It’s no secret that MMORPGs are meant to be played with other people – that’s what makes them fun. Tackling dungeons together, working out boss mechanics, and then communicating with players on your team as you work together to defeat a powerful foe is a huge part of what makes this genre so popular. Final Fantasy XIV is no different.
Since the official 2.0 reboot of Square Enix’s now-esteemed MMO, the dungeons and other teamwork-related content have steadily improved over the years. Though the early dungeons start off relatively slow – with the first real, ‘mechanics-heavy’ challenge coming at level 28 in Haukke Manor – Square Enix has done well to gradually ramp up the difficulty with every subsequent dungeon. Today, with the release of Stormblood earlier this year and patch 4.1 from a couple of months ago, even the ‘casual’ content like four-man dungeons are somewhat intricate affairs where even minor slip-ups can cause a party wipe during a boss fight. It’s stuff like this that makes an MMO exciting.
But let’s not ignore the most casual of casual content. Final Fantasy XIV is often praised for its gripping story and engaging writing. Its epic tales are told over hundreds of hours worth of cutscenes, the aforementioned four-man dungeons and some eight-man trials, as well as one oft-overlooked aspect of the game: its single-player combat duty instances.
Back in the early days of A Realm Reborn, this was the kind of content that would make any player groan in boredom because of what a waste of time they could be. The entire 2.0 storyline mostly consisted of the Warrior of Light entering a single-player instance, killing a bunch of trash mobs, and then maybe interacting with a shiny object or two. Occasionally, we’d get a boss fight, too. But these were usually mindless affairs of going through your character rotation while an AI partner healed you up whenever you got a little low on health.
You’d usually be able to clear these on your first try, but on the rare occasion that you failed, it was often because the game insisted on swarming you with trash mobs, requiring you to kill specific enemies in an order that you couldn’t possibly know about without failing at least once.
The most egregious example was in patch 2.4, during an MSQ titled ‘The Reason Roaille.’ This was a particularly annoying fight that required you to keep the NPC Ilberd alive while fighting off Medics, Centurions, Deathclaws, Sagittarius units, and even a Colossus. It was an awful duty because not only did you have to know to kill the Sagittarius first (who would wipe out your unnamed units), you also had to deal with a Deathclaw that attached itself to Ilberd. But before you could do any of that, first you had to kill the Medics, of course, as they’d keep healing up enemy units. And when all of that was done, you would then have to deal with a Colossus. But hold up, you have to know to kill the Aquilifier unit that spawns because he’ll keep buffing the Colossus. And on top of all of this, you had to basically hope and pray that you’d be able to wipe out all the enemies before they killed Ilberd. It got so bad to the point where ranged attackers, BRD in particular, had to resort to accumulating Echo by dying over and over so that they’d have enough HP and attack power to clear the instance.
On the other hand, if you were playing as a tank class, you’d have a lot less trouble clearing the duty because you could easily grab enmity off Ilberd and have him survive that way. Google ‘The Reason Roaille’ and you’ll find a ton of topics and threads asking for advice on how to clear it. It’s pretty awful.
Since then, Final Fantasy XIV’s single-player instances have improved somewhat marginally. There were still some poorly implemented ones in Heavensward, such as ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events,’ where you had to escort an NPC to safety, which is just as dreadful as it sounds.
Things did start to improve, however. Though I should mention that it wasn’t until the end of the Heavensward expansion quests and the start of the Dragonsong War patch content that I finally began to feel properly engaged and challenged in single-player instances.
Similar to the so very dreadfully designed ‘The Reason Roaille,’ ‘As Goes Light, So Goes Darkness’ was another solo duty that required the Warrior of Light to protect an NPC as the party stormed an area to defeat a bunch of enemies. The basic premise was more or less the same: protect Aymeric while killing trash mobs. If his HP falls to zero, it’s game over. Except this time, it was much more balanced and properly designed, such that all character classes – BRD, SMN, NIN, you name it – could clear it without too much difficulty.
Not only that, the duty itself was also framed in such a way that made the player feel more invested in what they were doing. Aside from protecting Aymeric, the Warrior of Light had to find and rescue several hostages trapped within the chapel. As you progressed further into the chapel, your fellow Scions would break off from the party at specific points to secure the area. While the party dwindled in size, it would get a little more challenging trying to protect Aymeric. The encounter reached its climax when the player was tasked with finding the remaining hostages alone while Aymeric fended off the boss. It was a frantic race against time as you had to get back to Aymeric before he lost his life.
Towards the end of the Dragonsong War quest line, there were other solo duties that stood out. ‘A Spectacle For the Ages’ was probably the first, most elaborate single-player encounter we’d seen in Final Fantasy XIV, as it was framed as an epic fighting showdown between the factions of Eorzea to see who came out on top.
With the release of Stormblood, that single-player content has improved by leaps and bounds. ‘Naadam’ was a particularly memorable Hunger Games-esque solo duty that was also framed similarly to ‘A Spectacle For the Ages.’ In this instance, the three main tribes of the Steppe were engaged in a traditional slaughter fest to see who was most deserving of wielding the ovoo, an artifact that declares the winning tribe the rulers of the Steppe for a period of time. I won’t spoil it too much here, but aside from the initial rush of adrenaline that comes with racing to the ovoo and defending it from opposing tribes, ‘Naadam’ throws a few more fun twists and surprises at the player to keep them on their toes.
As we approached the conclusion, ‘Naadam’ ends things with an extremely satisfying combat encounter that encapsulates the spirit and determination of the Warrior of Light and their party, and serves as a strong reminder of why you set out on this journey in the first place. The Stormblood expansion features some of the absolute best content we’ve ever seen in Final Fantasy XIV, and there are countless memorable moments within the story quests to reminisce about. The fact that ‘Naadam’ is able to stand tall as one of the strongest bits in the Stormblood scenario speaks volumes of how far Square Enix has come with regards to the development and design of the game’s most ‘casual’ content.
At its core, Final Fantasy XIV is still an MMO that can really only be truly enjoyed when you interact with other players and complete content together. The EX trials and raids are some of the game’s best highlights, and nothing can ever top that. But the single-player stuff is important as well. Square Enix has done a wonderful job with the game’s main story so far, but even that can be a drag if you don’t have strong single-player content to back it up. Without those solo encounters, going through this RPG’s story would just be a matter of reading dialogue, killing tiresome trash mobs, all while waiting for the game to finally lead you to the next story-related four-man dungeon or trial where you can finally engage in some proper gameplay.
The solo duties were the worst part of the game for a really long time, but we’re finally entering an age where they can be fun enough on their own to rival even the most mechanic-heavy dungeons. From the days where solo duties were simply a matter of killing enemies within a small confined area, they’ve now evolved into fully-fledged missions with multiple objectives, surprise story twists, and voiced cutscenes for that extra oomph.
The story of Final Fantasy XIV isn’t over yet, and Square Enix plans to keep upping the ante as far as solo duties are concerned. The recent patch 4.1 drop, titled ‘The Legend Returns,’ featured yet another exciting single-player encounter that was not only designed as a fun combat encounter framed within the story but also featured some new and light gameplay mechanics as well.
We’ve come a long way since the dark days of ‘The Reason Roaille,’ and it’s looking like things can only go up from here.