- Oct 26, 2017
Congrats on getting quoted on the podcast lol.The early part of 2.x is rough and bad (much in the way that all of ARR to that point is rough and bad), but as it went on it became the point that I started to trust in what the game was doing in terms of storytelling. And I kind of want to get into (tagged) specifics, because everyone's been dancing around it. If you don't want to know the story, don't read.
The base Realm Reborn campaign is the most trite sort of chosen-one hero tale, a non-stop parade of fetch quests and chores that allows you to earn the trust of everyone you meet and bring the whole gang together so you can take on the Evil Empire and save the day. But after you have repelled the bad guys, the story continues, and everyone has to figure out how they're going to handle the peace. Though other threats and issues come up over the course of 2.x (which are paid off further down the road), the key question is what you and the three nations of the Eorzean Alliance are going to do with the momentum built up after everyone teamed up for this big military operation. And the world finally starts pushing back on you, because you and your friends fuck up bad.
You start spending more time with the main gang of heroes, the Scions, as they start to take the lead in organizing the unified front. Though the biggest, most pressing threats have been addressed, there are a number of persistent problems that need to be tackled. The Primal gods keep popping up and wreaking havoc, there are dark cloaked figures linked to their repeated summoning, there are stubborn neighbors in the north who won't join the Alliance and are fighting a war against dragons, and the Empire could come back at any time. The Scions decide the best way to handle these problems is to put together an organization under a unified banner that can help bring the might of all three nations of Eorzea to bear.
That's a wonderful thing, in theory. The problem is that the three nations all have their own shit to deal with, and only so many resources they can spend on things when they've just spent lives in a war, there's a persistent refugee crisis, and things still need rebuilding. So the Scions have to look elsewhere for funding and manpower. Fortunately, they find that through one of the trade guild leaders of the sultanate/oligarchy of Ul'dah, willing to contribute some of his fortune for the cause. All well and good, because who wouldn't want to pitch in fighting the good fight against chaos and bad things?
What the Scions fail to appreciate, to their great detriment at the end of this arc, is that these resources come at a cost. The more problems they try to tackle at once, the more they're stretched thin, the less they can supervise, the more they have to delegate to people more beholden to the man with the purse strings than the purity of the cause. And he's more interested in domestic power politics than creating some pie-in-the-sky utopia. You gradually begin to realize the plot unfurling in your midst, but it's too late to prevent what's coming. When it all comes to a head in a massive sequence of cutscenes at the end of the patch, the Scions are scattered to the winds, pariahs in the land they had saved.
This is not the greatest story itself, nor is its delivery without flaw. Heavensward is a significant step above it. But it worked very well for me when I played through it back in March this year for a few reasons.
- You're spending more time with the Scions, who start to get some real development, establishing character arcs that will develop over the rest of the series.- While you're drowning in dozens of quests, that multiplicity of plotlines gives you the sense of spinning all these different plates, showing how your group would be distracted from the fatal flaws in the organizational structure they built.
- The world transitions from a straightforward place pitting good against evil to a complicated political map where factions with different interests jockey for power. As a result, unlike in ARR, you can't solve every problem by being the strongest, most special individual in the world.
Heavensward builds a lot on those last two things with its story. The character work is a huge step up from the base game, and its thousand-year war between a regimented theocracy and long-lived dragons rings truer because bringing about change is appropriately messy and complicated, though not impossible. Unlike ARR, it's actually excellent.
I felt a lot like Austin when I was blasting through the base game, unsure why I was playing so much content that was just bad. I'm not sure if it was "worth it" to make that journey, but having made it, there are actually green pastures on the other side of those mountains.