The Returner: The benefits of being “behind” in Final Fantasy XIV

The Returner: Rediscovering Final Fantasy XIV

One thing I’ve discovered — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say “confirmed” — since coming back to Final Fantasy XIV is that in many ways, it’s actually quite preferable to be behind the curve in terms of story and gear progression — at least if you’re a fairly casual player like I am.

Obviously if you’re a hardcore raider and want to be among the first in the world to clear the hardest stuff the game has to offer… fair play to you, and I wish you the very best of luck. But not everyone plays the game like that — especially not those of us who don’t want to make Final Fantasy XIV our entire life, but still enjoy the experience on the whole.

Final Fantasy XIV

Running through the New Game Plus storyline at a fairly casual pace has allowed me to really appreciate and enjoy the story of both A Realm Reborn and Heavensward to date — and perhaps most importantly, it’s allowed me to do it as and when I feel like it. I’m not feeling rushed to get to a particular power level, I’m not under any pressure to clear stuff I’m not ready for and I’m not being overwhelmed by new things. I’m simply getting back into the swing of things a bit at a time and rebuilding the confidence I once had when I was a bit more of a “semi-hardcore” player a few years back.

The really nice thing about doing things this way from a story perspective is that I can stay on top of the story and remember what is happening. While I appreciate the fact that Final Fantasy XIV’s main scenario continues to advance with every new major patch, the fact that it’s three months or more between each of those patches means that it’s often very easy to forget what was actually going on the last time you involved yourself with the main story.

Meanwhile, starting Final Fantasy XIV from A Realm Reborn now means that you have a ton of excellent story content to enjoy without breaks. It allows you a much better feeling of immersion in the narrative universe that Yoshi-P and company have created — and makes it much more likely that you catch (and remember!) the clever bits of foreshadowing that it turns out they’ve been dropping into the cutscenes pretty much since the beginning. This really is a game whose story and setting has been thoroughly planned over the long term — and with those three-month breaks every so often, that can be harder to appreciate sometimes.

Final Fantasy XIV

Besides that, though, being “behind” also means that you have plenty of choice when it comes to things to do. Yes, you’ll likely find that there are lengthy wait times for trials that are purely story-centric and which don’t drop loot — The Final Steps of Faith, which concludes the Dragonsong story arc in Heavensward is a good example — but when it comes to dungeons and other trials, the game has done a good job of keeping most things relevant in one way or another.

The simplest means through which it’s achieved this is with the daily Roulettes, all of which are worthwhile running on an endgame character. While I appreciate it can sometimes be frustrating for someone at the level cap to find themselves having to run a low-level dungeon, it’s also a good test of your skills and adaptability — and something which adds a bit of variety to the mix. Plus it’s also an opportunity to help out newer players; while this is something that some veterans may not feel like they have time for, it’s essential for continuing to build and sustain a community for the game over the long term.

But there are other things that have been kept relevant over time. The “Wondrous Tails” mechanic challenges you to complete certain things from the game’s back catalogue of content each week. The two “Deep Dungeons” offer completely separate progression from the main game, and a significant challenge for both full parties and solo players. The Gold Saucer attractions remain the main way you can acquire some of the most desirable aesthetic options such as hairstyles and mounts. And then there’s the “story-only” single-player content.

Final Fantasy XIV

There are a number of quests in Final Fantasy XIV which, while typically aimed at endgame players at the time they were released, offer no meaningful rewards beyond a feeling of narrative and emotional engagement with the game’s story and setting. While not to everyone’s taste, those who find the wonderfully crafted lore of Final Fantasy XIV to be one of its most appealing and rewarding elements will have a great time working through things like the “Postmoogle” quests and Winebaud’s Riddles; those who have no time for such dalliances with absurdity, meanwhile, are completely free to ignore them completely if they see fit.

In other words, by logging in to Final Fantasy XIV right now, even though I’m a long way behind where the “current” game is, I can constantly feel like I have something fun I could be doing — be that progressing the main story, or spending some time exploring some of the side content I haven’t yet done.

I’ve never been one to rush things. There’s a whole virtual life to be lived in Eorzea — so why not savour it while you can?

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Pete Davison
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