Of course, there's still some air of mystery about the expansion, which is appropriate. Final Fantasy XI's expansions always contain a few new wrinkles that aren't really previewed, and I think players prefer it that way. But there's a lot to talk about, starting with something that I find very interesting insofar as it's launching in the wake of a new philosophy for the game as a whole.
Back in December I talked about how the game's future might be brighter than it has been for a long time. How Seekers of Adoulin works in practice will tell us a lot about whether or not that hopeful future will come to pass or not.
The new jobs
I was lucky enough to get something of an advance preview on both new jobs when I headed out to San Francisco, and let's face it, the new jobs are the most obvious draw for players. They also help revitalize the lower-end game by forcing everyone to level them up from Level Stupid. And in the best of cases, they also serve to fill in one of Final Fantasy XI's egregious holes.
Seriously, we've long had a ridiculously low number of tanks and healers compared to damage dealers. You don't know how happy I am that part of that is being addressed.
Geomancers are not shoring up the healing gap, sadly, and they're a sign that the game is down to the last few dregs of classic Final Fantasy classes. Historically Geomancers have not been very good in anything other than Final Fantasy Tactics, and even that's somewhat debatable. This new incarnation is trying to walk into a role that's already held by Scholars, Black Mages, and possibly Summoners or Red Mages during the rare moments that those classes get to play support/damage instead of support/heals.
It's also giving players some very support-related tools to play around with, though, and I think that's really a good thing in the long run. I'm honestly rather intrigued by the way that the class is playing out, with shades of Bard, Corsair, and World of Warcraft's Shaman. There's an interesting back-and-forth between your summoned luopans and your personal effect fields; you don't want to leave your luopan in the line of fire if you can avoid it, but you don't want to be up on the front line either. It's a tension mechanic that tickles me.
Meanwhile, Rune Fencer is a legitimate addition to the franchise. (You can argue that it's another rename of the various magical knight classes in the Final Fantasy lexicon, but that also covers Dark Knights, Paladins, and on one occasion Dragoons. Magic knights are what the developers use when they just want a sword-related character with some magical particle effects.) It's also exactly the sort of tank I like to play because it seems as if it shouldn't be a tank.
Seriously, it's a two-handed weapon wielder in heavy armor with attack spells. The only thing stopping it from being a Dark Knight is a lack of emo.
Joking aside, it's a very different sort of tank compared to Paladins and Ninjas, and I think its biggest issue will be finding a reliable niche in the game. At the high end, there's no shortage of fights that test magic resistance, but it's a question of getting to that point. Just as Ninjas really need to have Utsusemi Ni in order to tank, it's possible that Rune Fencers will really need a magical foe to handle tanking properly, and that'll make leveling pretty miserable.
Launching into age
Seekers of Adoulin is launching into an environment that's never existed before. Characters right now can be at the absolute level cap. You can be running around at level 99, and that changes things.
Wings of the Goddess and Abyssea both served as interim content moving from 75 to 99, but neither was really meant to serve as a full expansion for the new level cap. Heck, WotG's level increase seemed to be added pretty late in the game as management teams changed. This expansion is adding several new mechanics, and the question is whether or not this expansion's new stuff will be aimed at the new level cap or for everyone.
If it's the latter, level 99 players will have good reason to be kind of upset. One of the great elements of FFXI's endgame at 75 was the sheer breadth of what you could do; there were a lot of different progression options that didn't require you to do anything in particular if you didn't want to. That's not the case now, and there's a definite hope that this expansion will widen the playing field once again. If it doesn't... well, being at the level cap will feel kind of silly.
If it's the former, it's going to be a pretty clear message that if you aren't a veteran of the game you don't need to bother. Maybe that's intentional; maybe the developers don't really want more players. Maybe cats will learn how to fly next week. It's going to be a hard sale if the new expansion doesn't provide something for new players to latch on to.
Either way, it's going to be interesting to see what happens next week.
Feedback can be left in the comments below or sent along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, as I recover from an insanely busy time at PAX East, I'll probably be discussing some of the events at that convention.
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.