Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s forced grouping serves an important purpose


It’s not exactly a secret, but just in case you didn’t know this, Final Fantasy XIV has dungeons that are absolutely necessary to progress through the game’s main story. They are not optional. It is structured in such a way that you will need to queue up for these dungeons in order to advance the story rather than these dungeons being optional in any way, shape, or form. Every so often, I see someone posting about this as if it’s some sort of bait-and-switch that the game pulls on its players halfway through.

There’s a lot to be said about this, but I’m not going to point out that you can easily queue for this content without having to worry about manually assembling a group (although you can), or that the game’s leveling roulette structure ensures that people are always doing these dungeons (but it does), or that the dungeons are structured to avoid problems like you’d find with some other story-heavy dungeons in games (but they are). Instead, I’m going to take a somewhat contrarian approach and point out that it serves an important purpose by telling you, directly, whether you’re going to want to keep playing the game.

See, FFXIV has dungeons as one of the big parts of the game. You can queue for them. The queue system is functional and pretty much one of the cornerstones of the game. The game’s dungeon design is one of its main selling points. And the designers expect you to do so because it is a central part of the game.

Learning the delicate dance of mechanics involved in dungeons is a core part of the game’s overall design. You don’t just start from zero and then get up to the endgame content wherein you’re expected to predict how numerous different mechanics work before you’ve seen them. Delubrum Reginae will literally kill you if you get hit by two mechanics, and you’re expected to be able to clear that without copious deaths because, well, you learned how all of this stuff worked over the prior levels.

To be fair, this one is optional.

By putting this front and center, the game isn’t offering you an unfair roadblock. It’s offering you a fair and ultimately straightforward bit of content that it expects you to work through. You may not necessarily want to play through a dungeon, but if you’re not going to like it now, you’re not going to like it at all in the next several dozen points when that becomes mandatory. Why not tell you that this is expected right up front?

And before you make the obvious rejoinder that there are lots of people who would be more inclined to play the game without it, consider something for a moment: How often do games intend you to do these things without making them cornerstones?

I can count on one hand the number of MMOs that don’t expect you to group up on the regular for content; that’s pretty normal. To use the obvious example, World of Warcraft certainly expects you to be forming groups and taking on dungeons with other players. It’s the main way you’re expected to gear up in the current expansion, even. But one of the recurring complaints about expansions like Legion were the fact that after you could skip basically every dungeon leading up to that point, suddenly the game expected you to do all of these dungeons as a core part of the game’s storyline.

That’s not unfair because the designers didn’t expect you to be doing this beforehand. It’s just a shock to the system because up until that point, it hadn’t actually been mandated in the same way. You can’t make all of this content tacitly optional and then expect it to suddenly be mandatory content without experiencing some friction.

FFXIV doesn’t let you get away with thinking that this is optional content. When you hit level 15, it is made clear that from the combat side of the game, you are expected to queue up for things. You don’t need to take part in every daily queue available to you (I certainly don’t), but that is a core part of the game moving forward.

And if you’re going to be very upset about doing that once, then maybe the game isn’t a good fit for how you want to play.

Yes, you kind of need to.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to the game but dungeons, of course. There’s a lot more. It is perfectly valid for you to do exactly as much dungeoneering as you need to finish the story and spend the rest of your time crafting and dominating the markets, and you’ll still have advancement options along the way. But the dungeon expectations are still there. It’s not a separate or optional part of the game. This is a game wherein you need to finish Story A to see Story B, and you’re going to need to run some dungeons to get there.

If you don’t like that, that’s all right. But it means that rather than getting to the top level and finding yourself frustrated that you have nothing to do, the game makes it clear how it’s going to work at level 15. It begins as it means to go on, and it’s not going to pretend otherwise. And if that’s going to be a sticking point, it’s nicer to find that out really early rather than much, much later.

Some people would prefer not to do dungeons, and you know, there are a lot of games that expect you to do them but will never actually mandate you to do them (or will provide a solo option through all of them, which is a positive option; Trusts provide that in Shadowbringers, and I wish that the technical issues slowing that down as rolling back through the earlier parts of the game weren’t in place). Some people are happy to do them, and the idea that it’s some kind of roadblock in a game with queueing options and a population that still does dungeons on the regular will never even ping to those people.

But as I see it, it’s actually a positive mark for the game. The title tells you right up front what it is, how it wants you to play, and what sort of content is going to be expected on the regular. That’s not a problem; that’s a sign of good game design. You don’t get upset at Bloodborne for starting you out with little actual direction and hard combat that will kill you if you screw up; that’s what you signed up for. It’s just delivering what it promised.

And if you’re playing FFXIV, you signed up for at least a little dungeon delving. If you’d prefer not to sign up for that, well, we’ll all miss you, but at least it’s not pulling that on you when you’re at the level cap and wondering why the game suddenly stopped accommodating your playstyle.

Feedback, as always, is welcome to either eliot@massivelyop.com or in the comments down below. Next week, I’d like to talk a little bit more about Endwalker in the sense of what we know from little interview tidbits and what we still know we don’t know.

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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