseers.  Give us some horns and let us start summoning.In the company of leves

The last big thing I hadn't really tried playing with was the company leves, and it seemed like the sort of thing that deserved some experimentation. After all, leves might now be targeted as solo content all around, but company leves are explicitly solo. There's no way to handle them in a group; you can only plunge in and see what you can accomplish without anyone else to back you up.

First of all, it's worth noting that these are tuned to be rough. You've only got 15 minutes to run them, and the enemies are tuned to be taxing fights. You have to really prioritize long-term survival and reusability. During my first run-through of Sylph-Inflicted Wounds, I got burned badly by over-relying on spells and tuning the difficulty too high.

That having been said, the experience per kill is more than decent. The overall rewards are... well, they're not bad, but they're a bit low. Since you can't get a speed reward, you just get gauged on difficulty, and since the quests are slightly open-ended, killing more than you're required to will net you slightly increased rewards. That can be a dicey prospect, at times; as mentioned, these quests are tuned to be a challenge solo, and you're probably going to find them a bit harder than leves at the equivalent difficulty. So experience-wise, you probably come out about even or a bit better than doing levequests of the same level bracket.

Other rewards are a bit more difficult to gauge. This is one of the only ways to get more company seals, so that deserves consideration, but the number of seals awarded is kind of dinky. I'm all for ensuring that you can't just do a dozen company leves and grab everything in stock -- game balance, people! -- but they could easily be tuned up a bit. As it stands, they feel a bit small for the rewards, made worthwhile just because of the difficulty in getting more seals. Perhaps they're more balanced than I'm giving them credit for. Time will tell.

As always, feedback is welcome at or in the comments below. I could keep nattering on about the patch next week, but I think I'll have something else to talk about by that point. Like more holiday events, or perhaps something else cool.

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.