Eorzea Diaries: Defenders and Ninjas

When Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launched last year, it was promised that the game would enjoy significant new content updates every three months — and it’s a promise that Naoki Yoshida and his team has kept.

Not only that, but between the three-monthly big patches — which tend to advance the game’s main story, introduce new dungeons and endgame encounters as well as numerous other bells and whistles — the FFXIV team has been generous in providing players with a bunch of smaller updates in between times, helping keep the game fresh and interesting as well as improving the general quality of life for everyone playing.

The last of these smaller patches to hit the game introduced a few little tweaks to gameplay as well as the enjoyable but infuriating collectathon that is the Sightseeing Log — a system that finally makes the weather in the game relevant, but which in the process will cause you to curse it on a regular basis — but now, as we approach July, we’re looking forward to the next major content update: patch 2.3, known as Defenders of Eorzea.

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Defenders of Eorzea is bringing with it, as usual, a bunch of new and exciting things, primarily for level cap players to enjoy as per usual. The headline feature is the continuation of A Realm Reborn’s main scenario beyond the original game’s “final” battle against Ultima Weapon and the subsequent encounters with Good King Moggle Mog XII and Leviathan. This time around, the headline villain is Ramuh, the imposingly bearded old man of lightning, and a Primal whose existence has been teased since A Realm Reborn launched as you encountered the woodland Sylph tribe and their Tempered counterparts.

Alongside the continuation of the main scenario and its battle against Ramuh, the other parallel plot threads that were introduced in earlier patches and which are proving popular are continuing, too. The “Hildibrand” questline, which reintroduces a popular character from Final Fantasy XIV’s 1.0 incarnation and includes a fan-favourite battle against Gilgamesh complete with a remix of his battle theme from Final Fantasy V, is set to proceed on its humorous, surreal way, and while Yoshida and company tell us we won’t be seeing any more of Gilgamesh just yet after his defeat at our hands in 2.2, there will be another significant battle for players to enjoy.

One of the most significant pieces of new content coming in 2.3 is the second part of the Crystal Tower 24-player raid dungeon that was introduced in patch 2.1. Labyrinth of the Ancients, the first part, proved to be a popular dungeon despite the occasional ego problems of its inhabitants — the more people you get together, the more likely someone’s going to want to start showing off, it seems — and the new raid is likely to follow suit, particularly as it looks set to drop some valuable equipment that will help players continue upgrading their characters without having to set foot inside the super-hard Binding Coil of Bahamut endgame dungeon unless they’re feeling particularly brave or confident.

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Player vs. Player (PvP) content is also set to get a shot in the arm with the addition of the Frontline system, which allows up to 72 players — three teams of 24 each — to battle one another in large-scale conflicts rather than the four-on-four arena-based battles in the current Wolves’ Den PvP area. It sounds like an interesting new way to play, but like the current implementation of PvP there’s absolutely no requirement for any players to participate if they don’t want to engage in competitive play. The choice is always there if you want it, but out in the world you have no fear of getting ganked by someone with equipment considerably better than yours.

Looking more into the long-term, E3 saw Yoshida and the FFXIV team teasing what the future held for A Realm Reborn once Defenders of Eorzea was safely in players’ hands — July 8, if you were wondering. There are lots of interesting things planned for the game, but among the most notable news was the confirmation that a new class is coming: Rogue, which, like the other classes in the game, can be upgraded into its advanced Job form — in this case, Ninja — at level 30.

Rogues are a DPS class who fight up close using paired daggers. Those who have seen the main scenario of patch 2.2 (Through the Maelstrom) through to its conclusion will have already had a preview of how these characters fight thanks to the unusual fighting style adopted by main cast member Thancred and newcomer Yugiri — it turns out both Thancred and Yugiri are Rogues at heart.

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Rogues have the opportunity to coat their weapons in various poisons, and Ninjas add the ability to use ninjutsu magic to the mix. Interestingly, the use of ninjutsu is subject to failure if you don’t use it effectively — only certain combinations of abilities will yield results, otherwise your attempt to do something flashy will simply fizzle out. While all characters have abilities that can miss or fail to apply a buff or debuff, this aspect of playing as a Ninja is particularly noteworthy in that it’s dependent on the player’s own skill and knowledge more than the behind-the-scenes number-crunching.

Yoshida noted that Rogues and Ninjas will distinguish themselves from Pugilists and Monks by requiring less in the way of movement. Pugilists and Monks are dependent on good positioning in order to strike from behind or the sides of an enemy; Rogues and Ninjas, meanwhile, will be more dependent on their abilities such as poisons and ninjutsu. It should be an interesting class to play as, from the sound of things.

This doesn’t get away from one important thing, though: it’s another DPS class, of which the game already has five: Thaumaturge/Black Mage, Arcanist/Summoner, Archer/Bard, Pugilist/Monk and Lancer/Dragoon. Queue times for the Duty Finder on DPS classes are already very long depending on what time of the day you’re playing due to the fact DPS classes outnumber tanks and healers considerably. Adding a sixth DPS class into the mix isn’t going to help that, though it remains to be seen whether it’s going to cause more problems or simply keep things the way they are.

Never fear, though; new tank and healer jobs are on the way — we just might not be seeing them just yet. Yoshida suggested that they’re in the works for the game’s first official expansion, which is set to finally be officially revealed and announced at Fanfest later in the year. What we can expect from the expansion is currently largely shrouded in mystery, but a couple of things are known already: firstly, it will involve, in some form or another, the ability for players to fly around the game world; and secondly, it’s Yoshida and the team’s hope that they’ll be able to provide an amount of new content comparable to that found in the base game of A Realm Reborn when it launched.

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The latter in particular is an ambitious claim, but it’s not unheard of for an MMO to expand so significantly through a premium expansion pack, and geographically speaking A Realm Reborn is actually one of the smaller MMOs out there. There’s certainly scope for our adventures to spread across more of the game world — it just remains to be seen where we’ll be going next.

A Realm Reborn has exciting times ahead, then; not bad for a game that (re)launched in an era where more and more people are branding the subscription-based MMO model as “dead”. As I write this, the game is in rude health and looks set to continue that way for some time yet — it’s testament to the hard work that Yoshida and the team put into completely revamping the disastrous 1.0 that players are sticking around as long as they are — and that new players are flowing into the game at a pleasingly constant rate, too, thanks to the cross-platform console releases on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

While it’s unlikely to ever scale the dizzy heights of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, it looks like A Realm Reborn will be with us for some time yet. And if the new content continues to be of the high quality we’ve seen in previous major updates, long may that continue; it remains one of the most enjoyable, accessible and fun MMOs out there, and if you’re a Final Fantasy fan yet to dip your toe into A Realm Reborn’s crystalline waters, there’s no time like the present to get involved.

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