I don’t want to spoil Final Fantasy XIV’s most recent patch here before the cut, but it is not exactly a spoiler to say that when all is said and done, we won. The mechanics and stuff aren’t as important as the simple fact that when the dust settles, Norvrandt is well and truly safe and not with an enormous body count. We get to wave goodbye to the friends we made in the Crystarium and elsewhere, and the Warrior of Darkness passes into shadowed memory. And it’s a fine and fitting finale.
So now what?
The stories to be wrapped
First and foremost, it’s important to note that at least three ongoing storylines will definitely be wrapping up in the First moving forward. Eden will conclude in 5.4, YoRHa will conclude in 5.5, and the meta-quest for all the beast tribes will be in 5.5… and all of those will naturally still be on the First because that’s where they all happen. As neat as it might be on some level for Eden to tear open a passage between the First and the Source, it’s the sort of thing that would need to happen in the MSQ, and it wouldn’t make sense to just wedge that in there as an aside.
Of course, these stories do have the slight problem wherein characters have much less reason to care about them now. The whole reason for player characters to remain invested in Norvrandt through the base game was the assertion that failing to stop things here resulted in a new Calamity that would kill much of the Source population as well as all of the First’s residents. At this point, though, if the various machinery of the YoRHa raid kills every single dwarf in Kholusia… it’s sad, but it’s not going to affect your home, is it?
This is profoundly cynical, of course, and I don’t expect it’s a question that will be addressed at all in any of the lines aside from perhaps Eden. You are at least hopefully invested in these characters and stories by this point, so there’s no need to explain why you should care. But one wonders if there aren’t going to be some threads drawn a bit more tightly through both worlds in 5.4 as a means of keeping them linked in measurable ways, discouraging players from thinking of these two points as unrelated.
Still, let’s assume that somehow those existing story arcs have some connective tissue to the Source. We still have an issue moving forward. After all, we know that time can move differently between the shards, and we also know that the First does not have an active link to the Source beyond the player character being able to move between them. So what could possibly draw us back… without just rehashing the plot we’ve already cleared up?
An untethered future
First and foremost, there’s an obvious thing we could go back to the First for in future expansions: Relic weapons. There’s every reason to add new landmasses and zones post-Eden, after all, and it’d be inherently interesting to be unlocking relics not based on the past of the Source but an entirely different realm. We could also be tasked with a reconstruction effort a la Ishgard, or even getting some kind of new Deep Dungeon content if they wanted to bring that back.
But regardless of the content that might be added there, we wouldn’t necessarily have a reason to go back. Therein lies the biggest problem. We lack any problem to solve back in the First, and it isn’t a place with lines of communication like Kugane or Ala Mhigo. Once the WoL leaves, there’s not a reason to check in and see what’s going on. We’re already done there.
The first possibility is, of course, that the game handles this gap in relation by just not handling it. There’s no line of communication there, no additional ties, no motivation for the player to go back to the First beyond the ones we’ve already been given. The First is left wholly to itself now. How would that affect things?
It’s possible to have, say, a new set of relic quests in the game without any explanation beyond “there’s a new set of relic quests over here, go start the line in the Crystarium,” but that’s less effort that the team generally seems to put into this stuff. Fortunately, we at least still have a personal tie back to the First with Feo Ul, who could serve as at least some rationale for pulling players back across worlds as needed to take part in content that has some individual significance.
Still, this would ultimately leave the First a bit… isolated. Some neat stuff could be done with it, of course; imagine if our return is greeted with a realization that it’s been 15 years, with younger characters like our proteges at the start of 5.3 having grown into young adults. But it would make the shores of Norvrandt more deserted than even Ala Mhigo or Azys Lla in the wake of the expansion.
Our ties are not yet severed
All of this presupposes one other possibility: The story about our connection to Norvrandt may not yet be over.
While there’s a line talking about the departure from Norvrandt at the end of 5.3’s story, of course, that could just as easily be read as an explanation for how we can return ahead of other stories making it clear why we might need to. Considering everything going on with Zenos yae Galvus and the fact that that peephole is still open, it is entirely possible that Norvrandt will not remain as closed off from the Source as it is right now. 5.3 makes a compelling end to the Shadowbringers story, but the prelude to Nextpack may very well draw in more connections after all.
How would it do this? I don’t know. I am sure that there are things to be exploited if they really want to, starting with the fact that as long as the player character serves as a pinhole and as long as Elidibus was summoning hither and yon, there’s the potential for more interplay. Ultimately, though, what matters more is the idea that the First and the Source are more linked than they had been, and it may not be just the player who can traverse the gap between worlds.
I think it’s a given that there will be more content in the First regardless of whether or not we have a compelling reason to go back there. But I would like to see a bit more narrative heft to that than just “we don’t want to forget these zones.” It’s a tricky road to walk based on what we already know, but… well, sometimes the right thing to do can be tricky, after all.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I want to talk about the loss of the Deep Dungeon. Because of course I do.