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Final Fantasy XIV's A Realm Reborn Content Needs An Overhaul

The cataclysm has already happened in Eorzea, but the early leveling needs some streamlining.

Analysis by Mike Williams, .

I enjoy Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) a great deal. I ended my Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood review with this statement for potential players: "If you have the time and effort, play Final Fantasy XIV. Play Stormblood. It's worth it." I wholeheartedly believe that if you're looking for a great Final Fantasy game or massively-multiplayer online (MMO) title, Final Fantasy XIV is a great option.

The beginning of a long journey...

That said, I have problems recommending the game to friends who ask me if they should play it. My reply usually begins with "Well…", as I begin to explain that it's a great game, but they really have to commit to it. Final Fantasy XIV relies heavily on its ongoing story, featuring the Warrior of Light and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn pushing back the darkness one villain at a time. Square Enix believes in that story, so Final Fantasy XIV has to be played in order.

It's this task that separates Final Fantasy XIV from many other MMOs. FFXIV players are very invested in the story. They care about its twists and turns, they enjoy seeing characters like Alphinaud, Alisaie, Lyse, Tataru, and Hildibrand. Part of that investment is from all the effort made during leveling, in doing scenarios, dungeons, and Primal trials. By the time you get to the end of Stormblood, Square Enix has a clear understanding of your place in the story and how well you understand the game's mechanics, since everyone had to do the same thing.

It's a double-edged sword though, as new players look at the game and see a mountain of content ahead of them. A quick look at the main scenario quests on this Wiki shows a total of 552 quests for the main story alone. That doesn't count the non-story quests and guildleves needed to fill out the rest of the leveling experience. HowLongToBeat lists a median completion time of 110 hours. Even for players who are at the Heavensward content, catching up feels like something you have to set aside time for, something you need to knuckle down and do.

Square Enix has offered a few recent additions to the game, the Level Boost and Story Boost potions. For real money, players can buy a level 60 boost for one job and an item that completes the main story quests for A Realm Reborn and Heavensward. The story and level boost items cost $25 each, so if you're just starting out, that's another $50 on top of the price of the game. I previously warned existing players about preparing for the the Stormblood expansion, because $50 was a bit much.

The point I made there still stands. In other MMOs, the developers tend to work hard to get players into the current expansion as quick as possible. World of Warcraft offers a current level boost token for free with every expansion. Guild Wars 2 is the same, offering a level 80 boost with every copy of its Heart of Thorns expansion. Star Wars: The Old Republic saves the level boost for subscribers. The Elder Scrolls Online has full level scaling, meaning players can tackle any quest and region whenever they want. There's a number of ways to get there, but the main idea is clear: get players to the current content.

It doesn't help that Square Enix has only gotten better with each expansion. In comparison to the work in Stormblood and Heavensward, the early questing in A Realm Reborn can sometimes feel rote and boring. That's why FFXIV players are frequently trying to find ways around the leveling experience. Some play PVP over and over again (until some recent changes). Some run the Palace of the Dead or the Dungeon Roulette back to back. FATE farming used to be the order of the day. Some just play the old fashioned way. "I'm just doing this until I get to the good stuff," they tell themselves in the back of their minds. It's a bit of a grind.

At some point, it's something that the Final Fantasy XIV team needs to tackle. The easy way is to raise the quest experience at lower levels, or retune the experience per level. A number of MMOs resort to this method to alleviate the problem, especially once they're a few expansions deep.

The most extreme method is the example set forth by Cataclysm, which was World of Warcraft's third expansion. Cataclysm drastically rethought the early leveling zones, bringing 2010-era Blizzard polish and storytelling to 2004-era content. Certain quests were played up, including some fan-favorite storylines. Others were minimized or removed completely. The stories of each zone were drastically improved with Cataclysm.

Eorzea has already undergone its cataclysm, but I think the basic idea could be brought to Final Fantasy XIV. Not a complete rewrite of the level 1-50 experience, but a few tweaks. The storytelling team at Square Enix is amazingly strong right now, and some of that expertise can be brought back to A Realm Reborn. Cut some of the cruft and polish some of the stories that you know you're going to revisit later. Add in a few more cutscenes to jazz the story up a bit. Play up quests like 'The Rise and Fall of Gentlemen', 'The Greatest Story Never Told', or 'Speak Softly to Me' that offer memorable situations or mechanics. When Final Fantasy XIV really gets going, it feels like a grand journey. There's no reason that the journey can't start a bit earlier than it currently does.

They can re-adjust and tweak the experience gain, but you end up with the same situation: your most boring and grindy quests aren't played. Better to rethink them, so that most of the quests are meaningful. It's not a grind to level 70 if players are actually enjoying what they're playing. It's a bit more work than just changing some experience values, but I think it pays off in the end. Especially if Square Enix is going to continue to charge $50 for new players to reach the current content.

Final Fantasy XIV is a great game, but it has a slow start. Anything that can improve that start will ultimately result in a healthier game overall. And I want Final Fantasy XIV to have a long, long life.

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for Talraen #1 Talraen 15 days ago
    I'm not sure how solvable this problem is. I've leveled a number of alts through the story, recently, two all the way into Heavensward, and I've found that aside from one slowdown around level 40 or so, the main story quests by themselves are more than enough to get you through to the end of HW. Admittedly, I have a +20% experience bonus from a friendship circlet, and I know what I'm doing (e.g., getting the +30% experience bonus ring from the novice hall as soon as you hit 15), but still. Experience is not the problem.

    The problem, therefore, is the number of quests. And I don't know how they get around that. Sure, there's some filler in there, but it's filler in design, not content. They'd have to substantially rewrite the story to cut out any large number of quests. Similarly to how people keep clamoring for them to get rid of classes, this is much easier said than done. And if they do actually go to the effort of rewriting the story, people like me are going to want to replay the new stuff on principle, and get annoyed that we can't (without making yet another alt).

    I suspect this is going to be like having cutscenes in Castrum Meridianum and Praetorium: a mistake they won't repeat but also won't go back and correct. The good news is, assuming you started after Stormblood was released, the Heavensward post-original-story quests should at least gear you up to qualify for all the dungeons, just like the ARR ones did after HW release. And those were the largest time sink (by far) in leveling alts up.

    But basically, if you like the story, just play it, it's good (with a few weak stretches that will be over relatively fast). If you don't like the story, buy the jump potion. If you don't like the story and can't or won't afford the jump potion, I'm sorry. :)
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #2 benjaminlu86 15 days ago
    @Talraen This has been my experience as well. If you have the strength of will to ignore all the other ! icons and focus only on the main story quests, the 1-60 journey requires surprisingly minimal sidequesting. Heck, even for 61-70, I only got level blocked once while doing only a handful of sidequests so I've got plenty saved up for a second job.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #3 touchofkiel 15 days ago
    @benjaminlu86 Yeah, if you really just followed the MSQ and did some dungeons regularly (but not heavily), it's probably more than enough. A lot of people have complained about the grind for jobs that aren't your main... but I've found that all those side quests that were unnecessary in your first job are a nice supplement for your next jobs.

    And of course, instances are all scaled. Rather than everyone scaling up to the same level (like ESO), the game scales everyone down to the dungeon's level. I think it's a good system that has kept trials and dungeons relevant, and when I run them, I often see new players doing them for the first time. I think the bigger problem for newer players is some of the secondary content - the Crystal Tower series, Coils, maybe even Alexander, none of which are available in the average roulette.

    A lot of the quest design issues are still there in 4.0 (and especially 3.0). It's not like getting through the base game, the quests will magically improve - 4.0 design has improved, sure, but there's still TONS of filler and seemingly endless back-and-forth. Making your way through the MSQ doesn't suddenly get any faster or slower in the expansions - it's just the way the game (and most MMOs) are designed. At least FFXIV has the writing to make it semi-interesting most of the time...
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  • Avatar for Iliya-Moroumetz #4 Iliya-Moroumetz 14 days ago
    "The stories of each zone were drastically improved with Cataclysm. "

    HAHAHAHA- no.

    Let's not mince words here.

    Cataclysm was terrible.

    If you were Alliance, you were the Horde's punching bag to show how badass they were. The stories in the early zones went nowhere, were filled with nothing but references instead of actual story, and felt so rushed and visionless that it makes you wonder just how little time they actually put into the Alliance story, which they even admitted to!

    It doesn't help that the center seemed to center around Thrall, who was still Horde, despite being told that he wasn't, but his actions proved otherwise.

    And don't get me started on Dave Kosak (by then the head writer for WoW) and his unsubtle boner for Sylvanas Windrunner, which explains how they were handed victories in their story on a silver plate.

    Though, to be fair, the Horde players complained that they were given the stupid hat and the evil stick to use when they would have rather not.

    Cataclysm was a mess and it was Pandaria was a thankful respite from all the ego-stroaking of Metzen and Kosak.... that is, until they stole the spotlight again in Seige of Orgrimmar since the orcs in Warcraft as such a damn plot black hole and can get away with anything because Metzen.

    Sorry for the rant and considering this is an article about FFXIV, but I'm still bitter and glad that I left WoW during Warlords of Draenor. And no, not even Legion with their surprising focus on Night Elves (For once) was able to draw me back.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #5 link6616 14 days ago
    @benjaminlu86 Is it really that managable?

    I keep running story missions and then after a few of them have to spend an hour or 2 running around getting levels to catch up with them. I'm around level 40 for context.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #6 MHWilliams 14 days ago
    @Iliya-Moroumetz I am a proud member of the Horde!
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #7 MHWilliams 14 days ago
    @Iliya-Moroumetz I am a proud member of the Horde!
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #8 MHWilliams 14 days ago
    @Iliya-Moroumetz I am a proud member of the Horde!
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #9 MHWilliams 14 days ago
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #10 MHWilliams 14 days ago
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #13 MHWilliams 14 days ago
  • Avatar for mappyland #14 mappyland 14 days ago
    While I think the overall conclusion of this article has some merit, I really don't understand how anyone could suggest that FFXIV's team could stand to study the new WoW player experience.

    I rolled a Draenei earlier this year to bosh around Azeroth with my girlfriend, and even after attempting external research, I still, forty or fifty hours later, have no idea who the Draenei are, what caused the problem we face at the beginning of the game, who the principal actors affecting the world are or what their motivations might be, or *which timeline I'm even in.*

    The care that FFXIV extends to its new players to make them feel like a part of the world they're in is honestly incomparable to the fresh WoW experience, and I cannot agree with any solution which eases the journey towards the endgame at the expense of that experience.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #15 VotesForCows 13 days ago
    I'm on my first time through the game - level 18, and really enjoying it so far. I've never really played an MMO before so have no point of reference. But it all seems pretty pleasant at the moment.

    @Talraen That 30% exp bonus ring sounds good! I must check out how to get it.
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  • Avatar for Iliya-Moroumetz #16 Iliya-Moroumetz 13 days ago
    @MHWilliams That's nice. Cataclysm still sucked Thrall's hairy, disease ridden balls.
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  • Avatar for SkywardShadow #17 SkywardShadow 11 days ago
    Cataclysm has become a bit of a punching bag for the community, but there's no real denying the incredible questing and early zone improvements it implemented. I still enjoy rolling alts to quest in early areas that I haven't previously cleared.
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