Following a stale catch-up patch and a poorly received raid tier, Final Fantasy: Heavensward released patch 3.2, Gears of Change. This patch introduced new raid content, story quests, dungeons, crafts, and a tutorial system for new players among other things. But is Gears of Change enjoyable enough to breathe life into a wounded community?
This newest raid tier eschews Alex: Gordias’s precedent of high DPS in favor of testing player skill with a series of mechanics. Fights are fast paced, and require constant reaction by every member of the raid. The end result of this is that the fights are varied and enjoyable. We’re not just killing a stationary robot anymore (I’m looking at you, A4S). We’re running around the room dodging bombs, turning into birds, getting imprisoned, chasing down a cat, and avoiding gigantic bowling balls as they roll around the arena.
That isn’t to say that DPS checks are gone for good. The very first Savage turn has a significant gatekeeper in the form of Hummelfaust, where my decently competent group has spent a decent amount of time wiping this first week. Healing can also get slightly tricky with the new Tank stat changes, but still pales in comparison to its Gordias counterpart. It’s clear that Square wants us to focus more on the mechanics this raid tier, which will be good news for many Midcore groups out there.
Main Scenario Quest:
I blew through the new portion of the main quest in a couple of hours one afternoon in a desperate attempt to unlock my new dungeons. I’ve never been an enormous fan of questing—something about the mundane action of fetch quests, reading through dialogue, and ultimately having to run back and forth just to progress the story drives me nuts. That being said, the Final Fantasy 14 team has really done an excellent job with the story since 3.0. Patch 3.2 is no different. Without spoiling anything, there are several interesting twists in the plot, and the stakes are raised in several ways throughout the questline. I’m genuinely interested to see what happens next, and how Eorzea changes as a result of the events that transpired.
The new dungeons are visually stunning, but Square has once again made it clear that they don’t want people doing big pulls in dungeons. Small mobs of 2-3 monsters are gated, and tanks can’t do the gigantic pulls of dungeons like Brayflox HM or Dzemael Darkhold. As a healer this drives me insane, because it’s way too easy to heal through 2-3 mobs. Dungeons were a lot more fun when I could AoE a huge mob down AND have a few close calls with the tank. That being said, most average players struggle with the DPS, tanking skills, and healing skills required to deal with such a huge group of enemies, and it’s clear that Square is trying to avoid Duty Finder Disaster by dividing the dungeons up in this way.
The Sephirot Extreme trial further reinforces the Mechanics theme of this patch. The fight has no DPS check to speak of (although I saw enrage in the duty finder group I partied up with to get that screenshot…), and heals are light to moderate. If your group can do mechanics, and do their jobs on an average level, the fight is very manageable. In spite of the lack of DPS or healing challenge, Sephirot is incredibly enjoyable to clear and farm. The theme, music, and overall immersion of the fight leads to an encounter that, while easy, never gets stale.
Hall of the Novice:
Square has never left Final Fantasy players with much in the way of tutorials. Players are thrown into this massive MMO with very little feedback or advice in the game itself. For awhile Square tried to remedy this with Guildhests— mini mission designed to teach players basic mechanics— but this wasn’t seen as very effective by the playerbase. Enter The Hall of the Novice. Players are introduced to this optional series of missions early on in the game in an effort to teach them their respective classes. I haven’t done all of the missions, but the few I have done have been very well designed and do seem like they would be useful for new players. My one gripe with this is that the missions force you to sit through many lines of introductory text, with no way to skip them. Because of this, it feels like the missions involve more waiting than actual learning. Still, this is a step in the right direction for Square, and hopefully it helps new players out.
Unfortunately, the Hall of the Novice is tied to something else Square implemented to help new players— the Novice Network. The Novice Network gives new players a way to interact directly with a channel of supposedly seasoned players. There are several huge issues with this. First, the requirements to be a mentor aren’t stringent enough. In my brief encounter with the Network, I found a host of people who I know need a lot of work on their own gameplay before they should worry about anyone else. Square only requires that potential Mentors complete 1,000 dungeons and have 3 maxed classes (one of each role) in order to become a Mentor. Neither of these requirements creates good players—dungeons can be run and completed by even the worst players in the game, and anyone can have a level 60 class if they’re willing to put time into the game. The end result of this is that the Novice Network is mostly filled with mentors who aren’t very good at the game, but think that they are, and a host of people simply there for the items or crown next to their name.
Because the entry requirements are so light, there are too many mentors and not enough novices. Novice questions in the chat are generally greeted with 20 answers, and the subject at hand usually devolves into an argument between mentors. Not exactly a good environment for a brand new player. In the future I’d like to see a more personalized novice/mentor system, but this might be harder to implement than I realize.
There are of course other aspects of this patch that I haven’t covered, but overall Patch 3.2 shows a lot of promise. It will be interesting to see where the game goes next, as people adjust to stat changes, new raids, and new items. As with any patch, things will get stale, and complaints will be made, but Gears of Change is a welcome addition to Final Fantasy 14.