There’s a lot of content in Final Fantasy XIV I’ll never see. Of course, everything’s on YouTube, but stuff that my character will actually reach is another matter. That comes from someone who has seen far more than many others — I’ve been in and out of savage and extreme primals for a good few patches now, and that’s content most of the playerbase has never touched.
A few weeks ago, I ‘killed’ Exdeath on Savage mode for the first time. For those who don’t know, Exdeath on Savage difficulty isn’t a single boss, but the precursor to an exclusive encounter — Neo Exdeath. It’s way more impressive than anything in Omega normal.
Looks awesome, right? It’s a shame very few players will ever see it. And it’s hard as hell, so it’s unlikely I’ll have Neo Exdeath down in any reasonable timeframe. This means I won’t see another exclusive fight: the incoming ‘Ultimate’ series, which debuts in 4.1 and will be locked behind completion of O4S. I’m a little sad about it, but does it bother me? Not really.
It does, however, bother some other people, and I understand why. There’s a lot of hype around Ultimate and I can imagine for some it’s like hearing talk about a party you haven’t been invited to. A thread on the Official Forums was made complaining about excluding people from Ultimate received hundreds of responses disagreeing (the guy eventually changed his mind) — but I’ve spoken to people who genuinely feel this way, and I suspect that there’s a silent group that wonders why on earth Square Enix would dedicate development time to something only 0.5% of players will be able to queue for, much less beat.
It’d be easy to say that just because you can’t do something, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there, as many already have — and I think that’s indisputable. But I think there’s a deeper conversation to be had here about MMO players and what happens when they hit their limit.
I remember back when I played WoW as a teenager, and there was a lot of content I’d never see despite spending months in a world that built towards that content. Blackwing Lair? No, never. Icecrown? Not a chance. It wasn’t for a lack of willing, either — finding a group for that sort of content was really hard.
In XIV’s case, pretty much everything that would be defined as casual is doable by anyone — 24-man raids, normal-mode 8-man content — with minimal preparation, and I think that’s great. It is certainly an improvement from A Realm Reborn’s Binding Coil of Bahamut. To this day, Coil remains some of the best content in this game and is hugely important to the story, but it was roughly as difficult as Savage in a world before cross-realm party finder and a difficulty mode for ‘normal’ players. Most people were forced to watch cutscenes on YouTube, never stepping into the breach.
On the other end, there exist people who have sucked the game dry and beat O4S on week one, even if they weren’t part of the race for world first. I’m on a couple of raiding Discord servers, and some more vocal players say that this game has no content. While that’s hyperbolic, it does reveal that there is a sense among endgame players that once they’ve finished the last Savage (or equivalent) fight, there’s not a whole lot else to do.
If you beat Savage in week one, that means you can go months feeling that way — up until now, it’s only really even-numbered patches that have catered to that audience. Ultimate exists for those players, and they deserve something to tide them over, so I think introducing it is the right move. But I think there are reasons people are made uncomfortable by it being there, and few are as simple as gear entitlement or sour grapes.
I think what some people mean when they’re critical of content like this is that they wish they had the capacity to do it, but it’s essentially unattainable for them. Because for a lot of people, it’s not necessarily a lack of time or willing — they’re just missing something immaterial but crucial, like a static or a bunch of friends, or simply the confidence to try.
There is no doubt in my mind that there those out there who are genuinely good players but who are missing something that would enable them to take their skills further; content like this is just another reminder of that. There’s only so far you can push yourself on expert roulette.
For others, it’s a reminder that they’re just not good enough. I did Susano a few weeks ago and I was kind of amazed that there are people who are struggling to do it at this point, but that’s a stupid perspective to have; it wasn’t so long ago (a year or so, maybe?) that I’d never done an extreme primal while it was current. For people that struggle to climb the hills in front of them, I can understand the frustration they might feel when the developers add yet more mountains in the distance that they’ll never reach, let alone scale.
I suspect a lot of this comes down to the fact that ‘mainstream’ content in MMORPGs has become much easier; getting groups for endgame dungeons in stuff like vanilla WoW used to be a long and involved process, while queueing in games like XIV is relatively painless. The top-level content has gotten easier, too, but the problem I think people have faced for decades is finding a decent way to get people there. I believe that there are a lot of people who wouldn’t know where to start with becoming good enough to get to Ultimate.
But the solution isn’t to avoid adding stuff that’s unattainable for most. The game is full of things I’ll never be able to do very well (crafting chief among them), but I don’t begrudge that they’re there. Instead, I think there needs to be a clearer path from the level cap to high-level play. You can boil it down to ‘do extreme primals, gear up, then get into Savage’, but the reality is that raiding requires a huge amount of preparation and skill demanded by nothing else, and the path to getting there is much more complicated — particularly in a game where, for example, measuring personal DPS contribution requires breaking the developers’ terms of service.
If the mentoring system was good, and amounted to more than a crown icon and an obscure roulette, there might be a community of players able to help bridge this gap — but ultimately, mentorship is meaningless, and there are no tools for mentors to help people get that set up. This, coupled with the fact that the Savage loot system makes it entirely prohibitive to run encounters more than once a week or with anybody who has a clear (I keep going back to this, but it is awful), means that it’s not just Ultimate that’s locked off from most of the playerbase, but anything beyond extreme primals — and even those are too advanced for some.
There was a short golden age when Stormblood came out where everybody could do everything. Susano was the hardest fight in the game, and even extreme-mode newbies were getting roped into content beyond roulettes and leveling alts because the environment was right for it. Now Savage is out, people have fallen back into their old habits.
What we need is something to mix things up, and push players who can’t offer what raiding demands or just aren’t there yet to actually go beyond what they’ve had to settle with for years. The hardcore community deserved Ultimate. Those not ready for Savage deserve something, too.
In other news: The Patch 4.1 minisite is now live. It’s got details on the forthcoming main scenario quests, screenshots of the new dungeon and info about the 24-man raid due in October. And at long last it confirms in clear English that the moving feature will be available to individuals as well as Free Companies, despite earlier claims that it could only be the latter. You can check it out here.