Smudge and I are still going strong on FF XIV, and the last three months has been spent with various tasks, but we’re spending more and more time on the storyline, and are about ready to transition into Stormblood. Overall, there’s been a couple of distinct phases of the story, with the first one covering patches 3.1-3.3. That was a pretty nice end point for business left unfinished at the end of Heavensward.

As usual, there’s a number of different threads going on at once, but the dominant one was actually managing a stable peace (or even cease-fire) between Ishgard and the dragons. Nidhogg is still thirsting for revenge for a thousand-year-old betrayal… and trust does not come easy to a people who’ve been lied to for all that time. Despite the complications, this part remains reasonably straightforward, which works a lot better for SquareEnix than the more complex story they tried leading into Heavensward. It eventually centers around two things: a ceremony to celebrate the peace, and a final confrontation with Nidhogg, which also finishes off Estinien’s story (which started back in the level 30 Dragoon quest). The former involved a new iteration of a piece of art we’ve been seeing around to commemorate Shiva and Hraesvelgr.

Smudge recognized it immediately as the same as the statue at the base of Sohm Al which has been half-wrecked by Nidhogg, which then reminded me of the altar we found under Gorgane Holding.

The ceremony leads directly into the central climax of the story line. This involves a revisit to Hraesvelgr, the dragon who provided the big reveal during the main part of the story, to try and get some help. Naturally, this leads to a dungeon. Naturally, dealing with dragons, that involves a fairly different environment:

The old dragons got some of the best architecture out of their human friends. And again, it was a really inventive area, and kind of runs through a few things to give you an idea of what to expect later. Actually, that’s been a general theme lately. There’s a few things we’ve been seeing a bunch of lately that just weren’t in ARR that are providing a coherent language of mechanics to work with in dungeons and raids. It took me a while to start catching on, but there’s definitely some flexing of designer muscle throughout all this. And the entire storyline here circles back around to where it began:

It all comes back to the Steps of Faith, where the first directly pre-Heavensward Trial and first glimpse of Ishgard happen. As is usual, the local scenery gets some of the worst of it, though thankfully, Eorzea isn’t a world where ‘such things will never be built again’. We need a repair crew out here.

We got distracted at the beginning of the 3.4 sequence by a sidequest. It basically turned into a bit of recap for the entire Heavensward main story, which was a really neat idea. Even for us, it helped us remember some of what we’d been through a mere five months ago, and it would have been a year for anyone who’d gone through it all at the time of release. The main storyline for the patch rounds out the Warriors of Darkness story that’s been in the background from 3.1. …Actually, I expected this to go a lot longer than it did. I figured there’d be a near-equal and opposite group causing trouble for quite some time. But no, it finishes off in 3.4 with a big solo (+major NPCs) fight that was pretty nicely done.

3.5 of course carried through more bits and pieces from the previous storyline. The long-delayed final gathering of the survivors of the Scions from immediately prior to Heavensward has finally happened, and we’re mostly back to worrying about primals, and bigger issues. Such as Ala Mhigo. There’s still nothing directly about that, but the Resistance has been a subject lately, as well as more continuing threads from ARR+. In the end, it’s manipulation from Ascians again, and an aborted attempt at summoning a new primal:

Papalymo got fairly insistent when Thayrin tried to stick around and help out with containing it.

While doing all this story work, we’ve been working on as much of the side content as we can get to. First, we’ve gone through the three alliance (full) raids for Heavensward. Mhach has now taken top billing for ‘worst empire’ from Allag. It turns out that what we thought was a Garlean battleship cruising around the Sea of Clouds was really the Void Arc, one of the last remnants of the Mhach empire.

Yes, that entire ship is made up of layers of gigantic coffins. These guys needed to get out more.

Overall, the set of three raids is pretty interesting, and I think I like them slightly better than the Crystal Tower set, though others definitely disagree. We’ve seen people bail out of parties as soon as they realize they ended up in Dun Scaith (the final raid of the set). It is a bit tough… and there seems to be way too many people in FF XIV unwilling to deal with an actual challenge.

Oh no! Abort! Abort! Abort!

We’ve also made the rest of our way though Alexander, the Heavensward set of ‘regular’ raids (I don’t really think of eight people as a raid party). It’s an interesting structure, with three sets of four raids (which are all of the mini ‘a couple of groups plus one boss’ variety). All dealing with the primal Alexander, which you never fight directly, as its all happening inside him. The story for it all is fairly good, but ends up with time travel… and a couple of leftover questions. There’s also Extreme modes for a few particular parts, but we haven’t gotten to that yet. At any rate, here’s fighting Alexander inside of Alexander:

And then there was a transforming mecha boss… that you leap onto partway through the fight so he doesn’t kill you when he destroys the entire platform you’re fighting on. Yeah, it got fairly strange in places, but as I recall, all the fights were interesting, and generally different. SE definitely put together some good content for post Heavensward.

Post-Heavensward also has its own set of Trials, the Warring Triad, which we’ve gone through, though we still need to do the Extreme modes there too. This has been valuable as the storyline there revealed some important things which linked into the sideline story of the patches, which looks to be taking over the main plot for the last two patches before Stormblood.

And finally, we’ve been largely busy trying to catch up on the relic weapons. After getting through the end of the ARR+ side, there was a new quest chain from Gerolt and Jalzahn which is basically a recap of the relic chain. Just this time, you’re making the Ultimate Kettle.

Stay classy, guys.

Naturally, we’re now making our way through Heavensward+ relic chain, and have made pretty good progress. We’re currently halted again, because we’ve hit a section where we gather ‘light points’ to strengthen the anima in the weapon, and that’s going to mean a few weeks of doing the raids and such. It’s essentially the same thing we went through with the Nexus Zodiac weapons, and that took… oh, a bit over a month to do. However, while the other steps have been faster, they’ve been expensive. One step could have taken a log time if I hadn’t found I could craft our way through it, but that took materials we can’t generate. Thankfully, those materials were cheap on the Market Board, but we were running out of the cheap lots by the end, and it also drained all our Grand Company seals and Tomestones. I’m still recovering on the former.

All of this activity has been pushing our levels higher. While we’re still in Heavensward content (which maxes out at 60), and are locked out of Stormblood, we do own Stormblood, so we have the level 70 max from that. I recently got Black Mage up to where I can use it in the high-end content, and it’s already at level 69. Smudge now has three level 70 jobs, and everything else is post-60.

There’s been occasional debates, but we’ve ended up by keeping our original jobs as our ‘main’ and ‘story’ ones. As of the end of ARR, I was thoroughly unimpressed with Bard. The point for me was the original class of Archer, which looks like it should be the typical powerful ranged focused-DPS slot. But Bard shifts towards more of a support role (in D&D 4E’s four-way split it definitely leans over towards the Leader role), and the damage never felt like it was keeping up. During the march to 60 this changed. Some of it was getting more accepting of the ‘support’ side of the class, some of it was getting the third bard song (the main ‘support’ abilities), which allows a constant rotation of them, but a lot was a noticeable boost in damage. A new powerful ability with a separate cooldown was added, and a new ability that refreshes the two main DOT abilities of the job frees up the cycle a lot and makes feel less like you’re just juggling the same three abilities all the time (not because you aren’t, but now you have time for other things). Post-60 has been nice with a needed improvement to the two DOTs, and another separate-cooldown ability that feeds off of them.

If Bard hadn’t turned around, I’d probably be switching over to Black Mage. I wish FF XIV had more of a control-mage side (I liked going Frost in WoW, and [frost] Control Mage in Neverwinter is one of my favorite classes of all time), but it still does well just bringing the big bangs. Cycling between fire and ice mode is an interesting concept, and means that if you loose track you can literally put yourself out of action. The post-50 parts are as necessary, but do add in some nice stuff… if I can remember to use it after being stuck with 50– abilities again.

Of course, I got Scholar/Summoner up some time ago, and… I don’t really know how to play Summoner. I spend all my time on the Scholar side, and have spent some time healing for dungeons (as well as when it’s just me and Smudge). I could use a bit more confidence on that, but it actually goes fairly well. Scholar is a fairly versatile healer, with a constant HOT that just happens to be a pet. I hope to someday get to the other healer classes to try them out, but right now I definitely enjoy Scholar.

I’m still in the middle of getting Paladin going as a tank job I can go to when needed, but it’s slow from being behind so many other things in the priority list. It’s the tank that Smudge likes the least, but I’m finding I like it so far. We recently did a dungeon roulette where I tanked, and felt like I was generally maintaining control of things, which was really nice.

As mentioned before, we’re currently headed into 3.4, and I expect the plotline for it and 3.5 will concentrate on the Warriors of Dark that have been introduced recently. Just what the segue and main plot of Stormblood will be… I don’t know. But we’ll probably find out just in time for Shadowbringers to come out.