It's hard to really pin an exact date on the anniversary for FFXI over here, since the game was released after it had already been out in Japan for quite some time. (And if you haven't seen it yet, there's an excellent history of FFXI over in Japan available here. Interesting stuff, especially given the woes that Final Fantasy XIV has had since launch. But we're talking about FFXI here, so cool it.) But we can certainly pin an anniversary on the last time we had an expansion -- in a month, it will have been four years since the last expansion for the game was launched.
Yes, I know, we've gotten the addon packs, which are to expansions what a wheel is to a car. A single mission chain with a reward at the end for 10 bucks is not the same thing as an expansion with new areas, missions, jobs, items, and systems for three times that amount. No, moogle powers do not change that.
The obvious riposte, of course, is that the game is old, but EverQuest is substantially older and is currently launching its 18th expansion. Mind you, the game has only been out for 12 years. The age of the game is certainly not what's causing us to be four years out from an expansion.
Now, I'm not going to claim that I want the game to be churning out expansions as rapidly as EverQuest. The pace of a new expansion every year and a half or two years worked wonderfully, giving players enough time to adapt to any and all of the changes while still leaving the promise of more over the next horizon. But the fact that we've gone this long with nothing new has really hurt the enthusiasm even among the existing playerbase because while we'll get some retextured monsters here and there and a couple of alternate versions of existing zones, we're a long way from seeing something genuinely new.
In many ways, that's always been one of the great strengths of FFXI. Each new expansion layered on new elements, but at the same time it didn't feel like it was a quick layer of paint on top of a fundamentally broken house. New areas felt genuinely new and different, and new jobs invariably used mechanics that fit with previous jobs but still felt unique. There was something new just around the corner each time.
Addons do a poor job of conveying that feeling, in no small part because by definition they're finding creative uses for old content. They're nice, and I have nothing against seeing more of them in the future, but they're extremely poor substitutes for full expansions. Abyssea has certainly done journeyman service toward making itself a fixture of the game, but that doesn't change how much we as players need something new to enjoy. We need new jobs, we need new regions, and we need new elements of the game.
Unfortunately, the game is now running hard against the simple fact that the PlayStation 2 is no longer approaching the end of its life cycle but has seen that end come and go. The console is nearly ubiquitous, but it's really up to the limits of what the hardware can manage, and Square is clearly loath to actively cut it off. Disregarding the obvious fact that buying a computer to run the game would cost pocket change, I still suspect there are a lot of players who have gotten very used to the game on the console, and in many ways this is probably the right call.
Still, none of that changes the fact that we desperately need a new expansion. We need something new to aim for, we need something to bring some life back into the lower-level areas (yes, you can level solo now, but that's not conveying even a fraction of what the game is worth), and we need to be served something to make us feel as if the game is actually moving forward. For all of Abyssea's strength, making the ending essentially a shaggy dog story for an older expansion was just a reminder that Vana'diel is knee-deep in stagnation.
Who knows? Maybe that's why the roadmap cuts off after March. I can certainly hope.
As always, thoughts and opinions are welcome in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, I'm going to take a look at finally hitting a milestone in my game time -- and some retrospectives and considerations that go along with that.
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.