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I adore PvE, but abhor grouping content.  At least, the way grouping content has worked recently.  I hate how you can’t have access to new content without forcing yourself on that treadmill.  I hate how people form up based on numbers and metrics.  I hate how this stuff creates gates and limits the idea of adventure.

I hate everything that Final Fantasy XIV does…and yet…

It's a trap!!

It’s a trap!!

I had walked away from this game in frustration at the ever-piling gear treadmill endgame and unceasing nonsense of it all shortly after patch 2.1.  I was justified in my decision at the time–things were not that much fun at the time, and the choices of things to do were not plentiful…and that made it all the easier for the Superstar E-Leet to lock down what little there was to do behind metric walls.

Now over a year later, that argument doesn’t hold quite the same amount of water anymore.

Let’s be clear–every patch that has come since 2.1 has followed the same sort of path.  New dungeons, new Primals, new steps in raids or new tiers of raids, with subsequent new piles of gear and new currencies required to purchase said gear.  It is, verbatim, everything that I find wrong with the PvE endgame system…but holy crap, when I was able to shelve myself long enough, I found these damn dungeons to be…well…FUN!

Either that or I'm easily amused by exploding colors.

Either that or I’m easily amused by exploding colors.

The way I play this game now, which I returned to shortly after patch 2.4, is very much like everyone else, I suspect–you just sort of join up on a bunch of random Duty Roulettes, which plucks from a list of dungeons you’ve already unlocked and cleared once, offering a daily bonus depending upon the sort of Roulette you pick, either Low Level, High Level, Trial, Main Scenario, etc.  The reward for re-visiting this already beaten content are Tomestones–this game’s funny money which lets you purchase the hottest kit at cap.

On paper, every single letter of that paragraph sounds terrible.  But in practice…I dunno…there’s something awesome about having a reason to go back to old stuff and make it rewarding.  Not only will you likely end up helping out any new players with the clears they need, but you’re getting useful stuff for your time.  And it’s not like your gear makes it faceroll easy–you’re synced down to the appropriate level of the encounter.  It’s taking a useful system of RNG–the random chance–and applying it to completed content to make it worthwhile.

"Only three more days until I can buy a ring!"

“Only three more days until I can buy a ring!”

Further incentive is offered by way of the First Timer’s Bonus.  If you’re in a party with someone who’s never touched the dungeon you’re at, guess what?  You get a bonus on a successful clear.  Just a successful clear!  Not a timed run or a gold medal run or a no-death run.  Just make it through to the end, and you get more funny money.

It’s so clever…so simple it hurts.  And it’s shockingly effective.

Another part of what’s helped ease me into this whole nonsense is the fact that the people I run with are just absolutely wonderful.  Being a Warrior–a tanking class–and away from the game for almost a year, I was beyond nervous.  I had built up this whole thing into a monster of nightmares and assumptions.  It froze me in place.

But then I finally looked at the meat of the matter.  This game.  Demands.  That teams form.  You do not get anywhere in the endgame by yourself.  Not really. There were the Hunts that were added on, which provided their own funny money.  Content you could do solo and get precisely the same exact reward.  But the time it took to earn it was beyond any grind I think I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing.  So, with the help of some good friends and some excellent support, I ran at that amalgam of terror I had built.

And I slaughtered it.

Perhaps that’s what this game meant all along.  Yes, you do Roulettes and can PUG it up exclusively…and you’re left to the absolute mercy of whatever tosser decided to get put into your team.  But in between those runs with the randoms, you get friends along.  You socialize.  You get out there and make yourself aware of who’s around and make others aware that you are.  You collaborate.  Chat.  Talk.

You form a party.

There's lots of options.  Be choosy.

There’s lots of options. Be choosy.

Convenience is…well…it’s convenient.  But to truly, absolutely allow yourself to experience XIV at cap?  You have GOT to be sociable.  And for a nerdy turtle like myself, that was not easy.  That said, the solution was even simpler than the problem.  Cliche as it sounds…you just go for it.  You peck and you look and you find folks who are fun and just enjoy.

And when you find those people and get to know them a bit and have them know you a bit, a strange thing happens.  You keep just…running.  I dunno.  Something just takes a hold and you just want more and you see yourself offering help or finding more complete strangers to make friends with so you can all get those clears and it all just sort of continues and snowballs from there, and then before you know it?  You’re getting those endgame shinies that you thought were beyond your grasp before.

Incredibly important stuff.

Incredibly important stuff.

And these dungeons?  These things you’re running over and over?  They are enjoyable as hell.  The dungeons here are as I always wanted them to be–a setpiece.  They’re thematic and engrossing and enjoyable and have some cool fights and fun creatures and occasionally give you neat rewards out of treasure chests.  They keep you on your toes without stressing you out too terribly much.  They provide great engagements, unique characters and stories to tell later.

This game’s dungeoneering is some of the best I have ever had the pleasure of playing.  Hell, even the raid tier stuff is fun!  I’ve had runs in the Crystal Tower content on several occasions, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one.  It took a couple of runs to understand the flow and what to do, but despite that, I had a great time.  Because you’re sharing an experience with others.

This is the kind of stuff I love about the MMO dungeon run.  And XIV does it better than pretty much anybody else.

Running for your life whilst turned into a frog = an experience.

Running for your life whilst turned into a frog = an experience.

Despite all of this analysis and internal gazing, I’m still not sure what it is about this endgame that makes me want more in spite of its glaringly obvious designs that I have personally said are the worst thing to happen to MMOs.  Yes, these are really fun things, but it still is a grind of content in order to get the highest numbers possible on stats.  It’s insane.

But I also have said that I don’t mind looking out the window at the same view if the window dressing is interesting…and these fights are definitely interesting.

I imagine there will be some later level of burnout that I’ll experience.  It’s why I roleplay and play on one of the largest RP communities in this game right now.  But right now? I’m nowhere near burned out.  In fact, this very post is being written on a Monday night in order for me to fully experience all of the new dungeons and trials and raids that are coming with patch 2.5.

Got places to be, folks!

Got places to be, folks!

Forced grouping has forced me to rethink what an endgame can be…and while seeking compatible people like I was trying to get things arranged for a job interview is not a perfect solution, I can’t deny how that extra bit of legwork has helped weed out the very aspects of grouping I don’t like.  There’s machinery grinding just beneath the skin of this whole thing.  Finely timed and crafted machinery that locks in to each other part and makes you just….want.  And if you’re able to find those folks who can enhance that want, then everything just pulls together.

XIV has been relaunched from the ashes of a completely unplayable MMO to one of the finest themeparks in existence.  If World of Warcraft is the Disneyland, then XIV is like Orlando Studios–a themepark by any other name, but with a whole different paradigm and set of characters it draws from to make itself a unique experience in spite of archaic design.  Or, perhaps, because of it, in places.

From 90 to 93 in about three hours of helping folks do stuff. Not bad.

From 90 to 93 in about three hours of helping folks do stuff. Not bad.