In which I gripe about FFXIV’s MSQ delivery system for a bit

Have you ever experienced that feeling when you’re not THAT into the whole experience of something — a book, game, movie, etc. — but you press on because you want to see how it all turns out? That’s kind of me and FFXIV these days. That’s me and FFXIV most days, to be honest.

I know everyone and their game-playing grandma praises the Shadowbringers expansion as, like, the Best Final Fantasy Story Ever, but boy am I getting so tired of how honestly lame the MSQ is. I’m not feeling that charitable toward it, right now. Oh, the story is fine. Sometimes the story is very, very good. But how it’s told has me waving my arms and shouting, “This? This is what you all have been praising as the best narrative delivery system ever? I don’t get it. I don’t think I ever will!”

I guess I’m tired of the slow-as-molasses pacing, the Scions who are by and large nice, bland people without much in the way of depth, the fact that my character always comes off as a clueless Straight-A student being dragged around by this cast’s C-students, absolutely no real agency in dialogue choices, vile heroes that reveal tragic backstories and now we’re supposed to root for them, and the lack of explanation about how Lord Hien has TWO sets of X scars.

Again, it’s not all bad. But it’s not, say, SWTOR or Secret World by any stretch of the imagination. What probably bugs me the most is how little you actually *do* in any of the MSQ. I’m too lazy to make a pie chart to represent this, but about 40% of your average MSQ is “go to this place,” 35% is “watch this cutscene where your character does nothing other than nod,” 15% is “find the one glowy thing on the landscape to click on,” and 10% is battling a couple of landscape mobs, doing a duty, or running a dungeon.

That’s it. Rinse and repeat for hundreds of hours.

Yet I do want to see Shadowbringers. There are characters, just a few of them, I honestly like a whole lot. But I don’t have a lot of hope that the MSQ is going to become any more interesting in how it functions.

FFXIV: Treasure hunting and flamethrowers

Once I finished up with Stormblood 4.0 in FFXIV, I made sure to catch up on my class quests. It only gradually dawned on me, playing through this game, that FFXIV is really invested in continuing this idea of class quests. They don’t stop coming, and I love that. Sure, sometimes I just want the new skill without the fuss, but I do feel more connected with my Machinist thanks to the class-specific stories.

And hey, I got a flamethrower! If you know me and MMOs, you know that I am always and forever a sucker for a good flamethrower. I had fun pulling this out in a dungeon run, since we’re always burning down packs of mobs. Pro tip: You do extra damage if you laugh maniacally while using a flamethrower.

 

Sigh. Remember when Simpsons used to be good? I barely do any more.

My guild told me that while Stormblood wasn’t that great of an expansion, the patch quests were far better. And I have to say that the first batch — which include a treasure hunting expedition and some insight into one of the villains of the expansion — were far, far more interesting than what I had been slogging through.

I feel that this is further evidence that shorter story arcs in MMOs always have the potential for being better because they’re not as drawn out. Just give me a good three, four, or five-quest chain that tells a self-contained gripping story, and I’m in paradise.

FFXIV dialogue choices be like…

  • Sure, I’ll help you!
  • I’ll help you, sure!

Or

  • I totally want to go with you on this mission!
  • I don’t want to go at all… but you’re going to make me anyway, so what does saying this even matter?

Or

  • Alphinaud, you’re the most amazingly brilliant leader ever!
  • Also, you wear the dickins out of that baby white tie!

FFXIV: Stormblood finished!

My ongoing goal for FFXIV this year has been to finish one significant section of the main story quest every month — either the core expansion quests or the collective patch quests. July was all of Heavensward patches while August was all of Stormblood 4.0. And with over a week before the end of the month, I finished that latest milestone. There’s still a good long way to go before I’m caught up with the front-runners, but I’m on track to do so by the time Endwalker releases.

I was hoping that by the time I wrote my final thoughts on Stormblood 4.0, I would have to eat my former words of being somewhat underwhelmed with the storyline, but… nope. It was ultimately fine. Honestly, kind of tedious in parts as you slogged through liberating two separate countries. I just wanted it over, if nothing else than I never wanted to see Zenos again. He made my skin crawl, not as a character but as an existence. I know that we should hate bosses and all that, but this was hate coming from outside of the story itself and more from how the artists portrayed this sleazy uncanny valley weirdo.

One bright spot of Stormblood was Lyse, who really developed well as a character. You see her going from headstrong impulsive fighter to wise leader in a measured journey that felt believable. I ended up liking her a lot as a leader, far more than I ever did Minfilia, and her voice work was rather well-done.

And I’ll give FFXIV this: When you finish an expansion, the game makes a big, big deal out of it. The above screencap crammed almost every single character together for one big selfie, and while it was eyerollingly overdone, it was also kind of a fun moment of celebration as well.

I did like the final scenes that teased further development. It made me look forward to the future storyline rather than dread it.

FFXIV: Mess with the Aura, get the horns

When I’m in the thick of a FFXIV expansion, it can kind of feel like it’s going on forever. Story beats — which are more interesting than they were back in ARR, I’ll grant that — still are slow to develop. Sometimes you see where the game is going for the next eight or nine missions and you sigh because you kind of want it done already.

Stormblood continues to be fine, just fine, but never much more than that. The whole thing feels like a two-pronged quest — free Doma, free Ala Mhigo — that’s supported by a branching nest of objectives leading back up to those two main points. I understand that the writers are trying to get us players to understand these lands and care about their liberation (while also making some ham-handed points about the duties and obligations of oppressed people to revolt), but it’s not connecting as strong as I would hope.

Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like I’m off on a grand adventure or uncovering a gripping story. It feels like I’m George Washington single-handedly fighting the British, one encounter at a time. Maybe there’s some big twists or really great moments ahead — this game CAN be surprising in that — but it’s not doing much of that so far. And if I have to do another round of “arrive in a village, everyone mistrusts you, do some nice stuff for them, now they trust you!” routines (in this or other MMOs), I may have to go scream into a pillow for a while.

I am happy to report that I’ve finally finished my first beast tribe rep grind. After about a month of faithfully doing dailies, I maxed out the Vanu Vanu and went on with my life. I was hoping for better rewards or resolution, but it kind of limped across the finish line to sit there. I did get a couple decorations and cosmetics, although the gil cost of the mount (200k) is higher than I’m going to spend right now, especially since I don’t even have my first million.

I am not that inclined to do another beast tribe, at least for the time being. It was a bit of a hassle every day to do those, and I’d rather free up that time for pursuits elsewhere.

Figuring out what there is to do in Final Fantasy XIV

I’m stressed in FFXIV. It’s a pretty common feeling whenever I’m in an MMO and haven’t fully wrapped my head around all that there is to do. I know, FFXIV evangelists will yammer on about taking things slow and making your own objectives and whatnot, but they’re also speaking from a position of knowing most of these options. They’re above it, I’m below it, and down here is stressful.

There’s always that question of, “Should I be doing some specific activity every day for a grand goal?” I mean, I only found out a month ago that I should be heading over to the Gold Saucer to grab a few free lotto tickets every day, and now I’m kicking myself that I wasn’t doing that since the start. It’s that sort of thing. Should I be doing daily roulettes? What about pursuing a beast tribe? And what waits for me when I’ve exhausted the MSQ or want to take a break from it?

The only thing that relieves this stress is doing research and making a list of activities and features to investigate later on, so here’s what I’ve found:

  • Leveling more or all of the jobs to the level cap (Heaven-on-High, roulettes, etc.)
  • Blue Mage leveling and skill collecting
  • Making money (I’d like to own a house one day, after all)
  • Beast tribe reputation tracks
  • Hildebrand questlines (have no idea where I left off in these)
  • Crafting — probably never going to be my thing
  • Gold Saucer minigames
  • Eureka — What is this zone? Do I need to do it? Is it outdated now?
  • Relic weapons — Worth getting? How much time will this take? Able to attain solo?
  • Seasonal events
  • Raiding/savage instances
  • Doing weekly challenge logs
  • Wondrous Tails
  • Grand Company — Do I need to keep leveling this up?
  • Sightseeing logs
  • Triple Triad — Collect cards, look up a guide
  • Adventurer Squadrons
  • Unlock flying for each zone
  • Treasure Hunts
  • Clan Hunts
  • Going through the Content Unlock page on the wiki and seeing what needs to be done
  • And, of course, GLAMOUR, the real endgame

Obviously, I don’t want to do ALL of these. I don’t have the time for it. But I want to have this list to investigate later on to figure out which activities are up my alley and worth pursuing.

FFXIV: Lala out, Aura in

FFXIV likes to yank me around. I got so dang excited the other day when I hit what I thought was the max-tier for this Vanu Vanu beast tribe and went through this epic little battle. I thought I had finished my rep grind… but no, apparently there’s still more to do. I had heard it took about a month of dailies to get through a tribe, and it better happen soon because I’m losing my patience for sundrop dancing and scaring people with a Chinese dragon.

Meanwhile, I found someone’s tall pile of rocks. I guess that’s Heaven-on-High, but I’m calling it “An Structural Disaster In The Making.” That sucker is going to fall down and smoosh a whole bunch of crabs when it does.

Stormblood continues to abide. It’s actually a pretty depressing expansion so far, because it’s been a nonstop tour of visiting oppressed people beaten down so far that they’ve more or less given up. I understand that it’s setting the stage for some big liberation, but just when I think they’ve hammered in the malaise, here comes some more THWAK THWAK THWAKs. But hey, now there are two big bad guys that I hate with every ounce of my passion! Perhaps even more than Alphinaud the Wonder Elf!

So as I patiently bide my time until I can single-handedly save two countries from oppression, I found a little vial that said ‘DRINK ME’ and followed its instructions. Actually, I swapped from a Lalafell to an Au Ra after a whole lot of internal debate. You see, I really did like a lot about the Lala — I’ve always been a fan of pint-sized races — but the animations and squished cosmetics weren’t big selling points.

Why the Au Ra then? It wasn’t going down the beaten path of bunny girls and cat girls, and it also gave me a shorter character. It’s something different that I hadn’t considered until I saw a couple cross my paths and went, huh, I might be able to live with that. So I spent an embarrassingly long time working with the character creator to come up with this look — and I’m very happy with it. Not too big, not too small. Just right.

FFXIV: From the middle east to the far east

Four main story quests. That’s my minimum goal every day in FFXIV if I’m to stay on track to be done with Stormblood by the end of August. 122 quests is a whole lot to process as a whole, but four at a time? That’s pretty doable.

As I said previously, the general lack of enthusiasm among FFXIV vets when mentioning Stormblood is hard to ignore, even though I do try hard to give it a fair shot. Honestly, so far it hasn’t been too bad. It’s starting to shape up as a liberation narrative involving two countries dominated by the same empire, and I’m down with that. It’s definitely in line with a lot of Final Fantasy stories from past games.

The story does give us a key enemy that’s so sneering and condescending that I have to refrain from punching the screen whenever he appears. I don’t hate this guy from the perspective of the in-game universe — I loathe him for myself. Japan’s had a lot of experience creating these kinds of oh-so-superior beings who weigh maybe 125 pounds but have some sort of supernatural power and lord it over everyone, and it’s not my favorite facet of that country’s pop culture.

The Scions, for the most part, aren’t impressing me this time around. I like New Lalafell Sage, as she puts Alfie in his place and is a likable enough person, and Tataru is really growing on me as a favorite. But I’d love to go on some quests without the Twins boring things up around me. It’s like this is a babysitting simulator that someone passed off as an MMORPG.

FFXIV doesn’t often give me dialogue choices, but if I ever get one when Alfie asks me a question, I choose the “…” option and imagine glaring at him with undisguised loathing.

But as I said, the story has my attention. I’ve just gotten to JapanLand, which is a huge tonal shift from ArabiaLand. It’s kind of garish and a little TOO perfect the way that FFXIV does its architecture. I guess now I can understand how this expansion gave us a Samurai class!

FFXIV: Ramping up into Stormblood

Boy, it really worked out that I started getting into FFXIV this past month, now that WoW is no longer a part of my gaming routine. I’m glad I’m not left with that awful feeling of fishing around for an MMO to fill any sort of gap, because really, there aren’t enough free time as it is to get in everything I want to be doing with FFXIV.

While I’ve been working on making up a list of long-term goals, for the next few months my priorities are going to be rather simple: Stick with a class to level 80 and get through all of the MSQ. My general plan is for the rest of the year:

  • Finish Heavensward patch MSQs in July (accomplished!)
  • Get through Stormblood 4.0 in August
  • Get through Stormblood 4.x in September
  • Get through Shadowbringers 5.0 in October
  • Get through Shadowbrings 5.x in November
  • Start in on Endwalker in December

It might be too ambitious, I’m not sure, but that feels doable with my schedule. When I get caught up, I’ll then start branching out into more side projects and objectives.

The recent Make It Rain event encouraged me to at least stop in to the Golden Saucer, which is one of many parts of this game I’ve never investigated. I took the tour, started getting my daily scratcher tickets, played a few games of Triple Triad, and mentally bookmarked the rest for further exploration.

I do remember Triple Triad from old school Final Fantasy. I liked it at the time and kind of like it now, so I can see working to collect cards to build a good deck.

But I wasn’t going to let a casino distract me for too long! Heavensward was finally finished as I wrapped up all of the patch MSQ segments. I could’ve done without the first half, which was little more than an extended epilogue of elves and dragons and more dragons and I really don’t care about dragons in this or any game so it’s kind of a lost cause with me. Dragon dies? The game wants me to cry but I’m just shugging and moving on. It’s an upstart lizard with delusions of grandeur.

The second half of the Heavensward patches — the Stormblood prologue — were much stronger, with a few rather interesting twists and reveals. I didn’t feel like it was as much busy work, and I liked how there’s even some setup for Shadowbringers there with the Warriors of Darkness.

I felt really good seeing the Stormblood logo come up. My interest hasn’t faltered one bit, and I’m settling into a good routine of logging in every night to see where the story takes me. I am a little concerned that Stormblood won’t be that good — I hear people praising the first and third expansions an awful lot but never this one — especially considering how long I’m going to be in it.

FFXIV: Giant dolls make me go “Lalahell no”

If nothing else, Final Fantasy XIV is proving to be such a screenshottable game that I’m having a hard time culling pictures down to a handful to share in these posts.

It definitely was a great decision on my part to resume questing with my former character who’d already gotten through the core Heavensward expansion. Since every story beat from here on out is new to me, I can log in every night and have that expectation of discovery.

And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve put in the time to unlock flying in all of the zones. Man, flying makes such a difference in this game, and I never get sick of taking my chocobo to the skies.

One mental obstacle that I’ve had to contend with is ignoring that internal pressure to “catch up CATCH  UP” with everyone else in the game. If there wasn’t an expansion coming out this fall, I doubt that voice would be as loud, but… it’s there. I know there’s a huge amount of content — two expansions and three expansion patch cycles — between where I am now and where veteran players are, but there’s no rushing it. There’s no brute-forcing it, nor fretting about it. Like any MMO with a long and involved story arc, it’s best to enjoy where you are and trust that you’ll get there… evantually.

So I’ve been going through the 3.X main story quests, which I’ve dubbed “more dungeons and dragons.” Honestly, I’m more than done with Heavensward in terms of themes and characters. It wasn’t horrible, but the Syp demographic isn’t enthralled by developers going “hey, let’s keep that Elf-and-dragon parade going!” past the point that you felt this storyline concluded.

The patches so far — I’m in 3.4 as I write this — have had some really good beats, including that upside-down castle dungeon with the creepy doll boss. That’s nightmare fuel right there.

I’ve also been faithfully working on a single beast tribe reputation grind every day. I figure I’ll just do one until it caps out and then pick up another one until I’m done with them all. I’m doing the Vanu Vanu, which is great if you like giant angry-looking chicken-bears living on floating islands despite lacking the capacity for flight.

I also took some time off of my routine to hang out with my free company when it was throwing a hide-and-seek event the other night in our neighborhood. It was really nice to see everyone in person (so to speak), although the housing reminded me that I’m so far away from being able to afford even the smallest cottage. One gil at a time!

All things considered, I feel like I’m in a really good place with FFXIV. It’s not annoying me (dragons aside) and I have two classes (Machinist and Scholar) that I’m flipping between for when I want to enjoy specific playstyles.