Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV isn’t easier, but it also is

But it's really not, but it also is, but it isn't for the reasons you think, but it is

No mom.

So it was about half a month ago when Final Fantasy XIV fans translated an interview with producer and director Naoki Yoshida talking about making the game more stressful moving forward. I don’t blame you if you memory-holed that particular moment; it was half a month ago, and since then there was the whole Microsoft-based subscription stupidity and the Dawntrail release date and the Final Fantasy XVI crossover date. That’s all more important. But people got really worked up and wound up expending tons of words about making the game harder, which wasn’t what he said in the first place.

This was pretty dumb because… well, as just stated, nothing Yoshi-P actually said was about making the game harder. Rather, he was talking about stress points, something that the game has systematically removed over the years, and there’s a whole other article to be discussed with regards to that. But it does raise an interesting question: Now that we’re looking forward to the game’s fifth expansion, has FFXIV gotten easier over the years?

And the answer to that is a definite no. But you’re probably having an easier time with it anyway. But it also isn’t actually easier. But it is also a bit easier in places, although a lot of that isn’t why you think it is. But it also is. And I promise, all of that is not waffling; it is intentional.

It’d be easy to look at, say, the mechanics of a given launch low-level dungeon and compare them to a current endgame dungeon and give a resounding “obviously not” to any claims of things being easier, but that’s also an unfair comparison because the game had challenging content at the endgame at launch. So instead I’m going to look at what is at least roughly comparable content by comparing Pharos Sirius to Alzadaal’s Legacy. Trials and raids are harder to compare, but I think these are roughly comparable.

Pharos Sirius has four bosses compared to Alzadaal’s three, but one of those bosses even at launch was functionally a joke. And when Pharos came out, it was considered really hard. But if you look at the actual mechanics… the first boss asks you to stay spread out a bit, avoid AoEs, and deal with adds. Nothing too hard or untelegraphed. Second boss just needs you to time when you kill the adds, and the third boss (all right, fourth) just has a simple mechanic of healing to avoid Doom. Except it’s easier than usual because the Doom, if it goes off, doesn’t actually kill anyone.

Compare that to a boss with a morphing AoE you have to react to quickly, staggered field lockdowns, and the whole spinning top minigame, and Alzadaal’s Legacy has a lot more going on. It definitely has more mechanics and more to pay attention to. However…


If you talk to veteran players, they can tell you how dicey Pharos could be, whereas Alzadaal was definitely not hard. Something else is going on here beyond the obvious signifiers of difficulty. And I think a good chunk of that is that Alzadaal’s Legacy is the first patch dungeon of the game a decade out from launch.

Let’s not mince words: When Pharos Sirius launched, a lot of the mechanics it had were fairly new to the game. Some of them were not very good. Gear was spottier and a lot of jobs didn’t have abilities that are not downright common. If you go back to Pharos Sirius now, it’s not hard even though you’re synced down and a lot of those later abilities aren’t there. This stuff is… well, familiar now. That would mean that even though the game is objectively not easier, it feels easier to play due to practice.

So there we go! It’s not easier. We can all move on, right? Not so fast, buckaroo, because there is also something very different that I have intentionally avoided talking about when it comes to Pharos, and that’s cascade effects.

One of the big elements that was designed into FFXIV early on is what I think of as cascading failure. We still see it to an extent; it’s why a lot of AoEs apply Vuln-Up stacks when they hit you. Getting hit by one thing is a mistake and won’t really make things worse. But two or three? They can start to spiral, and before you know it you’re dying to things you would otherwise survive.

Pharos Sirius contains a lot of cascading failure moments, but a lot of them have an impact not just on you but on the party. If you fail to cleanse the Bleed from the tank, you can wind up spending too much MP healing her, and then the rest of the party starts dying. Getting hit on the first boss will often apply a debuff that can make you explode and hurt everyone around you.

By and large, this is something the the developers have moved away from over the years. That’s not to say that cascading failures have been removed; it’s more that they have been moved more toward personal responsibilities rather than being a party-wide thing. A bad DPS might get smoked on the second room-wide damage burst, but he’s not going to blow up the rest of the party.

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Does this make the game easier? Yes, objectively it does. That’s not a value judgment, just a statement of fact. But it’s also… not really a bad thing in my eyes. It makes the game easier if a bad Red Mage is just going to get himself killed rather than wipe the party a dozen times, but the same could be said if the game stops randomly blacking my screen out every so often. Neither challenge is really about the game itself.

All of this is a (very deliberately) long way around to saying that the game is definitely not the same difficulty as it was back when 2.0 was still a going concern. In a couple of ways, yes, you can argue that it’s easier. But for the most part, it’s got a lot more going on; what’s changed more is the playerbase becoming familiar with the game’s designs and the game teaching everyone how it intends to be played.

And that in and of itself is worth considering. FFXIV is a game that scrupulously introduces mechanics and uses them in many places with several variations, and there is a limited number of potential mechanics that can be implemented within a single fight without getting overwhelming. There’s only so much that can be done about that, just like there’s only so much you can do to make crafting different when you need all of the crafting jobs to be viable for players.

Or, as I told a friend once about a Mega Man fan game, it’s valid to no longer find shooting eight robots for new weapons and then jumping through four stages with all of those weapons particularly fun. But that doesn’t mean the game is bad; it means you’ve done this a lot by now.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I’m going to talk about the FFXVI crossover – what works, what doesn’t, and how it handles both games. Should be fun!

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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