Around this time last week, Square Enix took down their Final Fantasy XIV Online servers for a few hours in preparation for the first patch to coincide with the Shadowbringers expansion released on the PC and PlayStation 4 a few months ago. There were three clear intentions with Patch 5.1 – Vows of Virtue, Deeds of Cruelty: deliver the first wave of post-launch content, provide balancing to classes, and implement a bevvy of other tweaks to gameplay mechanics and systems. Having had a week to try out most of what this patch had to offer, I would like to share my favourite and least favourite in-game experiences so far.
The Copied Factory – Nier: Automata Collaboration 24-Player Raid is Absolutely Fantastic… with a caveat
Every expansion of Final Fantasy XIV brings players three 24-player raids which are spread out across the post-launch development cycle. While A Realm Reborn and Heavensward had raids that were more ingrained in FFXIV lore, Stormblood was the first to turn them into collaboration opportunities with other Square Enix published properties – both Final Fantasy and non-Final Fantasy related.
Last time the director of Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics, Yasumi Matsuno, was brought in as a guest curator for the trilogy titled “Return to Ivalice” – featuring characters, locations and bosses from the PS2-era RPG. With Shadowbringers the raids come under the header YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse, with Nier: Automata director Yoko Taro and producer Yosuke Saito serving as guest curators this time around. It is hard to exactly describe my excitement in the lead up to Patch 5.1 dropping because of this raid. Nier: Automata was my standout game for 2017 and while its fast-paced gameplay was definitely appealing – its storyline, characters, aesthetic and most of all its music have stuck with me for more than two years now.
So ignoring everything else the moment I first logged in – I rushed through the storyline’s attempt at bringing together Norvrandt withThe Copied Factory which players are tasked with exploring alongside the android 2P. Like with ‘Return to Ivalice’, they made a decent attempt at merging the worlds, and is worth investing some time into rather than skipping and jumping immediately in. My first reaction the moment I entered the raid… “Wow!”, especially with all the callbacks littered even the introductory flyover of the level. While there is only so much storyline which can be crammed into the hecticness of 24-player combat, the narrative and its surprises throughout and after the battle kept me on edge, and genuinely has me eagerly awaiting the next content. As for what the surprises are…. you will have to play to find out.
Nier: Automata’s rapid-paced action gameplay takes a very different approach towards combat than Final Fantasy XIV, however the development team have ensured that each boss battle delivers a Nier-inspired twist as the Warriors of Darkness trek through the factory. Expect bullet hell segments where you need some quick-thinking to dodge enemy attacks, to be watching your opponents movements closely as they hurl a new attack at you, or in a normally blind spot beside/behind you as a surprise machination threatens readies to crush you. They unfortunately, whether through QTE or through actual gameplay, haven’t replicated any of the game’s flight unit battles – but I hope to see them take things even further next time around. Perhaps wishful thinking on my part.
The gear players are rewarded with is all YoRHa inspired, and I would definitely recommend running once each week to nab yourself a new piece of i460 loot. For those who just want to glam their characters out, defeating the final boss will earn you, among other loot, three boxes containing a full 2B outfit suitable for any class. Something fans of Nier: Automata will definitely want to nab themselves if lucky, although with so many people wearing the outfit around in-game, expect it to be an overused glam in the coming weeks.
Among the loot are multiple Orchestron Rolls featuring the tracks sound in the raid and surrounding areas. Most of the music comes direct from Nier: Automata including Song of the Ancients (Atonement), Alien Manifestation and arguably my favourite, Bipolar Nightmare. Fittingly to kick off this collaboration, the final boss also receives a new song which remixes the iconic Final Fantasy theme (Prelude) with the Nier: Automata theme song (Weight of the World), combining into a song you will want to replay the battle to enjoy again and again.
As mentioned above, there is a caveat with The Copied Factory, which at least in my experience is a little more prominent than Return to Ivalice. If you are a regular player of Final Fantasy XIV, I would always recommend you dive into this content as early as possible to undertake a real authentic “blind” run. In my opinion, while this is not the quickest way of completing the content, you get to enjoy learning how to take down each boss with twenty-three other people who are equally unaware of what to expect and arent just running it for loot as quickly as possible. While the Ivalice Raids were quite challenging even a few weeks after being released, to the point where it was not surprising to have at least a couple of wipes each run, after 48 hours of going live, I was consistently finding parties that could breeze through the content. This is of course only from my own experience, but I would argue that the difficulty of this raid was a little bit on the easier side, and I would certainly welcome more of a challenge in Part 2.
All said and done, this was to me a highlight of the patch.
The New Dungeon is One of Final Fantasy XIV’s Prettiest
As with virtually every major patch, 5.1 provides a new Level 80 dungeon to explore known as The Grand Cosmos. Despite its name indicating some form of outer space journey, this dungeon takes the form of a grand and colourful palace, where the player and their companions must journey to meet a mage who had taken up residence there – navigating its gardens and halls to the throne room. There are many picturesque dungeons in Final Fantasy XIV for those looking to admire digital architecture or a nice spot to take a photo. Yet at least in the last couple of years, this to me is one of Square Enix’s nicest, with great attention to detail and making what could be a rather generic RPG environment into one that I really enjoyed exploring.
This is the only new content that is implemented directly via the main story, and comes quite early in it as well. The rest of the main story for 5.1, while continuing to build up the post-Shadowbringers narrative, mostly a set of Point A –> Point B encounters, with the exception of a very memorable final mission which offers a solid challenge.
New Game + is NIFTY… Especially for those who story skipped
If you have wanted to reminisce about certain moments in your character’s history as the Warrior of Light, your only option in the past has been to rewatch cutscenes in ‘The Unending Journey‘ tome contained within inns or player houses. Alternatively if you jumped ahead a couple of expansions using a journey skip, there would be content you would have very likely not experienced yet. New Game + is an answer to these problems, allowing you to send your character (with full level/equipment) to a pre-determined point in time (known as chapters) to experience the story from that point in time. This is accessible to anyone who has completed the main scenario quest “Heavensward”.
At the moment this mode isn’t in a final state, lacking the A Realm Reborn scenario along with other side-story quests which will be updated at an undetermined date in the future. The lack of ARR content is arguably the most prohibitive factor in New Game +, as this is the content that for long-time players, wouldn’t have been played through in more than half a decade. The system is limiting to some degree as well, preventing you from using the market boards, retainers and undertaking duties you wouldn’t have completed in the part of the story you are on. As someone who spends a lot of time on the marketboard – not having access to the first two would be a major turnoff. That said, you are able to suspend New Game + should you wish to access later content, so it is not a complete deal breaker.
“Housing Savage” Hindered by a Bug… FOR SOME
If you are on one of the busier servers, player housing plots can be highly coveted, especially for those with the Gil to upsize to a medium or large plot given there are far fewer available for players and Free Companies (The FFXIV equivalent of guilds) alike. Patch 5.1 opened up an additional three wards in most servers, providing a further 480 plots. While this may sound like a lot, and granted that many small plots will remain available for awhile, even in my quieter server of Kujata the availability of even the less popular large plots are scarce.
While not to say this was a worldwide issue, there was an issue experienced by some – including myself – accessing the patch servers following the release of Patch 5.1 and the new FFXIV Launcher ” ”Unable to download patch files. ”. Unfortunately this meant more than one person I know missed out on relocating to their desired plot, and ultimately required a VPN to resolve at the time.
That all said, I do commend Square Enix for meeting the demand and implementing more player housing. Sadly this Lalafell didn’t have nearly enough Gil to relocate.
Class Improvements are much welcome
Following some small optimisations to certain classes – particularly Ninja, Summoner and Samurai in one of the smaller post-launch patches, Patch 5.1 implements sweeping reworks to these three classes in particular. As someone who shifted from a long-time Ninja main to a White Mage main over the last couple of months due to the high-complexity for low-reward of Ninja, I have enjoyed getting back into my original DPS class with a new, streamlined approach towards combat. These changes will mean you will likely need to alter your rotation or approach to these classes, they are much more rewarding to play in my opinion both in terms of casual content and endgame content where DPS, rotations and your approach are essential.
Refinement of Crafting and Gathering Jobs Makes THem More Approachable
Crafting and Gathering has never really been my cup of tea in Final Fantasy XIV. The systems in the past have been more finnicky than I had the time/patience for and I often relied on friends to craft items for me. Seeking to “improve the gathering and crafting experience for both new and veteran players”, Patch 5.1 is their first steps in changing the system through the removal of certain actions, adjustments of those that remain, user interface changes and more. Ultimately when it comes to crafters and gatherers, they are a lot more unified between jobs than before.
In terms of personal highlights, not having a speed debuff on the Sneak ability when gathering, and having it auto-cast, is very much welcome. Arguably one of my favourite additions through is the addition of a quick gathering mode (excluding some gathering spots), allowing you to gather items at a much faster pace when you urgently need them. Looking at a whole lot of crafter and gatherer jobs at level 1? Experience boosts have also been put in place. I put this to the test, and was able to level a Botanist from Level 1 –> 50 in a matter of a few hours.
Given these changes, I will definitely be reconsidering my stance on not levelling crafters and gatherers, and look forward to the future work they do with them.
Fellowships are set…. and potentially forget
Previously outside of being in a party with or standing next to a group of people, the only way to have conversations with them is to be in the same Free Company or part of the same Linkshell. Given the limitations on server with the former and capacity with the crossworld variants of the latter, there has been no in-game means for a large group of people to communicate across the same datacenter. Implemented in Patch 5.1 is the Fellowships System, allowing up to 1,000 people to join the same group (up to a maximum of 10) and access a limited set of communication tools.
Anyone is free to create their own fellowships without restriction. This in itself a limiting factor given how many fellowships you can find listed for the same topic, with only a few people each. However, for pre-existing communities for a particular country, an specific in-game interest group, or maybe a streamer on a data center, this does have a more practical use. But if you join ten groups with only a couple of people each and little variation between them, I don’t see as much benefit.
Despite allowing membership of up to 1,000 players, Fellowships are very limited in what they allow members to do. With no chat functionality like other in-game communication channels, the best comparison would be to a simple bulletin board system. Admins of the channel can post polls and notices for members to read, while all members can post messages in an clunky format with only 100 allowed before auto-delete kicks in.
While it does have its uses, I just don’t see myself using this at all, as all the communities I am apart of already communicate through the much more accessible Discord service.
No New Trial, But an Extreme Worth Striving Towards Completing
Similar to when Shinryu EX was introduced in Stormblood, Patch 5.1 brings the much harder extreme battle The Minstrel’s Ballad: Hades’s Elegy (Hades EX), a multi-part epic which will test the skills you’ve honed during Shadowbringers and then some.
Extreme and Savage fights are not for everyone, especially since at this stage it is possible you will require hours of practice, failure and frustration to clear. I however found it to be a really enjoyable fight, and one that I think can still be enjoyed going in blind with a group of mates.
First Impressions on Final Fantasy XIV online Patch 5.1
Final Fantasy XIV Patch 5.1 is a good first start to the postgame content for Shadowbringers, and while there are a few areas which I believe deserves improvement in future updates such as the Fellowships System, and will be receiving updates later on, keeping on this trajectory I look forward to seeing what will be delivered in subsequent updates. The first chapter of YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse in particular was a highlight, and I, even now, eagerly await the second chapter expected in Patch 5.3.
While the majority of the content has already been released, top-tier statics still have the Alexander Ultimates to look forward to, along with a boost to the level cap for Blue Mage which will likely see players running around the Heavensward areas shooting sardines again!
This should not be considered a full overview of everything implemented in this update (as I am still working my way through it), with a full patch notes accessible here.