Stormblood (2017): Yoshi-P Built Raubahn's Wall and Made Us Pay For It - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
9Jul/170

Stormblood (2017): Yoshi-P Built Raubahn’s Wall and Made Us Pay For It

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An unusual roadblock stymied my progress barely a handful of quests into Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood.  Raubahn, the one-armed beast of a man, requested help from the Warrior of Light to ambush an Imperial squad carrying an experimental weapon.  I was hoping it would be a break from the bland design of the zones I'd seen so far whose aesthetic consisted of water, rocks, and a lot of dirt.

What followed was a sociological experiment more honest than anything The Stanford Prison Experiment produced.

Dozens of players swarmed his location in The Fringes, one of the first areas in Stormblood, and could not proceed.  Raubahn refused to budge and scarcely came into existence to grant the start of the quest.  If he did appear and you were lucky enough to start the quest, then you had to hope the pre-fight cutscene would play.  Assuming the cut-scene played and you loaded into the map, you had to then pray nothing would kick you offline and prevent you from finishing the quest.  As my computer caught up with the network I found that the number of players trying to get through Raubahn's quest was in the hundreds, not the dozens, and different pockets of players tried applying a social means of coping with a technical issue.

A few players started shouting for everyone to get in a line so that we could try one at a time to start the quest.  Because of the lag I needed to wait a while to see how far back the line went, and once about forty or so players loaded in I had to see how many swarmed Raubahn's spawn point.  It was impossible to count the mass of players there, and as I stared at the crowd trying to get a headcount my screen suddenly flashed to an error message that kicked me out of the game.  "Gaze not into the abyss," I thought, then reloaded my character to find something else to do because the coping mechanism of both mobs of players was doing nothing to solve the problem and just making everyone angry.

A potentially triggering sight for those who struggled with Raubahn's Wall during Final Fantasy XIV's technical challenges.

My Free Company (FFXIV's version of guilds or player teams) was talking about how they coped.  Some were angry that the servers were so buggered none of us could do one of the very first quests.  Others were finding different ways of occupying themselves, either through whatever random stuff we were talking about or by getting a head start on the gathering or crafting systems.  Finally, a level-headed player in my Free Company - Please Be Careful - typed what came to be the greatest summation of those first two days of Stormblood early access.

[FC]<KJ> Yoshi-p built Raubahn's Wall and made us pay for it

As time rolled on we found out one of the reasons behind Raubahn's Wall was because of a server attack on FFXIV.  Even so, it was easy to be angry those first few days because we had all paid for the privilege of some private time with Stormblood before the expansion officially launched.  But it was also fascinating watching people cope with the basically insurmountable hurdle this early quest presented.  The whole experience was one of the pains and pleasures that comes from playing MMOs.

One way of coping with Raubahn's Wall was running around killing the same groups of monsters for two days.

I put off reviewing Stormblood because of these technical issues and I wanted to get a feel for the whole expansion before writing about it.  Eventually I succeeded in scaling Raubahn's Wall to finish the quest, spent plenty of hours completing the storyline, and with last Tuesday's launch of Stormblood's primary raid - Omega - have gotten the broad view of Stormblood Raubahn's Wall denied me early on.  The story of Stormblood is easily the best FFXIV has offered with dungeons that have personality to spare while still being to in debt to the Final Fantasy's history and taking place in bland zones.

Longtime RPG fans might notice similarities between Stormblood's plot and that of the Suikoden games.  The Warrior of Light is responsible for gathering a coalition of oppressed villages and fiercely independent tribes to rebel against the Imperial forces in Ala Mhigo.  This isn't too far removed from Suikoden III's Flame Champion needing to get a bunch of ornery and depressed folks to stop fighting each other to pick up swords against the real bad guys.  The big difference, and one that works in Stormblood's favor, is how Yoshi-P and his team keep the heavy emotional beats moving with a good dose of silly humor delivered with exaggerated emotions.  Big moments are treated with almost Biblical force, the most powerful of which involves harnessing water as a weapon against a deeply entrenched foe.  There are still plenty of silly "go here and kill an odd number of x" quests dragging down the momentum of the plot but it does make the big shifts that much more exciting when they happen.

The newfound sense of energy in the big story moments is a major factor in the fresh approach to dungeon design.  Right away, the environment is more of a threat than ever, and with enemies bursting out of walls or firing weapons from far away the big battle feel of the story is well-integrated in the monster packs.  Players who pay close attention to environmental effects will have a field day with a "boss" encounter in one of the mid-story dungeons that involves no fighting at all.  After the story, you can go to a dungeon where a series of monks with a shaky grasp on sanity comment on your potential as you work your way through each fight.  Almost all the earlier FFXIV dungeons have been simple attack/tank/heal affairs with little in the way of variety.  The unusual NPCs, boss fights with no fighting, and sometimes beautiful design make Stormblood's crop of dungeons a superb step forward.

Playing dress-up is an appealing part of Final Fantasy XIV and I've updated my character, Gyorno Rhonshim seen here alongside her faithful chocobo Tittertotter, with a more war-appropriate garb.

I can't say the same thing about the main 8-player raid of Stormblood.  Omega has four fights so far, each built with the same need to pay attention to the environment for new fight-specific actions, and all are satisfying to clear.  But Omega suffers from a nostalgia problem that's plaguing many of Square Enix's releases in the last few years.  From World of Final Fantasy on consoles to Final Fantasy Explorers on handhelds to Final Fantasy Record Keeper on phones - Square Enix has made a line of games that exist almost completely in the past.  Omega is an extension of this, relying on past Final Fantasy games to do the heavy lifting in terms of boss aesthetics.  Previous raids featured reworked big bads that are Final Fantasy series recurring characters but Omega is just a copy/paste production so far.

If the dungeons are great all around, with the raid featuring fun fights if a boring nostalgia-tinged aesthetic, then the main zones suffered from the attention paid to the instanced content.  I got sick of all the dirt, rocks, and water quickly.  The big new zone feature, swimming, is so anticlimactic you might read it as satire.  A huge ocean awaits for you to swim around and look at seaweed, a couple of domed cities, and that's it.  There's hope this will change, as the previous chapters of FFXIV feature areas that are sparsely populated at first then built up to something more grand, but the base isn't as good as the weird sight of the shielded Alexander in Heavensward or the crystalline fields of A Realm Reborn.

The only aspect of Stormblood I don't feel comfortable commenting on are the new classes, the Red Mage (RDM) and Samurai (SAM).  Reason being - I'm a healer and have plenty to do to keep myself up-to-date on Stormblood content by keeping other players alive.  From that perspective I can say that healing the RDM has been like trying to keep a lemming from walking off a cliff.  RDM abilities are a mix of ranged and melee so they move in and out of combat where, from my perspective, they're hitting every possible enemy attack on their way in and out.  SAM is a relatively milquetoast melee combatant who gets a strong and surprisingly affecting representative in the main storyline while not making much of an impact in my day-to-day healing.

Omega provided an adorable guide even if I'm tired of Final Fantasy rehashing its past.

The big question for me is where the community goes from here.  Yoshi-P is a great figurehead for FFXIV who managed to turn a catastrophic initial launch around into a franchise I'm happy to support.  He kind of reminds me of Charlie Brown at times, clearly in love with the job he gets to do, but getting a big level of flack when things go wrong.  It doesn't change the Stormblood launch was a fascinating disaster as we all scrambled for ways to cope with the buggered technical roadblock.

I hope FFXIV shows the same refreshed approach to dungeon design it does to the rest of the experience.  But, as my time at Raubahn's Wall taught me, I'm just one cog tinkering around in a system that will continue on whether I choose to participate or not.  I cope with that meaningless feeling by crafting, healing friends, and generally trying to make FFXIV a decent place to spend time in.  Raubahn's Wall has fallen, now we wait to see what is built over the rubble.

Posted by Andrew

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