A Big Week For the Mainstream MMO – Some Thoughts on WoW Patch 9.1 PTR and Final Fantasy XIV Patch 5.5 Part 1

This week is going to be a pretty big week for me and people like me, because after a few months of sort of slow going, things are about to ramp up drastically!

Firstly, Final Fantasy XIV is launching patch 5.5 Part 1. This is the final patch of Shadowbringers, but by that I mean 5.5 in general as a cycle of content. Because of the secrecy of the story, there will be a part 2 with more main scenario quests that will complete the bridge into Endwalker. For this week, we get what will likely be a cliffhanger story that ends with us wanting more, and we’ll get more in May – either before or maybe very slightly after the online Fan Fest.

The prelim patch notes are online, and here are my highlights:

Quality of Life, Oh My!

Patch 5.5 has tons of small tweaks and huge under-the-hood changes to the game engine, server and netcode to bring things up to a modern standard, with a single starting point – the Playstation 5 open beta begins with the patch. Because of that, Square Enix has made a ton of tweaks to the game and how it works that will affect all other platforms!

Top of the list is the improved loading times, which are said to affect all platforms. The PS5 is most obvious due to its incredibly fast custom SSD solution, but this will have huge impacts for PC players using SSDs as well (particularly modern NVME drives!) and even for the PS4, because it involves faster client/server communication as well. When loading in FFXIV, the game has to push you into the server for the target zone, and that process is a part of the slowness of loading (at least on PC when using a fast SSD). This also makes for a second change – the server will update your position more frequently to avoid potential pathfinding issues. Currently, if the game runs over 60 FPS, there is a chance (I haven’t had it happen to me yet despite 3 years of 100 Hz monitor use and framerate maxing!) that your character will clip or collide with geometry in weird ways and cause problems. The change was discussed as a “collision detection change” but it has a lot of performance implications. Basically, the game is removing limits that were implemented as legacy code for the original ARR launch and the PS3 version of the game – more network traffic, faster handoffs between server instances, and less possibility of collision problems.

Other updates spawning off of the PS5 version are the high resolution UI icons which will also be usable on PC, made for larger-scale UIs at 4k resolution, and some support for the Dualsense controller, which can also be used with the game on PC through game-specific support (although the haptic feedback triggers, which are being used by FFXIV for some cool flourishes, are not PC-supported).

All of this is generally good – I’m most excited for the server responsiveness updates and what that will mean for my loading times on my current SSD, which is a PCI-Express Gen 4 NVME drive that matches the uncompressed PS5 performance (so hopefully I can match the demo speeds they showed in the live letter!). The high-res icons look nice, but I played at Ultrawide 1440p with a lower UI scale, so the new icons are cool but also unlikely to see much use.

One last change here that isn’t necessarily PS5-related is the Emote search, which is welcome in a game with dozens of available emotes.

Actual Content

This is a pretty heavy content patch full of new stuff. The new MSQ is hotly anticipated and likely to leave everyone hungry for more after the dust settles on Tuesday, and for most FFXIV core players, it’s likely the most anticipated bit of content! There’s also the new NieR: Automata raid, the final one in the YoRHA: Dark Apocalypse storyline and crossover content: the Tower at Paradigm’s Reach. I hear a lot of NieR fans but especially Drakkengard fans are salivating for the story implications, so I am curious to see what happens. There’s the conclusion of Sorrow of Werlyt, which brings us the Cloud Deck trial to face-off with the Diamond Weapon. The Werlyt story has been exceptional and I am excited to see where this goes. With it, we get our final trial mount of the expansion and the collect-’em-all mount which is an incredible mecha-gwiber!

Lastly for main content, there’s the new dungeon, Pagalth’an, in the heart of Amaljaa territory. This dungeon seems related to the story events of 5.4 as well as what we expect to see continuing on from that in 5.5, and has some potentially awesome bosses and story to come! FFXIV’s dungeons are fine – not made for a ton of repeat play as each time past the first is just squeezing the run down to less time, since you always scale to a maximum item level and can never effectively outgear one. The alliance raid and MSQ are likely to be meatier – especially since there will be a weekly quest for the raid, which is likely going to hook into New Game Plus for alternate/true story ending, in true NieR fashion.

On the less-big front, there’s new crafting and gathering stuff, including the story conclusion of the Ishgard Restoration as we all hang out celebrating there every couple of days. There are some improvements for Ocean Fishing, a new minigame that has been a pretty fun extension of fishing in FFXIV, and some new rewards for that. There are new hairstyles (styled after NieR Automata characters) and we will likely see other cosmetics, including what I expect will be some from the conclusion of Ishgard Restoration.

There is also the conclusion of the Save the Queen resistance weapon quests with a new zone added to Bozja – Zadnor. It answers some of the concerns that have made Bozja a brain-drain for me – changes to Critical Engagement and Duel systems, and the new zone does not require full resistance rank and is a different aesthetic which is quite a bit nicer.

There are changes to subsystems like Triple Triad, but I am not qualified to discuss those, so I’ll say my uninformed opinion is that Triple Triad’s change should make using 4-star cards a thing you can do.

Lastly-lastly, there are tweaks for legacy content through new systems – the new Unreal Trial is Leviathan, the old EX version including perma-death brought forward to today, and Explorer Mode (which allows you to run loose in an old dungeon to look at the artwork and take screenshots and fun G-pose setups) is expanding to the level 70 dungeons, along with some small tweaks to how it works.

Overall Impressions

For this week, I am very hyped for Final Fantasy XIV. A new patch always brings some heat with storyline, and is a fun, must-play almost immediately. I’ll likely spend most of Tuesday playing it, short of our biweekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

But there is another contender for attention in the mainstream MMO space this week…

Shadowlands Patch 9.1: Chains of Domination on PTR

Yo, this patch is late as fuck!

Okay, that aside and out of the way, let’s talk. I’ve liked Shadowlands overall and found the preview of the patch at Blizzconline back in February to be engaging and exciting, albeit with too little information and a lot of time spent fishing for interview tidbits and all the little bits of new info that were shared all over.

But that should end this week, at least for now. Finally, almost 5 months into the expansion and the longest post-launch content drought in WoW history, we’ll get our first datamined peeks at 9.1…maybe. It depends on if the PTR actually does launch this week (as of Thursday, 4/8/2021, the encrypted build was on Blizzard’s CDN to be distributed) and what kind of content testing they open up through unencrypted files.

Patch 9.1, in case you’ve forgotten (who can blame you, it has been a long time) is a chungus of a patch for World of Warcraft. It features, in no particular order: a new 10-boss raid with huge lore implications, a new zone-addition for the Maw, new story quests and covenant campaign content with cosmetic non-armor type bound Covenant sets and a full new Renown progression to take, a mega-dungeon with 8 bosses on Mythic, a new content season including a new seasonal affix (no more Prideful, even though I’m a weirdo and kind of like it!), new ranks for Soulbind Conduits and likely new progression for Soulbinds, changes and tweaks to Torghast, and the addition of Shadowlands Pathfinder, allowing flight in the original four covenant zones, alongside regular ground mounting in the Maw (and Korthia, the new subzone, by extension).

This is a huge patch, and there is tons of datamining that would need to happen to expose everything. My guess for the week is this – we’re going to see Korthia, some Covenant Campaign spoilers, maybe a bit of content leading towards the raid, and maybe the dungeon – maybe. My guess is that the PvE content is going to be pretty tightly sealed until they’re ready to test, at which point we will be inundated with spoilers and a list of encrypted cinematics.

Is the patch exciting? On the face of it, yes. New content generally gets everyone pumped as a concept. However, is the actual content exciting? I think so. As with most x.1 WoW patches, 9.1 represents the continuation of the launch design, for better or worse. Want better covenant switching? Probably not coming until 9.2. Want anima rewards to be attainable with standard gameplay? Gonna have to wait in all likelihood. However, if you like the base design overall, as I do – you’re probably gonna be stoked. Unanswered questions remain around the patch systems – new raid looting mechanics to help players get more loot? Discussed but unannounced. “Super Conduits?” Still no clue what they are!

So for WoW, this may be an exciting week – it all depends on what we get in datamining, PTR content, and overall news. If they announce a patch launch date, people will probably flip in one direction or the other (depending on how long of a gap we’re gonna see). If we get tons of story datamining, that might also likewise push people to one side or the other. Given the weight of the Sylvanas story hanging over this patch, people already have their hackles up and I expect that to only get more polarizing with any crumb of story that hints at a redemption or eternal damnation for everyone’s most-known Windrunner sister.

Either way, after literal months of nothing new to really discuss short of announcements, this week is absolutely going to be exciting for all of us!

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