Wisdom of Nym: Impressions of Final Fantasy XIV’s Reflections in Crystal content

    
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Wisdom of Nym: Impressions of Final Fantasy XIV’s Reflections in Crystal content

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.

The reason for this, of course, is both so that players who are moving a little more slowly can catch up to the story if they are potentially lagging behind and so that the divide isn’t focused on fine plot points; instead, the whole thing here is discussing just the raw mechanics of each individual piece of content where it’s relevant. For those of you looking forward to the story discussion, that’s next week. So let’s start with 50% of the Expert rotation for the next seven months!

Gauntlet it go.

Gauntlet clone

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.

It's wrecked.

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.

Ah... well.

Mystery trial!

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 eliot@massivelyop.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.

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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Erika Do

The conclusion of the story was really satisfying, but the rest of the patch content was pretty “meh”. A new dungeon that just rehashes locations we’ve already been rather than being the awesome airship battle I was expecting from the lead-in, and whose bosses AND trash are nameless foes who don’t matter and we’ll likely never see again. A trial that already felt forgettable before I even fought it. Nier raid just felt like more of the same though I won’t mind fighting it repeatedly in the roulette next expansion.

Didn’t help that none of them really had music that would stand out as something I’d listen to in my spare time, after having TWO tracks from the previous Nier raid that went straight to my favorites list and a really quite cool jazzy track from Anyder. Music really makes a place shine in this game, and this patch was pretty disappointing in that regard.

Doesn’t help that a good chunk of time on this patch was spent essentially summarizing all the stuff we did in previous expansions, fighting boring enemies between each bullet point. I spent way too long in this patch thinking “when are we going to get to the good part?”

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Mallus

I played the new content and found the story completely boring. Just my opinion…

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cursedseishi

Honestly? I think I only have two issues with the patch so far, and one of those is for the Normal version of the new Trial.

The non-Trial issue is one I’ve… honestly had since I’ve started playing the game for 2.0. The lack of ‘agency’ our Warrior of Light has during any and all cutscenes–at least for the MSQ. We get to move about, we get to glare and draw our weapon into a default stance… and that is it. Soldiers pouring in from everywhere and it is a desperate standoff for the Scions and our character included? It’s literally only everyone else fighting and being seen doing stuff. We just stand off towards the side, glare, and sometimes run away. And I get why… Animation takes time, and having to represent at the very minimum 9 jobs worth of different weapon stances and movements would complicate things alongside ensuring they all look good with the proper posing, lighting and camera angle as well as balancing differing character models and gear. It’d be a mess…

The Job quests at times remedy these issues, but the only major stand-outs are… rare. I’ve joked about our character needing a “Paragon” or “Renegade” prompt for cutscenes, but its from a perspective that… frankly everything ends up feeling as though it happens around our character and not to them.

Which is never an issue when the story happens during fights. Because we are in control, the game has to acknowledge our character more directly, such as the Trial. But… that leads into my singular issue with the trial. And… it’s the Limit Break. Or, rather, how its used. There is a transition during the fight like literally any Trial that ends with the big raid-wide attack… and it’s a wipe. Why? Because your Tank is meant to use their Lv3 Limit to block it. And my problem here is one of approach… because literally nothing you encounter during the MSQ requires a Tank LB to soak an attack. That is a mechanic locked to–as far as I’m aware of–literally just two fights. One is Alexander Prime which is a non-mandatory boss in a raid series that you can’t expect everyone to fight. And the other? It’s Ultima Weapons Refrain, literally something most players won’t touch.
When a tank has to do something specific to block an attack typically, it’s a prompt. Susano for instance requires him to intercept the monster swing and block it. But that isn’t the case… There is a dialogue bit about pushing limits, but… that hardly actually clues you in to what is supposed to happen. We are ‘always’ pushing past our limits in MSQ battles, there is literally a buff to say that.

And… honestly? I think I’d change this part of the fight. You can’t design around unique animations for our characters… BUT! You can utilize animations for shared LBs. Have a stacking marker show up on a tank, and a numbered character specific ‘buff’ apply to people as they move into the circle, Tank being 1, and the next character a 2, then a 3 and so on. One of the tanks get a special R3 button prompt at full stack, and just has to use it. Canned animation occurs. Two Tanks eat the major swing, and parry it. Ranged/Caster LBs go off then in a group to hammer the Boss back. Boss then tries to again banish you and force you out of the fight which the Healers counter. And then Melee LB occurs as the boss is left winded to strike him down, and shatters the LB gauge for the party…

Which leads to the proper second part. It removes an issue that feels unfair to throw at a group of all new players (Like I’ve seen several times), and prevents another issue that crops up during this part that I don’t feel like it deserves a mention… But it feels like another ‘unfair’ mechanic that isn’t warned about at all.

Bereman
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Bereman

because literally nothing you encounter during the MSQ requires a Tank LB to soak an attack.

Nothing you encounter in the MSQ requires you to stack with other players…until it does, all the way in patch 3.3 (you go that far into required content before ever having a stack marker show up).

Honestly, I think it’s okay to introduce things that you’ll see in optional content into required content at some point (and a necessary LB3 has been a thing in optional content since at least Alexander’s final boss on normal, so it’s not even a Savage or Extreme only mechanic). Bringing it in 2 expansions later is absolutely an okay thing to do, and doesn’t require working in a whole.

Also, I wouldn’t consider those doing the normal trial at level 80 to really be new players, so you’re not really throwing an “unfair” mechanic at new players.

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cursedseishi

Like I said, my issue was less ‘its there’ and more how its handled. And the Stacking marker is a horrible argument against it because the marker itself indicates what you’re meant to do. It’s easy to read.

Again, nothing really says ‘Hey, Tank Use Limit Break’. And nowhere throughout a good 99.5% of the game ever requires a Tank limit break. I also never stated it was a savage/extreme only mechanic. I said only two fights I can recall actually NEED it. One being Alexander Prime (which I mentioned already) and the other being the Ultima Weapon Ultimate trial.

And don’t be disingenuous with me. ‘New’ players doesn’t refer exclusively to people just starting the game. I meant, and I’m pretty sure you knew I meant, people new to the duty. I ran it patch day a few times, my first time was a group with nobody who did it prior and we wiped at that moment because–again–nobody knew you were meant to use a Tank limit break. The next few groups I ran, helping out FC members with it, were surprised by it as well. I warned groups ahead of time for those and we didn’t wipe, but they were surprised to even need it–as well as the later mechanic that makes Limit Breaks worthless.

Which is also an unfair mechanic, unless there is a use for it in the Extreme Trial. It punishes DPS for doing what the game teaches you to do.

Bereman
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Bereman

Never claimed that you were talking about savage or extreme only attacks at any point, was simply mentioning that for the context that attacks I’m talking about are the kind that can be experienced in the course of tackling content of normal difficulty, the kind most players will end up engaging in.

Maybe don’t put words in my mouth?

And the Stacking marker is a horrible argument against it because the marker itself indicates what you’re meant to do. It’s easy to read.

Tell that to the numerous players that see a mark above their head and, based on 60 levels and numerous patches worth of content and combat, think “I need to move away from the group” and end up dying to that attack in the 3.3 fight where it first appears. It happens pretty frequently…enough to suggest that the stack marker isn’t as readable to someone who has never seen it as you’re thinking.

That being said, it not having an immediately readable attack indicator (which this one does, but I’ll get to that in a minute) is not a great reason not to include it at this point in the game, when players have typically spent many hours with the game. And when it inevitably wipes the group from the sheer damage done, and you go back for a second try, you’re there in a couple minutes (about 2 and a half) since it’s not far into the fight.

*AND* it’s a checkpoint. You just need one to survive the hit and any subsequent wipes will put you after the LB3 on normal. It’s a fairly forgiving LB3 check, all things considered, while also fully teaching those that haven’t yet set foot outside the MSQ that tank LB3 checks are a mechanic that exists in the game. Not what I would call unfair.

That being said, it’s got TWO indicators that are typical of “need to LB here” and one is also generally used to indicate tank LB.

The first is that your Limit Break bar immediately fills all three, even though it was only maybe half full before. That should immediately clue you in that a LB is probably needed. There is then text on the screen that says “Transcend your limits and weather the gathering storm!” It even appears at about the time you should use the LB3 as a tank to survive the hit.

If you’re just new to the duty and not new to the game, you probably have encountered both the LB bar filling suddenly as well as the text on the screen mentioning transcending or breaking limits, so you have the signals from the game itself that say “LB to deal with this attack” in two key ways, and since you can’t target the boss and no one is dead or afflicted with a major debuff that leaves one option…and there’s not really anything happening mechanics wise at that point other than boss text and that text that appears on screen before the big hit, so you should have time to pay attention to any text that appears…especially stuff not in a dialog box like the “Transcend” message.

So no, it’s not an unfair mechanic, and honestly good on the developers for introducing it in the MSQ.

Bereman
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Bereman

Started the Extreme version of the trial last night with my FC.

It’s definitely noticeably more interesting as a fight (I think the normal version’s strength is the setting and narrative elements for sure, but of course we will get into that later), and I think a lot of that comes down to how while it still falls in the “scripted” category compared to other MMOs, it’s one that uses more variability that most fights in FFXIV.

Gonna hide it behind a spoiler box incase there are those that don’t want to be spoiled by the mechanics differences, and also cause it’s gonna be a bit text heavy.

Spoiler
So referencing only mechanics – you have the standard move in or move out, “clock” positions, stack in areas/corners, move, don’t move. Stuff like that. Except you don’t know exactly which order it’s going to come in when the fight starts. The boss does a signaling of attacks through certain animations and then you have to put all of those together and do the right thing.

The start of the fight does go the same every time – starting with the same nasty attack the normal version does where everyone drops to 1HP and needs to be healed to full. Then, strictly speaking, the EX part of the fight starts, with the aoe attacks that need to be baited, moving into clock positions, then moving to the corners with a partner to deal with an attack that will take out other players if it hits too closely…but you don’t know for sure which set of players it’s going to hit (tanks/healers or all dps), hence the need for partners.

Then things get variable for a bit.

So the first couple pulls, the boss does its thing and shows us that we need to be in clock positions around it (this part, I believe, is always the same for the first version of these attacks), be away from it, and be moving lest we get stuck and take damage from the thing that has us stuck – which we have to handle all three mechanics at the same time. Then all of a sudden we see the indicators that we have to be in, not moving, and still in clock positions around the boss…again resolving all three of those elements at once.

This kind of attack signaling will appear multiple times throughout the fight, usually before another set of mechanics and resolving after…so not only is it variable which you’re doing, you have to remember which set of attacks it indicated.

This is followed by an attack that creates a pattern on the floor where the only safe spots are along one of the four walls…except you don’t know which one is safe right away and have to wait for the pattern to essentially “draw” along three of the edges first, so you’ll have to react to that on the fly instead of knowing where to move ahead of time.

Then it’s back to a set pattern of sorts with minor variability (one side or the other is marked for an attack, don’t be there kind of thing, one person gets marked for a gaze attack coming off them and don’t look at them, etc), leading to an add phase that goes back to predictable for a bit as it plays out the same each time.

Then things get interesting again. There’s 4 different mini-phases that can appear in any order. One is pretty easy and plays out just about the exact same way every time – bait ground aoe together, move to stand with partner, use knockback prevention to still be with partner, take stack damage attack with partner – but it can appear in any order compared to the others.

Another involves standing in circles with a partner…but you get a debuff that prevents you from taking the hit from another of these attacks for a set number of seconds, meaning you go in a pattern of 1-5, 2-6, 3-7, 4-8. Easy, right? Well, while the pattern does do Cardinal positions first followed by Intercardinal…it’s not always the same spots. You can have north, then west, then east, then south…and then southwest, northeast, northwest, southeast, and so you have to watch what order they spawn in and remember which one you’re supposed to go to with your partner. But it can happen in a different order, meaning you won’t always be the pair that does 1-5 or 3-7.

Yet another is mostly predictable again, in that if you’re marked with a specific marker for an attack you take it to the same spot every time, and it’s just random which player of each role gets targeted.

Then another phase where you either get targeted with a marker or not, and if you are the boss does a cone attack toward you (four of them) that you need make sure don’t hit others (both marked and tether attacks go off at the same time) while those not marked have to grab tethers to face attacks from certain things that spawn away from the arena, then switch.

So varying degrees of variability across 4 mini-phases that can appear in any order.

Oh, and before each of these mini-phases, the boss will have indicated the type of attacks that it will do after the phase, the way it did before (in/out, move/don’t move, etc) and you have to keep those in mind. Except it’s not exactly like before, because it can either do the in/out etc type indicators, OR it can choose one of the three other attacks it did (partners in corners, stack with teams, position based on roles) and put them in a random order. Just have to watch what the boss did before the mini-phase to know what’s coming, but it’s not going to be the same mechanic every time.

Also, following the first of those four mini-phases…Quintuplecast – shows you the five mechanics the boss is about to do through fairly quick indicators, then does them in succession with no indicators…and without the markers it just showed. In a random order.

All of that while, of course, trying to beat the enrage timer.

It’s ultimately one of those fights where it’s much more important to remember the mechanics of each of those mini-phases rather than remembering the more scripted versions of fights we’ve traditionally had where things tend to almost always happen in the same order (often overlapping elements for the more difficult fights, but still the same order) and be ready to respond to what is happening on the screen rather than what usually happens next, and to me? That makes it a really fun fight.

Also, I don’t necessarily see it not having its own identity as a bad thing and in fact works for me (non-spoiler version: if you’re gonna have a reference/callback fight, this was a really good place to do it), but that’s a place where the mechanics and the thematic elements coalesce and that ties into the narrative so I’ll save that explanation for later.