Well, here we are now, at 1.18. Any better?
In a word, yes. A lot of the stuff that needed to be fixed has been, and a lot of the improvements the game has needed have come through. I've unfortunately only had a little time to play around with the update, but what I've played has been pretty uniformly positive. Positive except for the notable issues that the game was having with the login server right after the patch, but who actually expects patch day to go smoothly? (Other than me, I mean.)
Trimming up the combat
I freely admit that I wasn't sold on auto-attack. I was excited about what it could mean, certainly, but just the addition of auto-attack didn't really strike me as being something worth any excitement. I've grown accustomed to the flow of games like City of Heroes that expect you to manage your button presses on a regular basis. Was this change really going to matter that much?
To my surprise, yes. It most certainly does. And I think it has more to do with the removal of stamina and the overall changes to battle than just auto-attacks, but the constant attacks are a big part.
As I've discussed before, stamina didn't really quite work as intended -- it mostly meant players would frontload every attack on the bar in an explosion of damage, then plink away at any still-standing enemy with whatever meager attacks came up. A big part of what made Gladiator (and Phalanx) so awesome was that it meant you could attack without having to spend any stamina, thus weaving in several additional attacks. But it wasn't just a matter of stamina, it was also a matter of the simple fact that your character could only be doing so many things at any given time.
Having the constant swing of the auto-attack puts the battles on a tighter clock. It means that you're free to focus on pressing the buttons that matter as they matter, not standing and waiting so that you aren't locked out of a Shield Bash when you need it. Weaving in additional attacks and defenses feels more organic and reflexive, and the whole combat system feels more vital as a result.
Of course, it's going to take time to get accustomed to not hammering the "1" on my Naga quite so frequently. But it's worth the effort to change the habit. And the improved display of icons certainly doesn't hurt.
"The update really feels like the game is coming into its own, developing the sort of identity that it needs under the circumstances."
The big content addition is, of course, the Grand Companies. I had previously been under the misapprehension that you were only allowed to join one company; to my pleasant surprise, as it currently stands, you can join all three as a provisional member without restriction. This will no doubt change in the future, but for now it gives players a lot of freedom to really explore all that the companies have to offer.
To summarize briefly: Each company gives players an initial quest to obtain support, which winds up sending the player running over a fair chunk of territory and then fighting a fairly easy battle. After defeating the target, players are given the option to become a provisional recruit. The quest allows players to interact with some storyline characters and get a clearer sense of the nature of the company conflicts, but the fact that we don't have any sort of chocobo transport at the moment is definitely felt.
Once you've become a provisional member, companies will offer quests that award both skill points and company seals. I'm not yet sure exactly what the renewal timer on these quests looks like -- whether new ones are unlocked only by leveling, whether they reset on a regular basis, et cetera. The seals can be exchanged for several consumable items or for a variety of equipment pieces, with the latter having accordingly higher prices.
Some of the long-term utility here will depend on the availability of company marks over a long period of time. If there's no way to grab them other than one-time quests, several of the rewards become kind of undesirable (who would grab a consumable instead of a unique shield?). That having been said, it's a great dose of additional storyline content that doesn't subvert the main story quests, and it gives players that much more to play around with.
Other nifty bits
In addition to the changes to guildleves (which I've not yet played with, I'm sorry to say), pretty much every quest now rewards a substantial amount of skill points. This makes me a little sad that I completed a main story quest right before the patch, but it's still intensely useful going forward. It makes quests useful as something to do when you're out of levequests and need another means of advancement and exploration.
Casters and Archers got a slight drop in power with this update, with both being affected by the loss of perpetual attacks at range and the former getting some spells bumped in cost. They're not major drops in power, especially since the loss of permanent range brings the classes more in line with the other four martial classes when soloing. Cost increases are a bit annoying, naturally, but as it stands it was far too easy to essentially never run out of MP, and something had to change with the ease of regaining MP out of battle now. I'll probably have more to say about it the next time I really put some playtime in as a Thaumaturge.
The death penalty changes don't seem to be all that severe -- at a glance, it looks like a death lost me about 3% durability across the board. Unpleasant, sure, but seeing as my sword had gone from costing about 36,000 to repair down to 8,000, it's the sort of unpleasant I can live with. Repairs are cheaper and easier, and the fact that death affects durability makes the durability feel more relevant.
The patch as a whole
I've barely scratched the surface of everything included with this patch, but I've seen enough to know that this is what patch 1.16 should have been (and sadly was not). The update really feels like the game is coming into its own and is developing the sort of identity that it needs under the circumstances. There are more reasons for players to quest or follow the Grand Companies, more options for players of different playstyles, and more rewards for playing well and fighting cleanly.
Yes, there are a few downsides here and there. But as a whole, the game has improved immensely, and it's worth a dip back in if you've been on a break for a while. It's still not for everyone, but a lot has been improved or made cleaner. There's more reason to play, fewer Guide Dang Its that just stop up an enjoyable game flow, and the lowered level on main story quests make it easier to find some of the neater elements of the game.
As always, feel free to share your own feelings on the patch in the comments, or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I want to take a look at an interesting question that was posited to me back via email, talking about surviving in Vana'diel when it's just you and a partner.
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.