Spoilers and shit.
If you had asked me a year ago to name one of my favorite games of all time, I would have happily named Final Fantasy XIV as one of those games. Hell, I even named it one of my favorite games of the decade and despite how I feel now, I wouldn't change go back and change that because at the time, I was still having fun.
These days? Not so much.
I still have the utmost respect for what the team behind this game pulled off. You should go check out the NoClip documentary if you get the chance. It's a fascinating story that deserves to be in some sort of video game hall of fame.
That said, the magic can only last so long and the farther we go along, the more apparent the cracks become in XIV's armor. Not that they were necessarily hidden before, but with so many games out today stepping up because they are desperately vying for your attention, XIV just can't hang like it used to and it’s flaws shoot to the surface.
Right of the bat, the one recurring thought I keep having about FFXIV is that nothing really matters. Of course, you could say that about any game. You could also say, “As long as you’re personally having fun, what does it matter?” Etc etc blah blah.
I get it.
But XIV is a special kind of hollow. It’s not just the neverending gear treadmill, though that’s certainly not helping especially in a game that encourages you to play multiple classes and then makes it a pain in the ass to gear up those classes, but I digress. No, it’s not just the gear, it’s...everything.
The world is static and lifeless. There’s a few beautiful vistas and cool monuments here and there, but otherwise there simply just isn’t much to see. You’re not going to stumble upon hidden caves or explore every nook and cranny of a city because...well...there aren’t any. Kugane, the newest major city added in the recent expansion, and the Ruby Sea, a new zone added in that same expansion, are about as close as you get to something cool, but only within context of this game. Every other major city is either tiny, badly laid out, or completely void or anything interesting whatsoever. Maybe even a combination of the three.
I think about Ishgard and all that comes to mind is this needless big, homogenous mass of gray bleh. But you know the fucked up part? It’s a city with an abundance of history and lore that the game does nothing with. And that brings me back to what I said originally: nothing matters.
The game will constantly throw out info dumps about each locations, some of it interesting, some of it not so much. But it never does anything with any of it. “Hey adventurer, see that mountain over there? That’s a sacred mountain. Yup. Okay, run along now.”
I’m not expecting or even asking for them to “Cataclysm” the world every time something changes, but nothing changes and therefore it feels like nothing you ever do or that happens in the story ever matters.
Actually, now that I think about it, the beast tribe villages do change as you progress through the story, but they’re so tiny and there’s no real, lasting incentive to do them in the first place.
The closest thing the game has to meaningful change are several smaller towns, one per expansion, that are rebuilt over the course of a few patches. Neat idea in theory, but it has some major flaws. Most notably, if you come to the game later, you don’t actually get to see that process. It’ll just be the same town for you from now until the end of time. Secondly, once the new expansion comes out, those towns are effectively made obsolete. There are quests and things you can do if you want to, but if you want the new shit, there’s no reason to go back there which seems especially odd given how often the topic of trade comes up in the story. Yet, there is clearly very little trade going on that matters to the player because 99% of the shit you care about will only ever be available at one location.
I realize this isn’t a problem unique to XIV, however, because so little changes in this game, it’s ironically harder to ignore.
I bring all this up because let’s go back to Ishgard for a moment: the whole story surrounding that city is about countless years of oppression under the Church, war, classism, racism, and everything in between. When you finally get to the bottom of everything, what changes? Not a goddamn thing.
The music is still dark and depressing. NPCs are still right where they’ve always been, a lot of them don’t even get different dialogue so they’re stuck talking about a time that literally does not exist in your story anymore. After saving the world for the billionth time, ideally you would like to sit back, and take it all in, but the game world does not let you because, once again, none of it seemingly matters.
I realize I’m repeating myself a lot, but I feel I cannot stress this point enough: the world of XIV is less like a world and more of a backdrop. And speaking of backdrops, let’s sit down and talk about dungeons for a second. Many would argue that instances in XIV have gotten better over the years and in the interest of being fair, they would be 200% correct. Mechanics have gotten more involved and creative. Bosses have gotten bigger and and more memorable. Outside of the highest of high-end group content, it’s all still braindead easy, but it’s absolutely been an improvement. However, at their core, their formula is still exactly the same as it was when ARR/2.0 launched.
Trails and raids? Stand in this one room and fight. Dungeons and 24-man content? Follow this static path to your destination then stand in this room and fight. I might even argue that raids and dungeons have both gotten worse in some ways though. The original set of raids, Binding Coil of Bahamut, actually consisted of several instances that involved little to no boss fights at all and a handful of the old dungeons turnt out to be somewhat unforgiving if you got overconfident with the wrong party.
Now, the last two sets of raids have been desperately clamoring to recapture the magic and excitement of Binding Coil and have been failing spectacularly and literally every dungeon consists of the tank pulling every mob until the level prevents them from pulling anymore and then the group burning it all down. Any group consisting of people who have even the vaguest idea of how to play their job will have no trouble in dungeons.
But what does this all have to do with backdrops? Well, while the formula for content has remained unchanged, Square Enix has poured more and more resources into making everything look pretty. Now that’s all well and good in and of itself, but when you look at the bigger picture, you begin to question why. It’s not like you explore dungeons or take optional paths. They certainly haven’t gotten any more difficult. Most newer dungeons are shorter than older ones. They don’t shake up the actual encounter formula. Every boss is still proceeded by two or three trash pulls. Most bosses have a set pattern they follow and any with any sort of random element is going to be handled in a set way each and every time. Nothing is ever going to throw you off your game.
So what is the point? Why should I care that dungeons are prettier and have better music if we’re still doing the exact same thing we’ve been doing since 2013?
I could almost try to forgive a lot of this if the story and quests could carry the weight, but the longer the latest expansion goes on, the more the writing in this game falls apart. Buckle up.
To be honest, there isn’t much to say about quests. The game is full of “go kill/collect X number of things” quests. Sadly, in a poor attempt to shake things up, the developers decided to add a frustrating number of quests that consist of “go here, talk to this person, then come back to me, then go talk to this other person, then come back to me, then go to this other person all the way over here to turn in the quest.” And nine times out of ten, those people you need to talk to will be needlessly spread out, forcing you to retread the same ground you’ve tread a million times before.
But let’s talk about this story. What the shit happened? I won’t defend ARR or every bit of Heavensward, but Stormblood is weird. First off, they might as well call this the “no one dies expansion” because that’s what this is. Several characters who should be very dead turn out to be very much alive because...reasons? Why should I ever believe anyone is gone for good now if you’re just going to write people back into the story all willy-nilly?
Going back to Heavensward for a second, there’s a continuation of a pretty monumental event that happens at the end of ARR. Long story short, you and your companions are framed for regicide. You’re treated as criminals, arrested, almost killed, your buddy loses his arm, you escape, get seperated, and are now on the run. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?
Would have been even cooler if that story decided to do anything with any of that. Turns out it was all a ruse to bring to light a traitor and the person who you think is dead, isn’t. If that wasn’t bad enough, none of the NPCs involved apologize or even literally even just acknowledge the fact you were framed and almost killed. Just in case that didn’t sink in: your character being framed for murder is not addressed by any of the characters who framed you for murder.
Later on, you’re reunited with your entire crew who are all sporting brand new outfits. The one member who doesn’t “survive” ends up becoming a god for another dimension or some shit. Don’t worry though because, once again, it sounds neater than it actually is because you see her for one cutscene and she’s pretty much like “welp, I’m a god now and I have to go protect this other dimension. Okay. Bye now.” And she’s hardly ever really brought up again even to this day.
After that, it truly felt like all the tension evaporated from the story because now it’s impossible to say for certain someone is dead even if you watch them die and Stormblood has just gone off the fucking rails.
The main antagonist from ARR is back for some reason and the main antagonist from Stormblood is back after like not even a year. Why? I mean, I know they’re going to try and justify it, but why? Why couldn’t you just kill them off for good? Why give them these long, dramatic ass death scenes if you’re just going to snap your fingers and undue it all?
Those aren’t even the worst offenders in my book though. Oh, no. Let’s talk about this bitch for a minute. Yotsuyu:
The decision to not kill her off and then, on top of that, try to paint her as a tragic figure is arguably the most baffling decision ever made in the entire XIV story. She was abused as a child and sold off to marry a rich dude who abused her some more. Yes, that is sad. However, you learn about that after you see her force friends and family members to kill each other. After you see her kill people for fun. After you see her kill people for boredom. After you see her round up villages to send them off war and concentration camps. After she tries again to kill you and your friends before a building collapses on the lot of you. And she does all this with a smile on her face.
I’m supposed to feel sorry for her? Bitch, genocide is not an acceptable reaction to abuse. Especially when 99.99999% of the people she killed never met her or had anything to do with her abuse in the first place. But no, the game “kills her off” then a few hours later you see she survived. Then she pops up a couple of patches later and the story tries to portray her as the one who is suffering oh so much. Fuck outta her with that.
While we’re here, let me step on this landmine for a hot second: FFXIV’s portrayal of women. Why the fuck is every woman in this game waifu bait? Guys come in all shapes and sizes. Fat, skinny, handsome, ugly, etc. Every single woman throughout the story has to be cute. Or, more specifically, they can’t be Roegadyn or Elezen.
For some reason, the developers have something against those two races despite the fact they were the ones who fucking created them. I guess they aren’t cute enough, so the developers can’t find a way to integrate them into the story? Au Ra have been in the game two years less than either and have dozens more hours of screentime than Roe and Elezen combined.
Heavensward was an expansion based entirely around the Elezen city of Ishgard and aside from like one or two class trainer, there is one Elezen woman you meet throughout that entire thing who is, to be fair, a pretty central character, but the game fucking kills her off.
I suspect Square would be happier if they could kill off all Roegadyn women in general because of the two they introduced, one is killed off in the patch after they introduced her and the other is almost always absent despite being the leader of a major city.
“But BabuChooChoo, why does this bother you so much?” Because dear reader, there is a very clear preference in terms of the type of women portrayed in this game. And in case you want to argue, go right ahead. Name me one recurring woman in this game who doesn’t fit in the stereotypical cute, anime waifu archetype?
I’ll help you out, Lucia is the only one, but despite being the right-hand woman to one of the central characters of an entire expansion, you hardly spend any time with her. Meanwhile, Y’shtola is almost killed twice by things that other characters acknowledge should have killed her, but she’s still kicking. She’s just one of many examples though. It’s like they’re afraid of introducing another woman into the story who the audience won’t find attractive. Again, you can find men all across the spectrum, but women? Nah, no admission if we can’t put you on a body pillow.
Pandering is quite a large problem with this game in general. You’ll find many memorable Final Fantasy bosses thrown in this game in the most unceremonious of ways in an attempt to go, “hey, I remember that thing!”
Yes, I do, game. I do remember that thing. Why is it here? No reason, okay, sure.
Lately, they even try to invoke the nostalgia of XI with new Eureka content they put out. The only problem is it seems to boil down to “uh...hey...um...remembering grinding? That was fun! Now you get to do it in XIV too! It’s just like the old days!” except it’s nothing like XI because the two games play nothing alike and grinding in XI was often so you get the chance to spawn bigger things who would hopefully let you spawn things bigger than that. Also, ya know, the combat was completely different. There was a lot going on in XI and none of it is present here, so how exactly is this new thing even remotely related to that old thing except for grinding which isn’t unique to XIV?
There are some terrible Korean grindfest MMOs that I would call more engaging than Eureka in XIV, but because because they get to throw the XI name around as much as they please, people eat it up.
Hey, it’s fine if people like it, but it feels scummy to equate something in your game to this other game that does it better. Yes, I’m aware it’s done all the time in the entertainment industry for everything, but that doesn’t make it any less scummy. If a developer said they were hoping to make the spiritual successor to Everquest or Star Wars Galaxies and what they made was nothing like those games except for fact it was an MMO set in either space of a vague fantasy setting, they would face a lot of criticism. I see no reason why XIV should be immune to that.
The other content they’ve added hasn’t exactly been great either. Diadem was a colossal failure that they tried to re-release and failed again. The Gold Saucer minigames range from, at best, functional to simply not fan. Palace of the Dead and Heaven-on-High are alright I guess, but they’re both extremely repetitive and moreso a test of attrition than anything else such as actual skill.
This game is tiring. We’re about 5 years out from the launch of ARR/2.0 and the gear treadmill is exactly the same as it was at launch. I understand the need for weekly caps in a subscription based MMO, but it seems at odds with the core principles of the game. For something that encourages you try to play as many classes as possible, it sure makes gearing those classes up a pain in the ass. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just that with every gear cycle, you’re forced to pick favorites. Do I want to gear up my healers or tanks first? What about dps? Which dps do I want to gear up since so many of them use different gear?
To be fair, you don’t need to have your jobs in the newest, freshest gear to perform adequately in non-savage or -ultimate content, but there’s certainly a feeling of underperforming through no fault of your own, but rather the game gatekeeping you.
I have a lot more to say - I didn’t get around the lack of class customization, the increasingly outdated character customization, the greedy cash shop, there’s so much more I wanted to say - but I’m tired. My heart aches for what this game could be. I want to love this game still. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t play it for 5 years just so I could bitch about it now. It just doesn’t seem to interested in involving out of it’s own comfort zone.
Since launch, games like WoW and Warframe have not only completely rebuilt major mechanics and systems, but also added entirely new forms of gameplay. Monster Hunter and Warframe again have demonstrated that grinding doesn’t have to be boring. Elder Scrolls Online has shown it’s possible to shake up the MMO formula. And so on and so forth.
XIV is not a bad game, but it’s complacency in this day and age is disappointing. As time goes on, more and more games do what this game sets out to do, but those games do it better. Maybe I should I just quit for good, I dunno.
Maybe I should learn how to properly end whatever I write too.