Three Problems with FFXIV: Heavensward's Endgame
I'm just gonna pop a big old disclaimer at the beginning here and say that yes, I know that there is a ton of shit to do in FFXIV. Crafting, gathering, so many jobs to level...these are specifically my issues with the current endgame for combat classes. We good? We good here brah?
Aight, cool. Let's get started...
1. Upgrading gear is really awkwardly paced
The tl;dr version of gearing up in Heavensward as of the time of this writing is:
- Hit i145+ on your job via crafted gear, miscellaneous dungeon drops, or quest gear
- Run dungeons for Tomestones of Law and Tomestones of Esoterics
- Potentially get i160 gear pieces as dungeon drops
- Buy i170 gear with Law
- Get i180 gear by using Centurio Seals to upgrade Law gear
- Get i190 gear pieces periodically from Alexander Normal mode drops
- Get i200 pieces periodically from Esoterics
- Get i210 pieces periodically from Alexander Savage mode drops
On paper, it sounds like decently planned progression: your guaranteed (i.e., not drop-based) gear progression starts at i170 and there are clear-cut increases, 10 item levels at a time, until you're clearing the hardest content in the game. Cool.
Unfortunately, there's a problem here: ideally, item level progression should more or less be a logarithmic curve, starting pretty quickly and then tapering off gradually into much slower progression, as shown in the extremely informative graph below with neither of its axes marked (x-axis: time; y-axis: item level):
Did you know Google graphs simple functions if you search them? I didn't.
Unfortunately, what we got is more like the following logarithmic trapezoid, which is definitely a real mathematical thing that you should just take my word for and not look up at all:
You know what Google can't graph? Piecewise functions. MS Paint wut.
For those of you who aren't totally-unmarked-graph-savvy, what I'm saying is that I geared up to like the mid-i170s in a couple days after hitting level 60 and for weeks since it's just been a horrible, awful slog and I barely want to play anymore. I think I'm currently in the low i180s...i183, maybe i185? I dunno.
Tomestones of Law rain from the skies, getting you quickly to an item level at which you can do Alexander Normal. That's totally dandy, but what's not totally dandy is that it takes five weeks to get a full set of i190 gear from Alexander Normal. The quest line gives you one free component, and you can get four components per week; a full set costs 21 components.
The silver lining here is that Alexander Normal isn't a big time-sink. You can get your four drops for the week in like an hour. If luck isn't on your side, or you're down to rolling for very specific components, it may take you a few hours. But that's per week, not day.
The problems are two-fold: first, every floor in Alexander Normal is basically a faceroll at this point, so it's not particularly engaging; second, once you're done for the week, what else is there to do?
Oh, I know! You can cap your Tomestones of Esoterics! Just like Tomestones of Poetics back in the pre-Heavensward days, you're limited to 450 a week. The gear is roughly as expensive as the old Poetics gear; a weapon takes a full three weeks to get, and the more expensive armor pieces take two weeks apiece. I don't know how much a full set is, but if it takes seven weeks to get just three of thirteen possible pieces, you're looking at several months easily.
So there's my beef with the pacing of progression. I'm fine with the Alexander Savage stuff taking awhile to obtain: it's high-end raid gear. But the process of blasting through lower item levels only to smash into a wall gated by ez-mode raid drop limitations and a Tomestone cap, the first of which is hit in an hour and the second of which is hit in a half-hour a day, has been really frustrating for me. It's more or less killed my interest, because I don't see my Free Company getting into Alexander Savage anytime soon, and the prospect of hitting the same walls on new classes doesn't excite me.
And speaking of taking half an hour a day to hit your Esoterics cap...
2. The "required" low-tier content is boring
Don't worry; this section's a lot shorter.
When I say "required," I mean "required to cap Esoterics," i.e., the daily Expert Roulette. This isn't strictly true, to be fair, but it's functionally true unless you're a real glutton for grind. The problem with the daily Expert Roulette is exactly the same as the problem with A Realm Reborn's daily Expert Roulette, except 33% worse: there are only two possible dungeons in the roulette. It's less of a roulette and more of a coin-flip.
And, if you're me, the coin has come up Neverreap about eight days in a row. Neverreap is my favorite of the two end-game dungeons, but after a bajillion runs of it, I'm pretty much done with it. I'm pretty much done with Fractal Continuum, too, honestly. Both dungeons have too much trash; have bosses with largely uninteresting mechanics; and even with shitty Ice Mages and How Do I Ninja Agains slowing things to a nearly unbearable crawl, they no longer present any difficulty with most of the player base sitting at i180+.
What the hell is left, then? Oh wait, nothing:
3. There is no relevant middle-difficulty content
Alexander Normal doesn't count as middle-difficulty content in the same way Crystal Tower back in ARR never counted as middle-difficulty content. If I can reliably clear it solo-queuing in the Duty Finder, it's low-difficulty content. Sure, there's the occasional wipe and sometimes even an abandon, but even in Burden of the Father (A4), we clear it just about 100% of the time.
There are two middle-difficulty fights in the form of the Bismarck Extreme and Ravana Extreme trials. They're both difficult fights, to be sure, requiring DPS players to actually have some semblance of an idea what they're doing (which, with the exception of the hardest ARR raid bosses, is new to Heavensward). Definitely not reliably clearable with a bunch of randos, that's for sure.
Bismarck, the whale-bird, concept art.
Ravana, the non-whale non-bird, concept art.
So what's wrong with them? Well, they are, in a word, already irrelevant. Fairly egregiously, Bismarck was already irrelevant on launch day, save for the fact that he functioned as a barrier to unlocking Ravana.
With Esoterics having been out long enough now for everyone to buy an i200 weapon, the i190 weapon drops from Ravana are largely obsolete (except possibly for a couple classes whose Esoterics weapon's stats are bad enough to justify using a lower-item-level weapon). Bismarck drops i175 weapons, which were only useful during those fleeting moments in which you had an i170 Law weapon but not enough Centurio Seals to upgrade it.
Basically, unless you want the weapons from these fights for glamor purposes -- and some of them are pretty cool-looking, admittedly -- or you just want to experience the thrill of taking them down, they're just not worth doing. And this is a pretty big problem, honestly. It's a problem because for the overwhelming majority of the player base that is not going to touch Alexander Savage anytime soon, there is no higher-difficulty endgame than Alexander Normal, and that blows.
How can these issues be solved?
First, add in a couple more dungeons that are on the same level as (or, at this point, a bit harder than) Neverreap and Fractal Continuum. Put them in the daily Expert Roulette. And while we're adding things to that roulette, why not put i160 gear drops into the Aetherochemical Research Facility and add that to the roulette, too? It's already becoming difficult to find a group for that one. This will go a long way to eliminate the day-to-day tedium from Esoterics-grinding.
Second, have Bismarck drop i185 weapons and Ravana drop i205 weapons. This immediately makes them both relevant again. Bismarck would then offer a small item level increase over the upgraded Law weapons, which are trivially easy to get anyway, and Ravana would then offer an alternative to the Esoteric weapon.
Plus, that's three weeks of Esoteric grinding we wouldn't have to do (except people still would do them, because players who take down Extreme-mode primals are also in the minority, so Square gets to trap plenty of people in the low-effort welfare-gear grind).
Look, I love FFXIV, I think it's the best MMORPG on the market right now, and I'm almost certainly going to keep playing it, if only to write more goofy class guides on reddit. Heavensward is a gorgeous expansion with a pretty impressive amount of content. But I do find the current endgame to be pretty lackluster, and I felt the need to share why, because all I ever see is praise for what an amazing state the game is in right now.
FIX IT SQUEENIX