My Favorite Points Of FFXIV Live Letter 68

It came and went, and it was actually a really good and informative watch!

Tonight was the 68th live letter for Final Fantasy XIV, entitled Newfound Futures, intended to cover the next 10 years of the game. What we got was both narrower in scope than that but also covered a broad-ranging set of topics with a variety of surprises tossed in.

For me, still looking at this primarily through the lens of a WoW player who is relatively new to taking FFXIV as my main play MMO, there was a lot to be excited about here. Chief among them is the disclosure of a lot of planned content for the game – nearly the entire patch structure of Endwalker was laid bare to be seen, a couple of 7.0 items were put forward, and the game has what seems to be a stable course with a few philosophy changes coming to light that will make the next 10 years interesting, to say the least. Given that WoW often doesn’t seem to have the next patch even close to figured out half the time, I still have a bit of awe that this team just casually discussed 5 Endwalker patches and the next expansion patch in a livestream – it makes my decision to invest more of my free time into FFXIV justified, in that way.

So let’s discuss the major items, ranked by my own curiosity about each!

A Graphics Overhaul

FFXIV is by no means a bad-looking game, but it has some clear old limitations from being made with the PS3 in mind. It has, in my opinion, a good (if limited) lighting system and it sometimes has to accept reasonable trade-offs to present things efficiently, given that the game is an MMO and has to be able to handle dozens of other players on-screen as needed. One of the key things holding it back, at least from most accounts, is that the basis for a lot of the game’s code is from the 1.0 version, with a ton of tweaks made to bring things more into line for a broader range of hardware (including that PS3 release).

A big chunk of the live letter tonight was devoted to sharing graphical updates planned for 7.0. The major shares we got from this news were some before and after screenshots, showing in-progress looks at player character detailing and a few existing zones shown with new lighting, modeling, and shaders.

The look is pretty drastically improved, in my eyes – there’s a real sense of liveliness and improved fidelity and material rendering in the updated versions. At the same time, importantly for an MMO with character creation, none of it strays too far from what your character would have originally looked like. At this point, FFXIV is about as old as WoW was when Warlords of Draenor set on the visual upgrade path, so it makes a lot of sense to see this done now.

One of the things that stunned me is the revelation of how few scene lights they put in. The Studium screenshot from Old Sharlayan, content that just launched in Endwalker, has one single scene light. One! In 2021! My guess, then, is that much of the lighting in the scene is baked lightmaps with a single dynamic probe light, because you can see in many places in FFXIV that lighting has at least some semblance of an effect on player character lighting, coloring, and shadowcasting, and all of that fits with a probe-based system (as opposed to a static lightmap or a full ray-traced solution). The goal of the other engine updates outside of characters is to keep the flavor there but to build things in a more visually pleasing and modern manner, so the Titania screenshot shows off lighting that would not be final in the new version, as it does not preserve the flavor, but it functions as a technical demonstration of what could be done (and personally, I think the new Titania screenshot from that still looks like something I’d want).

Something they mentioned, without a lot of practical examples save for the metal material, is that they’ll be working to revamp textures and specifically focusing on resolution for textures and for things like metal and cloth in the material revamps. The verbiage seems to indicate soft-body simulation for cloth – it was in XIV v1.0, but was scrapped for ARR due to resource cost, and that alone would be a huge uplift, as many cloth armor models clip rather than deform or react to touch and that would be a huge boost for visual fidelity in its own right.

Over the last couple of years, the team has done a lot of work to bring new tech to the game – cleaning up loading times between zones, improving UI elements to scale to higher resolutions, better netcode for zone handoffs, and new sound technologies. Graphics are nice, but I can see a case for them being last – FFXIV wasn’t lacking in that department to most normal people and tying it to a new expansion you can sell, with trailers and sizzle reels to play for the public at large, is a logical business move. The early shots show a lot of potential – as an Au’ra player, I am so very curious to see how they update that race, as it has a lot of the graphics issues in the game – low-resolution horn and scale textures with odd normal maps and a lack of self-shadowing all combine to create a visual that is sort of off if you look at it close enough. The same is true for Viera ears and Hrothgar everything – it will be interesting to see if they try to do fur simulation for Hrothgar aside from just a painted texture.

Either way, I’m excited to see more of this in time for 7.0!

Your Game, Your Way

A common refrain about Final Fantasy XIV is that the game’s story is largely single-player, and there is a large contingent of players who play the game as a single-player experience, until they’re forced into dungeons and trials with randoms. For those not in XIV for the MMO aspects, it’s understandably frustrating – even WoW does solo play better to a point, as dungeons there are optional side content for the most part and the core gameplay of leveling and endgame world content are all soloable there.

Over the patch cycle of Endwalker, the team at Square Enix are slowly going to work towards fixes to older content to bring a soloable story experience to the masses. This starts pretty soon – in patch 6.1, all ARR scenario duties will be Trust compatible. In addition, several old dungeons will get some additional improvements, and the goal is eventually to expand Trust support to cover effectively all MSQ dungeons, which will include a few changes. The big one will see Praetorium and Castrum Meridanium both repurposed to light-party dungeons (4 players) and retuned as a result, with Trust support extended as a part of this project. The infamously-difficult battle with Rhitatyn at Cape Westwind will become a solo scenario instance, as will the final Praetorium battle with Lahabrea (splitting it off from the Praetorium 4-player revamp into its own thing). Over the later patches of Endwalker, the plan is to extend Trust support so that by 6.5, it will cover all the way to Stormblood’s MSQ dungeons, which will effectively finish the revamp as Shadowbringers and beyond have support for Trusts already.

You might question this if you are an MMO purist, but I find this something I can only agree with. A lot of people like to play MMOs solo and either occasionally join with friends, rarely join with randoms, or just simply get the story they want and the gameplay to support it, and then log out. While this likely means that playing FFXIV as a single-player experience will still require a subscription, it is a good show from the developers to respond positively and not to pretend that they know better. If you want to single-player FFXIV’s story, it will be doable to a point by the end of Endwalker. The one caveat seems to remain trials, but they could potentially tweak that as well – the second Endwalker trial proves that Trusts can work there, but it may just be a matter of story-appropriate characters being around for that experience (Endwalker was able to build that one trial specifically by making sure the full Scion crew was around for it). This one actually excites me though – the flow of the game is a lot better without having to wait on a dungeon queue in the middle of it, and I think giving players a chance to just tune out other players and wind their own way through the content is a great idea (and if they like the game and want to stretch their legs a bit, it would seem easy to move into group content and the designed endgame content loop from there).

Endwalker Plan-On-A-Page

Far ahead of what I expected, we got a pretty specific run-down of what is to come in the Endwalker patch cycle, and…there are surprises!

Starting with 6.1, there are a number of things we expected coming – the new PvP mode, Arkasodara tribe quests (they’re intentionally moving away from the “beast tribe” verbiage which I think is a great touch), the Dragonsong Reprise Ultimate raid, our first Endwalker Unreal trial in Ultima’s Bane Unreal, our first 24-player Alliance Raid of Endwalker, Ishgard housing, the calling-card UI thing they talked about a lot last live letter, the aforementioned ARR solo tweaks, and a new custom delivery client in Ameliance Leveilleur (don’t worry twins, I’m with your mother now). All of it sounds pretty much like what was expected, with the surprise of the ARR second revamp and the quiet about the MSQ to come (which fits because there is a lot it could be right now instead of being a continuation to the existing story as would have been the case in expansions past). I will put forward one thing that keeps cracking me up – if glamour for custom delivery clients remains a feature at max affinity, I cannot wait to see what weird revealing outfits people put on Alphinaud and Alisaie’s mom. There are a ton of options – 2B is obvious, an aiming outfit with chaps is a strong option, Summer’s Flame bikini could be funny, and there’s always the basest option of using the Emperor’s New pieces in most armor slots. I think I’ll either put her in my loincloth glamour or the Anemos set that looks like a cowboy. Yeehaw!

Beyond that, a couple of expansion-wide side-stories kick off in 6.1 – a new Hildibrand saga (!!!!) and “Tataru’s Grand Endeavor” which sounds and feels like crafting content if I’ve ever seen it.

And then they did something I kind of didn’t expect and just timelined out much of the patch cycle for the next two years, including surprise content. 6.2 has our next Pandaemonium wing, as expected, but has the 2.x solo-friendly revamp, “new weapon enhancements,” the debut of the Island Sanctuary (a bit late boo, but recurring over the patch cycle with new content as new patches roll out yay), and something that caught my eye – the new “Criterion” dungeon system, a variable difficulty scaling dungeon for 1-4 players. If this ends up being a distinct FFXIV take on Mythic Plus from WoW, well…I’ll just paste the message I put in my guild Discord here.

I know what I like…

But then we got a 6.3 slide, confirming the Trust expansion is planned to hit Heavensward dungeons here, alongside new 24-player raiding, a new Deep Dungeon (confirming and timing what we’ve heard in prior interviews), and…a new Ultimate again. Definitely a more aggressive timetable this expansion, as they seem to have captured their process after the expansion launch and COVID prior have derailed plans.

And then there was a loosely defined 6.4/6.5 slide. This one was more vague, but gave us what we expected in some ways – a footnote that we’ll see our normal raid schedule with alternating even patch 8-player normal and Savage content alongside odd-patch 24-player Alliance Raids and what likely seems a trial each patch as is tradition (the front half was spoiler free, so they didn’t name a new trial for 6.1, but it’s fairly clear that the level 90 story capstone trial is going to be EXified for 6.1). This is pretty cool because it keeps the Endwalker trial series tightly under wraps while still addressing it, at least. By 6.5, it seems the expectation is that the pre-Shadowbringers content will be solo-ready.

In that last slide, we also got notice that there will be two additional Criterion Dungeons in those final patches of Endwalker, bringing the total count of these new dungeons to 3. More detail is needed before that can be parsed, but if we assume these are unique dungeons made for this mode, then that means that Endwalker will represent an increase in the total dungeons added over Shadowbringers, which represented another decline in total dungeon count per expansion. If 3 Criterion dungeons are added and all unique to the MSQ dungeons we still expect, then we should end up matching the Stormblood dungeon count, leaving Heavensward as the largest number of added dungeons for an expansion. That’s pretty cool and unexpected news!

What we don’t know as of yet is how some of this content will play out or how much will map to our existing expectations. Criterion dungeons sound cool, but the mode could be constrained or they could be tied to the Relic weapon – which, short of “new weapon upgrades” wasn’t really discussed and without the discussion of a new field exploration zone, could take a different form this expansion. Likewise, while the Tataru thing sounds like crafting and gathering content to me, in line with Ishgard Restoration, I think a lot of people were optimistic that would take the form of Garlemald Restoration of some sort. The preview was high-level enough to avoid specific disappointments as of yet, but it also raises some questions we’ll likely be waiting months for answers to.

The last thing we got on the patch news (well, aside from justification of this next part) is a scheduling announcement. The team is aiming to increase patch cycle slightly, taking each patch from a 3.5 month window to 4 months, with an extra week added for summer and New Year holidays. This likely means we get 6.1 as early as April 12th, marking 4 months and 1 week past Endwalker’s launch. The timing of the live letters would seem to confirm that to me. Elongating the patch windows slightly is fine by me – coming from WoW in the Shadowlands era, that is still so fast compared to the molasses process Blizzard is on, and it avoids the specific issues we saw in Shadowbringers, where the 5.3 delay for COVID and the two-week delay of Endwalker launch did lead to a little fraying of the endgame content model (no need to run Eden’s Verse if you can gear literally every job you have from it and even PF Savage runs were routinely successful). For me, my best time in WoW was Legion, where a steady 11-week patch cadence right up until the very end of the expansion kept the game feeling incredibly fresh and exciting on a regular basis. I think 4 months is fantastic scheduling (gives you 16 weeks of clearing current content/progging the current EX/Savage tier) and any complaints about the added two weeks are just whining for the sake of it.

In Closing

While I’ve been playing FFXIV since 2014 in a very casual, non-committal fashion, this live letter coming at this moment, when it has become my main MMO, is very reassuring. There are a lot of moments documented on this site over 5 years, of points where it was clear that Blizzard had no such plan like this for WoW, that they barely knew what was coming next patch or next expansion and everything was random and sort of haphazard, and as someone who was trying to enjoy that game, it often took a lot of mental gymnastics to convince myself they had a master plan or ideology to follow instead of just chasing their whims. For me, this sort of granular detail, told to me straightforwardly on a livestream from the game’s leader, is greatly appreciated. It gives me a lot of confidence that the game is going to remain a focus, that they have ideas and interesting new concepts to keep things fresh for established players while also addressing issues that can help bring new players in, and that the game will, yes, still be here in 10 more years with more content to enjoy.

For the immediate future? The patch overview for the rest of Endwalker was a fantastic bit of news, and it has a great mix of established tradition for the game and new content types that, while I need to know more about them to judge, sound promising and interesting! The longer-term updates to come with the 7.0 graphical revamp is great, and seeing them invest back into the game is welcome news.

Overall, I continue to feel pretty well assured in my choice to focus in on the game more, and excited for the ride to come, and being excited for my main play MMO after listening to the developers talk for a few hours is not a feeling I am used to yet!

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