All right, this format worked well last time; let’s go for it again and talk about Final Fantasy XIV‘s latest patch. But to start off, we’re going to talk about it solely from the side of content, leaving story entirely to one side and without even spoiling the big mystery trial. While I would honestly be surprised if most people reading this hadn’t already cleared all of that… well, I’m still playing coy here because I can.
It’s kind of cute that Heroes’ Gauntlet is basically keeping in the vein of mining nostalgia like much of this expansion, right down to the fact that the bosses are nothing more than reminders of nostalgia for other franchise games that aren’t here. Thief and Berserker are both more or less foregone conclusions for jobs that we’re just not going to get (Ninja and Warrior basically occupy that space and more besides), and Necromancer is a rare job at the best of times.
However, when you separate the dungeon from the fanservice elements, it is… well, honestly, kind of boring. Don’t get me wrong, the fanservice is good, and it manages to tie together all of the various pieces of the storyline in terms of setting and enemies along the way. But mechanically the enemies feel rather same-ish, there’s no real trash bits that stand out in terms of mechanics, and the first two bosses feel a bit on the bland side even as they do find interesting ways to remix existing mechanics from elsewhere.
The last boss is neat, and I appreciate that, but it also feels like some of the mechanics there are kind of irrelevant. Stacking with rubble to absorb stack markers is a neat idea, but it feels kind of weaker in actual implementation. The hiding in the hole, on the other hand, is a really neat and clever mechanic; I wish more had been done with that.
Ultimately, it’s a well-paced dungeon that feels mostly just solid from a mechanical standpoint. I’d give it a B, maybe B- if I assigned letter grades to these things. The emphasis was clearly on the thematic tie-ups rather than pushing design boundaries, and that’s fine, but we’re just talking mechanics this week.
Robot rock you
On my first run through this dungeon I was running largely blind and felt like the mechanics were a bit overwhelming, but having run twice more I actually have to revise my opinion. Puppet’s Bunker may be the best balancing act we’ve had in an alliance raid… basically ever.
Usually, the alliance raid bosses follow a pretty predictable pattern with the third boss being the hardest, the first being a warm-up, and the fourth being notably easier than the third. Here, though, it feels like the first two bosses are notably the hardest… except that the third and fourth bosses are still mechanically dense and interesting fights with a lot to recommend them, with the fights just feeling easier because you aren’t split up like you are on the first two.
The splitting of groups is taken to another level here, too. I love the fact that the second boss is literally three bosses at once, with each party coordinating separately even as the entire arena belongs to all three groups. It feels very organic but also a new sort of challenge, similar but distinct from the similar “three separate arenas” battle in the Copied Factory.
I also appreciate that by and large, the bosses manage to avoid all of the stuff you’d expect. The first boss has a “kill the adds in time” phase, but even that is not a failure if only two groups get theirs down; otherwise, that mechanic is wholly absent (after Copied Factory used it twice). The third boss even feels small based on the arena size, giving you space to spread out. Interesting stuff is done with the arenas on three of the fights, in fact, and I really like how you can play around with the central block on the third fight.
It’s a bit tough when you go in blind, but on a whole the fights feel very comprehensible and fun once you get a feel for them, which is very much to their credit. Really, these alliance raids have been outstanding all through the expansion, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the third installment at this rate.
So obviously, this is not giving away the identity of the trial or the nature of the fight, nor is it going to discuss the thematic implications or any of that. But having said that… eh, this one just didn’t quite do it for me from a mechanical standpoint.
One of the things that I noted with Heroes’ Gauntlet is that it is, explicitly, meant to be nostalgic in various ways. This trial is meant to be nostalgic, too, with mechanics hearkening back to fighting Omega, Thordan, Nabriales, and Hades. On paper it does all of that. I can absolutely see why this was the design chosen, and I don’t think it’s even broadly bad or anything.
But the problem with something trying to hearken back to all of these different fights is that it never quite manages to coalesce into having its own identity. It’s the Final Fantasy IX problem, but for mechanics instead of narrative. The entire fight you’re dodging and following mechanics, and rather than learning something unique or new or facing a challenge that requires a different approach, it’s just…
Again, this isn’t to say that the Big Mystery Trial is bad or anything. Pulling all of those references together does mean that it does wind up with a lot of mechanics to keep track of, after all. But it just never gets a particularly unique character to it compared to several other trial fights. It’s less distinct than, say, Tsukiyomi or Nidhogg as an expansion-ending fight, for example.
Of course, the normal mode is destined to just come up occasionally in Trials Roulette from here on out, so perhaps it doesn’t matter that much anyhow. And it’s possible the Extreme version is way more interesting, but I kind of doubt it; we have what amounts to two Extreme trials available right now, after all. Perhaps that relieves a bit of the design pressure? I don’t know.
Feedback on this column, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. If you’re wondering why I didn’t talk about some of the other mechanical aspects… well, in many cases, there’s not much to say. The Dwarf quests are crafting beast tribe quests. That’s most of it. The meatier side of stuff not yet discussed is the story implications… and that will have to wait until next week.