So, Final Fantasy XIV, then. This has been my project for a decent chunk of 2020, and I have arrived at a fine stopping point in the ever-ongoing main story post Shadowbringers, having defeated significant villain Elidibus and resolved the whole ‘my besties are stuck on a different world’ sub-plot, such that I am comfortably done for the moment.
I’m not sure why I felt driven to go through all this. The thing I was hearing is that the initially released Realm Reborn content was not that great, and that it wasn’t until the expansions that it gets good. This is broadly true- I would say the stuff between Realm Reborn and the first expansion Heavensward was when the game found its feet and started pulling together some great moments. Still, you have to play through… I don’t know, at least 30 hours of merely decent MMO gameplay before you hit the good stuff. On these grounds, I could hardly recommend the game to anyone.
Except… when it gets good, it gets really good. It hits a point where it starts to really figure out who its main characters are, and how it should use them to create drama and build attachment to the world. It has lots of cool, shocking, dramatic moments. It’s writing becomes powerful and concise. It’s wildly creative, and the world has rich metaphysics that it uses to build the story without getting bogged down.
Big shout out to Shadowbringers, which moves you and your best friends to a different world. Norvrandt is a great setting- a nation spared from the cataclysm that destroyed the rest of the planet, but now being worn away in a way that feels as oppressive and eerie as the eternal light that blankets it. The events of the story made me feel fear for my own character, and then made me truly understand and appreciate what the main antagonist was fighting for, even as it hardened my determination to beat them. Great stuff.
Even bigger shout out to the music. This game has some of the best music quality in gaming as a whole. Main composer Soken has incredible range, and some of the best moments in the game are when just the right tune kicks in at just the right time. Each dungeon and major fight has its own theme, and it would be normal practice to finish a big fight and immediately pull up a video just for to give the music a proper listen.
A couple more minor notes: you can and should ignore side quests and focus on the main story quests. You get all the XP you need to stay leveled. No grinding necessary- it saves all typical MMO grindy stuff for leveling different classes or level cap gear grinding, which I did none of, toying with a couple other classes notwithstanding.
Mechanically, it’s about mastering an effective rotation of your skills- to its credit, you really do use almost every one of like 30 different skills by the end game. While I don’t find any of these buttons that interesting on their own (it’s all damage, DoTs, AoEs, minor buffs for a DPS class) good execution is quite intricate. Bosses tend to be mechanically interesting to fight, with lots of varied mechanics that really do require looking up before any given fight, and this is where a lot of the interest and skill comes in. In general, since a class is designed to work with all its skills present it takes rather a long time before becoming all that interesting to execute- another way the game starts too slow.
Bit of a wall of text, but I had basically my best gaming moments this year playing this game, and I’ll strongly consider jumping back in come the next expansion.