Before anyone asks, the methodology in place was largely informed by necessity. Rhio existed prior to the experiment, had her subjob but naught else unlocked (including airships), and had monk sitting at 18 -- well into the point where my admittedly archaic knowledge told me she couldn't level without a party. While I admit a new player wouldn't have the subjob, for the most part it didn't have a major impact on the experiment. A Poisona here, a Cure to reduce downtime there -- it would not invalidate the results, just skew them slightly.
And despite my jokes, I understand that this experiment fails at most qualifications of scientific rigor. It still produced some interesting results. Enough so that there are some worthwhile final observations at the end, as well as ongoing testing beyond the scope of one column.
I've organized the results by sessions in which I ran around, including the area I was working in and the Fields of Valor page I made use of as a training regime. Except where noted, each session was engaged with the assistance of an Empress Band, and most sessions ended when I was stuck in the "limbo" between training regimes.
Session 1: La Theine Plateau, Page 4
My first session set the tone, really. I had expected to play for a while and wind up massively disappointed. Instead, I played for about an hour and fifteen minutes and managed 3000 experience, which comes out to roughly 2400 an hour. That's not awesome, but pretty solid considering I was all alone in lousy gear.
I had picked Page 4 largely on a whim and found it to be an excellent regime for the level range because everything fit into the same general area. Sheep and crabs both concentrate around the small lake in the northern center of the map, along with worms, goblins, and the occasional bat. Relatively speaking, it was easy to both arrive at and return from my destination. Regen largely took care of my HP, with most of the enemies on the mid-to-low range of Easy Prey.
Session 2: La Theine Plateau, Page 4
This session worked even better than the first -- I played for a single hour and made 3000 experience. Ironically, it was also the only session during which I didn't level up, due largely to the fact that I had started only a sliver into the level. Rock Eaters and Goblins both proved to be excellent targets of opportunity as I moved between my training regime victims, which helped up my experience without a great deal of extra effort.
If I could, I would also like to take an extra moment to impotently curse at whoever decided to make inventory space in Final Fantasy XI so mind-bogglingly anemic. A disproportionate amount of time each session is spent trying to make five pounds of flour fit into a two-pound bag. Realistic? Not really -- the items in question are of vastly different sizes, yet each takes up one spot in the inventory. It's just obnoxious.
Session 3: La Theine Plateau, Page 4
As the single longest session in the whole project, this one really drove home the essential problem that inventory space presents when leveling solo. Out of two hours played, I earned only 4500 experience. Part of this, I'm sure, is that I didn't have Dedication running the entire time -- Empress Bands only last so long, and I was reluctant to fire off my Anniversary Band this early into the experiment. But a big part of it was the fact that after about an hour of play, I was simply out of inventory space and had to travel back to San d'Oria to unload some of my excess garbage.
That having been said, aside from worms beginning to be just a touch less useful as filler targets, the actual fight-to-fight mechanics still worked smoothly. I tossed out the occasional Cure, but there were no fights in which a healing spell was the difference between victory or death, just downtime or lack thereof.
Session 4: La Theine Plateau, Page 4
In stark contrast to the prior session, this one was incredibly short -- only 20 minutes or so of playtime. In that time, I earned 1100 experience. This time, rather than heading all the way back to San d'Oria, I had left Rhio parked by the Field Manual, allowing me to jump right in and get down to business without the inconvenience of transportation. That enabled me to simply grab a regime, run through it, and leave without a hitch. Astute mathematicians will note that this still brings me out to around 3000 per hour, which (as noted before) is pretty darn good in the grand scheme of things.
By this time, however, I was also noticing the limitations of this particular regime. I had reached level 20, but each kill was worth less and less, and it didn't take much further thought to realize I was going to have to expand somewhere else. But where to go? I settled on either the first page of Valkurm, which would be risky, or the fifth page of Konstacht Highlands, which would mean more traveling. So for the fifth session, I tried them both...
However, that's the sort of thing better left for its own column in the future. My conclusion at this point was fairly positive: The first 20 levels of the game can be soloed with minimal difficulty, even if you don't yet have a subjob. That's enough to get to Jeuno, get a chocobo license, and with a little luck get some help getting said subjob items. But whether or not you could get straight to the subjob items yourself was another story.
I'm eager to hear what everyone thinks about this installment, as it was definitely a change of pace for me. If you loved it or hated it, voice your opinion, either via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving your thoughts in the comment section. There's more to be told about the experiment, but if no one cares, I'll let it lie. Either way, tune in next week for some community discussion highlights as we barrel toward the Final Fantasy XIV release!