The Manderville Weapons and Some Thoughts About Design Goals

Going into this week’s patch 6.25, a lot of the speculation about the Manderville weapons (mine included) was that it would be similar to Shadowbringers’ Resistance Weapons – a short quest, a small Tomestone of Poetics cost, and off you go. Instead, the news dropped as the patch was rolling out that the cost was both substantially higher and more modern – 1,500 Tomestones of Astronomy, which you can only get from level 90 content (or doing roulettes as a level 90 job).

It is an interesting change, neither good nor bad, but it does merit some thought and armchair analysis. What, exactly, does changing against expectations mean for the game?

Firstly, I think there’s a fascinating phenomenon at work which I also fell victim to – a mix of recency bias and narrativization. I think a lot of people expected the grind for Relic weapons to be Poetics simply because it feels right to say it always has been – but ultimately, that is also wrong on some level, as Stormblood did not require Poetics at all for Eurekan Weapons. A lot of the narrative about relic weapons is that they exist to populate leveling and old content for players new to the game, by loosing the max-level players on it with reasons to do it outside of the standard Tomestone reward loops, but again, that hasn’t always been the case. In ARR and Heavensward, a ton of the steps did not involve instanced content at all, in Stormblood, no steps involved dungeons or raids or even standard world content, and in Shadowbringers, you could choose the grind outside of Bozja (populating old FATEs/dungeons/raids) but still needed the story and progression in Bozja for that first relic, so for a lot of players, you could progress without touching older content.

Even if the steps don’t explicitly involve old content, simply using Poetics is a sign that old content population is a goal, because that currency is not rewarded by doing level 90 content at all – instead, it only comes from doing older content, whether leveling up or as a level 90 synced down through a roulette. But the other tricky thing is, of course, that it is only in recent years that you would need to really worry about players being in old content anyways. ARR was all new content, so there wasn’t really a legacy experience to worry about as players were dispersed well enough through the content, and Heavensward was fairly similar. Stormblood was an experiment, and again, because of the nature of Eureka, it was content unto itself with no concerns for players outside of it. Shadowbringers is the first time I think we can say legitimately that the goal of the design was to populate old content, because players could do so at each junction and would need to if not doing Bozja – first FATEs before winding up old deep dungeons, alliance raids, normal raids, and even dungeons. While Bozja was perfectly viable (sometimes easier depending on how you did it), a lot of players did opt to speedrun old content for the sake of it.

And then we come to Endwalker, where the opposite seems to be true – level 90-exclusive Tomestones, an even shorter quest (you can do the whole 6.25 Hildibrand questline and the Manderville Weapon starter quest to the first weapon in about 10 minutes if you skip cutscenes), and no currently-clear path forward other than the knowledge that we are not getting a new field zone like Eureka or Bozja to do stuff in for the weapons.

So what does this mean, exactly?

Well, to me, this says a few things:

Square Enix Is Directly Targeting Criticism of Synced Gameplay For Max-Level Objectives

This was my first thought – being synced down to do stuff for a level 90 reward can feel awful, depending on the job. Getting tomestones alone is one thing, but being expected to go out and level sync FATEs or run old dungeons just for a chance at an item drop means dealing with a lower-quality toolkit, less of your abilities, and a less-engaging gameplay loop. The game offers the level and item syncs as means to an end – keeping content full – but it does carry a real cost for dedicated FFXIV players, who might not even see their full level 90 toolkit more than a few times an expansion on alt-jobs, or hell, even their main jobs depending on how they play and what content they enjoy.

Making the tomestone grind of the current relic weapon quest focus on current uncapped tomestones is a great way to prevent that complaint – you want a level 90 reward, go earn it in level 90 content. The steep cost compared to Shadowbringers is a secondary reinforcement there, and one that means that you can’t just run through it half-asleep – you’ve got a bit of grind in front of you, my fellow player.

Now, is this a good answer to concerns that FFXIV syncs you down too frequently? That depends on who you are or how you feel about it. Since raiding Savage, I do a lot more max-level content than I did just last expansion, so I’m very familiar with the level 90 kits on jobs I’ve put any amount of effort into, and thus I like this change – I hate being synced down, because it either makes the jobs annoying to play (Sage at 50 with no good oGCDs for roulette play feels awful!) or actively different (there is a totally different proper Black Mage rotation every 10 levels and they differ enough from your standard level 90 play that you can stink up the joint even if you are normally a great level 90 BLM). Removing the need to do synced content for now is, to me, a good thing.

Now the other part of this is that we don’t know what the subsequent steps will be, and in the Shadowbringers example, this is where the retro content farm kicked into high gear, so it is premature to say that there is no retro content to come. But it is an interesting start all the same!

Maybe Level 90 Content Needs The Boost?

I’ve never had problems getting your average, locked level 90 roulettes to pop. I can do an Expert dungeon or Level 90 dungeon roulette as any job with around 5 minutes or less of queue, and if I queue Normal Raid roulette early in the week, odds are pretty damn good that it’ll be Abyssos from the current tier.

However, it is worth saying that I play on the North American data center most attached to raid content and the server most commonly referenced as the raid server, so that feels like important information to include in this discussion. With that in mind, the thought enters my head – is it possible that lower-level content is good for now?

Over the last two years, FFXIV has been the beneficiary of an exodus of players from WoW and a lack of other MMOs that have risen to take the crown. The NA and EU datacenters have both seen pretty large influxes of players, and the expansion of the free trial to include Heavensward has made it a more popular and interesting value proposition. With that in mind, it is easy to envision the possible scenario here – with enough new players flowing in to keep low-level content populated on its own, and systems that help that content backfill with experienced players (daily roulettes, Mentor roulette, etc), perhaps the game is at a point of stability with the low-level content. Perhaps, indeed, the difficulty is with doing higher-level content in a quick and simple fashion. From my own anecdotal experiences, I would imagine that isn’t the case, but again, I play on a populated data center where the majority of players are raiders, and so stuff that rewards the current top-end tomestone is always fairly easy to get into, so my perspective is colored in that way.

So the type of tomestone is an interesting choice, but let’s discuss the cost.

Why Is The First Step of the Manderville Weapons So Damn Expensive?

1,500 tomes is a lot when the same step last expansion was 500 (never mind that you could farm them through a lot of legacy content and while leveling alt jobs while you cannot do that this time). So what gives exactly, here?

Obviously, on the outside, we can only speculate, but I think there are a couple of fair points we can make. Firstly, the relic weapon grind is always, well, a grind. It’s designed to be incredibly long-term as a goal, where you start it in the x.25 patch and are working on it through 4 different iterations at a minimum. Getting a relic from start to finish involves hours of gameplay, regardless of the form that gameplay has taken, which has been slightly to very different per expansion. But the first step has always been relatively low-commitment – step forward and claim your weapon, and get those alt jobs kitted out quick!

My experience with relics is mostly in Shadowbringers, where I upgraded exactly one of them and did that two times of the four available times I could upgrade, after having received the full loadout for every job in the game. The first squeeze was a relative breeze, but the later steps dampened my enthusiasm. It didn’t help that I was not fond of Bozja, so I did the steps I could outside…until it hit me like a ton of bricks that I had to progress the Bozja story inside the zone to progress the Resistance Weapon quest, and I mostly gave up at that point.

What I can see being a possibility here, in Endwalker, then, is this – the first step being steep is a grind load-balancer. Instead of giving you a stupid-simple first step you can sleepwalk through old roulettes for, the first step in Endwalker asks something more of you. To be clear, it’s not much more – it isn’t as though getting Astronomy is hard, and you can solo grind them via Trust dungeons at level 90 or just chain queueing Expert roulette or the current level 90 content until you have all the weapons you desire. But it is still more, and more current content required.

What makes me curious is what comes next, though. Right now, sure, this feels steeper while also not being some insurmountable goal or massive increase in difficulty, but my thought experiment about balancing the grind could be immediately invalidated if the next steps are grindy in the ways that past relic weapon chains have been. With no field zone, a fixture for the last two relic weapons, it does feel more likely that the ways to obtain upgrade items will be through grinding existing content, although the content options you can grind feel like they will be very limited due to the nature of starting with a level 90-only currency. If the future steps are all level 90 dungeons and raids, that feels both very nice (you can use your whole toolkit, excellent!) but also somewhat limiting (less total content available and eligible). Sure, retro content isn’t always the paragon of fun, especially for veteran players who’ve run some of the early-game dungeons and raids literally hundreds of times, but having a larger total pool of options is a nice thing, especially when it dovetails with other reward structures in the game like Irregular Moogle Tomestone events, Wondrous Tales, or can be done while leveling other jobs. Through roulette rewards of Astronomy, you can get some of the tomes today, but you must do them on a level 90 job, which eliminates some of the value to players trying to get alt jobs up and running.

There’s also the traditional final tomestone rollover we’re due for in patch 6.4. Right now, Astronomy is fine, sure, but at that point, we’d expect to see Astronomy banished to the dust bin in favor of Causality becoming the new tomestone for unlimited weekly rewards at endgame. If the first step of the Manderville weapons shift to Causality at a 1:1 ratio in two patches’ time, that is going to be interesting. Likewise, if they shift down to a lesser amount of Causality, then it raises a weird question to ask – why bother doing the weapons now? Sure, do it for your main job(s) and get that upgradable weapon in your hands, but what about curiosity jobs? Like, I have Bard leveled, but I never play it – if the first step ends up being like 750 Causality in 6 months’ time, why would I do it now? The trick to me is that perhaps this is the point – like the high-end gearing systems of the game that currently exist in Savage and with the capped weekly tomestone, you can’t get every role to full BiS unless the tomestone gear requirements for said BiS are extremely relaxed, so through that lens, it kind of makes sense that the same would be true of these weapons. Should that be the case? I think perhaps not, but it is a design decision that CBUIII has locked on pretty much for most of the game’s life at this point, and while this relic chain represents a small change for now, it’s still obtainable by all jobs on a character if you turn on the hustle-grindset and get to it.

Either way, I find it a fascinating peek into some of the ways in which rewards philosophy in an MMORPG can shape the content we play and the ways that design can be used to turn players towards content that needs a boost.

6 thoughts on “The Manderville Weapons and Some Thoughts About Design Goals

  1. I was a bit surprised about the Astronomy cost too. I think I burnt all of mine last week on Mistletoe to throw on the MB. Given that I’m raiding and don’t NEED the weapon I just thought “well that’ll happen when it happens”.

    Speaking of, how is your raid progress going? We just P7S down last reset and recleared reasonably easily this week. Technically that means we’ve caught up with our FC’s A team, but of course they’ve actually been progging for a few weeks now. We had our first prog night on P8S last night and … we haven’t successfully completed a Reforged Reflection yet. Still, it’s been super fun for this first timer! Though Devour can still be frustrating all these kills later …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been getting them on alt jobs slowly just to have them, but I also had a stockpile of mistletoe going in, so it didn’t hurt too bad!

      Raid prog depends on the group for me. My main static is doing well, down to a 13% P7S pull this week and we should get it next week. We had a cursed start of the tier, since we missed one week to vacations, a second due to an IRL injury, and an additional night due to a power outage, and then we had to recruit mid-tier to replace a DPS, but that went quickly enough!

      My alt static is…eh. We’ve gotten P5S down *once* and since then, a lot of the group members fail to mechanics we’ve done before, leaving us hardstuck on the fight. This week, we got frustratingly close to moving on to P6S with enrage wipes, but didn’t get the kill on P5S. A lot of those players are in a third group I’m now in, where they were doing EX4 for weapons instead of raiding (even knowing that relics were coming…) and now we’re doing P5S as of this week and failing to a lot of the same stuff the same folks do on the alt run. If it was my only raid prog, I’d probably be annoyed out of the run, but since it’s low-pressure alt stuff (and I’ve had great main prog when we weren’t cursed!), it’s not too bad!

      Like

      1. Nice! I went back and counted and we got P7S on our 13th attempt after hitting enrage for the first time. It was, as usual, just a matter of getting a clean run with no DPS deaths. On our reclear we had a beautiful run with no deaths and finished about 30s before enrage. Felt good.

        Sorry about your alt group. I hope you’re having fun though!

        Like

  2. > you can do the whole 6.25 Hildibrand questline and the Manderville Weapon starter quest to the first weapon in about 10 minutes if you skip cutscenes

    I haven’t checked myself yet but I was under the impression that you had to have done ALL Hildibrand content before that one to unlock it. I wouldn’t usually complain but (despite the hints) I bet there’s a sizable portion of the player base who had ignored those as a certain type of side content. Most people like it, but I’ve read “meh” often enough. So calling it 10 minutes is a bit disingenuous if you have to catch up 10-15h that was never relevant for progression or gear in the last X years.

    Like

    1. That’s fair – which is why I specified the 6.25 Hildibrand stuff alone :). If you have to catchup on the whole of it, yeah, it takes a lot longer – I did it on my alt with cutscene skips and it was around maybe like 5 hours? By that measure, it’s the longest prerequisites for a relic weapon, for sure.

      Like

  3. I leveled a character up to max and finished the MSQ, and… I found no reason to keep playing. The end game of FFXIV has no pull for me. I read about all these hoops to jump through and tomes and requirements and I’m just not interested in any of it. Unsubbed, of course.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.