At first glance that’s the sort of obvious question to prompt eye-rolling and derisive smirks. That’s obvious: A trial is just a contained boss fight in a specific arena, while a raid is a mini-dungeon followed by a boss fight! And then you remember that a whole lot of raids, such as all of Deltascape and the last fight of each Alexander wing, don’t actually have any sort of dungeon attachment. So maybe a raid just means that they’re thematically linked… oh, wait, except that we’ve had sequences of trials linked like that with the Warring Triad.
Two difficulty modes? Well, yes, that means they have different names, but not different structures. Oh, let’s also remember that Extreme Primals, much like Alexander and onward, have a largely token-based loot system! Figured out the difference yet? It gets more fun when you remember that raids are technically different from alliance raids. Or that technically, Praetorium might qualify as a raid!
The real answer here is that it doesn’t actually matter much. The difference is chiefly one of nomenclature. But something that I’ve been thinking about ever since Deltascape came out, just because the game has a whole lot of different names for things that we may, in fact, not ultimately need.
First and foremost, let me make it clear that my viewpoint here is not that the game needs fewer endgame options. I would personally shed no tears if Extreme primals and Savage raids were no longer a thing, but there are people who do like that stuff, and the fact is that one of the strengths I’ve praised the game on many times is that you can still ignore that stuff and be surrounded by endgame content and fun stuff to do. That’s a good thing! That is a nice thing about this game specifically.
But I also think that content overload is a problem we need to be aware of. Specifically, whether or not we have too many styles of content that don’t really do anything, maybe Square shouldn’t add any new options to the game or enhance the overall experience. And increasingly, just plain old trials feel like they’re in that category.
The initial three primal fights in the game wound up being a bit overloaded. You had the “normal” versions balanced for four people, then the “hard” mode, then later the “extreme” mode meant to be central to challenge players. All right. Except then we also got pretty much all loot moved over to the Extreme version, making the Hard version (later just “the version”) into a perfunctory exercise, a boss fight just to have a boss fight.
This is all right when you’re doing these trials mostly because you have to advance through the story. It becomes less fun when you’re doing them at the level cap for a pittance of tomestones chiefly to unlock the next stage in the Extreme sequence. There’s a real effort-to-reward problem there, especially since bosses in trials are usually meant to be more ornate and demanding than dungeon bosses.
This is not something I inherently consider a bad thing, I’ll note. FFXIV’s strong boss design is one of its better qualities, and I think it’s a good idea to separate out the lengthy and intensive boss fights from the ones that are meant to fit inside of a dungeon with two other bosses. But they’re tuned to often be less rewarding than the effort would imply, which is part of the problem; most people seem to do them once or twice and then stop bothering.
Some of this, I suspect, is knee-jerk reaction to how many people (including me) were up in arms about the state of the game when Titan (Hard) was throwing a lot of people for a loop trying to get a new weapon at the endgame. Except the problem there was multi-faceted; Titan was tuned pretty high with little margin for error, and the problem was that Titan was far higher in difficulty than most of the other things you needed for a new weapon. He was a major beef gate when there didn’t need to be one there.
Moreover, I think some of this is a matter of not really having a clear distinction between the game’s raids and the trials. Most of the raids are themselves based on larger-than-life figures like primals, much like Trials; the focus has always been on the specific boss fights. There’s definitely a sense where it would seem like it made more sense to just yank the trash out, since no group really wipes on the way to a boss in Alexander.
And then there’s the naming conventions. This might bother no one else, but it bothers me that there are two grades of difficulty for lots of endgame stuff… but two different grades more or less across the board. There are no Extreme Dungeons or Savage Trials or whatever, and you can argue it’s because it means different things but it also feels oddly disjointed.
“So we need more difficulty levels?” Oh, hell no. If anything I think Unending Coil was one more difficulty level than we needed, although that was more of a special trial than an entirely new difficulty level for an existing piece of content. While there’s an appeal to Extreme Dungeons just from the name alone (higher-level than hard mode!) we don’t actually need it. No, I think that we just need some slight changes, on a whole, to keep the distinctions we have meaningful.
For starters, I think raids need to make more use of the format instead of just becoming more and more of a sequence of boss arenas. Not to Third Coil levels of pointlessness, but I think it’d be fun to have a raid floor that was essentially a mini-dungeon with eight people, with some interesting trash and two boss fights. Some of my favorite raid bits are floors that feel different from trials-by-another-name, like fighting the individual parts of Brute Justice in Alexander or the splitting of parties on another floor.
Second, I think that non-Extreme primals need something to increase their reward profile. These pieces of content should feel like they’re, well, content, not just something you do on your way to the extreme version. No other form of content feels like it’s perfunctory who-cares-about-mechanics stuff so much as the intermediate forms of primals, and it feels like the trials get away with that specifically because there’s no reward in it of note.
Third, I think that we could use a more unified naming schematic to separate “stuff you have to have a pre-made group for” from “stuff you can queue and go for.” Although that might mostly be nitpicking.
Lastly, sure, let’s get Extreme dungeons. I want a level 70 version of Wanderer’s Palace, let’s get on that. It sounds fun.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time, we’ll be doing our usual patch note analysis and survival guide, but stay tuned for some more breakdown about the housing notes we already have later this week.