Balance is Hard

There’s enough bad news on Blizz that I figure I can at least try to explain some of the more complex factors that are working against them from a design perspective. This one will be on the concept of class balance. I’m picking on Blizz (WoW) here because they are an edge case compared to other MMOs

For each character/class, you have a base toolkit. Let’s just call that the baseline, where everyone starts on the same page. Your level 1 rogue is identical to any other level 1 rogue. As you progress, you make choices, and your power level changes. Of those, the following categories of choices directly impact your power level.

  • Class/spec boost
  • Gear
  • Enchants / Gems
  • Legendary
  • Talents
  • Potions
  • Drums
  • Food
  • Covenants
  • Conduits
  • Shards of Domination
  • RNG of Torghast (some classes have horrible RNG here)

Each of these has a particular scale of power increase as well. Some are big boosts, some are smaller. Some are additive, some are multiplicative. Some stack, some don’t. When a person says “my class is underpowered”, they are effectively pointing to a magical list of attributes that are a nightmare to balance out.

  • Is it because you’re not using the rotation properly?
  • Are you using the “best” temporary stat boosts?
  • Did you pick the “right” covenant/conduit?
  • Did you get RNG lucky on the borrowed power system?

If you were to take 2 Rogues, in the exact same gear, same talents, same covenant, and same conduits, you would still see massive power swings due to the other temp boost options (potions, drums, shards… heck, even the timing of bloodlust), not to mention their rotations. Raids have a particular baseline to balance against, where the devs go in with the assumption of a given power level, and try to allow variance to be related to player performance.

You can compare to FF14 here, where there really aren’t that many potential boost to look at. There are no borrowed power systems, and food buffs are relatively small. 2 jobs at the same gear level are going to be pretty much the same, excepting the execution of the rotation.

Blizzard has a major challenge in finding the right balance in difficulty on a sliding scale that swings wildly – if not an impossible task. I’m not feeling sorry for them though, this is entirely of their own making. They continually insist on building more and more complex systems on top of this balance tower. And the only way to “balance” this effort, is to make one section dramatically stronger than all the others (think Infinite Stars in BFA) – essentially breaking everything. And this has nothing to do with the concept of class identity, which is its own balancing act.

So yeah, I feel bad for the devs who have to balance all of this because the game directors created and maintained this model. And conversely, I’m really happy for the devs who had leadership make decisions that benefit both the overall game health and their ability to balance it all out.

Epic vs Apple – Big Win

This was a very interesting lawsuit because it hit 3 fundamental aspects of the App Store – first, the need to even use the AppStore at all, second the % of cut that Apple took from developer sales, and finally the requirement to use Apple for any in-game purchases. That business line accounts for a big chunk of Apple’s income. There was a fair amount of mud slinging on this, which was certainly entertaining.

Now we have some answers for the 3.

AppStore Is Mandatory

This was expected, and to most people, a long shot to start, if not a red herring. Epic was smart here, as it forced some disclosure on Apple’s part of the inner workings. For multiple reasons (if not primarily security) this has to be the case.

AppStore Cuts are Pro-Rated

The rate is low for the first $1m in revenue, and scales depending on the size of the application. Again, this makes sense for the smaller organizations that barely recouped any costs, and Apple is big enough to absorb it. The downside here is that it will likely generate more bloatware as the cost of entry has dropped. See itch.io as a good example.

AppStore Must Support 3rd Party Payment Options

This was the real meat of the case, though the one that had the least amount of press. Today, if you only use your phone for Spotify and pay your sub through the app, then Apple takes a cut. For multi-platform apps, this isn’t a huge deal as you’re unlikely to use a mobile app as the primary method of payment. Well, it seems a judge ruled that Apple no longer has full domain over payment processing inside the applications. That leaves a particular use case that is going to be a massive change.

No question that the AppStore makes a ton of money off F2P/IAP. The game industry made about $110 billion on F2P games in 2020 – the market is massive. Apple makes a chunk from that for games like Clash of Clans, Honor of Kings and so on. Does anyone really think that Tencent wants to pay Apple 15% moving forward? And you know that Google has got to be sweating as well!

This one is a big deal, and a massive shift in the market. Odds are it will generate alternative payment programs that are lower % cuts for the smaller apps, and then some in-house machines for the bigger ones. Heck, it may even mean that Apple themselves needs to re-price themselves appropriately.

The details still need to be worked out, as well as the timing. And certainly there will be some appeals. Lots of them. But from what’s come out so far, it really looks like Epic won this battle.

Blasphemous 100% Complete

I’ve got a thing about this genre where I really enjoy finding every nook and cranny. Didn’t know I had this until I played Metroid 2 on the GameBoy. I played the heck out of that thing! And since then, there’s just some weird itch about it.

I wrote prior about Blasphemous (I’m on Switch) being an attempt to merge Dark Souls and the larger genre. I still hold to the idea that this doesn’t make any real sense, since it’s actually the other way around. What makes a Souls game is not the respawning enemies, or the healing mechanic, or the difficulty curve. It’s the hit box mechanics in 3D. If you were to somehow move Souls into a 2D space, you’d be looking at a grimy Celeste.

Still, Blasphemous has a dark theme to it, a rip on some religions’ need to focus on guilt. It takes a very long time to make sense of the lore, the text within isn’t super clear on the overall intent. I guess Souls has that in common. It does allow for some very enemy and boss art styles. Fighting a bishop’s corpse held aloft on bony hands, or a weird baby monster with a snake attack, or even a triad of warring sisters. It’s consistent, I’ll give it that.

In terms of difficulty, this is where things get a bit weird. The game starts with making enemies the challenge, but as you increase in power, it then starts adding the environment as a larger hazard. I certainly died more to giant laser beams, exploding bombs, flying scythes and spike pits than I care to admit. Since you only ever get 1 weapon and it just swings harder, there’s not much in terms of mechanics that changes the pace. Even the magic powers you get aren’t terribly useful since they a) cost a lot to use and b) leave you vulnerable while casting. You learn the cadence early and the rest sorts itself out. I mean, I beat the final boss on the 1st attempt. (The penultimate boss though, that was a war of attrition)

Fine enough, but the chase for 100% is what drives me here to look beyond the wrinkles. There are quite a few collectibles in the game – bones, stones, beads, cherubs, spells and so on. You can mark the map for these items if you pass them and don’t have the required skill to collect them. Collecting all of a given set gives a reward, nothing big mind you. I am 99% sure you don’t actually need to collect any special skills to work your way to the boss. The real challenge in this game is that you have no idea how to actually collect any of these skills in the first place!

Take the Three Gnarled Tongues – which allows for branches to spawn where you can climb up them. Look at the steps to unlock this thing. You need to find a given room, then give the “thing” in that room 3 items – one of those items needs another skill to get. Then you get an egg that you need to lay at a tree (?!) and take that resulting hatched egg to a frozen pool. There’s no way any of this is intuitive. You’re just going to reach things, press the interact button, and then hope you happen to have some object that interacts. I won’t even go into the whole Redento quest line.

Which means the game effectively has a “quick path” and then what amounts to a “100%” mode. The latter is really only enabled through donating 20,000 gold (tears) to the church to enable a much better teleport option, as you’ll be backtracking like crazy. Once that is unlocked, the whole path to 100% becomes very enjoyable.

Plus, I got this for $12. The game may not be perfect, but for that price, it’s a crazy good deal.

Super spoiler video, but gives a good show of the art style of all the bosses

FF14 – MSQ Progress

Since the Main Story Quest (MSQ) in FF14 is mandatory to get access to pretty much everything, it acts as a sort of secondary leveling metric. If you’re playing only a single job (class), then you should never be lacking levels in that front to get to the next stage of the MSQ. If you’re swapping around jobs, then yeah, you’re going to need to supplement the exp gains.

Each expansion has a set of MSQ, then there are post-content MSQ that prepare for the next expansion. Of interest is the following:

  • ARR – 185-188 (starting city makes a difference)
  • ARR+ – 20
  • Heavensward – 94
  • Heavensward+ – 44
  • Stormblood – 122
  • Stormblood+ – 40
  • Shadowbringers – 107
  • Shadowbringers+ – 51

That’s 663 quests to get through, most where you’re just talking. Some where you kill 1-2 monsters, or delivery an item. About 10% of them unlock a dungeon or raid.

I’m currently at quest 87 within the Stormblood campaign, which is about 70% of the way through until the end of this pack. I’ve reached level 67, which is right in line with expectations. I’ll have some thoughts on it once I get to the tail end. That also puts me at 430 quests of 663 total to reach the end of current content before Endwalker comes out – or 233 to go.

I started at the Heavensward+ content about 2 weeks ago. Works out to something like 60 or so quests done a week. If that trends continues, then it’s a month+ to get through all the rest. If I was to look at the entire journey, it’s 11+ weeks of content at my pace… and someone more slow paced may be seeing 4+ months of quests before joining the end portion.

I’ll add a counter to the website to keep track.

Skip MSQ or Not?

I like the MSQ, I really do. The storylines are decent enough, in line with most FF games. There are still the weird bits that often pop up, like literal Ninja Turtles. The villains are often nuanced enough to understand why they do what they do, without some larger puppet strings being pulled. It’s always a larger arc, with a foundational set of NPCs to go through it all.

The real benefit however is the unlocking of various “things” and effectively training wheels for new players. I’ve long been a proponent of this model (WoW’s proving grounds are a lost opportunity), so that new players can be eased into the game’s systems. Be it group combat, crafting, social structures, raids, stuns, flying, retainers, swimming, glamour and so on. There’s a logical structured path to uncover these systems, as many of them depend on each other.

The downside is the length of time required to get through all this. If you “skip” the MSQ, then you automatically unlock everything and likely have no idea how any of it works. WoW is deceivingly simple in terms of systems – very few of them ever interact with each other (think about it, what mechanics from Legion are evenly remotely relevant today?). They can become complex, if you so choose. FF14 is quite the opposite, where trying to do one thing likely requires doing a half dozen other steps first. Skipping the MSQ means you don’t understand it. Plus, compared to many MMOs (LotR excepted), the entire story is relevant.

It would be nice to have a mini MSQ, where there was still some training wheels for the various systems, but that it didn’t take half a year to get through. You’re still a sprout for like 170 hours, so perhaps there’s something that could be done there… it would be a coding investment and now that the game is entering the 4th expansion, I’d be curious if that was worth it.

Dark Souls-ify – Blasphemous

I think Dark Souls is a solid game. Punishingly difficult at times, but well structured and balanced with a focus on smart hit box usage. I think this model existing with Ninja Gaiden prior, and personally preferred the flow of that game. The campfire mechanic (healing in exchange for enemy respawns) is certainly the twist that pops out the most, yet the open world nature is also a highlight. It really bears mentioning that DS games are somewhat slow, gameplay-wise, as choices are deliberate.

From a design perspective, giving the player a choice to respawn enemies in exchange for healing allows for a challenging design that has some safety net. It moves from the prior design choices of checkpoints everywhere and auto-generating health. The former rewards skill, while the latter rewards speed. So sure enough, plenty of games have tried to emulate this new design model.

I wouldn’t say that this has been terribly successful overall, though there are some standouts. Jedi Fallen Order is the closest to this model with widespread success, if you look at games outside of FromSoftware. The Surge (and sequel) are closer mechanically, but don’t really work as total game packages (not bad games mind you). There are others, Steam has enough curated lists.

One I picked up on sale on the Switch is Blasphemous. It’s a merger of the Metroidvania (think Symphony of the Night) with a campfire mechanic. It’s a weird game, where it exchanges planning for this healing mechanic. In a more standard Metroidvania game, enemies will respawn if you leave 2 screens or if you die – and those games are about getting around rather quickly. Blasphemous does not respawn enemies until you die or use a healing lantern (which are not exactly common). And the low use of those lanterns means that you’re rarely ever presented with an actual choice of respawning enemies in order to heal. Like you won’t go 2 screens, take so much damage that it’s worth backtracking and trying again with enemies back. You’ll go one screen more, die, and then proceed along the same steps as if you did heal.

I wouldn’t even say that the difficulty is on par with Souls games, where you should aim for semi-perfection in order to progress. Death here is often related to knockback effects rather than outright damage… or the odd pit trap for insta-kill effect. That seems like a negative take, and in terms of advertising as a ‘dark souls-like’ game doesn’t really work when meshed with the Metroidvania genre. It already has those mechanics built-in.

This sort of imagery is quite common.

Where Blasphemous does work, is in the exploration aspects and multitude of hidden quests. Each zone has a particular flavor with somewhat unique enemies. The lore is obscure enough to give a sense of foreboding, without being confusing. There is a lot of backtracking as you unlock more and more movement skills (extra platforms, higher jumps, poison immunity, etc..) The downside to any game based on exploration is the discovery phase. There are breadcrumbs of a sort, if you look at the item and the lore. But even then, there’s a whole lot of guesswork and no in-game ability to track the 2 dozen odd quests here.

The combat does bear some note. You’re only ever given your sword, which gets marginally more powerful as you go through the game. There are (very few) magic attacks, and you’re open to attacks while casting, which truly negates most of the benefit. There’s a block/parry feature, but the logic behind it is somewhat inconsistent. The dodge/poke attack however… that doesn’t get old!

I guess I could talk about the lore, but frankly, that’s best experienced in-game. Clearly inspired by Catholicism a few hundred years ago, what with the constant references to ‘guilt’. But it’s a sort of grotesque take on it all, which given the material, is towing a tough line on ironic. I will say that it’s consistent in tone, which is more than I can say for Dante’s Inferno.

The game’s foibles are primarily quality of life items, which from a small dev-team perspective aren’t exactly deal breakers. That said, there are (free) DLC items for the game, the last of which will launch in December that address some bits. And a sequel in 2023. I’d expect that given the solid bones here, that the sequel will find a way to add these items and therefore broaden the appeal. It’s an interesting experiment that somehow works.

Relevant Dungeons

There are a LOT of features in WoW that simply amaze me in their lack of vision. Conceptually they are rock-star ideas that with a bit of work can be long-term gaming pillars. Island Expeditions is the only good new idea to come out of the last 2 expansion, and it’s treated like a lead paint eating cousin. Proving Grounds dates from MoP and is without question the best way to train any player on how to play their class/role in a controlled environment. Timewalking Dungeons is the other bit, where the devs have built over 120 dungeons over the life of the game, and only a half dozen are ever relevant. Every so often they add a half dozen more from a given expansion (and then nerf any reason to do them). There’s obviously been effort to add scaling to these dungeons, so there’s no reason that the pack of them can’t be cycled in/out on a regular basis.

FF14, sensing this relevance issue a long time ago, built-in scaling to dungeons from the start (well, ARR start). This was built from the clear design goal to have dungeons be part of the main story – and ensure there are always people around to make those groups happen. To make this work, they put in categories of dungeons, of which players can select at any point in their class career. The main reason this works is simple – FF14 has from the start, used tokens to bridge the gap towards max level gear. Completing items within this roulette awards tokens, at varying rates, depending on your level, the amount you’ve completed, and the class ratios (e.g. needing tanks).

Heading back to WoW, it’s entirely possible to never see any dungeon that isn’t in the most recent expansion. And way more likely that they’ll never set foot in any given raid. Even to this day, I’d bet there are less people who have done Throne of the Four Winds vs a single pet battle. I mean, that sort of fits in WoW’s more recent design penchant to only build temporary systems, rather than incremental ones. Garrisons, Class Halls, everything Azerite – none of it even matters an ounce today.

Now, I’m not advocating of keeping everything relevant. One of FF14’s main challenges is massive bloat to get from level 1 to level 80 – a good 100hrs to get through it all, and you will have to participate in nearly every single system along the way. They have done some pruning along the way (stances, skill variety, class balance, etc…) to try and “flatten” out the bump, but it’s still a crazy amount of content to get through. But FF14 also celebrates the value in they journey, and goes to great lengths to keep it meaningful and valuable for everyone. This breadth of content creates some really weird scenarios where you are gated from one activity and no real indication of how to get over that fence.

For the last bit, let’s consider the tail end off an expansion for a second. The structure of WoW (I guess old WoW) was that an expansion was only relevant for the necessary DINGs to get to the next one. The actual content and mechanics were meaningless. In new WoW (post-SL), there are entire expansions that are fully ignored (Vanilla, TBC, WoLK, Cata, MoP) because WoD is so generous with XP. And if you were waiting for SL to drop, there was no reason to do anything but ding 50 in BfA in terms of prep. FF14 won’t let you pick up the first quest in a new expansion unless you’ve done the 40-50 post-expansion quests from the previous tier. If you bought WoW today, and wanted to prep for SL, you’d be good by the weekend. If you bought FF14 today, you’re a few months away. And if you bought a story boost, you’d still have ~60 hrs of content to get through.

It’s sort of like going to a buffet and not being allowed to leave until you try everything that’s on display. There are limits to what a person can take. Way different perspectives depending on awareness of how much of the buffet is left to work through. I’d honestly recommend that people buy the story boost to get to the more recent bits, get to max level, and then start the new game + that allows you to replay the skipped MSQ. At least that would turn the buffet to being optional.

Magic Lasers

In the rare WoW space, but given the sort of apples to orange dialogue in my mind. These are “final” expansion overviews.

  • Vanilla – Heroes win! No lasers.
  • WoLK – Frostmourne laser, and then Tirion’s laser
  • Cataclysm – Green jeebus shoots a magic laser on Deathwing
  • MoP – Heroes beat Garrosh! No lasers.
  • WOD – Archimonde uses the green laser to close the portal
  • Legion – Space laser takes out Sargeras
  • BfA – Titan laser takes out N’Zoth
  • SL – dollars to donuts pretty darn clear that a laser made of the 4 zones is going to take down the bad guy

There are a half dozen Blizzard tropes over the years, the redemption arc being top of pile. But the dependency on lasers, and in particular lasers not used by the heroes, wasn’t one that really came to mind. I mean, you are a player are there, but you’re more of a peon or an enabler of someone else.

This came to mind as I was working through the FF14 MSQ, where the game goes to great lengths to make you the agent of change, even on the final battles. Nidhogg goes down at the end of Heavensward, but the cinematic has you pulling the stuff from the remaining dragoon. Not that FF14 spends all it’s time in the concrete, it is a story about the struggle between the god of light and that of dark. There are some really “out there” scenes.

I get that I’m in a sort of honeymoon phase here. No different than when you get a new car, or change jobs. Things that you normally take for granted really start popping out (blind spots in cars… that’s a pet peeve). It’s clear that FF14 took massive inspiration from WoW, just like WoW did from EQ, and EQ from UO, and so on. Just like Toyota took inspiration from Ford, or Yamaha from Harley. And in those last 2 cases, ended up doing better than their inspirations.

FF14 – So Many Buttons

The GCD in FF14 is 2.5 seconds. It can feel like molasses as compared to pretty much any other game on the market. And yet, given the mechanics, I can’t really see how that goes faster without a whole bunch of compound issues. Most MMOs are so complex and intertwined, that one change in in an area can have multiple consequences elsewhere.

First to me is the sheer volume of choice in any class toolkit. Take a look at a Dark Knight guide, in particular the opener’s list. I get that this is super optimized and FF14 really doesn’t requite that much planning in general, but the volume of buttons is the big one. With that many choices, it takes time for the human brain to process which one should be used in a given situation. Dropping the GCD turns this into more of a twitch-based gameplay, and some choice paralysis. It’s less optimization and more plain ol’ survival. As a White Mage, I have 2 full bars of things to press, often things that do similar things but on different timers. Compared to my Monk in WoW who had half that total that mattered.

Folks that are running multiple jobs/classes, hats off on the toolbar management!

The second bit that’s been covered a lot is the “don’t stand in the fire” structure of the game. FF14 tripled down on the AE attacks that are telegraphed well ahead of time, and often they are constructed in such a fashion that they are 1 hit KO effects. In most cases, you want to stop any cast/wind up activity to get out of there, potentially using another one of your buttons to absorb that attack. Assuming you are avoiding those attacks, and you’re not a tank (tank buster moves can do 40%), there are very few cases where people should die in combat. I forgot how much I enjoyed this model, where it actually removes ownership of player death from the healer and moves it to the individual players. The core here is on damage avoidance.

I need to compare to WoW here, on this particular topic. True, a lot of damage can be avoided by brain power on the DPS, but the game is also constructed in that most difficulty curves are based on unavoidable damage. And the mechanics of the game are such that this fact doesn’t become evident until you’re 2 steps from the finish line. The core here then becomes on damage mitigation.

The third bit, the one that isn’t truly evident until you’re well into the game, is that the game forces you to adopt a slower pace and it reduces the overall stress level of the game. You are rarely presented with more than 1 problem to manage at a time. and then a good chunk of time to digest the situation, think of options, make a decision, and then execute that action. If you die quickly, the feedback is instantly related to a telegraphed area attack. It becomes more intuitive and less on hidden mechanics where you need to consult a combat log to make sense of events. By dropping the stress levels, that has massive impacts on the group dynamics. It’s the difference of fighting a grease fire in your kitchen and painting your walls. If the doorbell rings, you are likely to have a much different reaction given those 2 starting conditions.

From a game design perspective, FF14 really is an interesting case study in looking at a given state as inspiration, figuring out how it could map to your design principles, and then consistently apply that thinking forward. It’s like a foundational bit here is “make sure people get along”. Oh there are plenty of bumps in the road, no question, but jeebers it’s fun to see a different set of answers to the same sort of problems.

FF14 – Server Loads and 2021

FF14 has a weird server architecture, at least by my understanding of how this should work. There are 3 data centers which impact overall latency, and each holds 8 worlds. To say that there’s been an uptick of players is an understatement… and the servers are struggling. Queues are present daily (you see your position, but not time estimate). S/E tried to fix this with a near 12 hour patch on Monday, with no real success (nor failure!)

As of this draft, of the 24 worlds, 12 of them will not allow new characters to be rolled – and one data center is completely locked. Side note, I transferred to this data center with less than 24 hours before they locked it…blame me I guess.

My field of work intersects with DC architecture. I know there are a lot of efforts to move out of the mid-00’s data center design, into the PaaS-type of design. This is not easy, as there are often specific lines of code in software that relies on specific OS/HW configurations. The ol’ hook/pull coding nightmare that all the cool kids thought was going to save the planet with their custom code. Upgrading is hard, you can’t break anything, and odds are you can’t fully test the load until you turn on the switch.

Yeah well, we’re still picking up the pieces of those decisions… and we’re going to be in a long tail of migration for a good chunk. Most large enterprises still have legacy code somewhere that they just can’t port over for A/B/C reasons after all. And in the gaming space, this particular code portability is the primary driver for sequels. No need to port if it’s brand new code!

Side note – a few years ago WoW updated their database architecture, which had a pretty darn big impact on skill calculations. They were using a DB structure that dated from Vanilla (well, more like 4 years prior to launch), and it was quite painful to move forward. They did it though! And the overall system load (if you read those reports) was significantly reduced. That requires some serious planning and smart people to deliver.

FF14, from the information that’s published, is talking about OS configuration issues and replacing some equipment with HPC. I do understand why they would not be moving to commercial cloud… that is a really bad idea for an MMO. Commercial (or even semi-private) cloud is absolutely not the silver bullet that some folks may believe – just like a buffet is not the best type of restaurant for all your food needs. Given the on-going supply chain issues, this is going to be a long-term effort to expand given capacity, let alone upgrade the components.

Hats off to S/E for the forthright nature in this issue. Fingers crossed that this is actually something they can actually address before November. Cause if queues exist before launch… well delaying launch is going to be right on the table.

FF14 – Main Story Quest

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.