We’ve had about six weeks of Patch 3.3 so far, and we’re on the eve of the first major content addition to it with 3.35 coming tomorrow. As we approach the Palace of the Dead, I’ve been reflecting on the patch as a whole quite a bit, and I have to say that, in general, I think it’s the best patch of Heavensward so far, and probably one of the better ones since the game’s relaunch. Today I want to talk about some of the things that have really made this patch, so far, stand out for me. I won’t talk specifically about the Main Scenario, since I know there are still players out there who haven’t completed it, but I will say that I greatly enjoyed it.
When it comes to battle content, I don’t believe I’ve enjoyed a patch as much as this one since 2.1. I love both new dungeons. Sohr Khai is beautiful, with lovely music and fun boss fights, and as a Maelstrom zealot, Hullbreaker (Hard) has been a lot of fun for me as well. Both dungeons are also tuned to be just slightly more difficult than the last pair were on release, and they also have more significant mechanics, with the second boss of Hullbreaker really standing out here. Even if the fight itself is sort of annoying, I like that the mechanics actually matter and that you can’t just burn your way through them with high DPS.
The somewhat higher difficulty is also present in Final Steps of Faith and Weeping City of Mhach—and ultimately, I think that’s a really good thing. A lot of the content in Heavensward has earned the reputation of being fairly easy, and I think that leads to overall problems in terms of preparing players for more difficult content (namely Alexander Savage, but also Extreme/Minstrel’s Ballad trial battles). While there are many players who are accustomed to the greater challenges, one thing that’s been missing from the game for awhile is a smooth difficulty curve from dungeons to 24-man raids to Extreme battles and into 8-man raids. The game initially had a much more robust curve, but after 2.1, Hard/story mode primal battles had their difficulty significantly scaled back, leaving few stepping stones to ease players into harder content.
Final Steps of Faith has some pretty significant mechanics, and while the fight is more than doable in random Duty Finder groups, it does require that folks know how the fight works and that they pay attention to succeed. Performing competently in Final Steps does a solid job of preparing folks for Nidhogg’s Rage (Nidhogg EX), since many of the mechanics carry forward in concrete ways, something that we haven’t seen as much of in the Trial pairs for a long time. The slight increase in difficulty also serves to make Nidhogg really feel like the “final boss” of the Dragonsong War, even in the normal mode encounter, and that’s something that had been missing from other major battles like Leviathan or Ramuh, in the narrative sense, as the non-EX versions of the encounters were rather easy.
Weeping City, similarly, is tuned a lot more like the original Labyrinth of the Ancients was (before everyone out-geared it by an order of magnitude). Mistakes can be recovered from, but they are also more than capable of leading to wipes. Following Void Ark, the shift was jarring, and for awhile, I thought the developers had overdone it. Six weeks in, however, I’ve been delighted to see general raid awareness having increased in my Weeping City runs, which is something that really helps to prepare folks for tougher content. I’m crossing my fingers right now that the team follows the trend set in 3.3 by making the next wing of Alexander at least a bit more difficult (though I hope they also revisit its reward structure), so that the gap between the normal mode and the Savage mode isn’t so pronounced.
I’m also in love with Aquapolis. Most new types of content we’ve gotten have been hit or miss. Treasure Maps had a pretty minor impact, but were a positive addition, while other things like Hunts and Diadem quickly devolved into mindless zergfests. Aquapolis, in my mind, has built on and expanded Treasure Maps into something FFXIV’s really been missing: fun, laid-back, content for smaller groups of players/Free Companies, and a way for players who aren’t as big into Crafting and Gathering to make money.
The gil rewards are solid, but I think the main draw for me is just how fun it is. Each room draws from a seemingly larger variety of enemy types than Treasure Maps themselves have ever had, and with the i180 level sync, the whole thing is kept from feeling too easy. All hell can break loose if Arges spawns, who hits surprisingly hard for casual content (and he can sometimes spawn when the tank is still holding a whole mess of other critters!), and the excitement of chasing down Treasure Goblins gives me fond memories of other titles like Diablo and Phantasy Star Online. The random nature of the portal appearances and chamber unlocks seems to be tuned—just random enough that you don’t feel like you’ll never get to the 7th Chamber, but not so common that the whole thing quickly becomes rote.
In many ways, Aquapolis reminds me of Burning Circle battles from FFXI—something a smaller group of friends can do to make a profit together, though thankfully with a much lower barrier of entry, since Dragonskin Maps are pretty easy to get ahold of. I’ve been doing weekly Aquapolis runs with some of my FC-mates, and we’ve been having a blast. I’m hoping that the team continues to add new and updated rewards to this as time goes on, so that it’ll stay fun going into the future. Hopefully, we’ll also get new “treasure dungeons” as time goes on (such as with whatever new maps 4.0 brings), too, with new enemies and such.
Outside of battle content, Patch 3.3 has added a lot of various other things to do related to the story, including a new side story related to the Warring Triad and a lovely “retrospective” on the story of the Dragonsong War as a whole. The Warring Triad quests are pretty quick, but they seem to be setting up future primal battles, so I highly suggest checking them out!
One of the things that really sold me on this patch, and Heavensward as a whole, though, has been the retrospective side quest. With how the Main Scenario unfolds, over the course of a couple years in chunks every few months, I often forget little details here and there even if I remember the general thrust of the plot. These quests contain no battle content or much in the way of excitement (though there’s plenty of that in the 3.3 Main Scenario, in my opinion), but instead offer somber reflection on the events that brought us to the War’s end.
I made the admittedly idiosyncratic decision to avoid over-reliance on teleportation while I went through the questline, instead choosing to revisit the Heavensward zones as I did the first time—without flight and with an eye toward seeing interesting vistas and places I’d forgotten about, or in some cases, never seen in the first place. I definitely don’t regret the choice at all, and it’s actually inspired me to do the same thing for future story content, as part of me has always missed the significance that travel had in FFXI.
Of course, Patch 3.3 also gave us the next stage of the Anima storyline. This was one of the more grueling stages we’ve had in awhile for me personally, as I burnt myself out long ago on pure dungeon Tomestone grinds during the i100 Animus stage of the Zodiac saga. However, this stage is much more player friendly than the corresponding Novus stage of ARR, with the random elements of your progression being bonuses rather than the loss of materia that might cost hundreds of thousands of gil. That overall makes progression feel positive, and at times, a little exciting, even if the grind itself is fairly arduous.
I’m currently working on my second i240 Anima while also trying to catch up on a newly-risen desire to have an Anima weapon for Dark Knight, so even if I dread the grind to some degree, they still haven’t gone crazy enough that they’ve stopped me from enjoying myself. I do really think there should have been at least one other avenue for obtaining Umbrite, though: the equivalent Alexandrite could be obtained through a daily quest, tomestones (to buy more maps), through FATEs, and through Hunts. It would have made the grind a lot less numbing, I think.
Last and most certainly not least, since a huge portion of my time has been spent in this part of the game since 3.3, this patch has been a shot in the arm for Crafting and Gathering. Throughout most of Heavensward, gearing and using DoH and DoL has largely been defined by scarcity. Materials for recipes have often difficult to come by, whether gated behind weekly Gathering/Crafting scrips (both of them, in fact!), and many of those materials were needed to obtain the gear necessary to effectively craft high end recipes. And if there wasn’t a materials gate, advancement was stalled by rather large time sinks, such as the almost 300 Blue Gathering Tokens needed to unlock the Folklore Tomes for gathering or the weekslong Scrip grinds to get full sets of gear for any DoH/DoL class (the accessories for which are so poorly itemized the time investment is horrendously longer than it needs to be).
The one-two punch of Patches 3.2 and 3.3 have served as a reset button on all of that, though. In Patch 3.2, key materials for high end recipes were available much as they had been in the past—via tomestones, which served the important function of hooking non-crafters and non-gatherers into the overall economy. This allows for more demand for the goods crafters make, meaning they need more of the materials gatherers collect, and both crafters and gatherers then have strong incentive to gear up themselves.
Patch 3.3 then introduced new gear for both crafters and gatherers, and instead of the onerous materials gating we saw in 3.0 and 3.1, we now have principle materials—glass fibers—that come from various avenues, including Daily Quests, Aquapolis, and Desynthesis, which has largely been ignored for most of Heavensward. Additionally, the process of gearing up for fresh 60 crafters and gatherers now has suitable stepping stones with the addition of the Carbonweave sets, and for those wishing to seriously pursue crafting or gathering, materia for pentamelding is now obtainable in player-friendly ways through Daily Quests, Red Scrips, and Aquapolis, in addition to the more traditional method of spiritbonding (which the Carbonweave sets actually make worthwhile).
In many ways, in ARR, my server was a crafting hub, with a pretty big stable of well-known crafters and tons of people crafting whenever you went to a city Market Board—something that had all but disappeared recently—and I’m happy to say that I’m starting to see a lot more of that scene again—folks who stepped away from crafting and gathering in Heavensward seem to be picking it up again, and I’m seeing crowds of crafters in the cities again—something I haven’t really seen much of since the initial rush to level to 60 following 3.0’s launch.
Oh, and the Moogle Beast Tribe quests are great. Seriously, if you haven’t done them, get to it! The story is enjoyable, the quests themselves are fun, and there are some fun rewards, too. Even if you grew to hate Moogles after Churning Mists, there’s a lot to enjoy and I think the team really did mean it when they talked about wanting to redeem them for the playerbase.
In general, I’m hoping that many things in 3.3 are indicative of what we’ll continue to see in 3.4, 3.5, and beyond. The battle content finally has a little bite again, and the developers seem, at least judging by this patch alone, interested in preparing people for more difficult content in subtle ways. The side story content is great (though I have yet to touch the Hildebrand quests—I’m waiting to do those all at once toward the expansion’s end, when we have a content lull), and I actually like that they seem to be setting up future primal battles here instead of the Main Scenario, allowing for better pacing and narrative structure. And, given how much I’ve always loved FFXIV’s crafting, I’m overjoyed that the team seems to have moved away from the extreme scarcity model we saw early on: I just hope that they intend to progress things in this direction, rather than returning to heavy reliance on Scrips and Favors for 3.4.