Previous interviews with Yoshida have indicated that the version 2.0 update should begin alpha testing in late September, with a beta to follow not long after. He's also stressing the fact that version 2.0 is a major change for the game, almost an entirely new game in many respects, and while the live game has seen the fruits of a great deal of work there's still more to be done. As Yoshida put it, the game is an MMORPG, but it's an RPG before that, and a Final Fantasy game even before that.
Of course, current players will be most interested in the differences over the similarities, and Yoshida stressed that the familiar elements will be mixed with a great deal of changes. The guildleve system, for example, will still be a part of the game, but it won't work in the way it currently does. The system will change significantly, and it will no longer be the only option for solo leveling, as the game is also adding a much larger quantity of quests akin to a more traditional MMO experience. Players will have familiar touchstones to fall back upon, but the differences will be massive.
That's not the only change, either. Maps will be radically different -- there won't be anything truly unrecognizable (Yoshida used the example of Ul'dah suddenly being in a jungle) but areas with the same name won't look like the old area with a new coat of paint. Every area has been redone from the ground up, with a visual flow to each region but a new look and layout to every part of the world. The maps will also have a larger number of areas to explore, more little places to investigate and little hamlets or outposts scattered about. The idea is to fill the world with adventure, and that means more things to do and more places to go.
That extends, obviously, to the game's content. Guildleves will no longer make up the bulk of the leveling curve, with a larger number of quests added for players to partake. There will also be several added instanced dungeons, along with a content finder so that players can find groups quickly if usual partners aren't available. The content finder should have broad functionality to help assemble a party for any party-based content -- if you have a job quest that requires a group, you can assemble the group via the tool.
One of the major concerns that the team had regarding the game were the long gaps between relevant bits of story. Rather than a steady series of story quests, players would often perform a story quest, level, and finally reach the level required for a new quest... only to have forgotten what happened in the previous quest. Increasing the overall number of quests allows the team to ensure that there are fewer spaces between major story installments as well as keeping players involved in sidequest stories. Version 2.0 is set to include a large number of extra options for players to interact with the world and the plotline.
And on the note of interacting with the world, Yoshida confirmed that the game's estate system for player housing is on schedule for inclusion with version 2.0's launch. He did note that there's a small chance it might miss the launch window, but it would then be included in the first large content patch released after the revamp has gone live. Fans of the game will note that this is not an uncommon method with the development team.
Moving on from strictly mechanical questions, the issues of several players regarding physical server locations was noted. While Yoshida could make no firm comment at the time, he stated that the team is well aware of the issues regarding time zones and lag most notable for European gamers. He also noted that gamers affected by these issues should look for some announcement regarding it within the next two months.
Last but not least, when asked if he felt he was under any pressure when he was first given the task of revamping the game, he laughed and said that anyone who didn't feel pressure would presumably not be human. But at the same time, he made it clear that he felt a great sense of accomplishment in what he was being asked to do. Trying to essentially create an entirely new game after the game was released and negatively received is something that had never been tried before, and he felt that the development team rose to the challenge. He was also thankful to the fan community that has stood by the game over the past year and a half, dealing with its issues and idiosyncrasies as development worked overtime to add in new features and expand others.
Fans will have to wait a few more months for more hard data on what the revamp will include, but the promotions for the game should start in earnest in August. That means more system information, more previews, and more information on what the future holds for the second version of the game.
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!