Wisdom of Nym: What content in Final Fantasy XIV is optional?

    
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Wisdom of Nym: What content in Final Fantasy XIV is optional?

So here’s an interesting question with an answer that continually shifts: What content is optional in Final Fantasy XIV?

If you’re a big fan of the game, like myself, you’ll probably be quick to point out that the very nature of the game means that there’s tons of optional content that’s rewarding but not mandatory. That’s part of the goodness of the game, right? It really lets you run with your own choices because while there’s tons of content in the game, the majority of it is actually optional rather than mandatory. All you have to play is the MSQ, and that… well, it takes all of the 2.x series to get there, but it actually does wind up being very good!

That’s a good line. It’s also a complete lie, and not just because we know that you’ll need to finish up the Crystal Tower series at this point to continue with the MSQ. It has always been a lie, and the list of “optional” content has always been narrower than what it strictly encompasses.

This is not the first time that supposed side content has become a requirement of the MSQ. Players have long been required to fight Ifrit, Garuda, and Titan in Hard mode in order to finish off the 2.5 MSQ sequence. Not that this really jumped out to anyone at the time; after all, if you had been playing the game at the time you were basically expected to have already finished these fights because you needed your relic weapon. For a time, that was mandatory. So you probably wound up doing it anyhow.

Not that this sort of thing hasn’t cropped up in other places. Case in point: the Fractal Continuum was technically an optional dungeon in Heavensward. You didn’t have to do it, so long as you didn’t mind not having access to Expert Roulette… but if you were bringing an alt through the game after that was no longer the current endgame, you could comfortably skip it altogether.

At least, until the Hard mode was released in Stormblood, which you could only unlock if you had done the normal mode. This meant going back and doing a quest for a storyline that wraps up a largely irrelevant chain elsewhere. Oh, and the Hard mode finishes a story for a beast tribe you may have not done, so that’s another kick in the shins right there.

That’s the thing. We all know this stuff isn’t really optional. It’s just generally not mandatory.

Options.

I realize that this is splitting hairs a bit, but these are actually important hairs here. While FFXIV is set up so that you can choose to do or not do a lot of things on a weekly basis, it also very clearly does expect that you will clear through a fair amount of content on your (expected) lone character. Sure, you might not do Expert on a reliable basis, but you are assumed to have unlocked the dungeons necessary. It is assumed you have cleared through side quests for trials and alliance raids and so forth. You aren’t forced to reliably clear them, but you are expected to clear them at some point.

And it’s not just expecting you to do this stuff out of boredom, either. In Shadowbringers alone, one set of quests with obvious lore implications only reaches a conclusion if you take on the YoRHa raids. Another storyline and entire branch of the game is buried over in Eden, which clearly contains a lot of information about the future path of Norvrandt and the First. If you want to know more about Ronka, you need to take part in the Qitari beast tribe quests. The list goes on.

That’s not to say all of this is vital to understanding the main plot; rather, it’s to say that a lot of these threads pay off what are otherwise complete narrative cul-de-sacs that go nowhere. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Twinning winds up being the last we hear about some of the mechanisms behind the Exarch’s journey.

By making all of this stuff not mandatory, you can stretch out your expectations a fair bit. Clearly it’s all right if you have an alt and start leveling up through older content without following every storyline to its conclusion. But there are a lot of bits along the way that will have an impact if you don’t do older stuff, things that may not be required to keep the story going but are going to leave you shut out of a lot more content by ignoring it.

The question then becomes where the line should be drawn. Are alliance raids meant to be totally optional content? How many trials should you assume people have gone through? What about normal raids? Dungeons?

Let’s not forget that at least one key plot point of backstory in Shadowbringers is only revealed to you if you level up one job of every single role, meaning that your understanding of the world (disregarding some searching) requires more leg work than the game strictly requires of players.

ANGRY.RAR

The obvious rejoinder is that you might just not want to do all of this stuff, and that’s valid… but it also brings up the other hand to that, wherein the design team puts a lot of work into these things and wants to encourage people to at least give them a look. If you’re wondering “why don’t we get more (content I personally enjoy)” while there’s a whole lot of content you haven’t touched, something has at least theoretically gone wrong with the overall flow. It’s in the team’s best interests to encourage you to try other stuff.

And following unexpected routes is sometimes a good thing because it allows for bigger storylines. Yes, as someone with several alts, the fact that finishing the Ivalice series is required for the new relic weapons is annoying… but it also means that the hints and teases at the end have a chance to pay off in new ways that would otherwise be inaccessible. That’s a good thing. Heck, I’m willing to bet there are some people who clocked out of alliance raids a while back because you never needed the for the main story… leading to people ignoring what is a legitimate portion of the game and its lore.

Yet it also does result in some odd and uncomfortable roadblocks. Some players are going to have a difficult time getting accustomed to the different requirements of other playstyles (alliance raids really are a different animal from trials or normal raids), and even if you’re told where you need to go, it can feel weird when you have to stop what you’re doing to suddenly backtrack and take on old content just to keep going with new content.

Ultimately, I don’t think this is an issue that the developers can solve entirely because that definition of “optional content” is broad. It covers everything that isn’t explicitly required for forward motion, but even the stuff you don’t have to do is still kind of expected for you to do. And ultimately, the best thing you can do about it is sort of nod and recognize that even though everything is theoretically optional… well, you should probably at least clear it once.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week? Live letter reactions, naturally.

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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wratts

To me the only really adverse outcome of this is that FFXIV pretty much forces you to make it your “main” MMO. It’s very difficult to put down and pick up after any length of time, because the prerequisites to getting back in create substantial barriers.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in ARR and went back for Heavensward and played through almost all of that expansion, after spending maybe a week or so consuming the minor updates I had missed and rejoining the gear treadmill. And for a year or so when they did a free return I would come back and visit, but all I could see each time was the game getting further away from where I could meaningfully participate and I didn’t have the energy to catch up.

While I think that design paradigm fits the FF world, I think it misses where MMOs and gaming are headed. There’s so much content out there that drop-in/drop-out is the new norm. Games that enable that well (e.g. ESO) can keep dropping content and satisfy both regular players and occasional players. As someone who would be an occasional FFXIV player, it’s not nearly as satisfying an experience

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Sorenthaz

WoW seems to run into that issue too. They do a mix of “play the patch” but also have really bad time gating elements on some key aspects of catching up. Case in point being BFA Pathfinder – you’re gated heavily by a daily trickle of reputation for multiple factions (for me the chokepoint is Mechagon and Nazjatar right now). But you also have the time gate of the current content with apparently a legendary cloak that I haven’t even started working on yet, and I’ve heard that takes a few months.

That said I don’t think there’s really necessarily anything wrong with MMOs that are designed to where you have to make them your “main” or else suffer the consequences. That’s kind of just a natural design choice, and FFXIV is lax as hell on its actual endgame so you’re not really pressured to keep up with it outside of falling behind on the story.

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Tom316

I would recommend FFXIV to any MMO player that is looking for a solid story behind the game. Yes there are points where it really trogs along and is not great and it does at times feels long in the teeth.

But what I have gotten out of it having played through most of the MSQ and a solid chunk of important quests. Is that, for me, this is the first MMO where I have felt like my character has grown into the hero that he/she is. I have played WoW and Lotro but both games never really give you that feeling of your character growing into there role. Where in FFXIV you really started out as sort of a no body to the characters in the world and through trials and tribulations your character grows into the Warrior of Light. Your NPC companions give off a feeling of “Hey we know you have been through all this stuff and you just finished battling XX, but you know we really need your help some more.” All of this in my opinion has resulted in creating a world where I feel like my character fits in it and the NPCs give two shades that my character is going off to battle another primal to save the world for them.

I kinda feel sad that they are cutting the story up to make it shorter and easier for people. Cause its the long fight and the small breaks in between that are few and far apart that really make you apperiate the struggle and fight along the way.

But I get that is not for everyone and some people just want to reach the end so that they can experience what they enjoy about the game.

I may never reach a point where I have all the classes at max level and all of that. But I can say my 200+ hours of game play has more then got me my money out of the game and then a lot more.

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Jeremy Barnes

I wholly and completely recommend FFXIV to anyone who likes MMOs.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

I wholeheartedly recommend FFXIV to anybody that’s a story junkie. Everybody else I wave off.

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Bruno Brito

I heard the same, tried it, discovered there’s absolutely no character customization whatsoever build-wise and uninstalled on the spot.

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Ironwu

Sadly, for me, this design concept pretty much kills the game. That I cannot see and experience the content by playing the game the way I like to play and must play many of the modes that are not pleasant (to me), is a show-stopper.

I no longer play FFXIV, nor do I recommend it to anyone without helping them to understand that they HAVE to play all these various modes in order to progress.