FFXIV – Heavensward, What Happened?

Still bumping around doing miscellaneous tasks of little import in Stormblood. But lately I’ve been thinking about Heavensward, the previous FFXIV expansion. I pre-ordered it early and was in there on early access launch day, but looking back on it two years later, I didn’t play it very much at all. (Yet for some weird reason, I remained subscribed the whole time.)

In FFXIV ARR (2.x), I leveled all of the following jobs to 50: Bard, White Mage, Dragoon, Black Mage, Miner, Botanist, Carpenter, Weaver, Alchemist, and Leatherworker. I had no jobs below level 15, and most jobs at least 25.

Heavensward provided plenty of great screenshots, if nothing else.

In Heavensward (3.x), I only did one thing, and that was level my Bard in fits and starts from 50 to 60, the vast majority of it happening late in the cycle. I tried the new jobs and unlocked Machinist, Astrologian, and Dark Knight, but never went beyond the initial level 30.

So what went wrong?

What Aywren wrote about the Bard is exactly true. It went from a joy to play in ARR to a chore in Heavensward. Other games make a habit of drastic class changes with every patch (*cough* WoW *cough*) but in FFXIV it was a real shock to the system.

This is one of my favorite screenshots from Heavensward.

But there was more to it than that for me. I burned myself out with my late-ARR push to complete the 2.x MSQ in time for Heavensward. When Heavensward launched, I was already worn out.

Not only that, but from re-reading my old blog posts, I was still playing The Witcher 3 at the time Heavensward came out, and that surely dampened my enthusiasm for playing Heavensward early on.

I think another problem with Heavensward for me was the sudden change from being an “expert” to being a beginner again. From all the jobs I mentioned leveling above, you can probably guess that I had spent quite a lot of time accumulating knowledge and experience playing my character through all the different trials and tribulations of ARR. Then suddenly I was in the first zones of Heavensward struggling to get through plain old story quests. It was a big mental adjustment.

Getting ready for the masquerade ball! (Not really.)

Combat was fairly difficult in those first days, as I recall. The first Heavensward zone (Western Coerthas) looked bleak. It’s entirely appropriate for the story, but it wasn’t a friendly way to welcome players to the expansion. The second zone (or maybe it was third–Dravanian Forelands) was huge and it was a real chore to run from place to place until you unlocked flying. I remember grumbling about that quite a lot, actually. I basically gave up on the game in 2015 at level 53.

So I fell behind early, and once you’re behind in an MMORPG, it’s easy to find excuses not to play. (I’ve seen a lot of those same reasons from people who aren’t buying Stormblood, actually.) I didn’t start to make progress again until late 2016.

Farewell to Heavensward. Except I’m not technically finished with it yet. :)

So what have we learned from all this? What lessons can we take from the Heavensward years so we don’t stall out again in Stormblood? (By “we” I mean “me.”)

First and foremost and probably most importantly, it pays to keep up with the Main Scenario Quest. Trying to push through it all at once isn’t fun. It’s better to play it in smaller pieces on a regular basis, and that’s what I’m going to try to do for Stormblood. I’m going to make an effort to level something to 70 before the first patch (4.1 I assume).

Another thing is if you’re not having fun with a job, switch to something else immediately, even if it’s at lower level. Don’t try to push ahead with something you’re not enjoying. (That advice applies to every MMORPG, actually.) I’m liking the Bard a lot better than I did in Heavensward, but we’ll see how it goes once I get into the Stormblood zones.

FFXIV – Stormblood Launch Day PvP

I was dragging most of the day Tuesday so when I got home I stuck to simple, low energy tasks on Stormblood’s official launch day.

Being launch day, I first had to enter a code on my account page to activate the game again. Square Enix somehow continues to have one of the worst systems for activating your game account in the history of the universe. You have to enter a code to get into the early access (two of them, in fact), then you have to enter another code to get in on launch day. It’s craziness. It’s hard to believe that average game consumers put up with it. It’s a process that takes a relatively high degree of technical saaviness to get through. (Maybe this is why people play it on console instead of PC.)

Anyway, I tried the Samurai 54 job duty “Blood on the Deck” once or twice more and continued to fail. (It’s always my blood on the deck.) I think I’m up to five attempts now. Since the new gear didn’t help, I put the Nameless robe back on because it looks cooler.

This guy Ostyrgrein is a bastard.

I did a bit of Googling and found that apparently I’m not the only one having issues with this quest, which makes me feel a bit better. I’ve never seen a job or quest duty so difficult in my entire FFXIV life (with the possible exception of one low-to-mid-level duty I vaguely remember in a desert region with a horde of bird-men).

Other than that, the biggest thing I did Tuesday night was try out the new PvP in Stormblood.

I started out wanting to do something simple with FATEs or leves to play with the Dark Knight job but then I remembered that tons of people have been saying that Stormblood’s new PvP is a) fun and b) great for leveling. So I jumped into a queue for Fields of Glory.

Seconds later the queue popped. So that’s why everyone likes it!

This is actually from Wednesday night, and a totally different map.

I’m not sure what the technical term is for this style of PvP (Arena-style?) but it’s the kind where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by playing it. It reminded me a lot of Rift’s initial PvP offerings, and later their Conquest three-sided PvP. It’s also similar to Guild Wars 2’s WvW and ESO’s Cyrodiil, except on a much smaller map, and there are no buildings or sieges.

Unlike most MMORPGs, though, you get an entirely different set of abilities for PvP. They are similar in style to the normal PvE abilities for your job, but not quite the same. It looks like everyone gets one or two DPS abilities, some CC abilities, and some abilities unique to your class. You have to setup all of your hotbars again for PvP. I discovered this when I couldn’t hit F8 to summon my chocobo*. It’s been so long since I setup that hotbar on the side that I had to search all through the menus to find where my mount icons were hiding.

It’s a neat system and I think it suits FFXIV fairly well, but I quickly discovered (yet again, for like the hundredth time in my gaming life) that PvP is not very fun when playing a melee class. Ranged classes generally own you, and you have to spend most of your time wandering around waiting for those rare opportunities when someone wanders too far away from their zerg. (Unless you happen to have a pocket healer.)

For comparison, I went into another match with my Bard, and the difference is staggering. Shooting people on the run at range made it pretty easy to rack up Assists, if not Kills. I can’t imagine why anyone would play anything but a Bard if they were serious about winning PvP matches. It felt incredibly unfair, actually.

Waiting to start. Also from Wednesday night. I needed screenshots for this post. :)

Stormblood PvP is pretty good (or at least inoffensive), but not good enough to keep me from remembering all the things I generally dislike about PvP in MMORPGs. There’s a pervasive attitude of what I’ll call … well, cowardice, for lack of a better term. With rare exceptions, the second you touch anyone, they run away. I chased a guy halfway around the map once. Nobody fights unless they can either outnumber an enemy and overwhelm him with a circular firing squad, or stunlock an enemy so he doesn’t even have a chance to fight back. There’s no honorable fighting in PvP, in other words. It’s more of an animalistic frenzy like a pack of predators hunting prey. (Which I suppose is why PvP is so often described in terms of wolves and sheep.)

This is in stark contrast to what I still consider the best PvP experience ever: Quake. When you engaged in a fight with someone in Quake, they usually fought back, and a duel ensued (a duel with rocket launchers). If you played more defensively like I did, when someone came at you, you stood your ground and blasted them until they died or ran away. If they beat you, you reviewed how they beat you so you could defend against it next time.

Stormblood PvP was fun, but I don’t think I could stand it for extended periods of time. There are already too many people in there trying to give orders and dictate strategy about how to win the matches, which I find annoying. I couldn’t have cared less if my team won or not. (Which is basically the main drawback of no-consequence-PvP.) I only cared about how much experience I got when it was over and how long it took to get it.

In the end, after two PvP matches totaling about a half hour, I gained a level for my Dark Knight, going from 32 to 33. Not too bad, and roughly similar to running a dungeon, but considerably faster to queue for. And best of all, no actual tanking was required. :)

Other than that, all I did was advance my Heavensward MSQ to the next big trial: The Final Steps of Faith. It was literally the very next quest after Sohr Khai. I’ll probably wait until the weekend to tackle that one.

Staring down Nidhogg before the Final Steps of Faith.

* By the way, in one of the MSQ cut scenes, someone pronounced “chocobo” like: CHOKE-UH-BO. I always assumed it was supposed to be CHAHC-UH-BO, like chocolate, but I guess I was wrong.

FFXIV – Sohr Khai and Palace of the Dead

I started Monday evening with what I thought would be a quick trip through the level 54 job duty for the Samurai. I failed it three times. Apparently I haven’t learned nearly as much about playing the Samurai as I thought I had.

The instance first has you fighting a lot of opponents simultaneously. They hit you for a lot of damage, too. Of course our fearless samurai trainer from the East just stands there and watches while you struggle. Somebody threw a regeneration heal on me, though, because I noticed my health going up occasionally. (Maybe that was the “Echo” bonus you get for subsequent tries.)

Then you have to fight a big dog-thingy while four others stand around throwing knives at you. Your trainer finally gets into the fight to handle the four knife-throwers while you fight the big guy. Unfortunately your trainer is very slow to stop the knife-throwers so you suffer a lot of damage from them while trying to dodge the big creature’s blows.

Then you have to fight one more big samurai who does insane damage. That’s as far as I ever got. I’m obviously doing something wrong because I take tons of damage and can’t kill the last guy nearly fast enough. And as far as I know the Samurai job doesn’t have anything to mitigate incoming damage.

I decided I needed to upgrade my gear before proceeding. After searching high and low, I finally found a vendor who sells level 54 Samurai gear at Moghome, but I’m not sure it would be an improvement. The item level on the armor was higher, but the damage mitigation numbers were considerably worse. Also they don’t look that great compared to the Nameless Samurai robes. I decided to leave that quest for another day.

This is what the game would have a Samurai wear at level 54.

Sohr Khai

After Heavensward 3.2, Gears of Change, our intrepid Warrior of Light moved into 3.3, Revenge of the Horde. The story here is a little bit of a letdown after the dramatic events of 3.2. Aymeric despairs because Ishgard can’t fight the powerful bad dragon Nidhogg (which controls Estinien), so he decides to go ask the neutral dragon Hraesvelgr if he will fight for the Ishgardians.

Naturally, Hraesvelgr requires us to pass a test before he will help, and that test is–you guessed it–the Sohr Khai dungeon. (At first I kept looking for Sohr Khai under trials, because Hraesvelgr said plain as day that it was a “trial.”)

(Side thought: Sometimes it’s difficult to follow story in MMORPGs because they are always delivered in small bits and pieces: Namely, cut scenes and quest text. I often find myself forgetting what happened in the last story bit by the time I get to the next story bit. And you never know when a player might step away from a game for months at a time and then come back. I’ve yet to see any game make a good effort at making it easy for a player to “catch up” on the story. FFXIV has a storybook in the inn, but it’s kind of a pain to reach it and interact with it. I’d like to see something like a simple “back” button in the quest dialogs, which might show you the previous quest text.)

Normally this would be the point where I set the game aside for six months before I summon up the willpower and energy and determination to complete that dungeon. It’s one thing to PUG a story dungeon at level 20, but it’s quite another to PUG a story dungeon at level 60+. The lower level dungeons forgive and train you, while the higher level dungeons actively try to kill you and prevent you from succeeding.

But circumstances are completely different now. I joined Aywren’s FC Knights of Memory over the weekend, and they were kind enough to put together a group for me Monday night. In no time we made our way through Sohr Khai and that was that. Hraesvelgr’s assistance was secured.

It’s been a while since I did a non-PUG dungeon, and it’s a totally different experience. By which I mean it’s a lot more of a fun experience.

In PUGs I always feel like I have to do everything perfectly in order to keep up with the group, especially the first time through, so I spend the whole instance on edge, eyes glued to the screen, trying to watch every status effect and bar and mob at the same time. It feels like I’m taking a test. It’s sort of a combination of fear of the unknown and performance anxiety.

Sometimes I can deal with that, but most of the time it’s pretty exhausting and I’d just as soon avoid it. (Though it almost always turns out to be far less stressful than I imagine it will be.) Once I’ve gotten through a dungeon once or twice, I’m usually more relaxed with PUG efforts because there’s no more fear of the unknown, and the performance anxiety abates because I’ve already successfully completed it.

Here I should make sure to note that I have never once been yelled at in a FFXIV PUG for doing poorly the first time through a dungeon, so all of my fears are entirely made up out of thin air. With rare exceptions, FFXIV dungeon PUGs are notorieously friendly.

But with an FC group, I don’t need to study up for a dungeon or worry about getting kicked or yelled at. Yay! The dungeon went by so fast and painlessly I barely even noticed what was in it. I don’t even remember the first boss. The second boss had some odd mechanics with collapsing walls and falling meteors that I probably could have done better on, but we got through it. The final boss was pretty interesting, as it had a series of floating platforms you had to dance around on to avoid getting blasted by dragon’s breath.

Apparently the Final Steps of Faith are coming up soon for me in the Heavensward MSQ. Based on the groaning I heard from the FC folks, it sounds like it won’t be quite as easy of a task. :)

Palace of the Dead Redux

After Sohr Khai, we did a quick run through the first 10 floors of Palace of the Dead. Talk about a different experience! Now I see why I’ve had so much trouble with it before.

Here’s how it’s always gone for me, the handful of times I tried it solo: Either I died before I got to the boss on floor 10, or I died fighting the boss on floor 10. And it always took a big chunk of time to get through it. Dying means you get nothing of any value. It hasn’t been all that satisfying, to say the least.

The mobs aren’t necessarily hard, but if you’re soloing and your attention wanders for a moment or you get unlucky, it’s pretty easy to get killed. It takes a fair number of swings to kill the mobs when you first start out, and they do a fair amount of damage to you, too. There are wandering mobs that might stumble by while you’re fighting something else, or there are traps that might blow up and drain your health right before you run into a mob, or sometimes a mob will respawn on top of you.

Then there’s the final boss on floor 10. It murdered me every time I got to it. (Which I think was a grand total of twice.) If I remember right, it does an AoE that you have to step out of, which is no problem. But each successive time, the AoE size gets bigger, until eventually it covers the entire room and you can’t avoid it. So you have to kill the boss before then, and I never could.

Flash forward to Monday night. With a group of four, we mowed through everything on floors 1 through 10 like it wasn’t even there. Or I should say, they did. It turns out that after you successfully defeat a boss, you get to keep the Aetherpool weapon and armor ratings you accumulated during the run. So they had built up Aetherpool ratings of like +90 or whatever, while I was still running around with my newbie +0 katana because I’ve never defeated a floor boss.

When I hit a mob, I barely dented its health, but when they hit the mobs, they lost 75% of their health. :) The final boss died before it even cast an AoE!

Afterward I got some glamour pants and a Page 63 minion, which was pretty cool. I’m not that much into glamours or minions, but it was awesome to finally get something out of PotD. Most importantly though my Aetherpool modifier is up to +3 for the next time I go in there.

All in all, a very fun night! In a way it was too fun because I had a hard time sleeping hehe. (The thunder and rain all night didn’t help either.) I need to temper myself more on weeknights so I don’t get too wound up before bed time.

FFXIV – Antitower and 3.2 Finished

Sunday afternoon I finally completed something I’ve been putting off for about six months now: The Antitower.

I wasn’t planning to, it just sort of happened. I had just gotten back from the grocery store Sunday afternoon. I sat down to figure out what to do for the rest of the day. My mood was better than usual for the waning hours of a weekend, and I was wondering if instances were still broken (I had heard they weren’t but I suspected they might go bad again as server congestion ramped up), so as an experiment I queued up for my nemesis The Antitower.

The stuff of nightmares. This … thing … was waiting at the end of The Antitower.

The expected time read “over 30m” (which I interpreted to mean “never”) so I switched back to Samurai and went to do more FATEs in Western Coerthas to see if I could finish getting to level 54 before the end of the weekend.

[I said in my last post that I made 54 on Saturday but that was inaccurate due to the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey out-of-sequence way that I write and edit posts sometimes. In fact, I stopped at 53 on Saturday.]

I went into that zoned-out zen state of FATE grinding, where you think about nothing except targeting the next nearest mob and hitting your optimal rotations, ad infinitum.

Time passed and I completely forgot that I had queued for a dungeon. It must have been at least 45 minutes later when the Duty Finder popped up and said The Antitower was ready. “Oh!” I thought. “I forgot. I don’t really want to do that anymore. But I’m tired of grinding these FATEs, and I’m feeling supremely confident in myself right now, and it’ll save the FC from having to carry me through it, and it doesn’t matter because it’ll probably just crash and burn anyway.”

The folks of Eorzea have mastered space travel, too.

It didn’t crash and burn. I was deposited into the dungeon with three other people, much to my surprise.

I almost dropped right out of it again. But as I said, I was in a good mood, for I had successfully avoided the temptation to buy any ice cream or Little Debbie Fudge Rounds or any other junk foody snacks at the store. (This is mainly how I accomplish cutting bad things out of my diet–if I don’t buy the bad thing, I never have an opportunity to consume it.) I would be salt- and sugar-free for the rest of the day, which would undoubtedly make my Monday and the rest of my week about a thousand times better. (I can draw some fairly strong correlations between the quality of my diet and my mood.)

So I boldly said “Hi!” and told the group I was new.

I think it was the tank who said, “No problem, I’m new too.” Normally you don’t necessarily like to hear that your tank is new in a PUG, but in this case I didn’t mind.

I started panicking for another reason, because I suddenly realized that not only was I new to the dungeon, but this would be the first time I would play the Stormblood Bard in a real life this-is-not-a-drill group situation. And I really hadn’t studied it at all. It was the classic taking-a-test-without-studying scenario. Except in game form.

Sad moment is sad.

So off we went. I’ve watched MTQ’s dungeon guide for the Antitower several times over the past six months, so I wasn’t completely unaware of what I would see. But it had been quite some time since the last time I watched that video, and as it turned out I didn’t recognize most of the boss mechanics until after they had already gone by.

Thankfully, if you follow the standard DPS protocol of avoiding AoEs and turning away from glowing eyes, there wasn’t anything the healer couldn’t heal through in Antitower. (This healer, at least.) There was one part where I was supposed to avoid damage by going behind some rocks, and there was another room-wide AoE that kept hitting me that I don’t know if I could have avoided, but other than that I had worried about this dungeon for nothing (yet again–I don’t know why I keep doing this, the MSQ dungeons and trials are usually the easiest ones). Even with the tank struggling to hold threat at the beginning, we got through with no deaths and no wipes in 25 minutes.

I was concentrating so hard through the whole dungeon that I don’t know if I could evaluate whether it was “fun” or not. There were a lot of “dance moves” (ie. moving out of AoE effects) which I tend to like, so I would probably enjoy it again, and it was fairly quick, which is always a plus.

I knew something wasn’t quite right with her. Mainly because she had a good voice actor. :)

Now about this new Bard.

First, I love that you can move again. Everything is back to instant cast. It’s like time-traveling back to 2013 when everything in FFXIV was wonderful.

Except for one minor but irksome thing. I haven’t done any kind of deep dive on the changes yet, but I noticed right away that one of my go-to abilities for dungeon trash was gone: Wide Volley, the AoE spam attack. (Yes, I had to look up the name. I know it as “the G key.”) As it resides in my coveted top three hotbar slots (or “T, R, and G”), it was a commonly-used ability for me. And as far as I can tell, it’s gone, leaving nothing to replace it but the pitiful cone attack Quick Nock (“the C key”), which I literally never used unless a free usage triggered from Wide Volley.

Dungeon trash was one of the places where Bards shined, because they could put out some healthy AoE damage (nothing compared to Black Mage, but better than most). It got a bit worse in Heavensward when they put Rain of Death on the same cooldown as Bloodletter. But now it seems that we Bards are meant to plunk away at one target at a time.

That was kind of a bummer. I don’t mind it for myself but sometimes people get testy in dungeons when it takes too long to burn down trash mobs. Fortunately FFXIV is reasonably good at keeping trash encounters within reasonable limits.

I couldn’t quite get a handle on how to use the Ballads either. I don’t know if I’m supposed to pick one and keep repeating it, or cycle through all of them, or pick different ones for different situations, or what. This will require some further study. (If you can’t tell, I don’t read guides very much, at least not at first.)

Anyroad, the point is I got through Antitower and could continue the Main Scenario Quest through the end of 3.2 and into the beginning of 3.3 Sunday evening.

My character’s angry expression reflected my own feelings at this moment too.

And what a quest it is. The story in Heavensward is really top notch, at least when they take the time to voice the cut scenes. (The silent ones are a bit more meh.) There are some really, really great scenes after the Antitower (this part of the story is more commonly known as Gears of Change). Tense, dramatic, heart-breaking, triumphant, shocking–it runs the gamut.

Let’s see if I can summarize it in a way that I’ll remember what it was about if I read this post later, but without giving too much away for people who haven’t experienced it.

Immediately after the Antitower, there was some (surprising) resolution to the search for Minfilia, who disappeared at the end of ARR. Then, elements among Ishgard’s peasantry, still bitter about dragons killing their friends and family, tried to undermine Aymeric’s plan to end the Dragonsong Wars. Fearing civil strife, a Grand Melee tournament was fought to build unity among the people of Ishgard. But during a ceremony to finally seal a peace between Ishgard and the dragon Vidsomethingfir, an unexpected intervention from the Azure Dragoon Estinien, who has “turned to the dark side,” spoiled things in a most dramatic fashion. Alphinaud vowed to “save” Estinien (as opposed to killing him). Thus ended 3.2, The Gears of Change.

The only criticism I have is that they lacked a bit of narrative courage. Three times they showed someone apparently getting killed, only to find out a little later, from an off-handed remark, that they were only wounded and would make a full recovery. Annie Wilkes wouldn’t have liked it. It takes away some of the dramatic punch.

Angry mob is angry.

Next up is 3.3, Revenge of the Horde. It looks like a fairly short one. Presumably there will be another dungeon or trial at some point.

Side note: I’m not sure they’re using the same voice actor for some of these characters. I definitely noticed quite a change in Tataru’s voice. And I feel like Thancred is a different actor every single time.

Another side note: There is actually a tiny advantage in having waited to complete the Heavensward MSQ until after the Stormblood expansion was out: All the Heavensward MSQ quests give out a little bit of experience (something like 15k each), so while I’m chugging away on the old MSQ, I’m also inching my Bard from level 60 to 61, so theoretically I’ll be a little bit ahead of the curve when I get into Stormblood.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they hand out ilevel 240 weapons and armor as rewards in the later stages of the 3.2 MSQ. I think I’ve heard about that before but it didn’t sink in until I saw them in the quest dialog. Goodbye neat-looking but underperforming 210 bow, hello plain-looking but more powerful 240 bow. (I also got 240 weapons for Samurai and White Mage.) After you get weapons, they give you a set of gear, too. By the time I was done on Sunday I had moved up from ilevel 224 to 233. (Sadly still two points shy of Dun Scaith eligibility. Ah well. Not really an issue now that Stormblood is out.)

Little did I know, they handed out scaly ilevel 240 gear like candy during the MSQ after the Antitower. Yes this is the first time I’ve successfully used /gpose to take a screenshot. :)

The new outfit is pretty slick but it’s a little too slick–almost like a form-fitting superhero costume. It doesn’t really suit my character. I probably won’t be using it for any glamours.

On to the next thing! (Which, as it turns out, is already done as I’m posting this, thanks to Aywren’s FC!)

FFXIV – Finding Fun Without Instances

You’ve probably heard that there were one or two significant technical issues with FFXIV’s Stormblood early access over the weekend. Aywren summed it up pretty well. Even outside of the Stormblood content gate where I am, most times I tried to venture into an instance of any kind (dungeon, job duty, anything except PotD for some reason), I was disconnected from the server and couldn’t log back in with that character for up to an hour because of the dreaded Error 90002. This happened to me three times I think.

I couldn’t make any progress on my main Bard because I had to do the Antitower instance. So what do you do in a new FFXIV expansion when you can’t get to the new content or enter any instances?

Generally, when you can’t make progress on your main character, you switch to a different class/job and level that. My alt of choice right now is the Samurai, which I never would have believed would be my favorite of the two new jobs. I wrote it off the moment I heard it announced as a new job, thinking it would be some silly variation of the Monk or Ninja.

But Samurai is actually quite fun. If you like the complexity of the Dragoon you should definitely check it out. The only thing I don’t like is that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of “charge” ability so you have to keep running to keep up with the mobs (although I would swear I saw someone else jump to an enemy, maybe it comes later). [Ed: At level 54, you get a charge ability.]

How do you level a job without instances? I keep hearing that you can level using the Palace of the Dead, but I have yet to figure out how to do that. (I think it requires a group, and, you know, actually defeating the boss at the end.) PotD was about the only instance I could enter and leave without breaking everything, so I stopped by there a few times. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of that place yet, and so far every time I’ve tried it, I end up spending an hour in there only to get basically nothing out of it. (I think you only get tangible rewards if you successfully get to floor 10 and defeat the boss, which is rather difficult or at least time-consuming solo.)

Palace of the Dead in Quarrymill is a happenin’ spot.

You can level with side quests, but the amount of experience they reward is basically a flat-out insult. Battle Levemetes are a decent option but you only have a limited number that you can do, and they are a bit slow.

What else is there? I ventured out into the Western Coerthas Highlands (the first Heavensward zone) and found something I never would have believed existed: People were doing FATEs!

FATEs are similar to Rift’s rifts or GW2’s dynamic events. They are open world events that anyone can join in with no strings attached, and they reward pretty good experience for the time invested. Other than dungeons, they are one of the faster ways to level, if you can find an area where a lot of people are farming them in your level range.

That’s a big if. Prior to Saturday, the only place I’ve seen people farming FATEs reliably was around Camp Dragonhead, which will get you from roughly level 35-40 to 50 in relatively short order. I’ve done those FATEs a lot, and I always find them fun and even sort of relaxing in a zen kind of way.

FATEs! After level 50! I can hardly even believe my eyes.

But sadly, when Heavensward launched, people decided that FATEs in the new zones were dumb. I don’t exactly know why, but they were completely abandoned. It was a major bummer for me personally because I loved doing them, and as I mentioned, they are great ways to level alt jobs. I guess they didn’t reward enough experience in Heavensward. They were also pretty hard to complete solo in the beginning, if I remember correctly.

But they were back with a vengeance on Saturday, at least in Western Coerthas. I spent a lot of time flying from FATE to FATE, learning how to play the Samurai, and leveling from 50 to 54. It was like a blast of FFXIV nostalgia for me. And I also got a metric ton of Luminous Ice Crystals.

The problem is that leveling from 50 to 54 with FATEs is a pretty big grind and it gets thoroughly boring after a while. By level 54, you have to do a lot of level 50 FATEs to gain a level. (And, of course, there was no FATE farming outside Western Coerthas.) I wondered what else I could do without being able to work on my main.

I thought about leveling my White Mage up from 50, but as soon as I saw the outfit I had somehow acquired, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be seen in public wearing it.

Umm. Okay. That’s decent gear for a level 50 White Mage, believe it or not.

Still, I did level WHM to 51 with FATEs. It’s not very fun playing FATEs as a WHM, though. You have one DoT and one ranged damage spell, and that’s about it. (And am I crazy, or is Stoneskin gone?)

Then I decided to finally try out the Dark Knight job, a tank job which was added in Heavensward. Previously I had gotten as far as acquiring the initial Claymore, but had never actually equipped it. (At this point I was very grateful for the button which auto-selects the best gear for your job and level, which was added at some unknown point in the past.)

I tried to do the first job duty and that’s when I found out the technical problems affected every kind of instance. I was promptly disconnected, and couldn’t return to my character for about an hour.

When I got back in I went to Costa Del Sol and ran around doing some FATEs, mostly by myself. Sadly at level 30 you’re still a bit too low level to go to Camp Dragonhead. (I tried.) Then I did some battle leves. They aren’t quite as fun as FATEs but they get the job done. I also tried Palace of the Dead, thinking I might do better with a tanky job, but that’s when I got frustrated because your time is entirely wasted if you die in there.

Paradoxically trying out the Dark Knight job on the sunny beach.

I ended up getting DRK from 30 to 32. I have to say I was fairly impressed with the Dark Knight. I really like the move sets with the giant sword. It reminded me of the two-handed sword animations in Guild Wars 2, which I’ve always liked. Your character looks like they’re really weighed down by the massive size of the sword, and putting all of their effort into swinging it. I don’t care for the weird bowed cello sound that comes with every swing, though.

You might be wondering what I did during the times I couldn’t login with my main character. Well, I played my Rogue, of course. He just turned level 26, way back in the Waking Sands.

Locked out of main character? Play that neglected Rogue alt!

Speaking of level 26, is it my imagination or have they made subtle changes to the MSQ in the lower levels? For example, after rescuing one the Sylphs, I noticed that they referenced the primal Ramuh and even showed the big-bearded guy in one of the cut scenes. Did they add that because they added Ramuh much later in the MSQ? I don’t remember seeing it the first time through, but then I don’t remember much of anything that was in the early MSQ.

Stormblood Very First Impressions

Glad I got the memo about the dress code here.

It’s here! Well, if you pre-ordered.

Upon first logging into Stormblood, I was greeted by this very prominent window explaining the new Song Gauge for the Bard job.

“Here we go,” I thought, sighing heavily. This was exactly what I was afraid of: Huge changes to my class that will require mental energy and work to learn. The FFXIV equivalent of a talent point respec. I skimmed the window but didn’t really absorb any of it, so I took a screenshot, closed it, and hoped that, by ignoring it completely, it would magically go away. That didn’t work, so a bit later I decided to bite the bullet, picked a spot in the world, picked some random mobs, and started attacking them.

I was very relieved to see that the basic function of the Bard seems roughly the same. The base rotation that I worked out in Heavensward still mostly works: T-R-4-5-shift V-V. (Everybody uses those keys, right?)

The big difference is in the Ballads, which changed from passive buffs that you turn on at the beginning of a fight to long cooldown damage abilities that you have to repeat periodically. It’ll take some time to get used to it, but it’s not as bad as I feared it might be.

Also: Bards can move again!!

I’ll have to redo my hotbars, though. Eight of my abilities appeared to be obsolete right off the bat. That’s good though because I’ll need to put more Ballads on there for easier access.

Hrm, Swiftsong is gone too?

The other most obvious change to the HUD (other than all your hotbar abilities being crossed out) is the addition of a prominent reminder of where you are in the Main Scenario in the upper-left corner.

It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that if you’re not doing Main Scenario Quests, you’re probably falling behind the power curve, drifting back into the obscurity of the dreaded “casual player population,” where you won’t get to do much of anything cool on the launch day of the next expansion.

Another visual change I noticed was in the map. I’d be hard pressed to tell you what actually changed without seeing the new and old side-by-side, but something is definitely different. I think they added details instead of making it an artsy-style hand-drawn map.

Samurai and Red Mage

I can’t look into any new Bard stuff until I finish the Heavensward story, so I went looking for the new Samurai and Red Mage jobs. Unlike the previous expansion, you can access the new jobs right away without any gates. You do have to be level 50, though.

I started with Samurai. When you talk to the job-giving-guy, you get the usual soul crystal thingy and a samurai sword, but you also get a chest with level 50 gear appropriate for the samarai. That’s a fantastic new feature that I don’t think they’ve ever done before. Previously I seem to recall you had to scrounge around in your inventory to find job- and level-appropriate gear, or walk around nekkid.

Yeah I have no idea what any of those buttons do but I still beat the master samurai from the East.

The problems begin when you go into your first Job Duty because, since the job begins at level 50, you have a whole slew of hotbar abilities that you don’t know how to use. Maybe everyone else has been studying Samurai guides for weeks, but I was looking at it cold for the first time. I just pressed keys and flashy effects happened on the screen and eventually I won. (Against a supposed master no less.)

Despite not knowing anything about how to play a Samurai, I was very surprised to find that I liked it. (I expected to have zero interest in it.) I love the starting Samurai gear set, and you look cool as hell running with the samurai sword out, so that’s a big plus.

Then I found and unlocked the Red Mage. (Both of them unlock from Ul’dah, incidentally.) This is the one I expected to like more, but I’ll be honest, I was a little underwhelmed. It seems to be considerably more complex than the Samurai, what with managing “white mana” and “black mana,” and since I again didn’t know how to use any of the new abilities effectively, I felt pretty useless and underpowered and thoroughly confused. I even failed the first Job Duty because my instructor went and got himself killed on the last boss. (I am sure it was entirely his fault, and it had nothing to do with any shortcomings on my part.)

My instructor’s outfit was more redder than mine.

I didn’t really care for the default Red Mage gear, either. So at least on first impressions, I have to award the win to the Samurai.

On a side note: While in the first Duty for the Red Mage, I got really annoyed at how many flashing spell effects my character was doing. Every time you do anything, melee or spell, there’s a huge bright effect centered on your character. It completely obscured the character and most of your target, so I finally went into settings and set the spell effects to partial, which helped a lot. (I tried no spell effects but it makes ranged casts look very weird, since nothing travels from your character to the enemy.) I don’t remember ever being so annoyed with the spell effects before. Maybe it’s always been like that and I’m only just now noticing it.

After playing the Red Mage I went back to the Samurai. I learned that both of these new jobs are pretty complex. I went into Palace of the Dead to try to work out how to play Samurai from a simpler starting point (a tip I learned somewhere on the Internet but I can’t remember where) and thought I had a decent handle on it. Then I went out to fight some level 50 mobs in Coerthas Western Highlands and got thoroughly confused again. It’s a bit like the Dragoon in that there are a lot of combos and you have to use them in the right order to maximize your potential. It’s not a 1-2-3-4-5 rotation, it’s more of a 1-2-1-3-1-2-4-1-5 kind of rotation. The kind that takes a lot of practice to get it in your head and your muscle memory, in other words. The kind that would be great if you could start from level 1 and slowly build up the rotations over time, instead of having the whole thing thrown at you at once.

As for the inevitable launch issues, I had some queues and got kicked off a few times, but that was about it. Certainly not the worst launch I’ve ever seen. There’s apparently a quest in the new area that’s completely broken though. I imagine the only people who care about these kinds of issues anymore are the ones who are trying to zoom through everything and finish first, or the people who are trying to be the first to post guides, or the game sites who are trying to post something controversial so people will read it.

Fractured Announced

Blatantly stolen from fracturedmmo.com

In addition to the bizarre announcement of an MMORPG based on Magic: The Gathering, last Wednesday we saw our first news about another new MMORPG called Fractured. (Not to be confused with The Repopulation’s survival spinoff of the same name. Seriously, do people never even look at the names of other games anymore?)

Once again, it’s way too early to say anything good, bad, or indifferent about Fractured. It’s going to be a sandbox. But better than any other sandbox. For reasons. Reasons that will certainly work out exactly the way they are planning them, because games never change in response to early player feedback.

Fractured is notable for being another project based on Improbable’s SpatialOS, along with Chronicles of Elyria and Worlds Adrift and others. We’ve been hearing a lot about this SpatialOS thing lately. Probably because it seems to have a pretty low barrier to entry for small development teams.

But what is SpatialOS? Presumably, SpatialOS is middleware and/or backend software/hardware that allows game developers to easily create MMORPGs with Unity. They describe it in a lot more grandiose terms than that, but that seems to be the gist of it. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been watching it for a while now. To be honest I’m a little suspicious about Improbable’s motives, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. I just have this weird feeling that they’re trying to build some crazy DARPA military AI project and they’re somehow exploiting gamers as free labor. I just know they’ll be gathering all the behavior data from us playing these SpatialOS games and using it to create an advanced army of super soldiers.

I’m also a little worried that every new MMORPG based on SpatialOS is going to play exactly the same, and we’re going to be assaulted with a slew of games that are only differentiated from each other by the textures on the character models. But I might be overthinking that. After all, ESO and SWTOR are both based on the same Hero Engine and they are quite different.

So we shall see. Someday. Hopefully.

Cryptic’s New MMORPG

Literally a screen capture of the web page, since there’s nothing else to look at.

Last Wednesday, Cryptic announced they are making an MMORPG based on Magic: The Gathering with help from Wizards of the Coast. As yet it apparently doesn’t have a title.

That’s basically where my interest ended but in the name of thoroughly documenting the event and making a more appropriately-sized blog post, I’ll add some more thoughts.

There was some confusion at first, but this is going to be a real live MMORPG with characters that walk around, as opposed to a card game. I’ve never played Magic: The Gathering, and I don’t know anything about the lore or setting or the so-called “multiverse.” I’ve always understood it to be a fairly generic fantasy setting, but it’s hard to see why the game would remain popular for so long if that’s all there was to it.

It’s also hard to understand why a “setting” is required in any way, shape, or form for a card game. To me, this announcement is somewhat similar to announcing that they are making an MMORPG out of Poker. Um …. okay?

By which I mean this announcement contains a lot of words that are very confusing to me when you put them together. MMORPG, Magic: The Gathering, and Wizards of the Coast do not belong in the same sentence in my limited little world. I had no idea Wizards of the Coast had anything to do with Magic: The Gathering. That’s still the D&D people, right? Did I miss something? I guess they own the Magic IP.

Anyway, as for the MMORPG, my main concern is that given Cryptic’s history with Neverwinter and STO, it’s more accurate to call their games a series of loosely connected instances, which is not quite the same as what I’d call a traditional MMORPG. I hope this new game is different. But all we have to go on is “free-to-play,” “action MMORPG,” and “next generation MMORPG.”

And that’s about all I have to say until we get more information. It’s really hard for me to get excited about “announcements” anymore. I guess I must be dead inside, because I very rarely feel anything resembling “hype” until I can actually sit down and play the new game for a little while, or at least look at a gameplay video.

P. S. As I’m scheduling this, I realize this post sounds incredibly jaded. Believe it or not, I am glad to see that new MMORPGs are being made, and I can’t wait to try it out. (I mean, unless it turns out that there’s a big card game component.)