I don’t really pay attention to the gristle mill of reaction videos we get for Final Fantasy XIV because, well, why would I? It’s at best well-meaning content put out by people working on tight deadlines, but a lot of it is also people trying to recreate a scene from another game fandom that has long featured a thin film of content creators with paper-thin analysis based mostly on emotional reaction rather than on meaningful understanding. It’s fine if you want your own personal Two Minutes Hate for the video game you play, but that’s not what I’m here for on any wavelength, and so I ignore it.
That having been said, I’m pretty sure the really ridiculous shibboleth about how “FFXIV is making content only for extreme casuals or extreme hardcores and ignoring the middle” comes from that scene, and not only is it exceedingly dumb, it’s usually some attempt to conflate the lack of a new set of field areas for grinding FATEs like Bozja or Eureka with the addition of Island Sanctuary – which is just factually wrong. The resources that would have gone into that sort of content didn’t go to Island Sanctuary; they went to Variant Dungeons. So let’s talk about this a bit.
First and foremost, we have to set the stage in two important ways. The first is one of memory and the second is one of honesty. The memory part? Remembering that people hated Eureka, and only slightly fewer hated Bozja.
That does not include me. I’ve said frequently that I think there are commendable aspects to both of those attempts. But I’ve also pointed out something that requires that second part of setting the stage, which is not pretending that Bozja was somehow hard. It could be messy when you had to board the Dalriada with people who couldn’t coordinate at all and half of them weren’t using Essences, but with reasonable levels of competence the whole thing wasn’t meaningfully different from doing an alliance raid. It was just sloppier, not harder.
Of course, neither of these things fits nicely into the narrative of “I no longer have an open field to grind FATEs in therefore my content needs are not being served,” but the point remains that Island Sanctuary didn’t really take these resources. Island Sanctuary took the development space that would otherwise go to something like Ishgardian Restoration, which is why the tool-relic-equivalent has been a bit lackluster and rote. (Which these same folks don’t talk about. I wonder why! I guess it will always be a mystery.)
No, those resources that otherwise went to big open fields to do Essences in went to Eureka Orthos and variant/criterion dungeons. And therein we see another weird complaint.
For some people, it is deeply unsettling that doing criterion dungeons does not in and of itself lead to another set of exclusive gear rewards. But this is silly. Not only was that never promised, it’s ignoring the fact that FFXIV has always had a pretty understandable pair of progression tracks. You either do Savage runs, or you do alliance raid runs to upgrade tomestone gear. The progression track is well-established and already has an alternative if you don’t like doing the more difficult content.
We really don’t need another reward track here, and it would honestly be redundant anyway. The point of this content is not to provide one. Bozja did not reward another set of best-in-slot gear; neither did Eureka. Heck, the simple reality is that FFXIV has a pretty simple gearing model that is generally set up to not have a whole lot of debate between best-in-slot options, and the whole intent with those sets was just to reward people with appearances and catch-up gear for other roles. By the time you could get 390 gear from Eureka, you could already get 400 gear from tomestones.
But then, this is not surprising when you look back a little bit. Remember when Yoshi-P had to basically tell a bunch of people who cheated to clear Ultimate content that dad is mad and disappointed in you? The audience of people who just want the hardest content for the hardest content seems to pale in contrast to the people who want a firm hierarchy of best gear and a place where they can dominate, something FFXIV does not provide. By design.
None of this is surprising or new. In fact, the most surprising thing to me is how quickly Eureka Orthos lost its appeal; after numerous people (including me) missed having a Deep Dungeon in Shadowbringers, you would have expected the inclusion to generate some buzz, but instead people just briefly checked it out and then bounced rather quickly. It’s not dead, but its luster faded fast.
I think the reason for that is the same reason that variant dungeons have gotten the backlash aside from the people angry that the content isn’t delivering what it never promised to deliver. Eureka and Bozja both did offer something substantially different from what you can get elsewhere in the form of otherwise unbalanced actions. Variant dungeons theoretically have that along with their group size scaling, but in practice it’s just a very narrow set of actions so that anyone can take the content on solo. It’s not interesting, and it doesn’t reward more actions as time goes by.
Now, there’s a definite potential problem with variant dungeons giving a separate progression track for new actions and the like insofar as… they’re dungeons. People who take on this content and get used to fun new actions are going to want to have them in other dungeons, and I can understand not wanting to open that particular can of worms. But I also think people would have a lot more interest in doing these dungeons more than once if they did have more actions to reward and unlock. My guess is that this is something on the designers’ radar for Dawntrail, since we already know the format is coming back there.
At the end of the day, though, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Criterion dungeons were never promised as a thing that would be ground forever, nor were they sold to players as something that would disrupt the game’s gearing or balance paradigm. (Indeed, to my recollection they were never even mentioned prior to Endwalker’s launch.) They’re the team trying something new and seeing how it’s received, and if you’re upset that they don’t offer a new tier of power… well… that’s the point of seeing how it’s received.
Seriously, if you want to see whether or not people like something, you don’t start by putting new mandatory gumballs at the end of it; you see if people will do it for moderate gumballs. If some people try it and others don’t care for it, that’s how you know what portion of the population just finds this neat in the first place.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I should note that “feedback” does not even slant rhyme with “I want to have my own personal Two Minutes Hate within the comments or your inbox,” so please keep that in mind. Next week, we’ll be into the 10-year relaunch anniversary events, and so I’m going to share a story about my time with this dang game, which starts well before the relaunch.