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The next expansion for Final Fantasy XIV will be announced this year. We all know it. I suppose there’s a chance it won’t happen, that the fan festival isn’t going to contain any announcements of the sort, but only in the super-technical sense that it could happen rather than any realistic outcome. So another expansion is being revealed in nine-ish months, and that prompts the obvious question: Where are we going now?
This isn’t an idle question, either. The fact that the first expansion brought us to Ishgard meant that the entire story of the game went in a different direction than if we had gone elsewhere, focusing upon the known but somewhat intentionally vague Dragonsong War and making it the central point of the story. As we prepare for the next expansion, I can see three obvious areas that may lead us onward into the world, and each one brings with it certain assumptions and stories that we have yet to hear.
If you asked me to rank the most likely destinations of the game’s next expansion – and that’s kind of what I’m doing here – this would be at the top by virtue of Heavensward on a conceptual level. After years of staring at the gates and wondering what lay beyond, it seemed almost silly to imagine that we wouldn’t gain access to Ishgard at long last. Ala Mhigo and the regions surrounding it are the next obvious locale for players to explore.
Of course, the difference between the two is that Ala Mhigo is controlled by the Empire. Right now.
To say that the Empire will control Ala Mhigo forever is to ignore a whole lot of plot leading up to its possible liberation… and the fact that the Empire as a whole and the Emperor in particular seems to have a differing set of priorities than it did when the city-state was first conquered. The city’s continued value as a central staging point seems to be diminishing, especially with the Empire’s new flagship no longer having to deal with the threat of a certain elder wyrm tearing it out of the sky. The avowed reaction to what happened in Doma makes it clear that Empire is willing to give up a nation now if it believes that it can always come back later or make sure that no one gets it.
Even if the city itself remains hostile and the expansion’s “hub” is an offshoot, however, there’s plenty to do in the region that we already know about. The Ixal originally hail from this area, for example, and we know for a fact that Ala Mhigo was easily the most technical of the states before it fell. Opportunity exists to cover all manner of jobs as we explore the region, as well as to place a renewed focus upon the war against the Empire and the ultimate goals of Garlemald.
There’s also the simple fact that the concept art for it exists right in the original collector’s edition art book, which suggests that it’s not something the designers have just started thinking about. Much like Ishgard, it’s an obvious trigger just waiting for the right moment to be pulled.
On the one hand, this seems really backwards compared to what was just listed. Really, if Ala Mhigo can’t be retaken, why would Eorzeans decide to move across the sea and retake Doma? Especially when Doma itself was largely demolished by the Empire as a punishment for its attempted rebellion?
Of course, the Empire isn’t going to be as heavily focused on a region that it’s fairly certain it has destroyed and no longer has much value to the emperor as a whole. It would also serve the purpose of surprising people who expect everyone to stay on Eorzea, and I can definitely see it being put forth (with FFXIV‘s usual odd view of geopolitics) as an ideal spot for refugees currently crowding the various cities. Taking Doma back and exploring the space around Othard has a great deal of appeal to the au ra and the otherwise nationless Domans still chilling in Mor Dhona, to boot.
This sort of expansion would also allow the game to start moving beyond the single continent, which is important; there are five continents in the world that we’re aware of, and staying just in Eorzea for long enough diminishes the impact of the others. Places like Radz-at-Han have been mentioned extensively and have brought their own materials to Eorzea, but we have yet to see anywhere beyond the existing and well-known region of the world. There’s plenty of space to expand.
All the talk of Samurai would certainly fit into this sort of setting without a problem, I’ll note.
Much of what happens in the next few patches will determine whether this or Ala Mhigo seems more obvious. But there’s another option that I don’t see discussed much, a third potential destination that would bring players into a very different sort of conflict.
It might seem odd, but it is possible – if not exactly likely – that the next expansion won’d send us anywhere in huge numbers. Rather, it’ll send us to where we’ve already been, but in greater depths.
One of the elements that was mentioned in an offhand interview before the release of Heavensward was that Yoshida had to decide between a flying expansion and an aquatic expansion. Obviously, we got the former, but there’s room to speculate about what the latter might mean. There aren’t a great number of things to explore beneath the waves… unless you count off of the coast of Western Thanalan, which lost large amounts of land mass when the Calamity struck. Unless we start crossing the sea to the Sharlayan island. Unless there is more underwater than we know about. This is the sort of thing that could easily be used to hang no shortage of content, exploring sides of the existing three regions that we know about from 1.0 but have since been unable to access.
Lots of dungeons and regions from 1.0 are no longer accessible, including three-quarters or so of Mor Dhona, chunks of the Black Shroud and La Noscea, and bits and pieces of Thanalan. A trip to Sharlayan suggests a reason for turning inward, with grounds for new jobs within the existing city-states as well – we’ve never actually accessed the Musketeer’s guild, and the currently sealed state of Ul’dah’s Milvaneth Sacrarium suggests that something could lie behind it.
That’s on top of the fact that we already have prominent Sharlayan NPCs as major elements of the game’s ongoing storyline, with another one joining us not coincidentally with the last patch. And then there’s another matter to consider…
I think we have an expansion or two before we start looking inward once more, but I also don’t think that hanging an entire expansion off of Sharlayan is absurd in the least. It’d be unexpected, to boot, but it would tie in to subtle hints that had been dropped here and there.
None of this is certain, and it’s quite possible that these options are less exclusive than we think. It’s possible to have an expansion exploring Sharlayan and Ala Mhigo, for example. But I think all three are viable possibilities. And we’ve got, oh, nine months to see what looks more likely.