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Columns: What Alexander Tells Us About the Future

By Michael O''Connell-Davidson on November 25, 2016

What Alexander Tells Us About the Future

Mild spoilers for Alexander and Bahamut ahead.

It’s safe to say that The Binding Coil of Bahamut series is one of the best raids in any modern MMO. Whether or not you like FFXIV, there’s a hell of a lot to admire. The encounter design is great: it’s hard to look at the fight with Bahamut and not be awed, and everyone who’s done the fourth stage has memories of Twintania’s divebombs. But, more to the point, the story is fantastic.

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Players journeyed into subterranean Eorzea, where hundreds of dragons were kept in stasis in order to sustain their captive deity: Bahamut. Bahamut was the in-universe cause of the original FFXIV’s end, the Calamity (outside of universe, it was for reasons that are very well documented). Adventurers were tasked with making sure that the dragon god didn’t rise again. It ended far more complicated than that, promising to reveal a ‘truth’ behind the calamity (and without spoiling anything, it did).

With CG cutscenes and voice acting, Coil felt epic. But it was more than that, and served as a coda to the ill-fated XIV 1.0. It is an epitaph to a world that ended, and it’s hard to get more significant than that. Bahamut was a tough act to follow, and with Heavensward came the Coil’s successor: Alexander.

Alexander, named for the steampunk primal in which the raid takes place, was a marked departure from Coil. Square Enix started from a different place: Coil could provide answers, but Alexander had to tell its own story. Gone were the saturated neons of the long-dead civilisation that built Bahamut’s prison; Alexander was bronze, full of robots, and much more whimsical. Case in point: your antagonist was a delusional goblin with a Bond villain’s cat.

It was also different from Coil in that it was not well-received. Alexander was optional, and it felt like it, having almost no relevance to the story you’d just finished. The mechanics were dull, the fights barely memorable (The Manipulator, anyone?), and the narrative propelled by an enigmatic Au Ra who kept touching a scar on her face whenever the situation called for something ominous. A match for Alisaie she was not.

Worse still, it decimated the end-game raiding scene. Uninteresting encounters are one thing if people can cruise through them and tick off the boxes with friends. But Alexander’s Savage variant was overly difficult, each encounter a DPS check tuned beyond what most people could manage.

It’s fun watching groups like Elysium tear their hair out on twitter while chasing world firsts, but there has to be a reasonable prospect that people dedicated to the game will be able to make it through. Living Liquid, Gordias’ third encounter, was a so-called ‘static-breaker’ for its tendency to drive people to quit raiding or cancel their subscription altogether. (TLDR: it wasn’t fun.)

It was a bad way to follow up an excellent raid. But that was Gordias, the first few stages of Alexander; Midas came in 3.2, and The Creator, the raid’s final stage, debuted a few weeks ago in 3.4. Now the book has closed on the series, it’s worth looking at it as a whole. Did things improve? And, more to the point, what does it mean for a theoretical Stormblood follow-up?

The short answer to the first question is yes, things got better. Midas was Alexander’s middle chapter and, while similarly light on story, it raised the stakes. It was revealed that Alexander could travel through time, and that the Illuminati goblins who commanded the primal could reverse any damage we did. That’s a tough corner to write yourself out of, and, by the end of the series, they managed to do it.

The narrative was cleverly woven into encounters, particularly The Soul of the Creator, where parties go back in time to rescue themselves from certain death in an earlier cutscene. It’s just a dps check, but it’s little details like this that make XIV what it is. The story was illuminating in other ways, too. Anyone asking why the Au Ra were introduced with Heavensward got their answer, Alexander’s story also being the origin story of an entire player species.

More importantly, though, the difficulty has been toned down to something more manageable. My FC’s static has been able to clear Cruise Chaser on savage without ending any friendships; our White Mage, who will shortly be having a child, didn’t think she’d make it past A10S before her due date; it was a nice surprise for everyone when they finished A11S this week.

This has been well-received by the community as a whole, simply because it’s created a space where more people can flourish. A11S is hard, and A12S promises to be similarly challenging. Nine and 10 are simple enough that people can PUG it without too much issue. A new patch is potentially weeks away, so this is a good pace.

All of this can be considered a good sign, because it shows that while most content in XIV is rigorously pre-planned (they decided on Stormblood just after 3.0 was released) Yoshi’s team are adaptable enough to change courses when it’s not working. It also shows that, if Stormblood’s own Coil-style raid starts slow, we should have some faith in the writing team. Gordias was a disappointment, but Brute Justice is unforgettable.

In a Famitsu interview after the NA fanfest, Yoshida said he thought raid balancing in Creator was the best so far, and he’s right. He added the caveat that he couldn’t guarantee things would stay the same because the game is going to change pretty drastically with the next expansion, but this is really what they should aim for. If they maintain this level of difficulty, Stormblood should launch with a relatively stable end-game community.

If you quit before seeing Alex through to the end, now’s a good time to come back. There are rewards for running older content, so queues aren’t awful, and it’s amazing how much they turned things around in terms of the story. Equally, there’s never been a better time to get into raiding, so if you’ve been on the fence about Savage, go for it. It’s difficult without being frustrating, easier without being easy. This is what a healthy raiding scene looks like; Long may it continue.

Thanks to Reddit user Ricklessabandon for translating Yoshi’s Famitsu interview.