FOMO Before an Expansion

We’re 2 weeks or so from Endwalker releasing, and with any new release to an existing game, there are bits that are made redundant from that launch. In really great expansions, there’s a build on the prior material so that it remains relevant – in particular with single player games. XCOM 2, Witcher 3 and similar games are super examples of this model.

MMOs can be a bit different, especially those that focus on the destination rather than the journey. Themepark MMOs often suffer from this, where the content itself is only relevant for a window of time, primarily due to the power scale problem (the carrot is bigger numbers). When the content is predicated on start and end state (e.g. you have to be between this level and this level), then there comes a point where you either make it irrelevant OR you find a way to ‘hobble’ the player to keep it relevant.

There’s the approach of ‘mandatory’ content in order to access the new stuff. Maybe you need to complete a specific quest chain or achievement. Or maybe as a crafter you need to make the stuff from content A in order to be good enough for content B. There’s a legacy cost when something like that is implemented, where you have gates that extend the experience before the larger player mass. FF14 has like 200 hours of MSQ before you get to the ‘end game’ (which is somewhat of a misnomer). WoW used to force you to go through older content simply to have your levels increase. You hit a number and then left that area. WoW’s current leveling experience is irrelevant now. You can level anywhere, and the sole goal is to hit a magic level – so people all follow the most efficient route (WoD).

Today, if you had skipped the last 3 expansions in WoW, it wouldn’t matter. Heck, it wouldn’t matter if you never played at all, your experience would be near the same as an existing player re-rolling. It’s like 2 days of playing to get to max level, which negates 8 of 9 pieces of content (Vanilla to BfA). When’s the last time someone did Wailing Caverns? The flipside to this is that content becomes irrelevant means that it’s quite hard to actually complete it. If you wanted to see any raid in BfA, good luck getting a team organized for it. When the next expansion comes out, who in their right mind is going to even set foot in Torghast as group?

FF14 is different, in that the wide majority of content is mandatory. You are going to step foot in 80% of dungeons for sure, a few raids, a bunch of trials, and every zone. Whether you do dungeon A today or wait 6 months, you will still need to do it. It’s practically impossible to miss out on something. Now, there are exceptions. Things like Eureka are not relevant at max level, and Bozja will soon follow. Crafting and gathering is still relevant, all the way through. And even once you reach max level, all the group content forces scaling on the player to keep it relevant. I still run Satasha, the first dungeon from 8 years ago.

There are other MMOs that find a middle ground. You need to go through the dance in LoTR and SWTOR of main quests, but you never really need to do group content to progress… and it doesn’t scale at the end. I really enjoyed the flashpoints at the start of SWTOR, and outgrowing them felt less fun.

I get the idea of FOMO when something new is coming, because we’ve often been trained that the stuff we are doing now won’t be relevant later. Maybe there’s a mount or some cool looking gear to pick up that just won’t be there. I guess the question then comes, “does it really matter?”, and then you kind of realize it doesn’t. So for those playing FF14, there really isn’t much FOMO to be hard. Even if you don’t complete the MSQ to 5.5 prior to launch, it doesn’t matter because all the content will still be there, still accessible to everyone. That’s a super refreshing thought.

Hot Take! Blizzard News

Quarterly results came out for ABK yesterday. No big surprises. Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 are delayed further (their leadership all left / was fired). Income is not pipeline based but MTX instead. Diablo 2 remake made some bits of money. Stocks are down ~15%. Fine enough, they are getting hit in the bottom line. Maybe something useful will come from it?

Or maybe they will get rid of their BIPOC Blizzard leader instead? Jen Oneal leaves Blizzard, and Mike Ybarra takes over leadership.

Hot take time! (brought to you through knee jerk armchair reactions!)

J Allen Brack left ~90 days ago, replaced in all but title by 2 people, which was really weird at the time. Felt more like grasping at straws with no succession plan in place prior. It was obvious something was going to shake out.

Jen Oneal ran a successful company. Vicarious Visions delivered quite a bit over the years and was good enough at their job that they were bought out by ABK. While there was hope they could stay a studio under the umbrella, the company was fully merged a few days ago. When that happened, it was pretty clear that other changes were coming.

When you’re actively being sued for discriminatory practices, by multiple fronts, perhaps it’s not good optics to lose your BIPOC leadership and go deep with the white male demographic. This isn’t to say Mike Ybarra is a poor leader, at all. But to somehow find a way to lose your first and only Blizzard female leader in 20 years gives a crazy message to the public. What kind of clown show exists where you can’t find a way to make this work? How bad of a work space is it, that you can’t keep an executive on staff?

Again, it was always clear that either Jen or Mike had to move aside to support a restructure. That the concept of a Blizzard President was all but dead, it was too corrupt and incompetent to survive under the Activision “shareholders first” approach. It’s that in all of this mess, where there’s a clear opportunity to implement a more diverse leadership structure Bobby said so: We will increase the percentage of women and non-binary people in our workforce by 50% and will invest $250 million to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent 

There’s enough piling on Blizzard’s missteps these past few weeks. It would be great if they could actually walk the talk for just a little bit. And that’s only the stuff the public gets to see, which is just the tip of the iceberg! It’s a car wreck that just won’t end, and the rubber necking will continue.

FF14 – Palace of the Dead

Am I ever late to the game!

Want a rogue-like dungeon crawler, that has increasing difficulty, some randomization, character growth, AND rewards for participation? Holy cow, coming here AFTER having experienced Torghast is an eye opener.

Palace of the Dead is 5 years old. That’s just before patch 7.1 in WoW-Legion. It’s a standalone dungeon crawler that exists outside of the rest of the game. Your level, gear, skills, consumables, and pretty much everything else doesn’t matter here. It’s 200 levels deep, with bosses and exits every 10 floors. You start floor 1 at level 1, and gain experience up to 60 (usually before floor 50). If you are level 13 outside the dungeon, you can still unlock level 60 skills inside the dungeon.

Why run it?

  • You get experience, gil, and tomes from completing floors. It’s one of the most efficient leveling methods from 1-50.
  • You can get cosmetic weapon skins
  • There are random cosmetic drops within (accursed hoards)
  • It’s a challenge!

What is it?

  • 200 floors of death
  • Around 10 enemy types per 10 floors
  • One boss per 10 floors
  • Ability to save progress every 10 floors
  • Ability to have “permanent” damage/armor increases for future runs
  • Support for solo, fixed or matchmade parties
  • Can mostly do without a healer or a tank
  • Hidden traps
  • Chests with temporary or permanent buffs
  • Mimics!
  • Heaven on High is PotD part 2, relevant from 50-60.

Lessons Learned

  • The permanent buffs (aetherpool gear) are the source of offense and defence power increments
  • The permanent buffs have a cap per floor, so even if you had +50 if you restart at floor 1, the value is closer to +15
  • All temporary items (pomanders) are removed after killing a boss. Use them.
  • Once you complete level 50, you can restart at floor 50. This should be the first goal.
  • Defence is more important than offence. Bosses in particular hit like trucks.
  • There’s no durability or gil costs
  • You cannot exceed floor 100 if you have even a single death
  • Floors 100+ require a fixed party (or solo)
  • Solo runs are quite hard, and very dependent on RNG. Red Mages have the best toolkits, followed by tanks.
  • Mimics will end your run.
  • Most group runs take 15 minutes to clear 10 floors.

Torghast Deltas

PotD is a mix of the rewards from Mage Tower and the structure of Torghast. When PotD was new, you could swap your progress for some decent gear increments – that’s not relevant today. The rest of the differences:

  • You can save every 10 levels. You don’t spend an hour+ and lose all progress.
  • All starting and progress is specific to PotD. Your ilvl before entering, or character level, have zero impact. You can’t brute force it.
  • PotD is still relevant after 5 years. Torghast stopped being relevant a long time ago.
  • The RNG for player power is capped at 30% offense, 40% defence. Torghast had simply broken RNG where you either turned into a walking god or reset a run.

Raid Trash

The idea of trash in a dungeon is not new, at all. What is more of a construct of online gaming is the idea that trash is infinite.

Way back in the Ultima Online days, which I still consider the grand-daddy, each dungeon had spawn cycles because it was all open. 500 people on a server could all be in the same location. Dungeons needed to respawn so that multiple people could participate. They were also structured in a way that there weren’t any bosses per say, you just had enemies.

EQ took the concept of open dungeons and then started adding bosses. It didn’t take very long for people to realize that bosses were not a good investment of time, at least in the leveling process – enter spawn camps. What we saw next was the concept of uber bosses at max level, which were designed for more people and focused rewards – raids. In most functional respects, they were just like dungeons, tons of regular enemies that respawned quickly. The bosses though, in order to reduce the odds of ‘farming’, they had day/week timers to respawns. If the good stuff was once a week and everything else took up space with no rewards (you didn’t need the xp), well, everything but a boss was trash to needed to wade through.

WoW’s model took the raid structure from EQ and found a middle ground with instancing. Group sizes were limited, depending on the content type. Raids were effectively just longer/harder dungeons. You had trash in both, and the trash could respawn if you took too many attempts at taking down a boss. Vanilla was really painful, like 15 minutes between dungeon respawns. That eventually got longer. Raids had a longer timer, a few hours, but also stopped certain spawns if you killed a boss.

They were still called trash, and for a reason. With very low odds, you could get a random drop upgrade while taking out trash. For some well designed areas, the events were a precursor to a new mechanic from the next boss. Otherwise, all the spawns up to a boss were just a time sink.

We’re 2021 and the top two dungeon runners have an interesting and split approach to this concept.

WoW – All dungeons are based on trash. Regular dungeons this is a time waste, while bosses are the challenge. In M+, trash is actually the hard part as you’re racing a clock. Raids have trash, and now there are spawns used to farm other items. There are a LOT of pulls of trash in raids, including patrols. The challenge here are the bosses, which can take dozens of attempts.

FF14 – All dungeons have trash, none respawn. Interestingly, you can often kill all the trash in 1 single mega pull, if you know what you are doing, dramatically speeding up the clear process. There are also trials and raids. Trials are just boss fights – no trash. Raids are quite limited (works out to 1 per expansion), and has a group of 3 parties. There’s non-respawning challenging trash (if you’re at-level), and they often represent the next boss’ attacks. Usually works out to 3-4 pulls between bosses, which is pretty quick all told.

This goes back to the fundamental understanding with players around time management. WoW still focuses on a single relevant tier at any given time, and in order to make that have some sense of value, it gets padded with as much stuff as possible. Castle Nathria is 100% irrelevant today (even less relevant than any Legion-era raid), and it’s less than year old. The Praetorium is 8 years old and groups are still running it. FF14 doesn’t have a need to pad anything, it can just offer you a seemingly endless buffet of choices. I will rightfully admit that WoW’s carrot-on-a-stick of increasing numbers by 2% is the core driver that pushes this model, and therefore has a different set of expectations that FF14’s ‘do what you want’ vibe.

I keep finding more and more example of conflicting design philosophies between these big games. You can read all about Ion explaining that he has a lot of players, with different playstyles to accommodate, and he can’t please everyone. Ok… so does every MMO, including the ones with bigger audiences than his. It’s interesting that the others have figured this out.

Metroid Dread

It’s a weird thing to play another actual 2D Metroid game again, nearly 10 years since the last one. Sure, there was a bunch of Metroid Prime games, but I was not a fan of the FPS view point. Plus, in that time there was a surge of Metroidvania games that hit the market, each one taking a slightly different approach but maintaining the 2D controls.

And that’s the kicker right. Look at all the amazing games we have had:

  • Hollow Knight
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Axiom Verge
  • Dead Cells
  • Dust
  • Blasphemous
  • Guacamelee
  • Bloodstained

Some focus on the controls, some on rogue-like elements, others in the story or quests. Each one has a particular element that just plain shines.

So where does that leave Metroid? Being a Switch exclusive doesn’t help. Anything looks good on a tiny screen, and this game does look good, but in the dock it certainly doesn’t scale. One of those weird things were a Switch emulator is a better deal… welcome to 2021 Nintendo! (*insert thoughts on a 4K Switch being delayed*) It also has a sort of diorama experience, where Samus feels superimposed on the world, which I think works quite well. There are plenty of loading screens (15+ seconds), which is just plain dumb. No, dumb would mean that it wasn’t purposeful. Someone thought this was acceptable and designed around it.

It looks clean.

The moment to moment gameplay is good, with decent controls. They are smooth nut not responsive, with better examples in the list above. This gets more challenging the more abilities you unlock… the dash and spin attacks lack precise controls and you’ll have a lot of trail and error to get it down. The skills you do get are more about opening new parts of the map, rather than changing the particular playstyle. Your beam attack gets more powerful over time, but it’s the same point and shoot from start to end. The solution to every problem seems to be to just put more bullets into it.

The enemies are diverse and certainly require you to take different approaches as the game progresses. The difficulty is relatively low, with only a few exceptions, such as bosses. Bosses here are more akin to perfect runs. You either ace the fight or die. There’s very little wiggle room, so you’ll die repeatedly until you learn the move set of the enemy, then feel like a gaming god when you clear it with no hits taken. It never feels overly painful and does increase the sense of progress. Kraid is here for some unknown reason. I will say the last boss is a right mess to learn all the patterns. It felt extremely good to take him down.

The EMMI droids are an interesting experiment. They are restricted to specific areas and if they detect you will kill you 99% of the time. So again, this is about perfecting a run, with some randomization where the EMMI will patrol. Sometimes it just isn’t fair, and other times you wonder where the EMMI is in the zone. You can never improve your ability to survive them, so there’s no sense of progress. If they were not present, and instead replaced with mini-bosses, this would be a better experience. Or more tools to avoid capture/delay them. It doesn’t work and you’ll just brute force your way through those sections.

The metroidvania part of the game is simplified compared to pretty much all competition. Every collectible is shown on the map, so reaching 100% is quite easy. There are no side quests, no currency, no hidden bits. Backtracking is required, and not terribly intuitive – I got lost a few times on the proper next steps. Teleporting around the map is quite painful (see loading screen item above), so the sense of scale/freedom isn’t there. I will say that there are a half dozen ‘puzzles’ in the game that relate to storing a speedboost (spark) and then quickly going somewhere else to use it. Figuring out how to solve those puzzles is a LOT of fun… if only the controls were consistent enough to let you do it.

This is a quite negative review of the game, but it’s only when compared to the rest of the genre. I can sum this up in one sentence – if Metroid Dread was released 10 years ago, then it would be an extremely high bar. But it didn’t. Every game in the list above is better – better controls, better story, better exploration. This feels more like a new coat of paint on Super Metroid than an actual fresh take. It’s not a bad game, far from it. It’s good and will keep you going. But in this case, the students have far surpassed the master.

Diablo 2 Woes

Over 9 years ago, Blizzard launched Diablo 3. I was there at launch, and for over a month there was the dreaded Error 37, preventing all play. A few months after that, SimCity launched with a similar model and collapsed almost entirely under it’s own weight with the same issue. 9 years ago the interwebs were dealing with the inability to scale their servers.

This is 2021 and Diablo2 servers have been up and down for a month since launch. No skin off my back, I’m done with Blizzard for the foreseeable future, but I also don’t live in a cave to ignore a behemoth like Blizzard not figuring this stuff out. And to be clear, it’s not like Blizzard wants to disappoint players.

I did post a while back about cloud architecture, and how Blizzard runs a hybrid model to manage peak load, for non-sensitive components. Authentication is one of the sensitive bits, for a billion reasons, and not something a AAA company would want to put in a “public” cloud. There are “private” cloud offerings, which are an interesting conversation on their own. I am not a Blizzard network engineer, so this is all speculation here based on prior experience. I am not at all saying this is easy, even less so when you are trying to re-jig (*checks notes*) 21 year old-code.

And yet, this reads like more bad news on a company that can’t really seem to find much positive to report. In some alternate world I’d feel bad for kicking a company while it’s down… but this is really all self-inflicted.

Dyson Sphere Update

In the last couple weeks there have been a couple big updates to Dyson Sphere Program, and then a larger comment on the alien combat content.

Achievement System

For the most part, these are meta goals to change the way you play. Completing the game without using rare materials is certainly doable. Doing it at 0.5x production rate is a scalability challenge. It adds some replayability to the game that isn’t solely focused on SPM at high levels. It will likely generate challenge runs through specific seeds. That would be pretty cool!

Icarus Customization

Less a big deal, but the Icarus (your mech) can now be customized to a decent degree. You can change the color and the art looks better. It is much smoother and doesn’t feel like you’re pasted onto the world. The big gain here though is what this means to the modding community. There are now more hooks to customize your character’s look. It will be quite interesting to see how that plays out!

Combat Engine

I consider this the largest gap with Factorio. The idea that you would encounter hostile aliens during play is both interesting and confusing. Factorio has some sprawl, but it’s dramatically limited as compared to the sprawl in DSP. You’re going to cross solar systems, so whatever defense you do develop has to be highly automated, you need to know what’s going on (imagine fighting on like 12 fronts), and then the ability to impact that context.

Given the complexity of this, the devs are stating at least 6 months of dev work – which makes complete sense. Been lucky so far that DSP has been relatively bug free, the massive blueprint update underwent nearly 2 months of tweaking to get to a really solid spot.

The devs also said there’s more content on the way in the meantime, but I’d be hardpressed to see them as major developments and more focused on QOL items.

tldr; DSP is still in EA, will be for a while, but unless you’re looking for Alien battles in a factory game, it’s pretty much feature-complete.

FF14 Quirks

I’m on a dozen “positive” posts for FF14 of late. They are not effusive in praise, just that they tend to finish on a rather positive note. Looking back on my WoW post history, I don’t think I’ve gone more than 5 in a row without a gripe post, or armchair design item. Heck, my Anthem series has 1 positive post total (to which my brother kindly asked why I was playing it at all). Hindsight here is that I was playing WoW out of habit and small bits of fun – I was clearly not enjoying it as I once did. It was somewhat cathartic to hit the uninstall button a few months ago.

I do need to find the balance in some constructive (?) comments with regards to FF14. It’s not perfect… nothing ever is, but it’s leaps and bounds the best themepark MMO out there, across pretty much every meaningful system. Now, there are some bits that are a bit harder to swallow…

  • New player experience. I am somewhat convinced that FF14 has given up on this as for almost any practical purpose, you’re better off buying the MSQ skip + level boost. By doing so, you actually lose out on all the tutorials (there are many) and the rather solid on-ramp experience from 1-20. That player counts are growing is astounding to me.
  • MSQ time spent. I enjoy the MSQ, I think it’s well written and consistent. You can’t actually see any of the Scions outside of the MSQ, so there’s no weird time travel issues here. (Compare to Khadgar being everywhere and nowhere in WoW). That said, you’re looking at 40 hrs per expansion, with a good 75% of that stuck in cut-scenes. Relevant for the current expansion, but good golly, anyone trying Endwalker for the first time has nearly 200hrs of content to get through. A more obvious way of getting to NG+ would help here.
  • Glamor & Customized looks. Given the small inventory size and multiple jobs, it’s a right mess to have a set of customized looks at the top end. Which is kind of odd, since FF14 really is a glamor competition.
  • Gil costs. Ok, this is not really an issue for top-end players, but it is for anyone going through the MSQ and doesn’t understand the Aetheryte system. Teleport costs don’t scale with level, and the sources for Gil are not readily apparent for anyone who is leveling. Plus, the process of gearing for any MSQ post-campaign quest is stupidly expensive. I don’t think it makes any sense to force an ilvl for a dungeon that you can faceroll through.
  • The default UI. Clearly designed to be console friendly, the base UI is a mess to look at. You don’t really understand how bad this is until you’re in group content and half the real-estate goes away. You can (and should) manually change a bunch of settings/layouts, but if ever there was a place to mod, this is it.
  • Job variety. I guess this depends on your perspective. There are really only 5 classes (tank, melee, physical ranged, magic ranged, and healer). There is not objective difference in playstyle between two warriors. Jobs are akin to WoW-specs which change the buttons, and order of button presses, to execute the same goal. That means there are currently 17 (19 with Endwalker) variations in play. This DRAMATICALLY helps with balancing. Look at WoW and the 36 specs, 4 covenants, half dozen ‘valid’ talent choices, and the nightmare that results (36*4*6 = 864!). I didn’t add Shards or Legendaries either (note: covenants, shards, legendaries will all be wiped in next expansion too, making this a borderline dumb approach to design). tldr; if you like min/maxing, FF14 ain’t really the game for you. Is that a negative? Maybe?
  • Player housing. I personally think that there shouldn’t be any, only guild (free company) housing, where you get a room (and perhaps a fee for a slightly larger room). You’re just not going to find any (problem A) and the design interface is really rough (problem B). I am continuously amazed at how creative players are in regards to decorating – just wow.
  • Inconsistent mechanics. This is a personal one. FF14 does a great job at using a set base of UI elements to train responses. Red = bad, blue = good. Rotating arrows show direction. Icons above your head indicate stacking or spreading. There are however times where there are either no indicators (meaning you need to look at a boss, with particle effects going all over) or the indicators do not correspond to the learned behavior (e.g. the stack icon but you should not stack). These feel like anecdotes that players need to memorize.

That feels like nitpicking. There aren’t any systems that are inherently bad. Everything in the game has a purpose and even stuff from 8 years ago is relevant in some fashion today. When’s the last time you tended your garden in Pandaria, or even visited your class hall in Legion?

What would be interesting to see is FF14’s ‘quit wall’. The point where players generally decide to stop playing due to the effort no longer being a match for the rewards. I’d be super curious to see how many people make it all the way through the MSQ, how many folks have a 2nd job, and the type of content consumed on a daily basis. Even with New World launched, I still have a daily queue on Cactuar, so anecdotally there are still a LOT of players logging on. How long will this increase go post-Endwalker?

The Continuing GPU Shortage

I purchased a gaming laptop in 2019 (17″ MSI Ge75 Raider / RTX2070 / i7-8750) for a decent price. At the time I was debating a full blown PC, knowing that the 30X0 series was due in short order, and that it was likely to be a generational change (like the 20X0 series prior). I had done the math – I could not beat the price of the laptop and had little interest in just swapping out a GPU in a year. One key bit here is that I have 2 kids, so hand-me-down laptops, in particular gaming ones, can last for a very long time, rather than just having PC hand me downs which are a real PITA to manage.

Still, one I have an itch it’s darn hard to scratch it. The 30X0 series was announced and for a bunch of reasons, including the pandemic, there’s been a massive shortage of components for a year now. I can’t blame the companies for the shortage – supply chain issues are crazy complex today. I can blame them for not doing anything about the scalpers/bots. Best Buy in Canada won’t let you order any of them online, and you can only get 1 in-store. The last batch had people waiting 20+ hours for it. Now, can they flip those cards for 1 day’s wait? For sure. But 1 card is a much easier thing to swallow than the bot rampage of multiple cards.

I can buy a card now, but I’d be paying scalper markups. A $1000 MSRP is easily double right now. It’s already hard enough justifying the lower price to play Minecraft in 4k. There are maybe a half dozen games a year where a dedicated PC rig would actually matter. Control is the last one I can think of where it actually would have mattered, and I’d be stretching if I said it mattered for Outriders. The Ascent would be one I guess.

So the base kit would be something like ($CDN)

  • ATX mid tower – 85
  • IAO cooler + fans – 150
  • 750w 80+ gold PS – 90
  • 1Tb Samsung 970 – 190
  • 2x 8G DDR4 3600 – 110
  • B560 ATX board w/ WiFi- 280
  • i7 11700 – 500

That’s around $1400 and I don’t have a 2nd drive (so maybe another $200), and it doesn’t go all out on RGB or color coordination. I’d need an OS ($20 OEM), plus a keyboard mouse ($150) and finally a decent monitor ($300). So let’s say that brings it up to $1900.

Video cards should be (small rant here but Amazon sucks something fierce to search cards):

  • 3060 – 700
  • 3070 – 1000
  • 3080 – 1400
  • 3090 – 3000

The 3090 makes no sense to me, so it’s really a choice between the 3070/3080. So the total rig goes between $2900 and $3300 – add another $1000 if I want to buy from scalpers. I can get a 17″ laptop, with similar specs and a 3070 for $2500. Well, stock levels seem to be there now.

It would certainly be cool to build a rig, and share that experience with my daughters. Maybe in another year when this stuff sorts itself out… or I win some lottery of luck.

FF14 – Stormblood + (4.x)

Spoilers in here I guess. Stormblood is 4 years old… does that matter?

The challenge with any series is that any individual story within still requires a start and an end. The Lord of the Rings isn’t as much a trilogy as it is one story, and with different beats. The movies did a rather admirable job finding the strong points here, but it did differ from the books. Back to the Future one has a clear ending, though it leaves the door open. Back to the Future 2 exists almost solely as a direct set up for the 3rd one. Books are often written with trilogies in mind, and while that act structure is more refined now, that wasn’t always the case. Ender’s Game, Foundation series, even Hunger Games have weird pacing issues as you move through them.

Stormblood has a similar challenge, as the primary plot is the restoration of Doma vs Garlemald, yet also sandwiched in the middle of the larger Hydaelyn arc. The start of 4.0 is a mess, where you fight one big war for no reason (characters make a point of this), unlock Kugane, then travel across the map get into the real story (Hien). Once that part starts, then every single stage of the MSQ is focused on gaining allies for a very large final battle against Zenos. You do end up fighting Zenos and wining. Not only winning, but in the uncharacteristic trend of FF games, he actually dies in front of you. Characters can catch meteors on the forehead and walk away in this game… death is a rather rare event so it tends to be a big deal when it does occur. I don’t think Zenos was a particularly interesting character; he has 1 dimension, and barely any logic in that, but he is certainly set up as being extremely powerful. Anyhow, Stormblood ends with you reclaiming the land, Hein the lord of multiple races, and Zenos dead. It is, after Kugane at least, relatively clean.

The + content starts off as a post-war scenario, which few games ever talk about. When you spend a generation at war, what happens when it all ends, who picks up the pieces? 4.1 is about the politics of leading a newly restored country, and all the characters are pretty much from ARR. Cool to see the Bull get his place though. Oh, and you find a bajillion gil in a lost city (???)

4.2 deals with rebuilding Doma an the miraculous return of Gotetsu (+1). Something is wrong with my map because I can’t see Doma unless I’m on that specific map, and the teleport has to be manually selected. It does still have a relevant mechanic where you can sell stuff for up to 2x vendor value, up to 40k per week.

4.3 is the full-fledged return of Yotsuyu, through her insane half-brother Asahi. This one lands pretty well because there was a lot of setup in the story behind Yotsuyu all along Stormblood proper. She feels like an anti-villain in a lot of respects, where you can empathize with her rage. There are not many such examples of empathetic villains in FF14. It also has some interesting twists here, where Garlemald seems to be playing 3D chess, while Doma is just shooting arrows. If it wasn’t for you being a superhero, then this whole thing falls to pieces. This one does a strong job of closing out the final loose thread (Yotsuyu) that was put up in the closing scene of Stormblood, but it does Gosetsu something dirty having him just abandon everything and walk into the sunset as a monk.

The lighting here is amazing

4.4 is the attempt to build a peaceful relationship with Garlemald (insane this) and one of the coolest dungeons in the game, The Burn. I don’t think it’s a complete chapter though, as 4.5 is the flipside where you negotiate with Garlemald’s leader – Emperor Varis. The parley scene is pure exposition, and you can partly understand Garlemald’s larger motivations. The dungeon here is oddly placed at least in terms of context. 4.6 is just a battle against 1 person, which doesn’t land.

See, Zenos is both dead and possessed by an Ascian. The end result is that he remains physically powerful, now has access to magic, AND suddenly has some sort of strategic sense. Building a god from a corpse, not so much fun. He wasn’t a good primary villain for Stormblood… all the other characters were more interesting with more nuance. If he really wanted to ‘fight the good fight’, it isn’t by oppressing farmers.

Stormblood isn’t a bad storyline compared to other games, and the + content is all logically bound to what preceded it. But the story beats are just off because the story invests so much into Zenos and Yotsuyu. If you ignore the villains and the world building around Doma + Kugane, that part works pretty good. Plus, it has ninja turtles. But the start of it all feels really off, and there’s no real ending because Zenos is still ‘alive’. The lead up to 5.0 (Shadowbringers) feels like a sharp left turn, given that Garlemald is in the process of declaring war on the rest of the world and all the Scions are ‘teleported’ to another place. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that Stormblood lacks a consistent tone.

It seems weird to talk about Final Fantasy storylines not being logical when we’re talking about fireballs, summons, pirates, ninja turtles and a whole bunch of odd bits. I’m not expecting Nebula-level writing either. It just feels like this entire expansion could have done without Zenos at all, and it would have been much more cohesive.