For those of you who missed the first couple of installments, part one of the trial can be found here, wherein we discuss the lack of a new job and the use of the level-cap mechanic. Part two can be located hither, and talks about the storyline and the rewards from content, as well as briefly mentioning moblins. (But, really, who cares about them.) Today, we'll kick things off with some arguments from the jury, followed by our legally binding verdict. (The fact that it's only binding under the laws of this column is not the point.)
From the jury
It's been interesting seeing the comments on each of the columns, and I'd like to thank the folks who have been vocal. Specifically, I'm giving shout-outs to Zitheg, Dblade, Blancmanche, jessetaylor, JA, nstud32, myr, Zardonnas, Santericial, drossrocket, and Terical for providing some feedback and points that I hadn't brought up. Unfortunately, there's not time in this one column to go over everything that was mentioned, so I'm going to hit the two major points.
On the difficulty: It was argued that the difficulty was far, far higher than I gave it credit for, due to the differences between the game now and the game then. I'll readily admit that my memories of the game are a bit fuzzy, and I was not part of the vanguard progressing through the new missions. That having been said, I wasn't so far behind as to have no realistic perspective, and it was not absolutely impossible nor completely reliant on perfect execution of strategy. There was just very, very little margin for error, and considering that the content was hard enough to get through at each interval, it certainly felt like no margin.
The difficulty is also touted as one of the best parts of the expansion, that part of what made it unique and rewarding was the challenge involved. This is doubtlessly true, but one of the selling points of any expansion is that it makes the game larger and more fun for every player, even if he or she isn't necessarily the best. Final Fantasy XI certainly can bring interesting and difficult content, but as Santericial (rather aptly) put it, the challenge posed by Chains of Promathia mostly just convinced people who thought the game was too hard that it was, in fact, too hard.
On the sense of completion: Without a doubt, there was a distinct sense of accomplishment as you moved through the areas in the expansion. Many, many people pointed out how special and magical it felt each time you made it to another milestone in the missions, and that's something that's factored strongly into the verdict.
Of course, that all goes back to the difficulty again. If it was too difficult for you to even get your foot in the door, you got less of a sense of accomplishment and more of a sense that you just dropped $30 to not play the expansion at all. If you could move through the game as you intended, you had a great opportunity for bonding with your linkshell companions and to feel like you actually got a reward for all of your skill and dedication. Whether the reward seems equal to the challenge depends a lot on whether you were able to make it through the challenge.
It's the moment we've all been waiting for.
I've never made a secret about my feelings on the expansion, but in case they need to be restated: I didn't like it. I was severely, severely underwhelmed, felt it focused far too heavily on the aspects of FFXI that I found obnoxious and elitist, and really would have been happier if it had never come out. And it was only a discussion with one of my editors that made me go back and actually look at the expansion with some amount of neutrality.
But I refuse to give the expansion the benefit of a positive verdict in hindsight. I will not evaluate it on the basis of what it led to -- which is a game that includes some of the best cutscenes in the industry and two subsequent expansions that were better by any standard you care to name. I will evaluate it purely on its own merits at the time.
In that light... it was billed wrong.
An expansion should make the game larger and more engaging for everyone, not just the players who can devote themselves to learning difficult content. For the players who couldn't, Chains of Promathia meant a few new areas and several later additions that required the expansion. It really deserved to be something more of a standalone, closer to the adventure pack additions that we're getting now via the Abyssea content.
The players who could get through the additions, though? They got a treat. They got endgame content that was designed to be a single difficult push that would leave you with a sense of having really made all that high-end equipment work for you. We often complain that once we're fully kitted out we have nothing left to do. Chains of Promathia didn't just give you something to do in all of your best equipment -- it would strip you of that equipment any time it saw fit and ask you if you still felt like the best thing since sliced bread.
And I can't say it was bad. It wasn't targeted at how I like to play the game, and it didn't quite fit in the "expansion" space as I conceptualize it, but it accomplished its design goals wonderfully. And those goals are good and desirable. There needs to be a place for skill in MMOs, especially as we reduce monsters to glorified piñatas of loot and experience. We had that, and it was beautiful, and it deserves to be celebrated.
So our verdict? Not great, but pretty darn good. With some major caveats, yeah, but I can't be too harsh on something that aimed high and missed broadly.
I'm betting that I'll get at least a little flak for this conclusion, so feel free to send it along to the usual address at email@example.com, or via the comments below. Next week, we're looking to the future over in Final Fantasy XIV. And yes, you know I pre-ordered the collector's edition.