Before the Fall
Final Fantasy XIV has come a long way. Although there wasn’t any real endgame content to speak of when A Realm Reborn launched in its 2.0 incarnation, Square Enix worked hard to deliver in 2.1, and has continued to deliver in every major patch since.
With each update came new “Primal” (read: Summon) fights, all of which had an Extreme version to test the mettle of its playerbase. Now, the developer is gearing up for an expansion later this year, and the latest 2.5 patch has provided a ton of mid-level content, with no Extreme or proper hardcore raid in sight.
That makes this patch rather unique, and players of all skill levels will enjoy it.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
MSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month)
Released: August 27, 2013 (PC, PS3) / April 14, 2014 (PS4)
In case you missed it, we’ve been covering A Realm Reborn since launch. Patrick initially reviewed the base game, then I covered up to patch 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4. For those unaware, Square Enix releases a massive update every three to four months, providing new encounters, dungeons, and raids for players to enjoy while they wait for the next batch of content.
Patch 2.5, titled Before the Fall, is probably the most interesting delivery yet, because it’s coming in waves. While the bulk of it (which will be covered here) is live in the game right now, the Gold Saucer, Chocobo Racing, Triple Triad, and the conclusion of the 2.0 storyarc leading into the expansion will come over the course of the next few months. It’s an odd way to handle it, but it’s ultimately acceptable because 2.5 is no slouch itself. And besides, the Gold Saucer has been hyped for so long it would be a shame if it was rushed.
Full stop, the new storyline for Before the Fall is my favorite encapsulated tale since the original Realm Reborn plot. While it has been quite a ride to discover the origin of classic Final Fantasy summons like Shiva and how they impact the realm of FFXIV, the actual big-picture game world often took a backseat in favor of plotlines that felt secondary to the core narrative. Now in 2.5, the dragon arc that was set up with Bahamut in the intro is coming to a head, and the expansion is being put front and center.
It’s not just a tease of what’s to come but an interesting look at the core cast, as they are put into situations that directly concern the kingdom. Instead of going off on what feels like a sidequest to quell Ramuh or some other god, the action comes to the city of Mor Dhona directly, with you in the middle of an age-old confrontation with the Wyrmking Midgardsormr. Square Enix has interestingly mixed in a Trial with the story on top of the traditional “new” dungeon, which is a thrill in and of itself. I usually find myself playing the story just to get to the other bits of content, but this time around I enjoyed the journey just as much.
One of the biggest content additions is the Odin fight, which mirrors the encounter at the recent Fan Fest events across the world. He’s not an Extreme fight, nor is he “easy,” and players will have a really difficult time with him at the recommended item level, mostly because he has a hard damage-per-second check at 15% or seven minutes in (whichever comes first) that will cause you to wipe if you don’t do enough damage.
Odin takes you on in a rather boring circular arena in the forest, and fighting him mostly involves lots of dodging in addition to a very intensive heal check, since there’s plenty of bleed effects afoot during the fight. It’s fun to finally be able to fight Odin at will rather than chancing it with a random world event, but that initial awe and wonder wears off after you realize how simplistic the battle is. I’ve never wanted an Extreme mode so badly.
The other big boss fight is Gilgamesh, who returns and seemingly closes out the joyous and goofy Hildibrand storyline. As the producers have maintained, this is a very casual string of content that will allow gamers of all skill levels to enjoy themselves. That ideology is encapsulated in the new “Battle in Big Keep” Gilgamesh encounter far more than it was in 2.4, which featured a rather complicated arena setting that relied on every player knowing exactly what to do.
That previous fight ended up being a big problem for a lot of groups who couldn’t figure out how to handle some of the more complicated aspects. Thankfully, 2.5 cleans things up a bit, and delivers a fun, simplistic battle that is pretty easy to pick up and play. Plus, with the closing of the story you also net Hildibrand’s clothes, and his signature dance, which is a nice bonus. The last quest is titled “Her Final Vow,” but the lovable character and his crew are expected to return in the expansion. At least, I hope so.
Oddly enough, the new Trials Roulette, which picks a random boss fight for you to do daily for an increased reward, includes both the fun Gilgamesh encounter and the story Trial, but not Odin. Maybe it’s because the developers realized that it was too difficult for casual players? Either way, it’s disappointing that not every bit of content is put into the end-game hopper — a concept Square Enix has handled perfectly so far.
The three new dungeons include Wanderer’s Palace (Hard Mode), Amdapor Keep (Hard Mode), and my personal favorite, Keeper of the Lake. The former two as expected don’t look anything like their predecessors, and offer interesting boss mechanics. Square is learning when it comes to balancing dungeons, being careful to not make any one location that much “faster” than the other to complete, leading to the playerbase speedrunning one over all others. While some may find the arbitrary gating of checkpoints annoying, I understand the decision.
Having said that, Keeper of the Lake is a standout winner for me as a dungeon. It has a very cool theme to it that hasn’t been replicated since the Praetorium in the main story, and the setting, as well as the direct interaction with dragons, is an amazing lead-in to the expansion. Lore-wise it’s one of my favorite locations, and the final fight is a really fun encounter with lots of dodging and a rather menacing feel to the main foe.
Finally, the other big addition to 2.5 is the World of Darkness raid, which continues the Crystal and Syrcus Tower storyline and supports 24 players at once. Alliance-wide queuing was added to the game in 2.3, so you can go at it with a full guild if you want, but odds are you’re going to be playing with random people so a balanced difficulty is important. In that regard, I think Square Enix nailed it. As a whole it feels easier to pick up than Crystal Tower, but more difficult than Syrcus Tower — in other words, an improvement.
World of Darkness is an incredibly cool-looking location, full of life and personality despite the fact that the realm is quite literally “dark.” Plenty of iconic Final Fantasy villains return, and the last boss looks like she was taken directly out of a classic game like Final Fantasy III — in fact, she was! There’s relevance to the raid too with new gear to earn, which will help non-Coil players catch up and look cool in the process. In every way the gear is an upgrade to Syrcus Tower aesthetically.
Before the Fall adds a ton of extra stuff too, like more personal and guild housing options. Hunts are relevant again after their massive downturn in 2.4, since the rewards have been increased, and the Unstained Mark Log drop rewards players with top-end gear. There’s also some new hairstyles, mounts, and quality of life fixes, like an improved queue system and the ability to earn back all your cooldowns (ability timers) while in any Sanctuary, not just capital cities.
My favorite addition is probably the introduction of a weekly raid quest, which earns players an endgame upgrade reagent for completing Crystal Tower, Syrcus Tower, and World of Darkness. This will funnel people into all the old 24-person raids all over again, which is a great thing. Like I stated earlier, Square Enix is the master of keeping things relevant — a lesson many other developers could learn when creating new content for games like this.
Patch 2.5 is definitely a table-setting update, but it’s filled with good content while players wait for the expansion to get here. Since everything else will arrive over the course of the next two months, I’ll be covering it as each portion drops, so stay tuned for that augmented coverage. While 2.5 may not be enough to woo old players back into the fray on its own, I have a feeling that all of the fluff coming before the expansion will be a perfect excuse to return.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]