I’ve now had time to get through all of Patch 4.2’s main content offerings, outside of the Extreme mode of Byakko and the Savage raid (neither of which I’m very likely to get to, of course). As usual, I have some thoughts about each new bit of content, some of them good, and some of them not so great (though I wouldn’t say there’s anything especially bad in this Patch). 4.2 is a fairly standard Patch, one whose notes those of us who have played for awhile are all very familiar with by now, and I think in a lot of ways, that’s to its detriment. But before getting into my more general sense of the Patch in too much detail, it’s always good to look at things one by one. I’ll be keeping things largely spoiler free here (outside of the sort of general things we already knew from the Trailer and such).
Main Scenario Quests
Patch 4.2’s Main Scenario thankfully takes us back to Doma (and sets us up for another Doma-centric chapter in 4.3 by the looks of it, as well). In a lot of ways, I think Stormblood’s Main Scenario has really been suffering by being devoted to two storylines that, while connected, tend to vary quite a bit in overall quality. The Doman section of the 4.0 Main Scenario (the 62-67 period, mainly) was fantastic, and the story really hit its apex at the conclusion of Doma Castle. Unfortunately, most of the Gyr Abanian chapters of the story have faltered, with the story largely falling off after Doma Castle.
4.1 didn’t really provide any new developments to the overall plot, serving mostly as setup for what will apparently be story in Patch 4.4 (?!?), since we now know from 4.2 that we’ll be focused on Doma for a little while longer. 4.4 isn’t likely to come around until sometime in the late summer, which is months from now, which is probably going to result in some major pacing issues going forward, and pacing has been one of the biggest struggles of the Main Scenario as long as FFXIV has been A Realm Reborn.
While the 4.2 story is a somewhat stronger chapter than the ones in between it and Doma Castle, finally bringing Gosetsu back to the main stage and introducing the new Garlean emissary Asahi, it too has some pacing issues, being little more than setup for 4.3, where I assume the real meat of things will take place. In this case, the setup doesn’t feel as inconsequential as 4.1 did—while the usual focus on politics is there, things actually feel like they’re developing in a new and somewhat more interesting way than now-liberated Ala Mhigo squabbling about how best to run things. Hien in particular has proven to be a strong character, and the scenes of negotiation with Asahi actually felt interesting to take part in.
The Yotsuyu arc of the story feels like the weakest bit to me—as with Fordola in 4.1, attempts are made to garner sympathy for Yotsuyu that mostly fell flat for me, and I’m overall not a fan of both storylines seemingly setting up redemption arcs for both of their secondary villains. My read on that with respect to Yotsuyu could be wrong, and I actually hope it is—if we’re going to have two parallel stories covering different shades of rebellion, I’d much prefer that we see some actual juxtapositions between them rather than arcs that are so similar in the broad strokes.
One interesting (and I think, welcome) aspect of the Main Scenario in 4.2 was that neither dungeon was directly tied into it. Unlocking Hells’ Lid does require reaching a certain point in the Main Scenario, but that’s mostly just to provide the context for it—the dungeon itself is actually setup for the new Four Lords storyline that begins with Byakko. That’s not something the team does very often, and it’s good to shake up the formula sometimes, even in small ways like this.
Both Fractal Continuum (Hard) and Hells’ Lid proved to be more entertaining than Patch 4.1’s Drowned City of Skalla, but they both suffer from the long-running problem of being tuned for people whose gear includes no Creation gear, crafted gear, or gear from 4.1’s Alliance Raid. Both of my initial runs were done as speedruns despite going into them on the second day of the Patch, simply because for anyone who actually played and put some time into acquiring gear past the Ala Mhigan Verity gear, the dungeons are just plain easy.
Atmospherically, both dungeons are great, with good music (including one of my favorite final boss themes from Heavensward) and environments. None of the encounters stand out, however, largely due to a lack of any real challenge. While I understand the need for the game to be friendly to players coming back to the game after absences, the larger item level jumps we’ve had since Heavensward have made this necessity result in dungeons that often feel very inconsequential in a gameplay sense. That being said, they’re at least fun to speedrun, lacking any mechanics that greatly impede momentum (such as those in the first two bosses of Skalla).
The Jade Stoa/Byakko
Hells’ Lid serves another purpose, of course: setting up our encounter with Byakko. I’ve not particularly been interested in new Trials for a long time, as I stopped enjoying Primal farms way back in A Realm Reborn, but the Four Lords storyline actually has me interested in where things are going in a way the Heavensward Primals never especially managed. Starting off with a subtle nod to Final Fantasy XI following the conclusion of Hells’ Lid (appropriate, given that the Four Lords, as the “Sky gods” played a huge part in FFXI’s original level 75 endgame), the story serves both to flesh out our in-game lore for the Far East and to lay a good foundation for Trials to come.
And then there’s the fight with Byakko himself. As I said before, I’ve largely burnt out on Trials, and it’s been rare that I actually enjoy them—the last I really liked to play simply for the joy of the encounter was Sephirot (both the normal and Extreme versions), and before that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed one after Titan Extreme. Byakko, though, even in its normal incarnation, was fun, full of spectacle and clear but interesting mechanics, including “bullet hell” mechanics that actually work a lot better than I would have imagined they could have in a game like FFXIV. I had enough fun running the fight that I’m actually pondering the thought of trying to learn the Extreme version for the first time in ages.
Unfortunately, Sigmascape didn’t succeed nearly as well in inspiring me. As was the case with the Alexander raids in Heavensward, the story so far has felt very diversionary, even if the threat at times feels larger than the sinister comedy of the Illuminati. While the Omega storyline is at least nominally connected to the overall Main Scenario (with Omega itself coming into play at the end of Heavensward’s story), the links are tenuous at best, which makes the already splintered storyline we find in the Main Scenario feel even less coherent. How does Omega fit into the themes of revolution and the rebuilding of nations? It doesn’t, really, and I think that’s a huge missed opportunity, when the original Coil storyline was so heavily intertwined with the narrative in A Realm Reborn.
The fights in Sigmascape themselves are overall more entertaining than the ones we got in Deltascape. While Final Fantasy VI never left much of an impression on me personally, which probably deadens the emotional impact the encounters can have on me, I think the overall flow of the fights is well done. Sigmascape v2.0 even brings back the dreaded Duty Action, but it’s handled much better in terms of usage, with clearly displayed tells and guidance from the mechanics themselves. If there’s one fight that felt underwhelming it was actually probably the final one with Kefka, which seemed a little too straightforward for a boss we’re told is supposed to try to trick us (with the last boss of Royal City of Rabanastre actually capturing that theme of deceit much better, in my opinion).
All in all, with Sigmascape’s story feeling very much like a sideshow (with the sort of Final Fantasy tour making really hammering that in), and no changes to the overall reward structure for the normal mode version, I’m still very much struggling to find a reason that the story mode should really exist. I understood the desire for story modes following Binding Coil, since it was such a big part of the overall story, but with the raid stories having since largely been divorced from everything else, the normal raids haven’t really seemed to serve much of a purpose, especially with their rewards already being of questionable value compared to Tome gear (which doesn’t have the convoluted normal raid loot system).
With most of the Patch’s main content now out of the way, I’m left with the very strong feeling that this is more of the same: something that FFXIV has been very consistent with for a very long time. 4.2’s content is generally of the same caliber we’ve come to expect (and probably better in terms of encounter design than many previous patches), but for a major content patch it feels very thin. Outside of these core, baseline offerings, there’s actually very little to do and the content itself feels competent but not especially noteworthy (outside of Byakko, anyway).
It’s clearer now than ever how thin the game’s offerings are when huge chunks of the endgame are missing, with Eureka having been delayed for months and the new Deep Dungeon nowhere in sight. Thankfully, Eureka is only a few weeks off at most now, which will hopefully do a lot to make the endgame more robust for non-raiding players. It really should have been included with Patch 4.2, though (and Deep Dungeon probably should have been ready for 4.3), as we’ve been waiting for more content outside of the bare minimum since June of last year.