Ragar travels through Eorzea to see what Square Enix's remade MMO has to offer
Story Quests: The Good, The Bad, The Weird
Most of us are used to how modern MMOs package their story chains. Each zone will have its own central storyline that’s resolved when you finish questing there; while there might be some threads or details that continue onto the next zone, in general most of what you’ve seen in each zone is rarely touched upon afterwards. There have been a few MMOs that have tried more persistent story elements, like The Secret World, but in general we look at each zone as if it’s this separate world where very little that happens there affects the world beyond. This system’s worked in each of the game’s we’ve played, but this separation has impacted how we’ve viewed quest progress. Decide to PvP or run dungeons for a day or two? Time to skip the next zone since all of those quests are green or worse now. While not all of these issues are gone in ARR, they have managed to make progressing through the world more of a connected flow rather than a journey of “time to fly to the land of yellow or higher quests”.
In addition to your Class quests and side quests in ARR, there’s a central Story questline for you to follow. This quest chain will take you all around your starting city to the other two cities in the Eorzean Alliance and their surrounding territories and beyond. While the mechanics for these quests will be along the same lines as the other quests you’re performing (e.g. kill X of this monster, fetch me Y quest MacGuffins, etc.), these quests are all connected by a thread of plot. Even if the specific goal of your quest is just related to the quest sub story for the zone you’re in, finishing that mini-arc will move you further along the main story track. When you’re working on the story questline, you’ll always be making progress toward whatever the endgame storyline is and you’ll unlock new gameplay features along the way.
Those gameplay features you’ll unlock as you progress the storyline are one of the awesome ideas with ARR’s story… or terrible, depending on your perspective. Coming from the perspective of someone who loves story and lore, I’m a huge fan of this consistent story thread connecting all of the zones and having features like the Retainer system, new dungeons and Chocobo mounts as carrots to keep motivating me to push a little further each night. This system’s not perfect for everyone though. I know former guild mates of mine who would rather jump straight in to PvP, FATES or dungeon queues and run those from start to endgame. While running dungeons to endgame is theoretically possible once you unlock Sastasha around level 15 due to the level scaling ARR uses, that’s still just one dungeon you have to choose from and you’re left with level 15 loot for your character to equip short of questing and digging through the Market Board. If these players want more dungeon options, their level 15/30 Class skills, their Job unlocks for higher end content, etc., they’ll have no choice but to run through the various story quests from start to finish, regardless of what level they are.
Herein lies the issue for anyone who’s not the kind of person to level alts. If you’re the type of player to stick with one Class and level just that to endgame, then you have even more incentive to stay on top of your story questline. While the instance battles that occur periodically in these questlines will scale you down to an appropriate level, the remaining quests will not and that means if you’ve been ignoring your story quests for a while, you won’t be getting a whole lot out of these experience-wise. If this were a different MMO with just zone-centric questing, we’d be able to say “Okay, I’ll skip these and move somewhere else”, but given that the story questline in ARR is continuous and nothing can be skipped, this means that players who haven’t stayed on top of their storyline risk getting little to no compensation for some steps while unlocking the dungeons, game features, etc. that they want.
What’s strange though is that, while most of these systems require story progress to unlock, not all of them do. Around level 19 you’ll get a step in your story quest chain to run to Central Thanalan to an area called the Bonfire and meet with someone who will teach you the ways of creating Materia from your spiritbonded equipment and fusing that Materia with other equipment. You would expect then that this system would be like the Retainer, airship access, class changing, etc. and be inaccessible prior to that story quest, right? That’s not the case with Materia – if you ran out there at level 19 with any class, you would be able to pick up the quest to learn Materia creation. You can even learn how to bind Materia to your gear, but that’s restricted to people who’ve leveled one of the Disciple of the Hand classes high enough (not Culinarian though since you can’t bind Materia to food). As far as I know, this is the one example of an in-game system you can gain access to even without story progress through a combat class. I assume this is to help out those players that would rather immediately switch to gathering and crafting once it unlocks at level 10, but then you would figure they’d include a breadcrumb to go out to the Bonfire for these quests. I found out those NPCs were out there by accident while running around as a Miner in Closed Beta 3. Even if this secondary way to unlock Materia was meant to help out those who would rather craft/gather instead of fight things, why restrict it to just Materia? Why not allow airship access or the ability to hire Retainers for Market Board posting outside of the storyline? These aren’t serious concerns, mind you – mostly I find it curious.
To Be Continued
There's still a lot to talk about in my time with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, so rather than making this review a single mountain of text, we'll be posting a Part 2. Come back tomorrow for adventures with ARR's Duty Finder, my struggles against Error 1017, and my final opinion on Square Enix's MMO remake.
Michael “Ragar” Branham