Japanese console scene hasn't been that interesting for me lately, nor has the Western PC scene so I decided to start Final Fantasy XIV again 6 years after playing up to the end game of Bahamut Coil in the original A Realm Reborn (AKA v2.0). So here I was 3 expansion packs later, buying the "Complete Edition" which includes the expansions Heavensward and Stormblood - with Shadowbringers just a month from release.
I also learned Steam had its own keys that don't work with retail versions (i.e. bought outside of Steam)... I tried requesting an automated refund but after failing that, I created a ticket and thankfully I was refunded so I didn't buy the pack twice.
The login process had changed a bit with a new "One Time Password" for two factor authentication. Now it's mandatory instead of optional. I had forgotten my SE account password so I couldn't set one up so I tried to reset my FFXIV password instead which it let me because I still had access to the email but required my social question which I had forgotten.
Obviously I didn't want to have to farm gear and re-level classes from scratch so I emailed support and they gave me the details I needed to reset. Phew.
Not much had changed in the game visually. Eorzea looked the same, players looked the same. However, a lot of skills in the hotbar were disabled for some reason and I learned that skills had either been removed or renamed such as Stoneskin was no longer available for White Mage. You could also no longer sub jobs to use other job's skills either and large FATE parties for levelling was no longer a thing.
It was amusing to find myself in the virtual estate of my former Company (guild) after logging in for the first time which looked very much the same as I remember it only I had been removed of course since I had long become inactive. So they were still around even though the members would probably have changed.
I was kind of relunctant to get back into an MMORPG because...
- Unlike a standalone game it takes time to gather a party and you really don't have much time with a full time job after commuting back home and getting other chores done. Only time was really weekends.
- People can be extremely rude to play with, creating plenty of drama when there's a wipe. After a stressful day/week of your day job, you probably don't want to be around those kind of people, even in a virtual world.
- Maintenance or full servers meant you can't always play whenever you want again, unlike a standalone game.
- You can't pause so you have to make absolutely sure you won't end up with interruptions to really enjoy the game, especially with dungeon runs. Other players aren't going to wait for you to go open the door for the mail man or some important phone call.
With all that said, I still have a lot of fond memories of playing MMORPGs and how much fun it was to overcome tough bosses or large scale raids. The game's also a lot more casual like World of Warcraft compared to the early days of FFXI which meant no need to dedicate time to farming gear or money so, it was worth going back until the console scene was alive again.
It's good to see SE finally decided to invest in European servers. When I played ARR the servers were in Canada which meant lag and caused a lot of frustation with the likes of Titan HM where dodging hits was critical. You would see your avatar dodging all the AoEs in time only to get hit by an invisible force seconds later... Now there seem to be ones located in Germany which makes a huge difference! I tried that fight so many times trying to dodge ahead I still remembered how the attack pattern went.
Queues also don't seem too bad. Even at 28 I found myself playing in less than 5 minutes.
My first party run in Snowcloak wasn't the most welcoming party as the tank just rushed ahead pulling everything despite explaining it was my first run after many years away from the game. Boss fights weren't explained to me either so wasn't a very good impression getting back into the game after so long.
To be honest, I wasn't that interested in the story which was basically the franchise returning to its roots of Light vs Darkness, in this case the Scions vs dark robed masked Ascians but when the story does pick up at the end of ARR, the artists really go out of their way to focus on facial expressions instead of just using emotes. It's a great wrap-up leading neatly into the first expansion, Heavensward where you finally get to see a new location, Ishgard.
Cold, wintry and grey Ishgard isn't exactly the cheeriest of places which is probably why it's so empty but it's got some great architecture modelling. You might call it gothic style. Its new organ sound marking the start and completion of quests isn't that great to hear too.
There are some dialogue choices but I don't think they actually affect the story.
There's a new floating islands location too which kind of reminds me of the old "Sky" area in FFXI and a bit of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 with its pools. Thankfully it's not all grey gloomy but architecture definitely seems to be the highlight in this expansion.
Certain mounts can now freely fly around but only in the Heavensward areas or newer. First you'll have to find all the "aether current" spots using a compass and by completing quests marked by plus signs like below. Feels like a lot of work but the lack of aetheryte tele points will probably make you want to find them all at some point. Thankfully you get a mount that can fly so you don't have to go around hunting for one at least. On the other hand, two seater mounts are mostly premium content you buy. Only ways that arn't premium is by completing 2000 duties as a mentor or doing some form of promoting for the game such as referring a friend to the game. There's only been one game event that rewards you with one otherwise i.e. the Regalia from FFXV.
Anyway, most of the time you'll be doing a lot of solo instances but the cutscenes are good. I found them more interesting than ARR.
New gear brings back the familiar Materia slots. There's a lot of solo instances but I didn't find myself needing to spend time farming for new gear or level grinding. The level cap had been raised from 50 to 70 since the last time I played. The rest XP bonuses and quest rewards were enough for levelling up for the most part before I had to repeat a few dungeon runs to catch up for quests. Joining a Free Company who uses the "Battle XP" action also helps. You'll probably need it to update your gear anyway which can come as rewards from them - yup, SE cashing in on the RMT on top of subscriptions.
Duty Roulettes & Palace of The Dead
It wasn't until I hit 58 before I started struggling. As I mentioned, FATE parties weren't the way to go any more. People suggested doing the duty roulettes that reward you with a big XP bonus daily. Personally I'd recommend just 50/60 dungeons, trials and the alliance. These can give you a wide range of bonus XP between 40 - 700K (I even got 1.6 million with the alliance duty) on top of what you'd normally gain along with Allagan Tomestones of Poetics which you'll be able to trade for level 60 gear. The gear's better than the level 60 class quest rewards.
I wouldn't recommend the main scenario roulette unless you have the time because you can't skip cutscenes (apart from the final one). Even with a speed run where the tank just runs through all the trash mobs a dungeon like the Praetorium takes 45 - 50 minutes, mostly just watching cutscenes. Really, why did they have to do this...? If they're worried about first timers being rushed they could just use a voting system to decide whether they can be skipped or not.
Anyway... The next option was unlocking "Palace of The Dead" accessible via South Shroud, Quarrymill which lets you use a kind of alt avatar to fight through dungeons 10 levels at a time with supplied "Aethereal" gear, not your own. Each level also gives your party members some handicaps such as debuffs and the goal is to defeat a certain number of mobs before finding the exit.
It's a weird experience because you level up every few kills, getting your HP/MP restored. Personally I found levels 1 - 20 veeery boring compared to the regular dungeons and they feel made for the DPS/melee classes more because spell casting is just too slow. Lots of trash mobs until the next 10th level for a brief boss fight.
Random parties are hard to find until you reach the last floor 50 unfortunately so you'll need some patience unless you have a static party you can go with. It's actually not that great apart from getting the first 15 levels of a job. After that it's about 1 level per 15 minute run for levelling up between 20 - 30. The upside is not having to need new gear. Once you've upgraded your Athereal gear you can use them for any job and you can even downgrade them to exchange for glowing red level 60 Kinna weapons too!
I recommend you finish floor 50 so you can unlock the next "Deep Dungeon" to make farming tomestones easier.
Be sure you or your party members open enough blue chests to upgrade your athereal gear. Otherwise you might find yourself unable to progress to the next section of floors due to lack of stats then you'll have to restart from level 1.
On the other hand, doing a regular dungeon run got me 600K of XP (while with rest bonus) in the same amount of time and was also a lot more interesting with new gear too so this isn't too appealing.
Well, guess it's all down to what you're up for for the level grind. If you were levelling an alt class these roulettes and palace would probably be worth it.
Anyway, it took only about a week for me to finish the main story of the Heavensward expansion which I guess, isn't too bad for what originally cost £30 but came free as part of the "Complete Edition". Overall the story direction was a lot more interesting and better directed than ARR albiet too much running around and lots of solo instances. To me, solo instances are really boring in online only games and defeats the point of an MMORPG. New locations weren't too impressive but again the architecture was good to look at.
After the main story there was a new post scenario that came later as an update to the Heavensward expansion, a filler before the next expansion Stormblood.
One particular quest I had a problem with was "As Goes Light, So Goes Darkness" where the quest objectives were a bit misleading. Once it says you've rescued 5/6 hostages, just run back to the bigger fight instead of trying to find the "last" hostage. I re-tried quite a few times thinking there was one more I had to find but you don't actually go find her because she's part of an event.
Again, the cutscenes felt much more interesting than ARR. It's good the game warns you before lengthy cutscenes. Story actually gets quite dark and there's so much head nodding...
So overall there was a total of 10 party based dungeons throughout the story and the boss fights are creative enough not to be boring.
So another week and two long credit rolls later I had finished the Dragonsong quest line and onto the Far East with the second expansion pack.
Just like Heavensward there's a new (and probably better) quest completion sound. The initial new sunny dessert locations are a good change from the grey cold skies of Ishgard but the main star was the new region of Hingashi. Unfortunately the Japan-like Kugane was... underwhelming. It reminded me of Sensoji but a lot less exciting. Textures look bland and a very stereotype look about it - the oriental kind you've seen in lots of games before. Wood looks more like plastic. It's a popular place as you'd expect with Japanese Anime/video game fans. If I hadn't already been to Japan I'd probably have enjoyed hanging about the place more but i you've never been, you should save up and see the real place. There's plenty to see and do, not just the tourist spots.
The spacious paddy fields of the China-like Yanxia was nicer.
Direction wise I think there was too many meanwhiles. It feels as if the story's just broken up into sub-stories exploring tribes from the new areas and the odd, back to the fight with the tyrannical Empire. Not very exciting.
Anyway, dungeon designs on the other hand were impressive. Boss fights remain creative so you won't get bored with them. Especially if you're the healer and have to watch HP bars and dodge attacks as usual.
You could also now swim and thankfully, you can use the same flying mounts to swim around faster without waiting for your sprint to cool down. There's even some mini games.
The main story again took a week to finish. Just doing three main duty roulettes I mentioned earlier daily was enough to hit the level 70 cap requirement at this point. Overall the story didn't feel as enjoyable as Heavensward because I didn't quite feel the scale of the story and its struggle.
On a side note, Dragon Ball and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles must have had an influence on the expansions, lol.
One particular aether current I had at this point was in The Lochs area just above the bridge at The High Bank, X8.6 Y15.7.
You actually have to make your way to the NE corner first then, go through the "Song of Kings" tombs in the NW corner which is part of another aether current quest anyway. After you pass through the Hunting Grounds you reach it.
Or you could ask someone with a two seater mount who already has access to take you up.
The post story turns out better than the main and picks up from it nicely.
FFXII or Ivalice fans among you won't want to miss out the new Alliance Raids such as The Royal City of Rabanastre. The designs are really well done and basically a trip down nostalgia lane in HD. Who knows, you might even meet a familiar face...
And if you're looking for more fun boss fights, try the Byakko Trial quest line "An Auspicious Encounter" followed by the Suzaku fight. Or maybe you're interested in fighting the signature Rathalos from Monster Hunter which is actually very boring unless you're after the piggy minion.
Eureka, Tomestones of Medacity and Genesis
At this point which was considered "end game" since Shadowbringers wasn't out yet, I was stuck at gear level requirements being 300 before you could attempt the first dungeon. Unlocking the side dungeons Kugane Castle (which reminds me of Nijo Castle in Kyoto) and Temple of The Fist helps because they give you gear you need and also a mix of both Medacity and Genesis tomestones in a 15 minute run. You can then exchange the Medacity and Genesis for level 360 and 390 gear respectively at Rhalgr's Reach.
If you're planning to farm tomes be sure to continue doing roulette even if you're at max level cap because you will get tomestones from them too with bonuses during the first run! Do note the job you're set at must be eligible for the end game tomestones. Otherwise you won't get any.
An alternative was to buy the gear off the market but it isn't cheap at 500K per piece. Some people prefer farming Eureka (which you also unlock via a quest at level 70) which also have nicer looking gear apparently for the glamour while unneeded items could be sold off for gil so they can buy some of the gear.
Before you start running Eureka you'll want to make sure you've unlocked the Challenge Log if you haven't already (I hadn't) which is also done via a quest in Limsa Lominsa available after level 15 in the main story quests. You'll be levelling from 1 again and this will make it it less laborious.
You also need to already own Antiquated gear which you get by completing your class' level 70 quest before you can create Eureka gear and upgrade it.
Eureka isn't a fun place going back to the days of FFXI where you lose XP from dying and can even de-level if you choose to just warp back to the crystal. So, be sure to shout for raise instead. Once you reach a certain level, you can join in "FATE trains" where people party to defeat FATEs. This is quicker than soloing and also give you both Genesis tokens and Protean Crystals needed to upgrade gear.
The level grind up to 20 isn't fun even in groups and finishing the challenge logs. In the end I just stuck to daily roulettes and repeating a few dungeons to progress. Doing Deep Dungeons like Palace of The Dead will gain tomestones too but very few, about 20 Medacity, 5 Genesis per run while Heaven-on-High (HoH) gives you 10 Genesis instead.
Of course, the expansion pack renders these tomestones useless making it a whole waste of time... Was expecting it really since I had to farm tomestones for Darklight gear in v2.0 of the game (i.e. ARR) but now it was just given out as quest rewards.
So, with the launch of the latest expansion, FFXIV reaches v5.0 and again there were some big changes. White mage loses a lot of skills including the staple Protect buff. No more Cleric Stance, Aero III, Eye for An Eye either but we do get some new fun skills. Aero III gets replaced by Dia which also does DoT damage while Afflatus Solace lets you cast instant cures as before but now once you've used so many, you can perform an instant AoE attack better than Holy.
During the first couple of days login queues during the first couple of were ridiculously long at 2000+ which takes almost an hour to login, no doubt in part thanks to servers being under attack. Launch days have always been bad for MMOs but this was particularly worse.
At this point Poetic tomestones were plentiful enough to allow my gear set to catch up to 390 and doing daily roulettes reward you with plenty. However, you could only have one unique ring so I ended up unlocking all the "Scape" raid boss fights which offer some 350+ gear including a weapon. There's not much farming either since most gear only requires one item of material. There's a fair amount of nostalgia since the bosses are from old Final Fantasy games.
There's also a new "Trust" system which allows you to party with the NPC characters in certain dungeons instead of having to the Duty Finder. Not much use other than that because there isn't quite a dating sim feature yet like Persona or Trails of Cold Steel...
Oh, and we have two new races to create characters with - Viera, bunny people and Hrothgar beastmen. It felt like all the cat Miqo'tes suddenly decided to convert to Vieras with the launch. There are also two new jobs Dancer and Gunbreakers which also proved to be really popular, popular enough to see them with every PUG (Pick Up Groups/Random Parties).
Shadowbringers' story itself is darker than the previous expansion packs with a lot of gruesome moments and the bosses will definitely keep you on your toes. In fact, the fights remind me of Titan HM when a lot of people would get agitated and rage quit because they do the same here with PUGs.
It's got a stong villain and back story to drive it. I actually found some of the story quests are quite fun with a little change to the usual fetch quests and direction. Art is mostly nothing out of the ordinary although one location looked like a certain game which is a great art style.
If you get stuck for gear level again towards the end such as the Amaurot dungeon (average level 410 gear) be sure to speak to the NPC again in the Tempest, Workshop. Turns out he gives you a set of 430 gear for free after clearing the inspiration quest.
Took about 2 weeks for me to finish the main story and what a final boss fight it was!
Once you finish the main story, you can start collecting Goetia Tomestones to exchange at Eulmore (which is the expansion's end game hub) where you can find an NPC named Aymark on the same floor as the Aetheryte Crystal. You can then also go onto unlock the "Expert" roulettes which require unlocking two more optional level 80 dungeons - The Twinning (Crystarium, "By The Time You Hear This") and Akadaemia Anyder (Eulmore, Southeast Derelict).
So, what's left after beating the main story? You have two High-End Duty Trials, "Dancing Plague" and "Crown of The Immacualate" Extreme which will need a lot of patience because it's hard to gather patient parties as usual. These give you level 450 accessories and weapons. It's pretty much the nastiness of Titan HM all over again because people don't want to stay with others that don't remember the full attack pattern (AKA mechanics) but at least manage to make progress.
That said, once you've beaten Titania once you're more likely to get parties that knows their stuff. After that, either the glowing weapon drops or you beat Titania 10 times for King Totems to exchange at Eulmore.
And after aaall that hard work obtaining the weapon from Titania EX, you'd probably be thinking, "Why doesn't the weapon glow!?" so you can show it off. None of the weapon drops from Primals glow unless they're crafted. Fortunately if you're level 15 or above you can do a quest called, "If I Had a Glamour" in Western Thanalan which will then let you skin your gear with the appearance of another. So if you already have a glowing weapon such as a relic weapon or the Kinna weapons from POTD, you can apply its skin over the weapon to make it glow.
Post Main Scenario
Luckily the 5.01+ patches released shortly afterwards offers a new raid based quest line "Eden's Gate" that gives you easier ways of obtaining level 450+ gear. It's basically a rehash of all the Primal trials with some new attack patterns.
Downside is you can only roll for one Eden's Gate item per raid once a week i.e. after you win an item in a raid you'll have to wait until the next week before you can roll again in that raid. You also need multiples of the said item before you can exchange for gear such as the chest piece for 4 items.
Again, as always be sure to continue doing roulette even if you're at max level cap because you will get tomestones from them too with bonuses! Again, do note the job you're set at must be eligible for the end game tomestones. Otherwise you won't get any.
Well, until the next major patch when the story picks up again!