My journey through Heavensward has slowed down considerably. I have other games to play and review. And generally, the steam that powered this expansion leading up to The Vault encounter has petered out significantly. That’s not to say Heavensward’s sluggish back-end pacing wasn’t punctuated with a few bright spots.
After losing Haurchefant, I didn’t think Heavensward could still hurt me. But when Haurchefant’s father, Lord Fortemps, gave me his fallen son’s broken shield, I absolutely lost it, not because of the reminder of our shared loss but because of the tearful, grief-stricken expression on my character’s face. Heavensward is six years old, I don’t know what tech runs the game’s engine, but I’m telling you, it’s pure witchcraft. This is an MMO that has to run for more than 20 million people across millions of devices at varying levels of performance power. And yet, I can see the literal tears welling in my character’s eyes. This is the kind of facial animation you’d expect in a prestige, AAA single-player game developed for the PS5 by Naughty Dog or Sony Santa Monica…in a six-year-old MMO. Damn.
Beyond being stunned by FF14’s facial animations, there was another moment I experienced in the bowels of the Great Gubal Library that reignited the spark I felt playing this game when Haurchefant was still around handing me mugs of hot, indeterminate liquid to drink.
Recently, I’ve decided to sideline my other jobs and focus solely on levelling on my astrologian because it was getting increasingly difficult to level all my jobs evenly, progressing through the main story quest. As I and others have expressed, healing is difficult and stressful, but on the whole, very rewarding. However, this change also meant that whenever the main story quest (or MSQ) mandates a trip through a dungeon to proceed, your girl will be required to heal, and it’s rough.
My first dungeon after this change was the Great Gubal Library. I had been forewarned that the dungeon is tough on healers, so I watched a couple of YouTube videos explaining the layout and boss mechanics. Queuing for a dungeon as a damage dealer can take upwards of 15-20 minutes. As a healer — two seconds. I made the right choice picking my AST.
Party members usually don’t talk in dungeons beyond a quick “hello” at the beginning and “GG” at the end. Everyone’s there to do a job, get some loot, and get out. But since I was afraid my developing healer skills wouldn’t be up to snuff, I decided to break with tradition and let my party know that I was new to the dungeon. After I spoke up, the tank did too, telling us they too had never seen this dungeon before. The damage dealers — two black mages — remained silent. The first part of the dungeon went fine until we faced the first boss when our progress screeched to a halt.
Fuck that book. Y’all know the one. We just could not kill that book. Either I died or the tank died after getting caught by its insta-killing area attack. I was so embarrassed that I considered faking a disconnection and coming back to complete the dungeon on one of my damage classes. But I felt sorry for the tank who kept lamenting in chat about how bad they were and how sorry they were for dying so much that I stuck with the party doing my best to teach the tank what I had learned from my YouTube research. Eventually, I stopped dying, figuring out when and how to move, but the tank still couldn’t get the hang of it. The damage dealers grew frustrated. One of them left the dungeon in a huff which actually ended up being the best thing that ever happened because they were replaced with a bard who saved our expedition.
That bard was patient, kind, and very knowledgeable. They would call out when to start moving to avoid Book Boss’ insta-kill attack and put down enough damage to finally put the boss to rest. We “/cheered” and “/cried” in chat, thankful for this heaven-sent party member, and with their help, the rest of the dungeon was a breeze.
That bard saved our dungeon run. Other players would quit rather than patiently guiding us to victory. It felt like being in a shonen anime — our party, united by the fire-forged bonds of friendship overcame seemingly insurmountable odds.
Dungeons aren’t supposed to be difficult. They’re loot piñatas attached to an EXP firehose. But every once and a while, FF14 chooses violence by throwing players an inexplicably difficult dungeon boss encounter for shits and giggles, and I love it. As an MMO player, I typically don’t get to feel this great sense of accomplishment until the endgame, when content is explicitly designed to be extremely difficult. Having these experiences peppered into normal content feels like getting intermittent shots of adrenaline — they’re reminders of why I love this game, even when it’s slow.