How Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is welcoming new blood while satisfying the old
The upcoming expansion carefully balances pleasing diehard vets and welcoming newcomers.
These days, it's quite normal for any huge online game (whether it be MMO or MOBA) to become so bogged down in a sea of updates that it becomes almost unfathomable for newcomers to join. This is so often the case but rarely is it effectively atoned for by the developers behind these giant online experiences. This is partly down to the delicate practice of bringing newcomers up to speed without compromising the experience for the players who have sunk their heart and soul into the game for years already.
Square Enix sent finder to Hamburg for a one-day event that included a hands-on session with Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood and a lengthy chat with the series director, Naoki Yoshida.
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That's the challenge Naoki Yoshida (or Yoshi-P to his friends and fans) and the team behind Final Fantasy XIV are facing with the latest expansion, Stormblood. Their methods might be unconventional but they have a fair reason behind the approach they're taking.
When Stormblood releases on 20 June 2017, returning fans will not be short of new additions and features. Stormblood will introduce two new job classes (Samurai as melee DPS and Red Mage as ranged DPS), a new story set in Ala Mhigo, a new level cap, underwater areas, new primals, new dungeons, new raids – the list goes on and on. However, Stormblood also services new players (or sproutlings, as the community calls them) with two new purchasable items, the Scenario Shortcut and the Job Level Boost, and a simplified battle system display.
The Scenario Shortcut fast tracks new players through the story content of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, allowing them to pick up where the new content kicks off, effectively putting them on par with their seasoned peers. To get new players up to scratch, this item grants them a Chocobo with a randomly generated name, a Grand Company Enrolment (a faction the player would normally choose at level 20) and access to the Unending Journey (a way to view all cutscenes from A Realm Reborn and Heavensward to catch up on the lore). In addition to this, the Scenario Shortcut will check as completed all the main quests and a selection of the sidequests normally required to reach Stormblood.
While the Scenario Shortcut brings players up to speed on the game's lore, the Job Level Boost item brings the player's character up to scratch, instantly boosting their job level to 60.
Yoshida likens the situation to climbing a mountain. If you approach the foot of the summit and your friends are already two-thirds of the way up, it's hard to fathom trekking the distance already travelled by your friends and you can't expect everyone to wait months, even years, for you to reach their position. Whether you start next week or today, you'll forever be chasing the horizon as your friends power forward.
The Scenario Shortcut and Job Level Boost provide a way for late arrivals to play catch up. They're the cable car to the top of the mountain.
Still, you can't just drop newcomers so far into the game and expect it all to go smoothly. In the same way, you can't throw someone out of a helicopter with some basic climbing gear and expect them to keep up with their fellow, seasoned summiteers.
The first step to somewhat restricting this speedy approach is by making both new items paywalled. The option is there if you wish to gun ahead, but it's going to cost you (roughly $32 for the Job Level Boost and roughly $25 for the Scenario Shortcut). The second step is to limit the Job Level Boost item "Tales of Adventure" to one per account for the foreseeable future. Paywalling the item might be a questionable approach but it's totally optional and more of a strategic move to stop the servers being flooded with level 60 sproutlings.
The Job Level Boost also can't be used on Stormblood's two new jobs, Samurai and Red Mage. Those jobs will have to be levelled up regardless of whether you're a returning fan or a newbie.
Despite the steps taken to carefully balance the implementation of these new items, it's bound to ruffle a few feathers (although, the community has been, in my experience, one of the most welcoming MMO communities around). With this in mind, we asked Yoshida how Square Enix reached an amicable middle ground for newcomers and veterans alike.
According to Yoshida, the decision to introduce these boost items was not made in a vacuum. Discussions with the Final Fantasy community have been ongoing for some time now. Rather than say "take it or leave it", the team has worked closely with the community over time to ensure that Final Fantasy XIV has a sturdy foundation on which to implement both boost items.
All things considered, there's no cure-all for naivety, as Yoshida explains: "With this Job Level Boost, what we want players to understand is not just skill rotation, but what role each job fills in the Final Fantasy XIV universe. For example, say someone is interested in the Monk because they think it looks cool. They have to understand that in Final Fantasy XIV the Monk has to be protected by the Tank. The Tank must have all the attention on it before the Monk can deal its damage. If you don't understand that, we'll have level 60 Monks running ahead of the Tank, defeating their purpose."
That's the only hurdle in Yoshida's eyes, educating newcomers of their job roles before setting them loose with more experienced players. To combat this, players who utilise the Job Level Boost potion are directed towards the Hall of Novices, a series of role-based challenges that acclimate new players to the game's various and complex job and role combinations.
Some will baulk at the cost of the available boost items. As it stands they will collectively cost roughly as much as the game itself (local pricing for these items has not yet been announced). But it's important to remember that they're entirely optional. There's also the fact that Square Enix has rejigged the levelling system in the areas previous to Stormblood, streamlining the journey to Stormblood for new players.
So, you can walk up the mountain for free, or pay for a seat on the Stormblood express. It's your choice.
Stay tuned for more from our interview with Naoki Yoshida on all things Stormblood.