It’s safe to say that Square Enix knows a thing or two about hard MMO boss fights. Final Fantasy XI, which is still alive and kicking, made news nearly a decade ago for the introduction of an eighteen-hour fight, Pandemonium Warden. In more recent times, those who fought Living Liquid’s Savage variant on XIV seem to have formed a loose survivors’ association, with anybody who actually made it through before it became outdated feeling the sort of camaraderie you’d find among those who’d collectively witnessed something terrible.
So when the Unending Coil of Bahamut was announced, I was equal-parts nervous and excited. The Unending Coil is XIV’s first Ultimate-difficulty encounter, going far beyond Savage raids and extreme Primals into yet-uncharted territory. This was supposed to be so difficult that making people quit early on was a tongue-in-cheek design goal — for it would be merciful in the face of what comes later.
People have been calling for something like this for a long time; uneven numbered patches tend to have few gifts for the endgame community, so some might even say it’s overdue. But there’s a fine line between an epic challenge and something arbitrarily difficult, and if it strayed too close to Pandemonium Warden territory, it’d leave me (and I’m sure many others) feeling uncomfortable about future fights.
Now it’s here, and it’s surpassed all expectations. It’s a long, difficult fight that most players aren’t even eligible for, requiring the completion of all current raid content. It contains some of the worst, most-unforgiving mechanics in XIV’s history — divebombs, twisters, you name it. Recovering from deaths is almost impossible, and the full fight is said to be between 15-20 minutes long. And yet despite all that, it’s arguably the most significant thing added since Stormblood came out.
I don’t meet the entry criteria, so I can’t even see the first phase. This is the first column I’ve written where I have no experience of the content at all. In fact, most people will never zone into the instance, let alone clear it; as I write this, nobody has seen the end of the fight.
Counterintuitive though it may be, that’s the point. FFXIV is hugely accessible, and pretty much anything is doable with a reasonable amount of time and practice. Even though only a very minor percentage of the game’s population has cleared Savage, nothing has ever really felt that unattainable — until now.
And yet the fight is firm but fair. All of the mechanics (that I’ve been able to see, at least) have debuted in previous encounters, meaning there is no cryptic nonsense to try and figure out. Everybody is at max item level, so nobody has an advantage. What makes it unattainable is not some long grind or other arbitrary barrier, but player skill.
This has brought a new kind of excitement to FFXIV. It’s given people something to stream, and, perhaps more significantly, something to watch. The game is great fun to play, but it’s never drawn large audiences until now, briefly outstripping World of Warcraft on Twitch after Bahamut went live.
I expect this is at least partially because if you wanted to see content it wasn’t all that hard to do it yourself. Now there’s something that only the best of the best can do, there’s actual value in sitting down and watching a streamer. (I’ve been following Miunih and Xenosys’s attempts, and they’ve been genuinely entertaining.)
It’s genuinely really heartening to see the community collectively learn a fight and for there to be a genuine, days-long race to be world first. For the first time, there’s a truly level playing field at the PvE endgame with no RNG or acts of god to disrupt that, and it will remain that way until 4.2.
And the response from the community has been fantastic; perhaps because the devs were so upfront about how difficult this was going to be, there’s none (or at least very little) of the usual complaining or calling for nerfs. It’s proof that, when presented in the right way, content doesn’t have to be for everyone — indeed, exclusivity can be what makes it so special.
I’m sure there will be some people reading this that have no interest in raiding at all, but consider what this means for you: if there’s a part of the game you like that you feel has been pared back or watered down so it’s suitable for everyone, The Unending Coil has made the case for niche content for a small community so you don’t have to. Far from objecting to the fact Ultimate isn’t for everyone, people seem to love it for it, and its success opens the door to other content like it.
There’s a part of me that hopes the developers will make it so this fight can only ever be attempted with the minimum item level, as people are now. If the day comes where people can unsync the fight easily — perhaps when the next expansion comes out — and trivialise it, that will be a shame. This fight seems incredibly well-tuned, and perhaps I’m just a filthy elitist, but I hope one day I can experience this fight as it was meant to be experienced, with no gear advantages or shortcuts, just hours of attempts and the lure of a distant sense of accomplishment.
I hope SE comes away from this feeling bold about bringing encounters that aren’t meant for everyone. Of course, the ‘average player’ should be taken into account as much as possible. But man... This is the first time they’ve cast off that inhibition, and they’ve made something that — at least to me as an outsider — seems really special. Now there’s something to truly aspire to, and FFXIV is better for it.