Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood in review – the final assessment

    
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So... we cool, huh? We cool?

Expansion footraces are dumb in a lot of ways. Final Fantasy XIV has two expansions at this point, and the reality is that neither of them is optional or anything; all you can really say is whether or not you personally had a better time during one or the other. And the comparisons are pretty stark to begin with, even more so since the end of Stormblood is fresh in player minds and the end of Heavensward was more than two years ago and the peak-end rule is as much a thing here as it is elsewhere.

Does that mean that we’re not going to do it? Ha! Don’t be ridiculous. We’re just going to hang a lampshade on it while we judge this horse race without any possible winner, because this is life. And that also highlights the central absurdity of this particular situation. We’re simultaneously trying to evaluate Stormblood on its own merits as well as how it compares with the lat expansion, which is also old enough now that it has the benefit of nostalgia to color it.

Mister Snippy.It doesn’t help that this is also, in some ways, a matter of subjective evaluation. Take the main scenario, for example; some people are just going to be there for the story of the Dragonsong War in a way that they’re not as invested in the dual revolution narratives of this expansion. Some people (such as myself) like that the main plot wrapped up neatly at the end of 4.0 and the next few patches could deal with side stories; others would have preferred a structure more like Heavensward. It’s subjective in the extreme.

Having said that, though, it does come down to subjectivity partly because nothing about the game suddenly stopped working, which in and of itself says something. The storytelling and pacing already worked, and while you can disagree with the story that was being told or the characters used to tell it, that comes down to personal preference rather than objective quality.

Put more simply, it’s telling that after delivering one moving long-form story, the game delivered another with a lot of side stories, and it’s up to the individual whether or not that second set was as personally resonant as the first.

I tend to put more stock in Stormblood’s story as well simply because it’s a more complex tale to tell. At the end of the day, the end of the Dragonsong War was a variant on the age-old “big bad is over there, go find him and introduce him to the new world of recreational vivisection.” There was a lot more to it than that and a lot of thematic weight asking if you could undo baked-in hatreds, but you were still hunting down and fighting the big bad.

But the revolutions here didn’t start with the big bad, but with making it plausible you even could fight the big bads. It had a lot more to do with finding and losing hope, and sometimes retreating into giving up because that was more comforting. You don’t save the ananta from Lakshmi, not completely; you don’t manage to convince everyone from Ala Mhigo you have their best interests at heart; you don’t avoid conflict in Yanxia. That fear is deep-rooted and hard to extricate.

Much like Zenos is nigh-impossible to fight, the overwhelming fear itself stymies your efforts. You get thrown into a lot of desperate, pitched moments along the way.

Of course, the story is only a part of the expansion; the gameplay also means just as much, and in this Stormblood maintained the high standard set forth by its predecessor whilst aspiring to do better. The new jobs and job gauges helped improve and diversify jobs while also keeping what made them fun, and there are no shortage of jobs that look even better in Shadowbringers despite being perfectly fine now. It’s telling that there were four jobs I highlighted as really needing major changes in the expansion, but even those jobs were still playable and fun. (And they do sure look like those changes are arriving.)

That having been said, for all the praise I’m heaping on Stormblood, it did do some things wrong. And I’m sorry for the people who really like it, but I think Eureka may ultimately have been the big thing that was done wrong after a fashion.

On its own, Eureka isn’t necessarily bad. But it did very clearly suck up a lot of development time, and it had some major issues with implementation and, well, fun. I think it was a commendable effort to offer us relic weapons through a means other than repurposed existing content, which has usually been the path, but that doesn’t make it actually fun and it doesn’t really help the central problems. Eureka tried, but it ultimately only had some very grindy rewards for a whole lot of extra work.

It’s also the one weak link in the whole equation. Looking at dungeons, trials, raids, and so forth? Everything else works, exceeding the high standard set in the past and being as accessible as ever. If Shadowbringers is, content-wise, just more of Stormblood? It’ll work, even if that’s leaving some possible new experiences on the table for no real reason.

NOSEThe expansion also did highlight some areas that really could do with some expansion and improvement. I’ve mentioned the lack of appreciable rewards on regular trials, which is a problem; I also feel like we’re past due to have things made a little smoother for acquiring older raid gear, which is still something of a nightmare. (Honestly, it should be buyable for poetics if it’s an expansion old, and probably even if it’s a couple of tiers older, but that’s another discussion.) Just doing this expansion again but with more visual light would be a bad case of the game spinning its wheels.

Yet at the same time, the formula is still working. It’s a formula that the game has tweaked regularly since its initial relaunch and expanded out in various ways, but it is also a formula that both worked in the past and continues to work. Some things from Heavensward didn’t even get a minor tweak, just a new set of minor improvements before we moved on up. And while there are things that I hope get more adjustment with our next bit of progress (materia springs to mind) the basic equations all still work well.

I’m excited to see what comes next, and there’s a lot of potential in Shadowbringers. But Stormblood made good on the promise of its predecessor. It is undeniably a good expansion, and more to the point, it’s undeniably a worthy successor in the overall chain. Will it ultimately be remembered as one of the better updates for the game? I don’t know, but I sure did have a lot of fun while it was out.

Now, let’s just kick off early access already, shall we? No? Fine, I guess next week I’ll be talking about some last-chance speculation and final reactions from E3. Until then, you can leave feedback in the comments or mail it along to eliot@massivelyop.com. Or you can catch up on this overall series, if you’d rather.

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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Nephele
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Nephele

So, while I agree that Eureka could have been done better, I think it has brought something very important back to FFXIV that’s really been missing since sometime in 3.X – the idea of social play – of the game as an actual MMORPG.

Back in ARR, there were plenty of hours that we all spent out in the world doing FATEs, working up additional jobs, completing sidequests, searching for hunt marks, or even just exploring. Sure, there were the instanced dungeons and raids, but those were a part of a much larger world. While we were out in that bigger world, we met other players, teamed up with them dynamically for objectives, even sometimes made new friends.

Then Heavensward happened, and with it came easier travel via flight and more frequent teleporting, less emphasis on things like FATEs and Hunts (even though they were still there) and improvements to party finder and dungeon finder. Before long, we had the Palace of the Dead, and now you could literally solo level your new job up to 50 without even having to see another person, unless you count the crowd standing around in Quarrymill. Stormblood continued that trend, boosting leveling speed, streamlining jobs so that players weren’t overwhelmed with abilities at higher levels, but leaving them less interested at lower levels, more polished dungeons that you could run faster, more emphasis on AoE spam to clear trash between boss fights.

If I contrast how players take the game now vs. how they did back in ARR, I see a lot less socialization happening – simply because no one needs to anymore. A criticism we have always had of the Duty Finder is that people barely talk inside those dungeons, unless you happen to get lucky and get an extrovert in your party. And now, except perhaps for new players, does anyone even bother with those FATEs anymore, or even need help with them when they do? Hunts still get done, but with all the spawn points known and convenient web trackers, the search has been streamlined out of those. The train knows where the hunt mark is within a minute or two of entering the zone.

If this sort of problem sounds familiar, that’s probably because it’s the same sort of contrast people have been noticing comparing BfA WoW to Classic WoW, although it’s probably not as pronounced in FFXIV as it is in WoW yet. But in spite of all the great stuff the expansions have brought to FFXIV, the streamlining and acceleration that have come with them have made it a less social game than it was 4 years ago.

Except for Eureka.

Eureka is the ONE place in FFXIV that I can go and group up with 7 random strangers and spend the next 1-3 hours talking and getting to know them. Why? Because we’re busy trying to trigger the next NM, or running across the map to get to the one that just spawned. It’s a place where I see people help strangers all the time, going on rescue missions to raise someone who died in a bad place, or even just saying “hey, hop on my chocobo and i’ll get you there faster”. It’s a place where people actually TALK in shout chat – even if the conversations are frequently inane and silly, people are taking time to converse while they play, instead of simply clicking into their next instance.

So yeah – Eureka’s a grind, yes. There are parts of it that could be done much better. The weapons you get at the end are somewhat visually lackluster compared to the relics of previous expansions. But in spite of all of that, it has managed to do something in FFXIV that’s priceless in my opinion, and that’s to get complete strangers talking to each other and helping each other. At least, the people who take the time to go to Eureka anyway.

My biggest fear for Shadowbringers? Eureka will no longer be relevant, just like the Diadem before it, and all the new content will be geared towards speedruns, temporary parties, and less talking, instead of giving players objectives that they can work on over time together, giving them a chance to break out of their shells and talk to each other.

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cursedseishi

There is a key difference I think that should be made clear before one tries to compare World of Warcraft to Final Fantasy 14 when it comes to communication.

I’m not an extrovert. I’m happy to talk in dungeons. However! I’m largely playing on the Playstation 4, and my set-up for it is not conducive to using a keyboard. Therefor whenever I want to type? I have to use the controller, which means I’m unable to play and type at the same time. And I’m willing to bet many console players likely are in a similar situation. People aren’t talking because they don’t want to, they aren’t talking because a good chunk of them likely don’t want to stop healing the tank just to chit-chat, or risk losing aggro on eager DPS or an undergeared healer having to bust their butt and generate more aggro than usual just to keep you healed… Or, like me, a DPS who doesn’t want to stand in the puddle just to say ‘don’t stand in puddles’ to any new players in an early dungeon.

And part of that? You could probably thank the timers on everything. Early on in A Realm Reborn, I had to talk an entire group through Aurum Vale because nobody wanted to spend all of five minutes looking a basic thing up. Fair enough… But when they start spamming “HURRY! WHAT BOSS DO?!” while I’m trying to type accurately and quickly as I can on a controller? Time they themselves could have tabbed over on their computer, or looked up through their phone (as I was stuck doing at the moment)? Part of it was driven because some of them thought they could skip mechanics to try and push bosses faster and ended up dying–on every boss–which slowed everything down, which meant we finished the dungeon with less than half a minute on the timer.

And that timer is part of my biggest issue with Eureka. Aside from the way the zone’s mechanics prioritize self-healing and on-demand rezzes while also making sure boss fates and mobs are nigh-fatal to melee dps made sure to push Red Mage to the ‘God-Tier’ status in the zone? The three hour limit means I’ve little time to just take a bit of time to even try and type ‘hello’. It means I risk being one-shotted by mobs, risk missing out on Notorious Monster fates, risk wasting time I could be using to progress an inanely grindy and ultimately lackluster relic track if I decide I want to be chatty.

The biggest issue is they wanted to make a new zone, but they didn’t want it to be a zone. They tried to hide that by making everything oppressive to progress to anyone who doesn’t have the 3-hour limit to spend asking people if they already primed a Notorious Monster to spawn just to find out they’ll be screwed because the next chance it has is just outside of their timer currently–and trying to fix that means wasting more time entering and quitting Eureka until they are sure they are back in the right instance. And by then? They may have already missed it.
The best way forward to doing another ‘Eureka’ is to actually buckle down and MAKE it a zone. Let people go there and putt about, normalize fate timers and balance things out to fit with that. Actually encourage people to talk by not making them feel like time spent typing on a controller is better spent praying to god you’re level 22 arse isn’t going to get one-shotted by the lvl 40s between you and a lvl 20 NM fate being nuked down by high-level folks.

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Кристалл Величия

Yeah, I really like social aspect of Eureka, I hope developers understand that wplayers are lacking this part of MMO’s nowadays (that is pretty strange, actually)

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cursedseishi

Stormblood’s Relic is the first one I’m not even bothering to finish…

The idea starts off great. A full set of armor and weaponry that can be progressed and updated… Then they decided to drop it completely, replace the armor sets with generic of to share that loses the individuality and the weapons just get… kind of meh, as a whole. Its a bunch of twisty metal that goes all over the place, and becomes a bunch of twisty metal going all over the place and also glowing…

Where’s the shield with glowing wings? The spear tipped off by a literal dragon lightsaber? Where’s a redmage weapon that’s got dueling black and white energy swirling around the crystal? And the armor itself loses any sort of identity the moment it becomes “elemental”.

I know it’d be absurd to want them to keep the unique armor set all the way through… But, god. I feel as though some of the money going into Eureka as a whole could of been diverted towards just making the armor sets even. And while the Relic questlines have always involved an element of cooperation? Instance hunting, hoping to god there’s actually a cooperative group in said instance, and hoping to the twelve that they’ve not burnt through most of the good fates as is? It relies far too much, and when your mobility is kneecapped from the start and repeatedly it feels almost impossible to try and play catch-up when you’re too busy trying to avoid everything that can one shot you because they’re just a few levels higher.

And the meta evolving to the point of “Red Mage or nothing” certainly hasn’t helped things there.