Well, Smudge and I have beaten my estimated FF XIV schedule. Kind of. I figured we’d finish off post-Stormblood content about a month after Shadowbringers came out. We actually beat that by a couple of weeks, finishing off in mid-July. However, we have yet to dive into the new expansion, as I’m trying to get Paladin up to 70 first. Apparently, they’ve largely skipped class quest chains this time (too many to do), and instead have chains by role (tank, healer, physical DPS, magic DPS), and I actually have a class ready in each, except for tank, which I was already leveling. So, we’ll dive in once that’s done. I have a feeling we’ll be pausing a few times in main questing for me to get four different classes up to speed….

As far as what we’ve actually been doing for the last couple months, the STB+ story was once again well done, though there’s still an annoying dangling thread or two. The first two parts concentrated on the fates of the two villains that were central to the two tracks of Stormblood: Fordola for Ala Mhigo and Yotsuyu for Doma. Fordola gets attention first, but after some good development, she just gets dropped from the plot, and never shows up again (though there is a short story giving what is next for her).

Yotsuyu gets a lot more attention; I always get the idea she was a favorite of the developers. Her arc is longer, and more developed, though Fordola’s probably asked harder questions. Yotsuyu also, in the best traditions of Japan loving Shakespeare, gets to be in a tragedy.

After that, I had expected a circle back to Fordola, but instead we follow up possible good news—an anti-war faction in the Garlean Empire (they go for a Roman reference with the Populares and Optimates, even though in most ways its not very Roman in character). And disturbing news—Zenos is alive and well in the capital despite being very definitely killed at the end of the main story. This goes into a bit where the major characters start breaking up, with Alphinaud headed to the Garlean capital to see what’s going on, and the first of a few story fights where you play as someone else.

This is rareish in normal RPGs, and I don’t think anyone else has done it in an MMO. Obviously, SquareEnix is looking at ways to get around the storytelling limitations of the format. If you want to show what’s going on away from the player, then you’re looking at endless bits of long cinematics. Here, you get that, and you get to do something, rather than just passively watch. I’m not entirely sure what I think of this, but it’s obvious they’re keeping these combats relatively simple, so you aren’t learning more than 4-5 abilities. (And I kind of wonder if they want to shake up people who’ve stuck to one job all this time?)

Another bit of interest in there was getting a glimpse of an area that had been on the maps, but not featured as a zone. The Burn is an area that has been sucked dry of aether, leaching it of nearly all life, and even color, leaving it looking like a large salt flat. From here, the plot starts tumbling headlong into the intro for Shadowbringers, with a few bits being somewhat summarily wrapped up, though there still things continuing. And there’s more bits that we haven’t seen them return to, despite looking important.

But, we finish with a pre-Heavensward style cliffhanger, with almost all the Scions disabled, a big reveal that the traditional FF obvious bad guy (Garlean Empire) and hidden bad guy (Ascians) are much more directly linked than one would suppose, and a final climatic fight where things suddenly look a lot more like WWI:

Outside of the main story, we’ve been busy with all the raids and such for this expansion. The bulk of our attention went to the three main alliance raids, which integrated a version of Ivalice into the world. Most everything was taken from FFT, including the soundtrack, but a few bits of FF XII made it in as well, and threw me, as I’m not nearly as familiar with it. In general, the story was fairly good, but the quest cut scenes did go very long.

The raids themselves are complicated and very deadly. I don’t think I’ve ever gone into any of them without dying at least 3-4 times. The main new mechanic (which appeared in a few different places, not just here) is a ‘special action’ that generally enables a special mechanic for that fight. It’s… a good idea, and can make certain fights really unique, but you can’t move these onto any standard toolbar, so there’s no shortcut for these. This makes it a mouse-only action, which can be really annoying; I have no idea how it works on a controller.

Still, the environments themselves were really well done, and definitely meant for ‘stunning scenery’. They’re the best-looking raids we’ve had yet.

The main sequence of 8-player raids wasn’t nearly as punishing. It mostly wraps up the plotline with Omega, introduced right at the pre-Stormblood climax. Omega is busy evaluating all the powerful beings it knows of, trying to find what can make itself stronger, and figure out how mere mortals can defeat things technically so much more powerful than themselves.

The main attraction story-wise is Alpha, an early creation of Omega’s who has more of a clue than Omega ever gets. And is an adorable-as-all-get-out chocobo:

The easter-egg from this, is that he gets to go explore the world at the end of the story, and occasionally you’ll just find him looking around somewhere. I’ve only found him once so far:

And finally, there’s the latest Hildebrand adventures. I’m a little disappointed in that they’ve been getting somewhat simpler as they go on. I also really miss the byplay of Hildebrand and Briardien. That said, Smudge and I were roaring with laughter all throughout this one. The humor has been getting better throughout, and they really nailed it in a lot of ways this time (mostly physical humor—but if this wasn’t farce, it would be slapstick).

I did more-or-less call one bit for the climax. I wasn’t as sure about it as, say, Susano, where I knew where things were going as soon as I saw the sword and mirror (and he got referenced during this bit), but they had implied certain things, and I was getting suspicious. Just not quite enough to speak up and say something.

Finally, Smudge and I are starting up a new pair of alts. We’re going back through the early game, which I haven’t seen in years, on a pair of Viera, or the ‘hare band’. At the moment, we’re streaming on Saturday nights at ~9:30 PM Pacific.