Some Speculation About the February 18th FFXIV Live Letter

The announcement has been made – on February 18th, 2022, we get our first Live Letter of the Endwalker era!

But yet, there is something weird afoot here, and it merits discussion.

Normally, this would be a fairly straightforward patch announcement live letter, and we’d expect some 6.1 details. However, this has been explicitly labeled as not being the case this time – instead, the Live Letter has two items on the docket on the official announcement. Those two items are an Endwalker Q&A session, and “Newfound Futures: The Next 10 Years of FFXIV.”

So, much like Endwalker itself was a deviation from norm, so too is the first post-launch live letter. My brain can not help but stew over the idea of what the discussion of the next 10 years of the game will look like. Firstly, I think that it’s genuinely great that they are thinking that far out, building a plan in a genre where you might be used to a title seeming like it barely has the next patch thought out, much less expansion, much less an arc that extends further beyond that. It also, however, creates a ton of interesting possibilities for what could be discussed, and so today, with my tinfoil hat on (it’s warm in here), let’s discuss what I think isn’t likely to be announced, what is likely to be announced, and a couple of things I believe will be announced.

Unlikely

Major Plot Details On The Next 10 Years: A big part of FFXIV’s mystique for players is how well-guarded the MSQ is, how surprising things genuinely are and are allowed to be at launch. To that end, I fully expect that while some teases will be present (and enough vague language for nerds to hyper-analyze), we’re not going to get much in the way of actual story beats. I believe that is a relatively safe assumption – keep the mystery around the medium and long-term futures of the game, but give a few hints that lead into the major patches to come in Endwalker.

Visual Previews of Unannounced Zones: I am wording this one carefully, because there are things announced and unseen for Endwalker that I suspect we’ll get more details of, like the Island Sanctuary, new PvP map type, and the like. I just don’t think they’ll show us anything about, say, Meracydia, or about the New World – those will be held onto for a proper expansion reveal (and probably the next one, in all likelihood).

Staffing Change: A lot of the discussion around YoshiP in interviews has been people asking how sure he is that he’ll be able to do his job on both FFXIV and FFXVI, given that his role on FFXIV is very hands-on and seems to be time-consuming to a point, and he’s frequently said he wants to keep working on FFXIV. There’s a reasonable suggestion that he could step away from XIV to ensure the completion of XVI is on-track, but I don’t see it happening. I think the man himself is pretty transparently excited to work on both and he constantly denies the possibility of being shifted one way or the other, and so while I think there is grounding for speculation here, I don’t believe that we’ll see him leave XIV, even temporarily. In many ways, the game is his baby, and it creates an interesting view of the game even compared to WoW, which has had figureheads, but the person in that role on WoW is rotating while FFXIV has, since the failure of 1.0, consistently been Yoshida’s project. For what it’s worth, I don’t think fans expect any change either, but it seems to be a point in nearly every article I’ve seen about FFXIV in the last two months.

Likely

Low-Information New Content Previews: I expect we’ll see the first in-game screenshots of the Island Sanctuary, more character-level POV on the new PvP game type, and some environmental and even enemy teasers for the first wing of the Myths of the Realm Alliance Raid series for Endwalker. I also suspect that some hints will be dropped about the trial series we’ll get for 6.2 and beyond – given the heavy FFIV ties to the main story of Endwalker, there’s a fair bit of suspicion that the Four Fiends of FFIV will be the trial series, with one of them getting a non-trial sequence similar to Genbu in Stormblood or Sapphire Weapon in Shadowbringers. However, I say “low information” because I don’t think we’re going to get much more than a visual tease – a screenshot or short video clip of gameplay footage that doesn’t directly address anything or reveal actual gameplay content.

Further Housing Changes: For Endwalker, we know that 6.1 brings Ishgard housing and the new lottery system for bidding on open lots, and yet we also know that these changes are not enough. Players have lamented housing as one of the coolest and yet worst features of FFXIV – that the idea of neighborhoods is overstated by the development team as players often don’t even see their neighbors or care that much about them, that the limited plot availability for housing has made the mode a nightmare to get into that most players opt out of even trying (short of an apartment, perhaps), and it has some amount of gameplay that is locked behind it – proper gardening with cross-pollination, the Free Company workshop and expeditions (they’re just ventures but fancier), and of course a lack of players buying into new housing also means that crafters have fewer avenues for profit since there is a far smaller market for buying housing items compared to gear or consumables. I don’t know what form they’ll take, but I feel like some amount of housing change beyond the lottery (which is a good change that also doesn’t really solve the problem) is needed and will (hopefully) be addressed.

Core Gameplay Roadmap for the Next 10 Years: What I hear when the FFXIV team says they’ll be sharing the next 10 years of the game in this live letter is simple: gameplay details. What I mean with that is a mix of philosophical statements and actual roadmap – will we need to do another item squish, will we ever do a WoW-style character level squish, are we planning to continue adding new jobs, are we planning new races beyond female Hrothgar, what is our stance on button-bloat/pruning and how we plan to keep the game working on that level, and more such questions. For the immediate future, I think there are absolutely going to be some plans in the works that we’ll get to hear more about – changes to the MSQ roulette duties (both of them are painful for veteran players and often a confusing and rushed mess for newbies), potential changes to the route through the story that new players take (it works pretty well, but there is some potential for overhauls in terms of pacing through the whole thing as well as giving newbies an easier way to break item level barriers that are present throughout the journey), and perhaps some small amount of detail around how new player experience might work in future expansions or patches.

FFXIV does well to a point with onboarding now – it is what it is and most people encouraging a friend to come in to the game will prepare them for what is to come – but there is still a perception, correct or not, that the opening stretch of the game is a slog that does turn some people away, even if only temporarily. While the 5.3 changes to the ARR MSQ have helped with that somewhat, it still poses a barrier to entry, and a curious problem at that – removing much of it removes context that becomes meaningful later in the story, so there aren’t many easy targets to prune there. An idea proposed in a video I watched was to change the level curve so that the original 2.0 ending is pre-50 and you use the post-patch content of ARR to level to 50 and work into Heavensward and beyond, and I like that a lot.

One thing about FFXIV that works very well is that the game has a pretty predictable curve of content. I suspect that the team might actually already know if they’re going to enter the WoW-like purgatory of every-expansion or every-other-expansion item level squishes, and I suspect that we’ll get some details about how necessary such things might be for the future. If we end up seeing any major changes to the gameplay model, I imagine we’ll get some inkling of them here – FFXIV has locked in on a model of three 8-player raids of 4 bosses each since Heavensward, accompanied by three 24-player Alliance Raids of 4 bosses each and a cadence that frames the 24-player raids as catchup to make the Savage tier that came first more accessible, alongside a patch dungeon. However, the dungeon model has evolved over time, from 2 per patch in Heavensward to 2 in non-raid patches and 1 in raid patches during Stormblood, to 1 per patch flat in Shadowbringers, and this has been met with some disappointment (regardless of the role that dungeons serve in FFXIV, less dungeons is less content and a larger portion of the playerbase does dungeons compared to any of the raid content), so there is some potential for tweaks to that model.

This is where I had the most to say, because I think it will be the most substantial part of the whole thing – 10 years of a gameplay roadmap creates a clear incentive for players and can be discussed openly without spoiling future content in the story, so it makes sense to me.

Things I Feel Certain Of

Patch 6.1’s Name and Key Art: While I suspect this live letter will not visit heavily on the patch details, due to the way YoshiP has laid the roadmap for live letters in his recent press interviews, I do suspect that we’ll get a couple solid things about the patch. We know a name has been decided (a recent livestream had him joking we’d think the name was too on-the-nose) and they typically show the patch key art alongside the unveiled name, so it tracks for me.

Some Gameplay Footage or Screenshots of New 6.1 Content: Again, while this isn’t being propped up as a patch live letter, I think we’re likely to see some in-game content from the patch as an appetizer. My guesses are that we’ll get screenshots and footage of the Island Sanctuary, additional screenshots of the Dragonsong War Ultimate raid, some minor MSQ teaser screenshot (my money, given Yoshida’s comments, is something with Krile in it), and perhaps a screenshot or two of the Alliance Raid for the patch.

With that all said, the live letter prospects are very exciting, because with what Endwalker represents to the game as a whole and how the structure of these things are slightly upended as a result, there’s an element of unpredictability, which is further amplified by the significance being bestowed on the live letter by stating it will be about the next 10 years of the game. To a point, that’s very exciting – a lot of MMO juggernauts get their legs cut out from under them because they don’t seem to have a clear-eyed view of how their design will move forward into the future beyond a very-narrow “next unit of content” view, and so as a player that is very exciting and reassuring to know they are thinking about the game on a long scale. While I don’t expect it will be a massive news drop or have major bombshells in that way, I think that it will be a fascinating lens into the process all the same, and for that reason, I’m still pretty stoked for it.

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