I’ve also gone back through and re-titled some portions of this series simply because numbering wasn’t doing any favors to the overall structure. So if you’re looking through the roundup, it should be easier to tell what each installment is all about.
The “trials” category is, of course, pretty broad; it covers Alexander, the full alliance content, and the Primal fights. It’s also where we start running into some content where I personally just sort of nod and opt out… but we’ll get to that in the column itself. Onward! We can see the endpoint!
Shadows of Mhach
This is actually part of what inspired me to take a look back at the expansion as a whole. Because after the first part of this particular series of raids, I was not looking forward to more… and then the next two rounds wound up with some of my favorite boss fights in the game, so it balanced out nicely.
I’m not sure exactly what went wrong on that big void airship, because unlike Syrcus Tower, it’s not a case of the bosses having few meaningful mechanics. The mechanics were all there, but somehow none of them ever quite coalesced to being much more than tedious. Most wipes wound up coming right after the first boss due to people not getting the knots down; the actual bosses rarely wiped the group, if ever.
However, Weeping City has some great boss design going on (up until the last boss, anyway), and its only real weakness is that Ozma might have one or two more mechanics than it needs. (I think the fight would be better without being quite so fussy about meteor placement; the rest of it works as is.) Dun Scaith, meanwhile, shakes up the usual boss layout and manages to present an impressive array of challenges while never quite feeling like a boss rush, even though at this point it basically is one. (There are two actual straight-up trash pulls in the whole thing. Two!)
Most of the bosses in the second two iterations feature a nicely escalating series of consequences; Dun Scaith in particular likes to tag you with Vulnerability Up for being caught in an AoE. This works out well, because it means that getting tagged by one or two effects by mistake won’t really kill you. Even if you get hit by Shadethrust during the all-crit portion of the Diabolos fight, you’ll almost certainly live. But continually standing in things will kill you, and so the first knock or two serves as a wake-up call rather than a failure point.
Really, I’m all right with having a first installment feel this weak if the subsequent installments are this strong. By the end, this far surpassed the Crystal Tower series in my estimation; it took all of the stuff that made that series fun and made it better besides. I’m excited to see how things look at the next level up.
We did get fewer Expert dungeons this time around, but if that’s the cost of getting Alexander content tuned for multiple difficulty levels, I’m all right with that. I can live with it. I can even live with the fact that much like the above content, it took the second installment for things to really hit their stride.
Of course, unlike Shadows, the big problem the first set of Alexander dungeons faced was that you had no real need for them. This wasn’t a bad thing, I think, but it did mean that people were less inclined to get through A2 and A3 when there wasn’t much waiting at the end aside from a somewhat bland fight. I suppose that on level, it’s better to be in that situation than find yourself forced to clear A4 weekly just to catch up on weaponry at the start of the expansion, but still.
Each part of Alexander unfortunately featured at least one fight that felt just a little overcomplicated compared to the others; A2, A5, and A11 are all kind of mechanical messes that aren’t nearly as fun to play as the designers seemed to expect. At the same time, the final boss fights have usually been pretty fun, and Brute Justice is still one of my favorite bosses to fight even aside from the charming Transformers reference.
Meanwhile, Savage was… well, it had some issues for people pushing progression. Leaving aside people complaining about whether or not the rewards are worth the effort, there was a consistent issue of pushing more and more DPS into the Savage mode, helped along by a few fights with kind of tight requirements in that department. That, in turn, pushes an “optimal” composition rather hard, and discourages a certain amount of experimentation.
Of course, we also didn’t have the calls for an even harder mode, so I think that this might have been tuned just about right. Ultimately, it was fun times and a chance to do more with the game’s content structure; I just wish some of its rewards hadn’t been gated in such a way to be particularly annoying.
Primals, what primals?
If you weren’t doing Expert primals, the primals this expansion basically didn’t exist. They had no rewards, they had no real challenge, they were just a bit of story and then you move on with your life. I haven’t ever had the inclination to go back to them, and that’s a bit sad.
The connected downside is that the game has had to work overtime to ensure that the primal weapons are still relevant, chiefly by gating weapons from other sources for a while so that you either bang your head against Zurvan EX or you wait for several weeks until you can obsolete anything from Zurvan. It’s a solution, but it’s not one that I particularly like, and it always feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to get people to care about the primals whether or not they’re naturally inclined to do so.
The plus side, of course, is that it does remain optional content and it’s there for people who enjoy it. Arguably, it works out better in the long run to keep people interested and provide some meaningful-but-not-overwhelming rewards. It’s all better than it used to be with farming stuff like Ifrit for weaponry, but I’m not sure if having the normal fights amount to little more than speedbumps is exactly an improvement.
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; you can also check out a full list of previous installments in this series just below. Form here, it’s time to touch upon more esoteric content and play options, and then – finally – I’ll be ready to wrap things up with a final verdict. See you in a week.