If I’m being entirely honest, I could probably stretch this series out even further from having two columns on side stories in Final Fantasy XIV. There was a lot of storytelling going on in this expansion, and while not all of it was an unqualified hit, I feel like overall the side stories did a better job for this expansion. Plus, we didn’t have anything that was as senselessly bland and dumb as the Scholisticate, so that’s a nice bonus.
The Four Lords
Here’s the big failing of this particular line: it was set up as a series of trials, but instead of fighting all four lords and then the big bad they were sealing, we fight all four of them (one of them in a dungeon) and then the actual sealing happens in a cutscene. It’s kind of a letdown, especially when the Genbu encounter is fun but feels perfunctory compared to the stand-alone trials.
This having been said, the overall pattern of this content was paced out well. Clearly, the developers learned from the implementation of the Warring Triad, making this particular sequence a matter of not just fighting in trials but in exploring several sorts of content. There are a couple of arguable stumbles (the solo trial in the middle is overtuned) but the story largely hangs together, makes sense, and gives a believable feeling of dread without being tacked on.
It also manages the core issue of this series nicely. There was always going to be a sense that you were coming into this series of quests as an outsider, that you’re a late arrival to a bunch of established relationships. Rather than making that vague, it’s actually text here; the eponymous Four Lords don’t really trust you precisely because you’re an outsider. You are not their friend. You are a tool, and a tool that may or may not be reliable.
These aren’t my favorite stories from the expansion, but they work and they’re fun as a whole. I’d love to see the quartet themselves pop up again, or even just the lesser creatures within the sanctuary. It’s a neat idea, and it’s a worthy expansion of the lore in the game.
Class and job quests run the gamut
The smartest change made here for the expansion was that job quests are no longer required for every new ability. It’s just the last one, and the overall number of quests is decreased by one. You’d think that this would result in weaker stories, but in most cases it actually means that the job quests feel like a bonus and the overall pacing can be more freeform.
Seriously, it means a lot to me that, say, the entirety of the White Mage job quests takes place in the Fringes. The entire Machinist story is in and around Ishgard. There’s no need for everything to end in high-level areas from the expansion, and that means the story is content and able to explore logical progression from the current story arc rather than chasing the new regions.
In many places it also feels like long-running plots are reaching a proper resolution, which seems fitting given the destination for 5.0. We finally wrap up the Gladiator storyline that was left on something of a cliffhanger, for example. The Ninja story reaches its endpoint. All of it feels like we’re taking a break from the NPCs we’ve gotten to know during the prior portions of the game, perhaps presaging the different sort of experiences we’ll have in the First.
There are weaker links in the chain, sadly, but on a whole I think we had a good batch of class quests that bring the stories of these jobs to a satisfying conclusion. And if we never get to see our old trainers again, well, that’s all right; it feels like this is where we grow into something new anyhow.
Rebuilding Doma, one brick at a time
I really hadn’t expected what amounts to unlocking Better Vendor to become a whole thing, but here we are. The process may have been a little stilted at times, but I honestly found this particular storyline to be a pointedly moving one, and watching the enclave go from being a collection of burnt-out husks into a functional locale was a real joy. It’s a shame that it doesn’t show up like that for everyone, although I suppose from a technical standpoint that might encounter issues.
The biggest thing that struck me about this particular sequence was that it focused on a very different side of rebuilding. The infrastructure of Ala Mhigo was still largely in working order, and the revolution was about taking back the land and fixing the government. Doma, though, was all but eradicated as anything but a satellite of the Empire; it didn’t just need to rebuild its internal government and alliances, it needed to rebuild the very core of a society that had been under Garlean rule for ages.
This line focused on finding a path to do just that. And it was touching in many places, giving us a look at how the society worked and people coming together to provide for brighter times. I really enjoyed it and suspect I’ll come back to it on alts just for the heck of it, even if the gil rewards aren’t enormous.
Eureka and other sidelines
Eureka, as a story, is both interesting and annoying. I like the ground that it covered, but I don’t think that this material was best covered here; then again, part of the problem with that was that a lot of people clocked out of Eureka fairly early, which meant that for some players it may as well have not existed. I think it’s a better fit here than the Binding Coil of Bahamut story was for that loose thread, let’s put it that way.
Regardless, it’s another explanation of vague stuff that happened in the background a while back, and while I’m not entirely fond of the way it was told I think it’s an interesting deviation. That seems like a good enough place to leave it.
Of course, we also had a bunch of other side stories in varying depth as well; for example, we only had two hard mode dungeons in the form of the Arboretum and Fractal Continuum, but both of those continued on plotlines from elsewhere and wound up answering some lingering questions. Heaven-on-High tied back in to the Allagans in a way that still leaves questions. Heck, there was even an effort to tell a story through a series of FATEs, odd as that sounds to type!
As a whole, I think this expansion had some side stories that didn’t land well, but as a whole it worked out well. The best of it easily reached the heights of Heavensward, and the worst still managed to stay clear of the worst of Heavensward. A good improvement across the board, then.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time, let’s start in on content with leveling! Yes, we’re following that same line as the previous expansion-in-review practice.