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Over the last couple of months, I've been trying something different. As I mentioned back in my anniversary column, I spent a year trying out a strictly alternating format for Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, but it wasn't working out to my satisfaction for a number of reasons. Backing off and focusing on the game with more activity seems to be working quite well (from my perspective, anyway), but it also means that I haven't really been discussing Final Fantasy XI much.

This isn't entirely by coincidence, as the game itself hasn't changed much over the past several months. In an earlier column, I had mentioned that the roadmap made it pretty clear that if change was on the horizon, we wouldn't be seeing it until the new roadmap finally came out. And here we are, one new roadmap later. So what do I think? Is this the promised vision of the future, the prophecy to lead us all into a new era of joy and light across the game's continents?

The future is just the past with ditto marks.In short, no.

I've long been hoping that the game was going to pull something really impressive, really turn around and try to appeal to new players again. Instead, the game is remaining firmly set in its ways, with new features clearly targeting existing veterans rather than players who have never adventured in Vana'diel before.

This is not a plan without merit. If you've got a class at level 99 now, you've been in Vana'diel for a long time. There isn't a lot of mystery left in the game, and even with the dizzyingly long projects that the game likes to provide, you're going to need new things to do. Plus, there's the simple fact that an older game has an uphill battle competing against newer games to catch someone's attention. Final Fantasy XI was never going to draw someone away from buying Guild Wars 2 no matter how many lower elements were revised.

On the flip side, though... well, do I need to go into the rant again? It's an ouroboros, a closed system that old players can leave but that new players can't enter without a lot of helping hands. Heck, a lot of the game's lower-level charm has already vanished -- you can go tool around in the Dunes, but you won't be running with the same awful parties that forge you into a competent player whether you like it or not. That was a moment in time, it's gone, and as it turns out, no one else is ever likely to experience that same rush.

It's an exercise for the reader to decide whether she prefers stagnation with an existing playerbase over attempting but frequently failing to attract new blood. I think that's kind of like choosing between getting stabbed or getting shot, but it's all academic now.

More than anything, I think the new roadmap confirms something we've all known for a long time: We're never getting a new expansion. There will be more things done with existing assets, but that's the long and short of it. If you were holding out hope for new jobs or something to really shake up the game's balance like I was, you can stop hoping. It's not in the cards.

None of this, however, means that the game is dying. It's just becoming stagnant, which is something that seems like more of an inevitability than it actually is. There's still space for new adventures, but the developers and the design is moving on. Such is life.

But enough high-level nattering; there's still some interesting updates in there, starting with the promise of a new dungeon crawl system. Adding in World of Warcraft-style instances to FFXI sounds like adding FPS elements to a new Super Mario Bros. game, so I'm hoping that's not what's being vaguely hinted at here. There's definite space for some more dynamic approaches to combat, however -- we're no longer stuck in the classic camp-and-pull methodology that defined the game for years.

I'm not sure if more add-ons would be better or worse.Of course, FFXI already has some interesting dungeon crawls, ones that can very easily leave you stranded in the depths without many options (which is fun, on occasion, albeit frustrating when it's a regular event). Whether this system will add to that or not is the real question. We'll have to see.

The system for allowing players to take on the roles of monsters seems... well, there are no details yet, but it certainly does bring up a lot of possibilities. The monster-side gameplay could be a gimmick for limited areas, or it could be an entirely new path of gameplay that really opens up the game to different playstyles. I tend to doubt it's going to follow the lead of Lord of the Rings Online as a PvP system, mostly since FFXI monsters aren't meant to be fought by a single player most of the time.

But now that I type it, I can't help but want to go stomping around Qufim as a Gigas for some misplaced form of meta-revenge. Or a Wight. Or a Dancing Weapon. You get the idea.

There are definitely some neat systems contained in the roadmap; the big issue is that they're just further calcification of a game that's always been top-heavy and inaccessible. Most games you can start playing now and reasonably expect to catch up with the veterans; FFXI doesn't offer you that, even as an illusion. And while I can understand the reasoning, I still look at that and see a whole lot of wasted potential.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massively.com. Next week, I'm going to finally get around to that discussion of pets, summons, and Final Fantasy XIV that I had planned a couple of weeks back.

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.