Welcome to the seventh installment of the Game Design Spotlight, a weekly piece where I examine the design elements of various parts of an MMO, such as the overall design of a game world and complicated housing features. Last week, I walked us through Lost Ark’s Artillerist class and how its explosive skill play amplifies the identity of the combat system. Today, we travel back to Final Fantasy XIV to scrutinize Aether Currents.
I’ll be one of the first to say Aether Currents are great and painless for unlocking flying in FFXIV zones. Though, I’d be remiss not to say it has lost its sense of discovery and excitement since debuting in Heavensward. Rather smartly, its implementation as a scavenger hunt across a zone alongside the main story progression screams FFXIV because it services the story beats. Add on the ease of locating and attuning to these whisking gusts of aether, and it shines as a comfortable feature with less hassle than the likes of World of Warcraft’s reputation grind.
But am I also the first to say that Aether Currents are missing some measure of excitement and evolution outside of being a scavenger hunt? With the host of zones FFXIV has, which are phenomenal set pieces and expansive, is there room for experimentation?
I believe plenty of additions can shake up how players gain Aether Currents. From unique zone events to a limited portion of flying out the gate that expands over time, the devs should consider ideas that fundamentally make sense for their environments and respects the comfort of collecting Aether Currents.
Finding My Wings
As mentioned, Square Enix added flying to Final Fantasy XIV in the Heavensward expansion back in 2015. I fondly remember how the process of gaining Aether Currents throughout the zones and quests helped expand one of the draconian parts of the world and rewarded me with a neat feature to get around quicker.
At the time, it was fresh and gave players perspective as they hunted these wispy fragments. Of course, most of the appeal was how easy flying was to unlock: Complete the content and interact with some green currents now and then. Square found a way to integrate the system with the zone story/content, and it was as simple as cutting back the fluff seen in other MMOs.
It still took time to unlock, though. But zones back then were manageably-sized and story content was more centered on completing a zone before moving to the next. No one was really impatient over the wait, either, since you could get it pretty fast if you blaze through the story. Quite frankly, its streamlined process was almost like a crutch for me because I always knew I could fly in the zone later.
Easy Unlock = Good Times
Using a magical compass is the only thing necessary to find Aether Currents out in the wild. A simple click-and-go type of maneuver; sharing details with the player on the cardinal direction of a nearby Aether Current and its distance from them. I briefly touched on how these wisps coincide with the main story, which opens up unreachable areas and zig-zags over the map with a breadcrumb trail of Aether Currents.
Incidentally, the placement of the floating wisps does not inspire exploration away from the story and are easy to locate since players hang about close by. The system walks the path of the least resistance to the player and has been drilled into fans now entering new zones to pop that little compass and collect Aether Currents, so toward the end of the zone, flying is ready when quests are done.
I like to think of it as a mental checklist that Square reminds you of as you collect other fragments through story/side quests. Everyone is generally happy and right to regard the system as quality-of-life-friendly; however, for a game that has arguably reinvented many aspects of MMORPGs, it feels more like untapped potential.
The Thrill Of The Hunt
Shadowbringers zones like The Tempest and Amh Araeng are phenomenal zones that could have seen a mixture of ways to gain Aether Currents. The former could have given players flying at the start, limiting their reach across the map to tease secrets down the line. Amh Araeng has a ton of lore bombs that I wish would get explored through the zone, rewarding players with Aether Currents for defeating specific mobs or finishing unique FATEs related to the Sin Eaters. With how newer zones bring more and more intrigue to the table, I believe the systems a part of that should elevate, too.
These changes would eject players from this pocket of comfort with collecting Aether Currents and inspire the devs to craft ways of making the excitement behind gaining them more substantial. So often am I disappointed by desolate little nooks on the map or eye-candy landmarks with lore significance sitting there that could contribute to this discovery of Aether Currents. After years of the usual way of gaining flying, a bit of experimentation to spice things up and how they fit with the environment could make the process less of a mental checklist.
That concludes another week of the Game Design Spotlight! Do you think Square should ever change the Aether Currents? If so, got an idea? And if not, what makes the system great as it is now? Also, leave any games or features you would like me to cover for future stories if you have any suggestions!
About the Author
Anthony Jones is a gaming journalist and late 90s kid in love with retro games and the evolution of modern gaming. He started at Mega Visions as a news reporter covering the latest announcements, rumors, and fan-made projects. FFXIV has his heart in the MMORPGs scene, but he's always excited to analyze and lose hours to ambitious and ambiguous MMOs that gamers follow.
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