Well… that’s an interesting topic. And it kind of merits a discussion about what’s been done differently with this expansion cycle in terms of storytelling. While the 2.x series ostensibly told a continual story straight through until the end, 3.x quite happily ended the story of Heavensward with 3.3. Sure, there’s more stuff to do, but there was no ambiguity about the fact that the war was over and we were moving on to other problems.
The bright side is that the result is a story that flows quite naturally and doesn’t have to share screen time with setting up the next expansion. The down side, however, is that the story has… some issues. That’s kind of a throughput for the patch in general. For the record, while this post may have some spoilers, I’ll keep anything major hidden behind spoiler tags, so it should be relatively safe to read through; fairly warned be ye.
The MSQ and the aborted arc
The MSQ needs to segue us into the next expansion at this point, and that means bringing up stuff that we had previously had left to one side. Unfortunately, that also means that the story commits one of the same sins that the original expansion story committed, solving a major problem by more or less pretending that it never happened. There are two big lingering plot points addressed in this patch, and both of them are resolved at blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace to tidy up the stage.
Good stuff first: Alisaie’s return to the MSQ proper is very welcome, and it also kind of underscores a feeling I’ve long had that she’s more interesting than her brother by far. While Alphinaud’s character arc has been solid, Alisaie comes onto the scene with a very calm and level personality that I enjoy immensely. The MSQ also covers a lot of ground, tying up loose threads that have been lying fallow in some cases for the entire expansion. While I’m not always fond of how those threads are tied up, I appreciate that there’s a solid sense of narrative work at play.
On the side of the bad, though… well, the promotional material made no mystery of the central role that the Warriors of Darkness would play, which didn’t exactly light me on fire to begin with. The Warriors of Darkness never really felt like particularly solid antagonists, a threat that we’re told is dangerous more than one we actually feel, and while there’s conscious effort put into bulking them up, they never really deliver.
From here on… well, heck, I have to dive into spoiler territory.Don't click to read this section if you haven't finished up the 3.4 MSQ and don't want spoilers.
The fact that the story ends with the Warriors of Darkness dead plays into the aforementioned problem, where the threat has been played up and then gets resolved more or less without any overall impact. They show up and their first meaty appearance winds up with them pretty much immediately removed, serving only to ultimately drive a nail in Minfilia’s coffin that we didn’t need. The sense of loss is largely just a matter of, “Hey, that thing you knew was over? Yep, it’s really over!” After this group was introduced as a major threat, their ultimate role is more or less inconsequential.
I’m also unhappy with how Yda and Papalymo are reintroduced, more or less with a shrug and a wave. Instead of anything needing to happen, it turns out they mostly just hadn’t been looked for, resulting in an awkward half-reunion and all of the hints about what they were up to rendered moot in moments. Yes, I know, there’s the implication of more to come; the result still feels like consequence entirely deferred.
Ultimately, I was pleased with the MSQ on a whole, since it provided plenty of solid lore and good character moments. But I did feel that some major plot points got handwaved away and ignored, threats introduced only to be ignored for a while and then discarded. At least it did address one niggling concern I had from the end of another storyline, though!
Alexander’s mixed bag
The Alexander story has always suffered from two big problems, one major and one minor. Unfortunately, the conclusion suffers badly for both of them.
For the latter point, Alexander was never going to feel as important as Bahamut, and it’s a real shame that Coil wasn’t handled in the same way as Alexander simply because there’s a lot of solid story therein for the Calamity. A random scary walking fortress wasn’t ever going to deliver as much punch as the imprisoned dragon primal who ruined Eorzea; that’s just the nature of the structure. It’s only compounded by the introduction of goblins, who are hard to take seriously at the best of times.
On the former point, though, the reality was that Alexander was a story about time travel. Time travel stories are tricky, and they get much harder to run correctly when they’re based heavily around the eleventh-hour reveal that these weird things happening earlier were actually based around things you do later. The result, in this case, was a plot that all but comes out and tells you at the end that your actions were a foregone conclusion, which feels like you needn’t have bothered without outright saying it.
Couple that with the fact that the plot hasn’t made particularly good use of most of its participants (Cid, Biggs, Wedge, and even Y’shtola haven’t had much to do other than stand around and exposit) and the final sequence comes off as kind of pointless. It lacks a strong sense of finality and of enemies defeated; instead, it’s mostly a matter of “well, story’s over.” Kind of a missed set of opportunities.
The actual portions of the dungeon were also a mixed bag; two of the fights provide real mechanical roadblocks, while the other two feel fairly straightforward. It’s kind of clever how A10’s biggest mechanic is actually avoiding using a mechanic, but it’s just a mild sort of meta-amusement, and A11 feels like it’s a bit more complex than it needs to be at various points. Many points are earned for the clever use of time travel in the final fight, however.
Dungeoneering is still fun
All this grousing about stories and I haven’t yet even touched upon the dungeons! I feel bad about that. I think they’re significantly better than our last pair, frankly; Sohr Khai and Hullbreaker were both pretty absurdly simple, hence why I would often announce in the former, “Aw, we got the easy one? I wanted the really easy one.”
Xelphatol has an intensely clever first boss, a cool last boss, and a somewhat middling boss between the two (who still manages to have some mechanical heft). It also has a couple of very interesting trash sequences, especially since it puts the burden on you of dealing with incoming Ixali war balloons. I quite like that element, especially since war balloons are one of those parts of the Ixal that we don’t see in action all that often. It’s also a very nice bit from a story perspective, as we’re not heading into the depths just for the heck of it; we’re trying to prevent a full-scale summoning of Garuda once again.
Great Gubal Library’s first boss feels like the weakest of the lot, sustained mostly by the novelty of “here’s what the demon in the wall/book looks like!” But even that is pretty fun, and the second boss is a fun nod to Final Fantasy V with some solid mechanics. The last boss is really a collection of older mechanics, but it kind of makes the whole thing more fun as a result, as it gives a feel of reliving familiar elements while also making them part of something different.
I feel like that’s kind of indicative of this patch in general, at the end of the day. The mechanics are a bit stronger than the story, and the dungeons are more satisfying than some of the lore. That isn’t always the case, but it still leads to a positive feeling all around.
And heck – I haven’t even touched on Wondrous Tails, or Squadrons, or the side stories, or anything beyond the biggest centerpieces. I should probably do that next week, huh? Until then, you can feel free to leave comments down below or mail them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.