If you look at it from an obvious thematic standpoint, the whole Island Sanctuary idea makes no sense for this particular expansion for Final Fantasy XIV. After all, the whole focus of this particular expansion is on endings, on fire and doom raining down from the sky and the final confrontation between the forces of light and dark that have been in the cosmological background since the game launched and especially since the relaunch. And you’re supposed to fart off for some low-stakes farming and minion gathering?
Now, first and foremost, I want to say that I think having a firm ending – and placing it here – is probably a good choice. It might not be where I had originally predicted it would fall, but it does make logical sense, and it gives us a chance to go out on a high note. But it does lead to a problem wherein the central storyline is going to end, and we need to have something to keep motivating players in the game.
I mean, let’s face it: We all know that the story isn’t going to end with the villains winning because the very nature of the game prevents it. Ultimately, the conflict will end and we’ll have saved the world, pushed this as far as it can go, reached a satisfactory ending point. And then… the next day starts up, and players and characters both need a sense that the world keeps turning.
A lot will have changed, but the game keeps going. Only now, there’s peace.
In general, the FFXIV plot has been trying to do a decent job of managing its power level. No, I don’t mean that in an abstract sense wherein everyone’s wearing things to scan one another and determine power levels (although we kind of can, considering that levels are a thing), but in the general sense of plot progression. Characters have a reason why they’re able to do quite a lot, but the plot has moved with the overall power level of the characters, so you don’t have experienced warriors beating the snot out of low-level criminal thugs.
Or, if you do, the entire point is that the thugs in question made a very bad choice and they’re going to be stomped into next week. You deal with slaying artificial deities, not shaking down local criminals.
But that escalating power level is still there, and it still prompts a certain number of questions and a certain degree of natural raising of stakes. By the time Zenos is put down and the Zodiark-Hydaelyn conflict is brought to a close, it’s going to be one heck of a high to crash down upon. And you need to give players a sense of peace, of things moving forward even without the end of times being just around the corner again.
Yes, there will be another plot that starts up and more stories to be told, but we all know that the next conflict is not going to be as all-encompassing or as world-shattering. And that’s all right, but you can’t just go from “fought an evil artificial immortal wizard on the moon” to “right back to killing random monsters for hapless idiots in the fields outside of Ul’dah.” There’s a need for some transition there.
You know what helps provide that? Something new to do that manages to feel like a comfortable, luxuriant retirement. Something like, well… relaxing content that isn’t really progression-focused but just lets you build up your island in peace. A way to cleanse and reset after what is meant to be a rather explosive conflict.
And frankly, that’s exactly how it should be.
Whatever conflict comes next needs to not be cosmic but still needs to be fairly high-stakes or at least feel as such. There’s lots of possibilities, some of which I’ve alluded to here before. But we need to feel like we’ve actually stepped down from the apex before we try to climb even higher, a quest that’s doomed to fail because there simply is no “higher” to reach once we’ve dealt with this particular conflict. Hydaelyn and Zodiark is as tall as the ladder goes.
By giving us content that’s explicitly meant to situate us in the middle of a peaceful venture, the narrative has a chance to re-orient. Yes, we know there are going to be other conflicts, simply because there have to be more conflicts or there’s no more plot to experience and the game is actually over. But it means that we’re not just being steamrolled on to the next one, instead getting a chance to step down and retire a bit. A chance to calm back down and let whatever comes next be slightly less urgent than preventing the final days of the planet.
For that matter, it gives the players a chance to decompress. Yes, patch 6.1 will come out after about three and a half months. Yes, there will be new challenges, and I have a feeling that the Pandaemonium series of raids will effectively serve as an epilogue for the Ascian storyline in general. (This may also be the case with the new Alliance Raid, as well; we simply don’t know enough about that yet. Wait until May.) But here’s new ongoing content that’s just… chill. Not meant to be worked at with intensity, but instead a place to relax reliably.
I like that. And I feel like it’s something we’re going to need in the game after what will no doubt be a story putting us through the emotional wringer again, especially with so many connotations about things ending and breaking.
I’m going to call it right now, in fact – more is going to come to an end than just this story. Some elements of the world that have been consistently present may not make it out. Some characters may very well die. Some conflicts may find their ending without people still alive at the end of them. And whatever happens, the final lineup of our allies is going to feel very different after this expansion than it does right now.
But there’s a calm, welcoming island beckoning at the end of it all. When all is said and done, there is sunlight after rain. And while it might seem a little odd to have something peaceful headlining an expansion that’s going to be quite conflicted up to that point, in its own way that’s kind of the brilliance of it.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I’d like to talk about something that’s come up in comments this week: the forced grouping required from an early point in FFXIV’s story, and whether or not it’s a good choice to include that.