The Legacy Content Revamp of Final Fantasy XIV Patch 6.1

One of the headlines that came out of the early live letters around patch 6.1 for FFXIV was the idea that the team wanted to make the leveling experience of the game single-player capable, to take ideas that have been introduced in newer content (the Trust system for leveling and MSQ dungeons, mostly) and use that to adapt older dungeons for modern audiences by letting players continue to do them in parties or to instead run with NPCs. 6.1 brought the first round of changes, with heavily-publicized changes to the MSQ capstone dungeons of A Realm Reborn, with Praetorium being split into 3 different duties, Castrum Meridanium being simplified, and all of this content being made into 4-player dungeons, save for a couple of boss fights which were made into solo duties like a lot of capstone bosses currently in the game.

This is, I think, an interesting thing to look at, both from the outside and from within the game’s playerbase.

One distinct weak spot in the FFXIV pitch is that the ARR content sort of…drags. If I want to recommend the game to anyone, it involves a hand-wringing explanation of how those early hours feel sort of slow and that the game takes time to get to the really good stuff, but that the investment pays off eventually. Eventually is, in this case, something like 40-100 hours of gameplay deep. It is understandable that telling someone the real good stuff is over there, when “over there” is the other side of a steep mountain climb, is a bad deal that a lot of people won’t take. The FFXIV team is definitely cognizant of this, as they made extensive streamlining efforts to the core questing structure of the ARR content back in Shadowbringers patch 5.3, but the work left a bit to be desired, mainly in that the game still has moments where it feels a smidge slow and the ARR content is still a dense slog at points. Endwalker has actually exacerbated this in some ways, because in Shadowbringers, an expansion with an excellent story that can stand alone, recommending a story skip wasn’t as difficult, but Endwalker ties in to so many moments of the ARR backstory and the deep lore of the game that it becomes less tenable to recommend a skip, which most people (myself included) wouldn’t recommend in the first place.

So how is the revamped content?

Well, it is surprisingly thorough in scope, but not itself the sole fix that chapter of the game needs.

Firstly, while the team was coy with the updates made to older dungeons, being less open about changes they planned for early leveling content, the dungeon changes are large and comprehensive. One thing they did nearly across the board is bring up ceiling heights, a small-seeming change, but one that makes a preference for a zoomed-out camera view far less stifled in this content. With that change came a lot of remodeling of the dungeon interiors – there is more detail, more props like grass and foliage of all sorts, and the game has cleaned up the lighting of the early era content to be more consistent and modern, which actually makes the game’s early dungeons more visually interesting and appealing. In particular, The Thousand Maws of Toto-Rak now has god rays emerging from the much-higher ceilings, lending a sort of otherworldly vibe to the otherwise basic caverns of the dungeon. Routes have been cleaned up to be new-player friendly – far less exists to trap or trick players into strolling down an unknown path leading nowhere. Bosses and the trash pulls have also been redesigned, true to the spirit of the originals but with new mechanics and consistent use of later markers and mechanics – stack markers, spread markers, and the like are far more uniform between this revamped content and stuff from Stormblood onwards.

I’m of two minds on these changes in some ways though. Visually, all the changes hit and keep the original spirit but look vastly better for what are a handful of small changes – great work there, CBU3! Mechanically, the bosses are easier to teach (as a Mentor that tries to earn the crown and not be a BK paper crown, this matters to me a smidge) and they make the early dungeons better as fundamental education for mechanics that players will see a lot over their time in the game, but some bosses are still just too easy and fall over simply without a lot of effort. On the map and routing changes, I generally like them – Toto-Rak was the worst for people getting lost, especially with the dumb Magitek Photocell mechanics, but removing the side routes and environmental mechanics like that also makes the dungeon kind of a brainless run in a straight line, which is a common critique of all modern FFXIV dungeons, and it is a valid one, to be honest.

For the story capstone dungeons of ARR, the content is actually vastly better to my mind, but there is some loss for it. Firstly, the number of cutscenes was cut drastically. Praetorium now has 4 cutscenes total, Castrum Meridanium has 1, and the Porta Decumana trial for the fight with Ultima Weapon has 2. Regardless of the duty, your run through a MSQ Roulette queue ends up being about 20-25 minutes – because Castrum and Praetorium are streamlined down substantially while the Porta Decumana trial has two phases and the lengthy intermission cutscene that is unskippable. This is an improvement, as I thought that there would be a pecking order where most veteran players would want the trial as it was likely to be shortest, but they instead trimmed a ton of fat from the two dungeons. These dungeons have some real wins in mechanics too – they aren’t difficult, but there’s a lot to teach here with things like room reading, pattern recognition for roomwide mechanics that go in phases, and healer and tank education on tankbusters as a core mechanic for them both (although it can’t go too hard here, given that most tanks are short of their actual buster mitigation ability at level 50 haha). At the same time, however, it should be said that while the cutscene pacing and length of the pre-6.1 versions of this content was abysmal, there was some interesting worldbuilding and immersion that was tried there that is just lost now. Granted, I would never claim that Castrum or Prae had good worldbuilding or sense of immersion for most, but similar to the quest trimming of 5.3, you lose some measure of flavor and establishment of the world in order to smooth out the gameplay experience.

It is interesting, because some of the changes are re-assertions of the strengths of the game, taken as a whole – by streamlining dungeons down to a baseline of gameplay, the game again leans more heavily on the story and lore being presented as opposed to gameplay. Some of these changes are also clearly for the AI NPCs to have an easier go at things – removing Magitek Photocells from Toto-Rak feels less like a change for the sake of mechanical simplicity for players and more like a change made because a solo player running the dungeon first might not know to grab those things and the AI wouldn’t be able to smoothly help without disrupting the flow of gameplay. With the changes made, the old dungeons are basically codified as story setpieces and less as play spaces, which was a weird thing in the original ARR, where dungeons (and the 8-player raid content, for that matter) had more wiggle room for players to create emergent gameplay – extra trash pulls for the sake of loot, exploring the dungeon to the corners, a single run not being enough to map the full route, and the like. But it also removes things that were inconvenient or overly challenging just for the sake of nuisance – the cliff in the second area of Dzamael Darkhold is just gone now, and the trash is far less patrolling and less likely to pull in unintended fashion, which means that a tank can learn how to pace a pull and deal with packs of variable sizes, but it also means that tanks who learn to play in this new content will be less adaptable, in all likelihood. Dungeons like Dzamael and Aurum Vale aren’t inherently that much more difficult than anything else near them, but they had more opportunities to teach players caution and precision in pulling and movement, and some element of that is dulled with the changes made.

These changes, taken as a whole with the dungeon revamps still to come in Endwalker and the questing revamps made in patch 5.3 paint an interesting picture in their totality. A lot of MMOs try to paper over their legacies – whether with boosts or bespoke new leveling experiences that push players away from legacy content. WoW has consistently been trying to move players further and further away from the old content, to the point that a new player starting now will be on a locked track where the oldest content they can do came out in 2018 – with a bespoke leveling zone to start and a story track that takes players through the second-worst WoW storyline before putting them in the worst WoW storyline.

FFXIV is a game that has staked a claim on being the pre-eminent story-driven MMO, and so a vast revamp that simply shuffles the old content backstage isn’t really a workable solution. Arguably, after Endwalker you could maybe do such a thing, but even then, a lot of the lore being setup now for the future relies on older content – we see the Thirteenth first in ARR side content (that is now MSQ required), the context needed to fully understand the First Brood is all Heavensward stuff, and the way we get to all of this winds through the Endwalker story, which pays off so many of those past plot threads that it still really means they are necessary. As a second step taken alongside the 5.3 questing changes to ARR, and with dungeon changes that will move all the way through to Stormblood by the end of the Endwalker content cycle, there is promise here for what is to come, and I am excited to see how they change some of the later content in particular.

One thought on “The Legacy Content Revamp of Final Fantasy XIV Patch 6.1

  1. What ARR (and frankly, even up to Endwalker) severely lacks is text editor’s scissors. While maintaining the same character building, the same story, the same everything, it is possible to cut the endless dialogues drastically without any significant loss.

    I enjoyed all the old content reworks naturally, by leveling alt jobs, and it’s not simplified – it’s modernized. Easier learning curve for sprouts and removal of the most annoying stuff for 100th time dungeon runners. And main scenario’s bosses aren’t marshmallow punch bags anymore – boss encounters make a lot of sense now and finally feel epic as they should. Btw, main scenario is a great example of how you can cut half of cutscenes and yet keep the core story intact.

    Like

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