I’ve long been very fond of the stories told in FFXIV, and while 2.0’s overall main story left me a bit cold, Heavensward on a whole has been a massive improvement and has done a great job. The conclusion to the arc feels organic and fulfilling, filled with satisfying resolutions for characters and story arcs, endings that felt fitting if not always entirely positive. Not everyone got what they wanted, but everyone had an ending. It’s good.
Now, let’s talk about all of the ways that it was rather bad and could be improved in the future. (And remember, there will be spoilers.)
An abrupt conclusion
Patch 3.3 very nearly pulls off quite a trick by making you entirely forget that its story is coming right on the heels of a patch story with the exact opposite message. This patch is all about having hope again, finding the best in people, looking to the future as a positive force, entirely forgetting the fact that patch 3.2 ended with a realization that Ishgard still has so far to go before peace with the dragons is even possible. It’s at odds with the message of both patch stories thus far.
More to the point, it’s at odds with the entire tragic point of the expansion, that you can’t just show up and fix things. Killing Nidhogg is something you pull off halfway through the MSQ in the base expansion, and that successfully changes… nothing. The Archbishop’s plans still move forward, the Horde still hates Ishgard, Ishgard is still hunting dragons, everyone is still suffering in just the same way. That’s what moves the whole story into the realm of tragedy.
Part of what I’ve liked about the expansion in general is the sense that this is not a story wherein you beat the end boss and everything is fine. Killing someone is never an actual working solution in Heavensward. Death is tragic, and death alone does not erase generations of hatred… until it totally does exactly that. Which means that when you kill Nidhogg on the Final Steps of Faith, the story is tacitly admitting that what you did wrong was just not killing him enough the first time. It wasn’t about a cycle of hatred that was inextricably bound with existence; it was just a question of degree.
The story manages to pull it off because we’ve got a lot of investment and we’ve felt a lot of the turmoil arising over the past year of being in Ishgard. I probably wouldn’t have an issue with it if Estinien had actually died at the end rather than being spared by the power of friendship, even; it would have made a nicer metaphorical capstone to the idea of letting go of hatred. But it doesn’t sit well with me that the end to this story of a cycle of hate ends just by killing the main boss.
The cliffhanger was not
The end of 2.55 was an intensely clever setup for the first expansion. Instead of marching into Ishgard in triumph, we had to slink in after becoming wanted criminals in Ul’dah, a sequence of events that led to every single one of the Scions being missing-and-presumed while radically reshaping the map of alliances. Suddenly, the Eorzean Alliance itself was revealed as being desperately thin. Ishgard was our promised refuge, but what would happen while we were gone?
As it turns out… nothing. No one is actually dead, everyone knew we were innocent, and Ul’dah is back to where it was before. The biggest long-term changes are just that the Scions are not entirely back together yet (which feels perfunctory under the circumstances and mostly offered everyone some new costumes) and Raubahn is now mostly armless.
The fact that nothing really changed would annoy me no matter what, but the fact that everything was just reset with an almost casual disdain particularly jars. We took a couple of trips back to Ul’dah more as a means of tying up loose ends than anything; our impact on the overall plot was negligible at best. It was a distracting action through and through, and while it got players up to Ishgard, it served no other long-term purpose. Very little really changed, other than Alphinaud’s ego.
I’m not upset that we went to Ishgard, obviously; I’m upset that we had a big cliffhanger set up and then didn’t do anything with it. Frankly, I would have been happy if the MSQ hadn’t actually addressed most of what took place in Ul’dah except by reference. Let that cliffhanger stew for a while! Let us skulk about in the three nations with some hint of apprehension for a while! Don’t bring back these elements if we’re not going to do much with them, and don’t have a big cliffhanger full of deaths just to laugh and say “just kidding everyone’s alive” five minutes later.
Remember Hilda? I certainly do. She showed up and immediately had a big impact, because she was living proof of a cross-breed between hyur and elezen, along with an obviously cool NPC besides. She uses a gun as her primary weapon (unusual but not unheard of in Ishgard), she has criminal connections and a whole network of contacts in the Brume, she’s obviously got a whole lot going on. She could easily be a major NPC in a class story or the MSQ.
Then she just exits stage right after showing up for about half a minute.
I’m sure that part of this is a matter of the game setting up for future storytelling and scenarios, but at the same time, it’s intensely frustrating to see a character introduced and then shelved for an extended period, even when there are events taking place that would seem to involve her. She just serves as a hanger-on briefly, here and there. And she’s not unique in this – Yugiri, for example, is still treated as a major character without actually doing much more than showing up once in a blue moon. Riol has been shuffled off to one side without ever putting paid to his whole scheming and observational nature regarding the Crystal Braves. Heck, we were introduced to a new major Ascian in the original story who did absolutely nothing beyond dying at the end.
There are a lot of places where the game is great about shuffling characters into new configurations, like moving Cid from the main scenario to the Crystal Tower to the main scenario again and back over to Alexander. I also quite like how the cast of characters for each major story arc is distinct; Alexander has a set of major players, ditto the Warring Triad storyline, but they’re not all the same people who worked together in the past. But we’ve had more than a few characters introduced in this expansion and then just ignored, or who were set up for big things only to have absolutely no payoff.
Sure, that payoff may very well come further on down the line. But why introduce characters now to leave them unused for years? It seems like a waste.
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, we’ll be right on the Deep Dungeon doorstep… I don’t think it’s possible to talk about much else, is it? Probably not.