I recently climbed back on the Final Fantasy XIV bicycle and it took me a short while to remember how the game worked, where I was and even how to get around the region without forking out gil for teleportation. Luckily, the game has two resources that help suggest what you should do next, and I got back on track with the Main Scenario Quest, wanting to dive into new content as quickly as possible.
I will admit that at first, I was trying to bash through things as quickly as possible, because a review for Shadowbringers had landed on my desk and the last time I played FF14, Heavensward was the latest expansion. I was an expansion behind and I needed to haul ass if I wanted to get something resembling a review done in any time period that was worth mentioning.
I found myself frustrated. In the time since I stopped playing, the developers had added several patches worth of content to Heavensward, which included many Main Scenario Quests involving the fallout of events in Heavensward. But before I get there, let me make sure we are all on the same page:
Main scenario what now?
There are a *lot* of quests in Final Fantasy XIV, and to help players keep track of things, they are split into different categories with different symbols and colours. Quests that add new features are blue with a plus sign. A quest with a sunburst around it falls under the Main Scenario Quest (MSQ). You see, unlike other MMOs that let you just abandon what you are doing once you reach the required level and head into an expansion or a brand new area, FF14 has everything tied to a single cohesive chain of quests that runs through the entirety of the game. These quests will often unlock access to areas, quests in a zone, access to dungeons, trials and more and unless you log into your account in a browser and fork out some money, there is no way to skip the MSQ. None. Nada.
The way that the MSQ is handled made me think about what the story means to the developers if they chose to structure it this way. Take it or leave it is basically what they are saying about the main story beats, and while that elevation of importance might mean you take longer to get to an expansion, you will at least know why you are there for the expansion and the various moving parts. Too often I complain that in other MMOs many of the movers and shakers are out of the picture until it is cinematic or big story time, not showing you what they have been up to the rest of the time. FF14 doesn’t do that: you see characters, what they were doing and the web of politics they are sometimes embroiled in.
Picking up the pieces
For example, I will delve into what happens between the end of Heavensward and the beginning of Stormblood. If you plan on playing this content yourself, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.
In Heavensward, you help a nation that has become isolationist due to a war with dragons that has stretched on for a thousand years. Every facet of life there involves dragons: the church, the noble houses, the structure of the military. Life in this cold land is harsh. By the end, you learn that the war with the dragons was started by people, not dragons (Surprise, surprise!) and that the entire noble house and religious dogma are based on a lie that the two have worked in concert to uphold all this time. It causes people’s faith to fall to pieces around them, their identity and way of life threatened. The post-Heavensward quests involve you helping to pick up the pieces of land that had Church ruling state, with noble houses now exposed as having upheld a lie, wittingly or not, for so long.
There are those who fight against the change, like the church about to lose so much power and those who are worried that peace with the dragons means the death of their loved ones amounts to nothing. You get drawn into this, helping to pave the way for peace talks with the dragons, dealing with hostage-taking church officials, a sabotage attempt of the peace talks and an evil dragon that would rather everything dies instead of dragons and mortals living in peace. Instead of just leaving after causing a big upset, you are there picking up the pieces, trying to save a doomed friend and someone who has the burden of leadership hanging on them, with so many parties asking so much of them. It takes long and at times moves really slowly. Then at the end, you share a dinner with Aymeric de Borel, who has become a close friend of the Warrior of Light. It is a quiet, precious moment that made my character feel alive, like something more than just a murder hobo moving from land to land killing things, upsetting the status quo, then leaving again.
During that time you are also hunting down members of the Scions of Dawn, the group of heroes you belong to. Eventually, your investigations lead you to a place where rebellion is on everyone’s lips and things are about to take a nasty turn. In this story arc, you realise one character is changed and no longer a part of the Scions, and another dies to save friends and possibly the world from another Cataclysm. It is at this point that the focus starts shifting eastwards, with Stormblood beginning in the middle of the fallout of that rebellion.
Without playing those MSQs I would not know what was going on. Besides just leaving Aymeric out in the cold, I wouldn’t know about the fate of the Scions, who this large samurai is, that certain important characters were dead, or how we ended up fighting the empire again or even why someone had changed outfits. I would be lost and nothing would make sense. And without any sense, I might as well play a storyless game, like an idle clicker or a battle royale game.
A change of heart
I am not sure at what exact point I stopped seeing the post-Heavensward MSQ as a barrier to me writing a review and more as an integral part of why I was there in the first place. I have a newfound respect for the game developers that they have put the story so front and centre, making so many systems require progress in the MSQ. It has allowed the story team to write an intricate, interconnected web of intrigue, politics, love, loss, growth and adversity that you don’t see in enough games, probably because the story team is often left out in the cold, coming in to fill gaps left at the last minute. Over here the story is important and is allowed those slow moments, allowed to be front and centre. If you were looking for a game where you feel like the characters are more natural than games that force them to do weird things to fit a plot, you might want to give Final Fantasy XIV a go.