Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urhgan - Staff Review  

Treasures for Everyone
by Cortney Stone



Rating definitions 

   In the spring of 2006, Final Fantasy XI expanded for the third time, bringing another continent to Vana'diel. Aht Urhgan, a land of danger, mystery, and eastern culture awaited eager adventurers. On launch day, they crowded onto the eastbound ship in Mhaura like nineteenth-century European immigrants headed for America -- an exodus that turned the sleepy port city into the new hotspot.

   Upon arriving in these unfamiliar lands, players discover that things in Aht Urhgan are quite different from that to which they are accustomed. Instead of outposts, there are staging points throughout the land that warp players to and from the capital city of Al Zahbi, provided they have bound themselves to these distant portals. The city has guilds for every craft, auction house access, and plenty of shops. The Empire also has its own currency, although many vendors will accept gil as well. However, players cannot become national citizens. Instead, they serve as mercenaries of the Empire under the command of the ruthless Naja Salaheem, a greedy Mithra with a big mace, a sharp tongue, and wild mood swings.

   Mercenary life is everything -- or at least three major things -- for an adventurer in the Empire. Mercenary work comprises the missions that advance Treasures of Aht Urhgan's rich, well-written, and often humorous storyline. Although new chapters are still being released at the time of this review, the currently available missions are already surpassing those of Chains of Promathia as far as the quality of writing is concerned. The story is not as epic, but it is certainly far less perplexing, and it promises plenty of intrigue with a dash of swashbuckling adventure.

f you're alone, imps make Caedarva Mire even more miserable. If you have a party, they make sweet experience point chains. If you're alone, imps make Caedarva Mire even more miserable. If you have a party, they make sweet experience point chains.

   In order to advance in mercenary rankings, players must participate in Assault -- casual instances with specific orders to kill enemies, find treasure, or rescue a captive. Some assaults are fun, while others are rather absurd. Players as low as level 50 may participate in these events, which have optional level caps; group sizes may range from three to six players, and each assault takes about half an hour to finish. Completing an assault nets the player mysterious items, which must be appraised, and assault points, which can be exchanged for equipment. Most of the equipment is quite useful, and every job can find something of value.

   The third component of mercenary life is Besieged. For years, many players wondered, "What if the beastmen could attack the cities?" Square Enix answered this question by having waves of beastmen periodically attack Al Zahbi and attempt to seize the Astral Candescence, a strange artifact that resonates a mysterious force, giving power to those who possess it. Everyone in the zone is forced into battle. If players successfully hold off the attacking hordes, the Empire rewards them; if they fail, the beastmen claim the Astral Candesence. While this may sound exciting, players should be careful about what they wish for. There is so much lag in Besieged that it is difficult to play, and the monsters are so strong that the event takes too much effort to complete for the minimal rewards. Fortunately, adjustments are coming, so this event has the potential to improve.

Welcome to Mamook. Mind the scary lizard folk who think your head would be lovely on a pike. Welcome to Mamook. Mind the scary lizard folk who think your head would be lovely on a pike.

   One major complaint about Chains of Promathia -- although a frivolous one -- was that it did not offer any new jobs. Treasures of Aht Urhgan brings three: Blue Mage, a job that the community had begged for; Corsair, a pirate class based on the classic Gambler job; and Puppetmaster, an often-ridiculed class that uses an automaton for attacks. Like other advanced jobs, these may be unlocked by anyone who is level 30 or higher. Blue Mage is an astounding, flexible class; depending on which monster abilities the Blue Mage has equipped, he or she can deal damage, offer support, or even assist in tanking. Corsair functions much like the Bard class, except that it is luck-based, and it is not as popular. Puppetmaster seems more like a joke or an afterthought, and it suffers from imbalances.

   As mentioned earlier, Treasures of Aht Urhgan added an entire new continent to Vana'diel, full of frightening and beautiful areas for adventurers to explore. Chains of Promathia brought some amazing zones to the game, but this expansion seems to top it, from the colorful leaves of Bhaflau Thickets, to the ghostly mists of the ship graveyard in Arrapago Reef. There are also plenty of strange new monsters to fight, although some palette-swapped ones are mingled in. Furthermore, these new zones have helped alleviate the overcrowding problem on the old continent. Al Zahbi is the new Jeuno, and the surrounding areas are bountiful leveling grounds for levels 50 through 75. Monsters are often easier to kill, and they respawn very quickly, prompting many people to create "burn" groups that get fast kills and high experience point chains. Unfortunately, these conditions have led to overcrowding in the new areas.

   Naoshi Mizuta composed the soundtrack for Treasures of Aht Urhgan, and like the music of Chains of Promathia, it is quite good. The town themes have a delicious Middle Eastern sound, the surrounding areas have themes that set the mood -- mysterious, peaceful, or spooky -- and the battle music stirs the fighting spirit. However, nothing is particularly outstanding, half the tracks are too repetitious, and one, the less-than-mediocre piece played during Assault, sounds horribly out of place with its cheesy synthesized style.

    Clearly, Square Enix listened to the players who complained about the difficulty of Chains of Promathia. The missions are not as challenging or time-consuming in this expansion, but the down side is that completing them isn't as satisfying. There are other challenges in this expansion, such as aggressive flea-like monsters that the players cannot see until it is too late, and trips through maze-like areas with truesight monsters to reach staging points.

   Treasures of Aht Urhgan is a solid, well-made expansion. The Empire functions differently from the rest of Vana'diel, giving the game a refreshing change of pace. There's something for almost everyone; level 30 and over can unlock the new jobs, and level 50 and up can experience Assault and level grinding in the new areas. The storyline features quality writing that puts previous Final Fantasy XI missions to shame, even though they were already considered great by MMO standards. With new content being developed and released periodically and upcoming features like chocobo racing and the coliseum, Treasures of Aht Urhgan is a valuable find for adventurers.

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