Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward in review – expert dungeons

    
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This was only the start.
It’s benchmark time, friends! I have, no the surprise of no one, already run the benchmark and played around with the character creator (I scored 11,000 or so on max settings, so I’m not worried). So that’s all the more reason to focus on this week’s look across the whole of Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward and look at what went right, what went wrong, and why Palace of the Dead is such a cool addition to the game.

Seriously, if I haven’t mentioned this lately, I really like Palace of the Dead and I can’t wait for our next deep dungeon. It’s a really cool addition.

We’ve also got a roundup of all of these columns at the end, if you need to catch up, because fitting in a rundown of everything was getting increasingly difficult as I’d been doing these in-review columns for more than a month now. Last week, I talked chiefly about leveling dungeons and the zones we ran through along the way; this week, it’s time to start talking about things at the top. Start, naturally, with the expert-level dungeons.

We won't be beating you up any longer.

Expert-level dungeons

We wound up with far fewer expert dungeons with this expansion, with only 12 compared to the 17 of the base game. This was compounded by the smaller roulette sizes; while Expert roulette usually had three dungeons in 2.x, Heavensward always had a two-dungeon rotation. The result, unfortunately, was that the dungeons started feeling stale a bit faster.

Of course, it also bears noting that the game gave us 12 max-level dungeons to play around with over two years of updates, so that’s still pretty great. It was just a little smaller than we had grown accustomed to. I still wish that the Expert roulette would expand a bit further by not immediately knocking down the older dungeons from the rotation, but that seems unlikely to happen now.

Mechanically, the bosses of the Expert dungeons were easily on par with or better than the stuff we saw in the base game; in fact, the design in general retained the high level of quality we saw all the way through. Most of the mechanics were also comprehensible in the heat of battle, avoiding instant failure states if you went in blind, and some of them (like the first boss of Xelphatol) really challenged the way that you already think about fighting bosses. All very, very good things.

Really, the biggest issue that the dungeons had was one borne out of escalating gear bonuses and design issues. When it came to clearing trash, this expansion created a player culture of grabbing everything up to the next barrier, waiting for it all to slowly die from AoE damage, then doing the exact same thing up to the boss. It’s a great and efficient use of pulls if you have the right party (say, DRK/WHM/SMN/MNK) but it became the “expected” course of things, which means that every dungeon wound up becoming an ersatz run of Wanderer’s Palace at launch.

All right, this one did have some pretty annoying moments.

Is this a problem? To an extent, yes; it means that tanks are encouraged not to pay attention to party composition but just go through the same motions every time, while it encourages some pretty inefficient AoE spam from jobs which aren’t very good at it. But it’s also a natural consequence when tanks increasingly have so much health that more incoming damage is basically irrelevant.

Where tanks used to switch to Strength to provide more efficient DPS when they had passed a certain point, now it’s just all Vitality, all the time. That was a necessary change when it was made, because the number of tanks stacking STR far before they should have even considered it was frankly ridiculous… but it led us to the point where even Dark Knights are huge damage sponges. This is, I suspect, also why so many of the Expert dungeons have gateways every other pull or so, something to force a certain chokepoint and encourage groups to not just AoE everything down.

So it’s kind of a problem, because it results in some pulls having little to no identity. But it’s largely a subset of the numerical inflation we’ve seen with this expansion, which is something to be addressed overall. And some pulls (like the last pair in Xelphatol) use this to great effect; players need to have more reason to consider why they’re pulling in certain patterns, rather than removing the option outright.

But when the biggest problem with dungeons is “well, some of this setup encourages sub-optimal pulling patterns,” the dungeons are pretty dang great. If I have time, I’d love to rank our Expert dungeons from this expansion; as it stands, I’ll just happily say that I enjoyed the lot of them, and I really like fighting their bosses. Even when people get sloppy.

Show your glow.

Palace of the Dead

Ah, time for me to gush about Palace of the Dead again. The whole Deep Dungeon format is one of those great parts of the expansion that I hope gets brought forward, and I suspect it will; it’s just too solid to be left to the wayside. It’s simultaneously good leveling content, good max-level content, and it offers progression while also making itself just fun to play. I heart it.

The last 100 floors make for a good challenge for people who just enjoy, well, challenge. The first 100, on the other hand, are just fun to clear on whatever, and you can quite comfortably stop there if you want to. Plus, no matter where you are, it encourages using abilities you might otherwise have forgotten, drinking your potions, keeping a close eye on your own status and group composition, and so forth. Add that to the various incidental NPC cameos throughout and the sheer fun of being able to wear whatever you wish, and…

I could keep gushing about it all day, really.

Of course, there are downsides to it, starting with the fact that the save files always feel a bit too narrow to really use. Having two slots can sometimes feel painfully restrictive, and since you have to frequently delete and restart, it can be frustrating to just start again and again. I also wish there was a slightly gentler curve to the in-palace leveling system, simply because the progression is part of the fun; when you’re already capped midway through the 40s, you lose out on part of what makes it fun long before you’re actually at the end.

Still, it’s a great setup and something I hope to see expanded upon in the not-so-distant future. We’ve been told that the system will be back in Stormblood, although we don’t yet know the details. A few tweaks and it’ll be nigh-on perfect… but then, a few tweaks are most likely exactly what we’ll get, because this studio is good about not fixing what isn’t broken.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to the numbers problem this week aside from brushing against it when talking about Expert dungeons… and next week I’ve got primals, Alexander, and the alliance raids to talk about. This is going to take a while, but we’re reaching the home stretch after all. So until then, feel free to leave your feedback down in the comments or mail it along to eliot@massivelyop.com. And if you’ve missed a column or two, well, use that roundup!

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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Dolvic

As much as I like PotD, I do have one problem in using it to level my alt jobs. Spirit bonding. While the benefit of not caring about gear is useful, I would have liked to get some spirit bond out of a run. Without it, I have to still rely on dungeon runs to build my stockpile of materia.

The spirit bond and loot do keep the dungeons populated though. So at least new players aren’t left stranded with all the old players in PotD.

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Emiliano Lozada

Honestly POTD was the best thing to come out of HW imo. I haven’t had so much fun with FFXIV until POTD came out to the point where I’d find myself bored out of my mind when I finished levelling my main jobs/classes through it.

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Vincent Clark

It’s also worth pointing out, that on top of 12 dungeons we also got 3 “multi-wing” 8-man raids–normal and savage–which, in a nutshell, equals 12 raids. And 3 24-man alliance raids. (with Weeping City being a fun & fantastic ride). Most MMOs would kill to be able to kick out that type of consistent, quality content.

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Ruby Lancer

My biggest issues with the Expert Dungeons were basically how much they encouraged going fast and pulling everything possible and how that mentality began to invade the leveling dungeons.

I had several runs while leveling Scholar up to 50 where the tanks seemed content to just pull every pack up until they reached some form of barrier or the boss room, generally the latter. When they did so, it didn’t always end up going well, and it was always such a chaotic, stressful mess because no one has the stats, gear, or abilities to handle that kind of stuff in leveling dungeons.

Even the HW leveling dungeons aren’t exactly conductive to the kind of mass pulling you would get in Expert Dungeons. Its more possible to handle those kinds of pulls, yes, but its still a rough thing to do and you kind of need to be coordinate things and be in the same mindset.

I do kind of hope that the ability prune as well as some changes to just general dungeon design can help curb it some in Stormblood. I don’t know if I’d want to continue to tank if I’m constantly feeling like I need to be pulling as large as possible in a dungeon, or even heal one if things keep up.

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Sorenthaz

That sort of mentality is going to plague any MMO tbh. People would rather just get it over with as soon as possible so they take as many shortcuts as they can. Similar stuff happened in WoW ages ago.

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Albert Guzman

As a SMN, I was always pretty well off with the spamming AoE in dungeons, but I’ll admit the repetitive grouping of monsters for said spamming was a little bit tiring. Trash mobs are trash mobs, what more is there to say?

Well, who am I really to complain? I’m no expert on dungeons, or game design, so I can’t say how hard it’d be to add some mechanics to the parts between bosses on those dungeons. And even if they could, I don’t know if after memorizing those mechanics the dungeon would feel just as repetitive as others, and less liked for the added steps.

*Shrug* I guess all I can keep hoping for is steady, quality content. Keep it up, Square. You too, Yoshi & Friends.

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Tridus

I kind of dread doing Palace as a non-healer, because of how many times I’ve done this:
– Get a group of all DPS
– Things go great for 9 floors
– The Boss obliterates three people in seconds because they seem to think there’s a healer and take lots of avoidable damage
– Have to go do those floors all over again

I also find the first 10 floors annoying because they require no real thought or paying attention at all. 41-100 is a pretty fun ride, though.

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Sorenthaz

Oddly enough I find 41-50 to be the worst set. 51-100 was super easy in comparison. Something about the “dont look” mechanic of the boss on floor 50 just makes everyone go full stupid mode.

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greyformat

I find it’s easiest to get used to as a healer, since you can continue to heal people if you toggle off the face target when casting option. Once you have it down it is almost second nature to attempt with tanking or dps classes.

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Sorenthaz

I’m already used to the ‘eye’ mechanics on NPCs, but in general I tend to have pretty good reaction times to MMO mechanics.
Also helps that a raid boss in RIFT had that mechanic and I grew very used to doing it in the past, lol.