A Realm Reborn’s Ending Was Kind Of A Letdown

A Realm Reborn’s Ending Was Kind Of A Letdown
Please ignore my wildly uncoordinated ensemble. Those were the best pants I had. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)
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I rolled credits on A Realm Reborn a couple of days ago, ushering in the new Seventh Astral Era, and yet I feel kinda hollow. Compared to my gut-wrenching experience toward the middle of my journey, the end of A Realm Reborn’s storyline feels like a huge-arse letdown.

I’ve said before how I love when gameplay elements reinforce storytelling — like how I sometimes have to use emotes to soothe a raging beast or inspire a frightened comrade. My experience in the game’s final dungeons had the opposite effect — in which gameplay negatively impacted my enjoyment of the story.

Light spoilers for the end to ARR ahead.

Ever since those imperial bastards killed my friends, I’ve been out for blood. More than Lahabrea or Gaius van Baelsar — ARR’s primary antagonists — I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on Livia sas Junius, the woman directly responsible for killing poor little Noraxia. I was excited by the prospect of a grand showdown, of standing over her body as I loosed one last arrow (or fire spell) into her. Yet the final confrontation you have with her was so bewildering and unenjoyable that it considerably smothered my enthusiasm for a game that I had otherwise been absolutely wild about.

Peppered throughout the main story quest line of Final Fantasy XIV are instances where you’re required to complete a dungeon in order to progress the story. Since I played (mostly) alone, I’d use the Duty Finder to match with a group of people with whom I’d go through my chosen dungeon. More often than not, I matched with people already at max level who were using the Duty Finder’s roulette system to earn max level rewards like special currency or crafting materials. It made the experience almost mindless for me, propelled forward by a group of people who’d seen the content before and were so overpowered, even with their levels artificially lowered to match whatever the level cap of the dungeon is, that everything died before I had the chance to cast a full rotation of damage attacks.

Don't know what's more upsetting — the fact I've been made to fight a moogle or the fact I had no idea what the hell was going on during the fight. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) Don't know what's more upsetting — the fact I've been made to fight a moogle or the fact I had no idea what the hell was going on during the fight. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

Up until the very end of ARR, dungeons were mostly inconsequential footnotes to the game’s overarching story — ”Oh no! Pirates are attacking the citizens,” or “Help, my former mistress is Elizabeth Bathory-ing the smallfolk.” So it was fine being essentially carried through the lot of them. I wasn’t missing anything good and I didn’t have to worry about spending too much time learning a dungeon’s layout and mechanics. However, at the very end of A Realm Reborn, the nature of the dungeons changes — they are now very important to the story — while the method by which you go through them (i.e. being dragged from fight to fight by people infinitely better geared than you) does not. And the dungeons themselves have gotten bigger and more complex. Now I’m playing with eight people instead of four, getting lost, missing key item pick-ups, and dying constantly, all while trying to figure out what the hell is going on as my screen is damn near unreadable from all the splashy particle effects.

To the game’s credit, cutscenes in the final ARR dungeons, Castrum Meridianum and The Praetorium, cannot be skipped. So I’m not missing the story beats the game intended for me to see, but the bewildering experience in between the story moments negatively impacted what I thought I’d feel when I faced Livia again. I killed her, but I didn’t enjoy it.

Sic semper tyrannis, bitch.  (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) Sic semper tyrannis, bitch. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

It’s not the game’s fault. I understand that the Duty Finder roulette is necessary, otherwise no one would do the old dungeons — dungeons that are six years old by this point — leaving newbies like me stuck for want of a party. But I also struggle with the notion of putting big story content in dungeon encounters like this in the first place. World of Warcraft does this too, with the critical difference being these dungeons are not part of a mandatory set of quests. My beef with this in WoW is there are so many casual players who don’t raid who miss out on the big damn hero moments because they’re locked behind a big wall that requires at least 10 players, good gear, and a fair bit more competence than required for normal dungeons. In my decades-long experience with WoW, you can usually assemble at least two of those conditions but never all three.

The other side of that coin is making those kinds of big dungeons a requirement to progress into the next set of content — as they are in Final Fantasy XIV. That’s a big mess for reasons I’ve already mentioned. I get that end-game content needs to feel big and exciting and a culmination of all the experiences that led up to that moment, but the way those moments have been implemented in both these MMOs just hasn’t worked for me.

There were end-game moments I appreciated. I will forever love the trope of the heroes uniting to use their power of friendship to beat the boss. When the Scions arrived to help me take down Lahabrea for good and all, I loved that. I also loved the hopeful moment at the end where the three leaders of the city-states unite to celebrate their victory over the evil empire. Everything after that moment, however, has been a slog.

I think my honeymoon period with FF14 is over. I’m now mired in the long stretch of quests between the end of ARR and the beginning of Heavensward and it’s been rough, slow, and boring. From what everyone’s told me these interstitial quests are laying the groundwork for the “oh shit” moments destined to happen later, but my goodness I wish they’d hurry up already. I can see Ishgard taunting me from behind that enormous gate in Coerthas, it’s right there. Let me in already.

Comments

  • in all fairness to FFXIV, this is the one example where you can see clear changes from expansion to expansion.

    the quests gets tighter, less awkward go here talk to X, better writing and by the time you get to Shadowbringers, you don’t even have to do dungeons with human players anymore

    • Agreed. They even said the quests are 6 years old at this point. They will be a slog.
      Sounds like they didn’t tell the people they were newbies as well. One time when I was playing, a newbie didn’t get the permission to use the mech. I told them i’d wait for them and lead them through the dungeon as it’s easy to get lost. (I was dps, so not important =P) Personally, I think the system is fine.

  • I loathe the MMO paradigm of gating final act lore behind end-game activities. Or rather, I loathe the fact that endgame has been mandated as ‘large group’/hardcore.
    Once upon a time, that was great for me. Now, it’s not.
    This has effectively ruled me out of most MMOs, moving forward. I just don’t have that kind of time or dedication to spare.

    • I haven’t played FFXIV in close to a year, but I played it pretty heavily for a while.

      It’s actually very good for avoiding that pitfall and as you go through expansions they have lots of things designed to make it better for just following the story. In general the more hardcore raids had their own separate story, so if you didn’t engage in them you weren’t locked out of the main plot.

      Latest expansion allowed you to complete all the major story dungeons using a party of npcs, which personally I loved for the immersion even if it wasn’t quite as efficient.

      The base game though has a few misteps though. The side stories for the raids are a bit more relevant lorewise in the later expansions for example, though once outgeared older raids become pretty casual.

      The most egregious mistake is the two missions that this article is about, which is why there has never been another quest like them since. Honestly they just aren’t difficult since they’re mostly about the story… But because you need 8 people they had to massively incentivise people to go back. Those two quests were where I got the habit of finding netflix games, since I’d find something to watch as I waltzed through the dungeon massively overgeared.

      Rumour was that when they redid the quests in vanilla FFXIV was that they’d add the npc system to those two quests. Some kind of rework to make them solo is honestly all that’s required.

  • Hah! Glad it’s not just me. My wife and I (she’s not a gamer by nature but will play with me) played all the way through FXIV together, hit level cap so bought the next expansion because we were enjoying ourselves and fully intended to keep playing into them.

    After the final mission (which was awful, got lost & locked out and contributed zero to the actual raid, not that it mattered) we were very much in a low place with the game, but the promise of the expansion kept us going… until we hit the ‘post end boss’ missions. That slammed the steam right out of us, and we never even got to the first expansion content.

    Looking back I’m a bit sad about it, but I never loved having to do dungeons for plot missions, since the wife’s a bit self-conscious about how good she is (better than most, but she never believes me) so we mostly play as a team of two. If they ever retrofit the mechanic to run the earlier dungeons with NPCs I think we’d definitely rejoin.

  • Funnily enough, the ‘horrible 100’ between the final raid in ARR and the start of Heavensward have actually been streamlined in the last year from what had been there previously.

    When I first played ARR, back when the horrible 100 was being released and Heavensward hadn’t been officially announced, the cutscenes in Praetorium were skippable… so first time players going through them would actually be kicked from the runs by jerks if they wanted to actually see the cutscenes. The whole ‘watch them after in the inn’ mentality.

    I guess SE had enough of people being asshats that they made the CS mandatory for each run. Its not the case in later dungeons, and for the most part, the end of the storylines aren’t done in massive raids.

    I tend to burn out a bit playing catchup between xpacs but I’ve not been too far behind after catching up through ShB.

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