Smudge and I recently got through the final two patches worth of A Realm Reborn content, and are now moving on to Heavensward. This took longer than I expected.

Some of that has been spending time on other projects, such as Palace of the Dead. As I had mentioned last time (at the bottom), we were stuck at floor 30 because of disconnects during the boss fight; a fellow guildie looked it up and found that there’s a bug with the five-headed hydra model that makes certain graphics cards roll over and die. Smudge and I put our graphics cards on minimum, and successfully, finally, got through the fight. After that we did the next two sets, and I was surprised (knowing that it goes a lot deeper) that floor 50 was basically the climax of a story line. Even better, it was an afterword/sequel to events that happened in another dungeon entirely. We happened to do that one just before hitting this, so we lucked into some very good timing.

This was also part of a project to get me a second level-50 class, as (mentioned before) I’ve been doing POTD as Scholar, so I have some healing experience. Sadly, I have yet to try healing for an actual party, but I’ve been getting somewhat comfortable with what needs doing. I’m really happy with the Scholar quest chain, that went into the background of Tonberries.

We also went through a series of side-quests with ‘Hildebrand Manderville, inspector extraordinaire’. These are all classic farce mysteries that started out decent, and only got funnier as the cast of characters expanded and developed. We dressed up (down?) for the second one, which was set in the resort at Costa del Sol. This pointed up a problem with the ‘glamor’ system in FF XIV. Since… early on, at the least, it’s been possible to make one clothing item look like another, so you can have a particular ‘look’. But you needed to keep the item you wanted it to look like on hand if you wanted the next item you got to look like it. They recently introduced a more comprehensive ‘dresser’ system where you can keep your glamor items out of your inventory, and do entire outfits with one button, but if you want to do something temporarily (for a special occasion), it’s still a pain to de-glamor everything afterwards.

At any rate, the mysteries are mostly about a series of heists of relics, but surprisingly took a turn into a murder mystery for the final part. I’m a bit annoyed with the ‘mystery’ side, as it’s largely not set up for you to try to figure out what’s going on. But the characters are silly enough to be worth it.

Meanwhile, the main story going into Heavensward was interesting, but featured some similar annoyances. (Warning: There’s about to be spoilers!) It started with tracking down an agent in the Grand Companies who was feeding info to the Garlean Empire, and while that investigation fingered (correctly) the second-in-command of the Immortal Flames, my suspicions had temporarily turned to Ilberd, the commander of the new Crystal Braves. The chase after Eline drew my suspicion away, but later events quickly convinced me that Ilberd was no good. …But there was nothing I could do with that knowledge. The plot is completely fixed, and there’s no reward for figuring out something ahead of time, especially something as important as this, and it really forces a ‘passive’ feel to your character, as I can’t push back on the plot at all.

This is why I still consider SW:TOR to have some of the best questing experience in an MMO; the extensive dialog trees at least help with the illusion of being able to push back on events, even though sometimes the direction of the plot, and the direction I want to push in, are so wildly at variance as to bring the problem abruptly to the fore again.

There was a lot of interesting bits in the more positive portions of the story. As is usual in a Final Fantasy world, there’s a lot going on around magic, and summoned creatures, and how that all works in the world. Here, they established some ground rules… and have been playing around with them. ‘Primals’ are giant monsters summoned with faith and a great deal of aether, and have a traditional form; now we have a couple new ones being made. In particular, someone managed to turn herself into a Primal, and survived being defeated in that form. Similarly, the ultimate bad guys of the story, the Ascians, have been shown to be using an exception clause to how aether and life work. Even better, a major NPC has her own take on manipulating it all.

Which brings up a smaller gripe. They decide to kill off a character from the main cast, and it’s the character most recently introduced. This goes into a ‘guest star of the week’ format that a non-episodic story like this should be able to avoid. The climax of everything abruptly tilts the story on its side and starts shaking, with pretty much everyone in the ‘presumed dead’ category… but they’ve done that trick once before already, and I have a feeling just about everyone will eventually show up again, no matter how dire it all seemed.

The entire sequence for the end of 2.5 showed off that this is a ‘story first’ MMO as we got a warning at the beginning of the sequence that there would be several cutscenes in a row, and to make sure we had adequate time for them before starting. And then, after all that, and a small bit of questing, we got that warning again.

The part that really surprised me, was when we got through everything for the final patch before Heavensward, and the credits rolled. Again. With the ‘continuous play’ mode of MMOs, it was surprising to get the credits at the end of the original story. Now Square Enix gave us a full credit sequence for all the work done on the game between release and the first expansion. Patch developers have to be among the least-appreciated people in the computer industry, so this is actually a pretty classy move.