So, we’re approaching the halfway point of the patch cycle between FF XIV: Endwalker and the next expansion. 6.25 came out a couple weeks ago, and Smudge and I have been spending a lot of time with the new Variant Dungeons feature, and enjoying it!

Now, there’s a couple of raid options on this called Criterion Dungeons, but we haven’t tried that yet. For one thing, we want to get through the regular part first. For another, it’s much more interesting to us, since it is meant for 1-4 characters, and Smudge and I are going through it together, whereas the rest needs four or eight. The general idea with the Variable Dungeons is that it branches at certain points, and each branch has an ending associated with it; there’s 12 endings, and a lot more than 12 branches. Sadly, we had to give up and look up a guide for the last ending we needed. We generally got the first eleven on our own, which is better than I thought we’d do.

Beyond that, the mechanics of the place are interesting, as you always have two boss encounters, and the first one is always the same, even when on different branches, while the last one depends on the door you went through at the very start. However, the mechanics those bosses present you with depend entirely on the path you’ve taken. There’s common themes and the like, but there’s a lot of variations built into the main fight, and that is a very interesting idea.

So far, we haven’t had time for much else, but we have started the new tribe (rep grind), with the Last Dregs in Ultima Thule. I’m really happy to see this open up, and the Last Dregs become a place. The story we’re getting with it also is fairly good, and continuing from some of what little unfinished business there was from the main story ending.

As for the less immediate parts, the story after two patches is being interesting.

[And now, we get into true spoiler territory, at least if you haven’t gotten to 6.1 and 6.2 yet – skip down to images from old dungeons if you wish]

I was not expecting that the major focus would be the Thirteenth as the first new storyline. However, that is exactly where we have ended up going—after a diversion into adventurers being adventurers and finding they had stumbled into something of a trap for such. Um, sorry about smashing things up a bit, Varshahn.

The second patch is where things get truly interesting. Before, we just had some motive introductions, and something of a fun romp, now we actually go to the Thirteenth for longer than the span of one alliance raid. I think some of what they’re presenting doesn’t quite fit what we’ve seen elsewhere, but the retcons are actually fairly tiny considering I’m sure SE is just now really thinking about what society must be like in the Void.

The unexpected (to us) star of all this is Zero, who pretty much comes out of nowhere into the plot.

She’s an interesting character, is the obvious keystone to anything that can be done on a permanent basis for the Thirteenth. The plot is leaning heavily on FF IV again, using the four fiends from that game as the basis of the group of villains here.

Given the rate at which we’re going through the four fiends, it’s fairly obvious that this is purely the between-expansions storyline. The Thirteenth as a whole should be more than big enough to support an expansion, the way the First did, but we don’t seem to be going that way. There are possibilities. We could end up restoring things to a point where we need all-new extensive world zones fit for an expansion. But probably not.

On the other hand, some of what we’re getting into is fairly complex with all the residents of Zero’s domain. It has enough starting up that it can support a bigger storyline, but again, probably won’t, since that would require it to keep expanding out from what we’ve already seen. However, we’re getting a pretty good picture of the fall of the Thirteenth to the Void, so this is being very lore-important content again.

In the meantime, there’s the current raids. Both them and the story trials are pushing my abilities to the limit, and slightly beyond. This is taking a certain amount of the fun out, and I’m worried it isn’t going to get better. Some of it is just getting over the initial learning hump, but I don’t think I’m liking Aglaia quite as much as the Nier set. Of course, we’ve only had the first alliance raid, and I historically seem to gel the best with the second one in a set, so we’ll see. Also, a lot will depend on where the story goes from the introductory chapter we’ve had so far.

On the regular raids, however, the story for Pandaemonium has been very interesting. They’ve sent us back to the distant past for a completely different mission than the first time, and we’ve been getting to see even more of the Ancients. That is always welcome, even if the fights are really nasty. (And don’t have the bonus of reprising really good FF VIII themes.)

On other projects, my alternate classes are lagging a bit in getting them up to max level, but I have gotten Warrior to join the roster of nearly-maxed alternate jobs. Smudge has pretty much maxed out the current island sanctuary content, while I haven’t had the time to do more than get through the very beginning parts. Considering its intention of some of an idle-time set of relaxing tasks, it seems they’ve done well on the first attempt.

One other thing that really needs talking about: SE has been improving the lighting system used in-game, and has started reworking many of the earlier dungeons. The primary purpose to that last is to bring them more in line with how things work later in the game, both for a more unified feel, and to give newer players a better education in mechanics they’re going to be seeing for a long, long, time. However, while they do that, they have been applying the new lighting system to the reworked dungeons, and the results have been very striking.

This vista didn’t use to exist in Brayflox’s Longstop:

A good overview, and much more subtle lighting in Tam-Tara:

The Thousand Maws of Toto-Rak has more subtle lighting, and a lot less gutch:

The Stone Vigil gives a much better view of Ishgard:

I miss some of the things got taken out of these dungeons (Toto-Rak especially is much more linear), but the improvements really are stellar. The reworked dungeons should give new players a much more consistent view of the game and how it works, as well as looking a lot better.