I’ve taken a look at big chunks of dungeon content before, but at this point we have a sufficient quantity of alliance raids that I feel like talking about those. While I could rank them, it doesn’t seem as useful as just talking about each one and comparing their high points and low points. So all seven current raids in the roulette; which parts are good, and which parts are bad?
Labyrinth of the Ancients
High: The format
Look, the first time a game puts together a completely new kind of content, there are going to be growing pains. So I think the obvious high point of this was that the developers put something together and it did, ultimately, work out all right. It wasn’t perfect, there were mechanics that relied upon too much coordination or otherwise expected uncomfortable play patterns, and it would later become clear that six tanks was too many… but it worked. That’s important.
Low: The first exercise
Of course, the fact that the first round works doesn’t mean that you’re very good at it. Even ignoring how the mechanics of this had to be gutted once the roulette rolled out, there’s a lot of stuff in this particular run that’s just not very well designed; Thanatos and the bomb fight both stand out as mechanics that work but aren’t particularly fun to actually play. You can’t blame the first try for being the first try, but it didn’t win everything.
I’ve sometimes joked that for a dungeon called a labyrinth, the first part of the Crystal Tower series really doesn’t have any twists and turns. Syrcus Tower doesn’t either, but it does have the notable advantage of feeling huge. You can argue that it’s mostly a trick of how zoning is split up, but every part of this particular map feels expansive and unique, and I like that.
Low: What mechanics?
Yes, this has been exacerbated by the roulettes, but let’s be real and admit that the second boss here has never been mechanically interesting. People were steamrolling through this place long before the end of the patch cycle, and at this point you literally don’t need to remember most of what any boss does; the only mechanical check that can actually pose any real danger is Curtain Call, and that’s so telegraphed that you almost need to be trying to miss it. It’s an advantage when you’re rushing through on a roulette, but it means that none of the boss fights really stand out.
World of Darkness
High: The setpieces
The actual map for this dungeon is basically a series of islands floating in nothing, but each arena and fight manages to feel distinct through what happens therein. The Atomos fight is particularly unique, but even the big lockdown damage fields on the first pull create an interesting feel and require you to plan different placements. And that’s not counting stuff like expecting the third boss to swallow you or the clock-like arrangement of Angra Mainyu’s room.
Low: The pacing
Everything in World of Darkness feels slow and grinding. Part of this is the presence of lots of mechanics that seem tailor-made to slow things down; it’s not that the bosses are all a lot more durable than their counterparts in Syrcus Tower, but every one of them has some trick to make things take longer. Another part is just that the pace of the fights feels slower and more methodical, and most of your damage on several bosses gets inflicted during rather narrow windows or when you’re not taking part in chores that slow you down. The Atomos fight is a symptom of the overall issue; it’s very hard to actually fail it, but you can get knocked around a lot and slow it down to a crawl.
High: The novelty
There were limits to how much could be done with the layout of the Crystal Tower series. At the end of the day, it had to hit certain bosses and offer certain story beats. But Void Ark had none of those problems. It could be made from the start to do its own thing. As a result, the dungeon has bosses with a stronger mechanical and thematic connection to one another, and while it still is pretty easy to steamroll through even the easiest bosses require some attentiveness. And hey, it’s the first installment of a new series!
Low: The brush-off
Of course, the down side to all of this is that as mentioned, you really can steamroll a lot of the bosses here pretty easily. Fewer boss mechanics can really kill you right off, and I remember more people wiping on the second trash room than on any of the bosses. Especially at this level of gear, it’s almost trivial to just crush past all opposition while ignoring more than a perfunctory nod toward mechanics.
Weeping City of Mhach
High: The mechanics
At the time it was released, lots of people complained about Void Ark feeling a bit thin. Weeping City certainly did not keep up that trend; every boss has some mechanical complexities and offers some new challenges, from Arachne Eve’s two-level fighting to Forgall’s zombie pools. When you know how the dungeon goes there’s lots of neat stuff happening, and less of it feels like delaying tactics than what was hit in World of Darkness.
Low: The volume of same
Ozma is an insane fight. I like it, at this point, but there’s a huge number of mechanics working at any given time, and I feel like you could yank some big mechanics without making the fight any less interesting; the meteor adds, for example, could be dropped and you’d still have a full fight. It’s almost overloaded, and when you consider it as a counterpart to Void Ark it’s a violent swing in the other direction.
High: The format
There is definitely a certain cadence to most of the alliance raids, and Dun Scaith messes that up right away. I appreciate that fact. After several raids of trash-boss-trash-boss-trash-boss-boss, you get one that’s literally one set of trash pulls and a collection of bosses. That could easily feel overwhelmingly simple, but since each boss fight is sufficiently different and never sinks to the level of bland repetition, it never feels like a one-note boss rush. And, you know, the non-looted bosses are a lot less overwhelming.
Low: The instant kills
Screw up during several mechanics on the first boss? You die. Misjudged where an orb was going on the second boss? Probably die. Someone placed hands badly? Dead. There are a lot of mechanics in here that kill you in seconds flat, only sometimes because of your actions and only sometimes with a chance to correct things. I like the mechanics on a whole, but it feels like there are a lot of things that just flat-out kill you without giving you a chance to correct things. Yes, even more than Weeping City.
Royal City of Rabanastre
High: The boss fights
The trash in this dungeon is so forgettable that there are only two pieces of it, and half of the raid is spent running through the elaborate map. Seriously, there’s nothing to fight past the second seeq skirmish, and even that is perfunctory. But those boss fights are something else, with big and elaborate mechanics and lots of stuff going on at all times. Once people stop being overwhelmed with the mechanics and engage these as mini-Primals, the whole thing gets to be amazingly fun and really lets you push your abilities to the limit.
Low: The party reliance
I don’t mind when I die due to my own screwups. That’s a bit of a punch to the ol’ ego, but it’s deserved. What I mind is when I die due to some random other party member grossly misunderstanding what needs to be done, and there are lots of places in Rabanastre wherein you can do everything right and still have no chance. Group A can’t handle the DPS check on Rofocale? Everyone dies. Group C didn’t get the sand sphere down, rock falls, we all die. It’s a bit much.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. I’m sure I’ll have a chance to form some opinions on the next raid soon; for now, though, we’ll have to look forward to next week when I can talk about the next live letter in all its half-translated glory.