Last time on my journey Heavensward, I said it was too hard to level my fifty ‘leven jobs evenly, so I decided to focus on solo-levelling my healer. Turns out, I may have been a bit premature in that decision. See, what had happened was I belatedly realised I fit the level requirements to pick up the gunbreaker job so…surprise! I’m a gunbreaker now. And if healing was giving me anxiety fits, tanking is like asking a fifth-grader to lead a mission to Mars.
I’m actually quite surprised at how far I’ve come from a low-effort, low-responsibility damage dealer to taking on the two most important roles an MMO can offer. That’s what’s so damn beautiful and transformative about my time in Final Fantasy XIV. World of Warcraft-era Ash never dared to step foot outside her DPS comfort zone. Final Fantasy XIV Ash is like, “Oh! I hit a level milestone. What new job can I unlock now?”
I primarily chose gunbreaker because I’m a big Final Fantasy VIII fan. At 33 years old, I finally realise that the character I am most like wasn’t the manic-pixie-dream-sorceress Rinoa, but the constantly-struggling-with-the-mortifying-ordeal-of-being-known gunbreaker Squall. I also chose gunbreaker over other tanks because it was a job that started at my current level 60, so there would be no need to play level catch up like I would have with a Dark Knight or others. I realise now, literally right now, that it probably would have been easier for me to slide into tanking if I had to level a tank job up to 60.
I would have spent hours catching up in dungeon run after dungeon run, but by the time I reached level 60, I’d have learned most of the mechanics and strategies I’m struggling to learn right now. Since it is indeed a struggle, I’m taking tanking far more seriously than being a healer. I watch YouTube guides at least twice before attempting any new dungeon. I also keep a Google doc with detailed descriptions of every boss encounter peppered with little, helpful notes to myself like, “Eat a food,” or “Is tank stance on you dumb bitch?” Though tanking would have been easier for me had I chosen to level the job normally, there’s a Dragonsong War on right now, and I don’t have the time to piddle around the Sunken Temple of Qarn for eight levels.
Speaking of the Dragonsong War, I recently finished the second to last patch before the Stormblood expansion, putting an end to the conflict between Ishgard and its dragon enemies. All the gripes I had about A Realm Reborn’s first ending being a letdown and the content between ARR and Heavensward being a boring slog have melted away in a blast of cleansing dragonfire. Holy shit, what an ending! The Heavensward patches were filled with moments big and small that grabbed me by the heart and didn’t let go until the final credits rolled.
I appreciated Heavensward’s patches telling a nuanced story about what happens to combatants when a war finally ends. To hear most video games tell it, everybody goes home and lives happily ever after when in reality, that never happens. In Heavensward, the millennia of enmity and hatred between elezen and dragon does not disappear overnight. Still pained and angered by losing loved ones, both sides of the conflict simply cannot relinquish their will to keep fighting.
The storytelling is somewhat clumsy at points. A woman attempts to restart the conflict by giving an impassioned speech about the legion of loved ones who died from dragon attacks. One of your allies, in an attempt to silence her, gives the order to have her shot. The group turns on your ally, who flees. And while he is rightfully condemned for his actions, he seems to get away with attempted murder scot-free.
There’s a moment in which he makes an impassioned speech about “woe is me, I’m the rich son of a noble lord, and all my decisions were made for me until now.” But beyond some disappointed stares from his father, he’s no worse for wear. In a game that’s almost distressingly good at nailing the smaller details, I was surprised to see the plot let this guy off the hook. He should have been exiled to a backwater corner of the empire to chill out for a bit or at the very least made to apologise to the woman he almost killed. But no, they let him participate in a grand melee, and all is confusingly forgiven.
Weird “if you’re rich you can get away with anything” subplot aside, my favourite moment in the final Heavensward patches was fighting Nidhogg. The final confrontation with the vengeful elder dragon was exactly the kind of hero shit I crave in a video game. I was shocked by the casual brutality of Nidhogg, using Estinien as his puppet, impaling one of his own dragon kin for having the gall to show up as one of the representatives in a dragon/elezen peace conference. And I hollered, tears welling in my eyes, when Heavenward’s theme song kicked in as I faced down Nidhogg himself on the Steps of Faith.
I don’t think I’ll ever be over this screenshot I took of that moment. It legitimately gives me chills looking at it. If I had to summarize FF14 in an image, I’d choose this. At that moment, I had the very odd thought of “Wow, I wish I was playing this with my mum.” My mum doesn’t really “get” video games, and I have mostly given up trying to share this fundamental part of me with her, accepting that it’s something I can’t get her interested in, even in passing. But I feel FF14’s powerful storytelling, cinematic design, and music — distilled in this one moment of my astrologian staring down a bloodthirsty dragon — is so genre-defining (not only for MMOs but for all video games) that it would be enough to make her get it. It’s just that good.
I know I’m very close to the next expansion. Pretty soon, I’ll leave Heavensward content behind for the new shores of Stormblood. It’s my understanding that Stormblood’s story isn’t as flashy or emotional as its predecessor but that it sets up a lot of Shadowbringers’ plot and will really kick my arse emotionally. I’m excited, but I know I’ll miss Ishgard. I Now have a habit of visiting Haurchefant’s grave when I’m queuing for a dungeon on my tank (as tank queues are shockingly longer than I expected.) I like to think, as I’m /kneeling and taking all kinds of solemn pictures in group pose, that out of all my reasons for becoming a tank, the true reason was for him.
Haurchefant called me a hero, but I didn’t feel very much like one by dealing damage from behind the safety of a tank’s shield or a healer’s bubble. Now that I’ve pivoted completely to those roles, I feel I can better be the hero he thought I was and that I can face every challenge from Stormblood to Shadowbringers to Endwalker and beyond with a smile.