With Final Fantasy 14 launching its latest expansion, Stormblood, today, I’ve joined a lot of more casual players of the MMO in what is quickly becoming a tradition: rushing through the contents of the last expansion pack to get caught up and start the new one.
Final Fantasy 14 is a heavily narrative-based game, which means you can’t move on to a new expansion’s content until you’ve caught up on the story from the previous expansion and all its patches. But when you’re zooming through that content as quickly as possible, it can be easy to miss some of the best moments. Luckily, Final Fantasy 14: Heavensward seems to have taken that into account, adding in a series of quests focused on reliving your journey through the expansion.
This questline begins with a quest titled “The Paths We Walk.” In order to unlock this, you have to complete all of the content in patch 3.3, wrapping up the biggest thread in Heavensward’s story.
As with so much content in an MMO, patch 3.3 concludes with an epic raid battle, this time against a massive dragon. Final Fantasy 14, like many games, often boils down to an experience that’s all about slashing, shooting or casting spells at bad guys. But “The Paths We Walk” is different. It’s a reminder that there’s more to this game; it’s also a game about characters, about the lives they lead and the complicated world they live in.
Throughout Heavensward, my character made Fortemps Manor a main base of operations. “The Paths We Walk” begins with an unnamed servant of House Fortemps talking to the player character, reminiscing about the first moment they met.
“...as you move, so too does the world,” the servant tells us. “Pray spare a moment to contemplate your journey while you can.”
It is an acknowledgement that there is some breathing room here, between the end of Heavensward’s overarching plot and whatever will come next, the inevitable build-up to the next expansion. However, the game doesn’t suggest you hop right into grinding out dungeons for better gear. Instead, it wants you to just ... take a moment. Spend some time thinking about all that you’ve done, all the people you’ve met, the places you’ve gone, the things you’ve experienced throughout the course of this leg of your journey.
And then, the game sends you to visit each of those people and locations.
Through the course of five quests, I was bounced around all of the new zones that were added in Heavensward and even back to some of the classic areas from A Realm Reborn. I was tasked with reminiscing on things that had happened, reminded of plot beats from hours ago that I had totally forgotten about. I got to check in with dozens of characters, including major players like Merlwyb, the leader of the ocean nation of Limsa Lominsa, and minor roles like Higiri, who remarks that she is “both flattered and surprised that you should remember my small role in this tale, given the grandeur of your subsequent endeavors.”
It was upon talking to Higiri and reading that line that I realized precisely what Final Fantasy 14 was doing with this questline. There’s no challenge to this. It’s just about walking (or teleporting) from place to place, clicking on people or things. There’s no combat, no risk of death. In a lesser game, with lesser writing, it could be viewed as a generic, boring fetch quest.
It’s not a fetch quest though. After the epic conclusion of Heavensward in patch 3.3, this series of quests serve to remind players that the game isn’t just about those gigantic, hyper difficult raid bosses. It isn’t just about cutting down enemies and getting the shiniest gear. It’s a game about a journey, a game where the boatload of characters you interact with fill the world with a life and personality that couldn’t exist solely on the shoulders of your mute player character.
And while this questline focuses on non-player characters, its message can easily be extended to include the wider world of players as well. Is Final Fantasy 14 a game about blasting through dungeons and crushing intimidating bosses? Of course. But above all that, it’s a game about doing so with people. You’re all part of each other’s stories, just like the different characters you’re meeting along the way.
Before I played through this quest, I had another great experience in Final Fantasy 14 last night. I had been trying all weekend to find a group to clear the extreme mode of Bismarck, one of the game’s “primal” raid bosses. On regular difficulty, it was a cakewalk, but extreme mode required a lot more coordination between groups. The few times I had tried it, the group I was in wiped a couple times and then people gave up and left.
Last night I got accepted into a group of random players all looking to take on Bismarck extreme. None of us knew each other. For about half of us — four out of the eight total party members — it was our first time taking on this challenge. None of us were expert players, and we died quickly our first couple of attempts. I got frustrated, assuming players would start abandoning the group soon.
Something quite different happened, though. Instead of anyone leaving, we all got in the group chat and started working through what went wrong. We started discussing the mechanics. One player who hadn’t watched a video guide beforehand pulled one up. We figured out where we were screwing up, where we needed to improve.
And then we did it. Together, as a group, we overcame this challenge. It’s far from the hardest challenge in Final Fantasy 14; longtime players are probably laughing at the idea that this is remotely an accomplishment. But for me and seven strangers who had never spoken before last night, it felt like the greatest thing we could ever have pulled off, all on our own, all together.
Final Fantasy 14 is a game about a journey, and a game about people. I was reminded of that twice last night, and both times solidified in my mind as two of my best MMO experiences of all time.
Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood, the game’s second expansion pack, is available today for Windows PC, Mac and PlayStation 4. For more information on Stormblood, you can check out our full pre-review coverage or our report on its difficult early access weekend.