It’s an MMO, there are quests everywhere. FF14 still takes a rather unique path here as it’s a mandatory process to go through the story quest (MSQ) in order to unlock a bunch of features. This is somewhat different than other MMO’s, where the quests themselves are more of a step in order to reach max level, and that once you get that final ding, you can ignore all the levelling content.
I remember back when I did the ARR MSQ and was confused when I found myself forced to group at an early level. I had no real issues with the step, it’s an MMO after all, but it was still jarring compared to others. And that the game had an LFG tool built into the entire process was really something. It still remains one of the few MMOs that goes to great lengths to harmonize the leveling experience and the end-game experience… what you see at level 20 is pretty darn close to what you see at the end.
FF14 has “groups” of MSQ, those that are related to the leveling portion, and then the post-expansion patches. The former group is usually enough to get you to the max level for a given expansion (ARR had some gaps, not sure if still present). The latter group is meant to be a mix of storyline and dungeon reveal. Again, you need to go through this portion to unlock said dungeons in the LFG (roulette) tool, so you’re certainly motivated from a mechanical perspective.
The link above refers to the arches of the quests. Each can have 3-5 substeps within, and FF14 loves to have steps cross the map. Leveling, this isn’t too bad as it points you around. Post-leveling, it can be somewhat ridiculous to teleport everywhere for a 30s cutscene, only to return to where you were. The 3.1 content has 1 minor battle with 2 small enemies, then an instanced battle with support NPCs that takes about 20 minutes to complete. The whole 8 quest arc takes about 2 hours to get through – that’s a lot of exposition.
The length of the MSQ can be seen as a downside, especially for attracting new players who want to be with their friends. From ARR -> end of Shadowbringers, there’s close to 200 hours of content to get through. You can buy a boost to get to the starting line of Shadowbringers, which still leaves you with a good 40hrs or so. Yes, this puts a burden on the players to get to max content, but on the flipside, it also makes sure that they understand all the expansion mechanics and group functions. It eases the transition to end game, rather than creating a quit wall.
The sort of benefit here is that the MSQ only needs to be done once per character, meaning you can level any other job/class while just worrying about experience. People say WoW is alt-unfriendly, well FF14 is both the friendliest and most punishing. The only reason I can think of having an alt is if you want a different looking character. There are niche reasons (RP, more retainers, raid lockouts, FC farming) but those would really wait until you have many jobs at max level on a main. And sanity wise, if you want a different looking character, pay the $10 for the race change.
So now I’m 2 hrs into the max-level journey at 60, with 8/44 quests complete before Stormblood. There are 4 dungeons and 2 raids in there too, so the estimate to get through this is about 25 hours. Let the journey continue.