Incoming gigantic nerd rant.
While I haven’t devoted much attention to it here on my blog, Final Fantasy 14 has been a pretty big hobby of of mine for several years running now. While it’s not my first MMO, Final Fantasy has brought one thing into my gaming experience that’s pretty new for me: Raiding.
Raiding isn’t something that I initially planned on doing, nor was it something I knew anything about. In my limited experience, the games I played didn’t allow for anything remotely resembling a raid to take place. Still, after I hit max level (this was several years ago now), I somehow fell into a raid group and at the same time fell in love with my favorite way to play the game.
Raids are a strange thing. Instead of leveling characters, playing the market, or generally doing other silly MMO stuff, you commit a certain amount of time each week to meet up with 7 other people (a static) to coordinate and kill some of the hardest bosses in the game. This is simultaneously rewarding and frustrating, as your progress requires every member to jump rope in perfect unison.
The issue is, the fun depends on some level of progression within the fight. If you’re not progressing, the team gets discouraged, and sometimes even tears apart. The difficulty level of these fights is entirely dependent upon what the developers give the players, meaning raid tiers can differ greatly, depending on how the fights were developed.
Enter Alexander Savage. In what seemed to be a reaction to the outcry of some of the best raiders in the community, Square Enix decided to make this raid tier more difficult than any tier before it. So far, it seems that they’ve succeeded. In my pretty extensive experience in the endgame raiding scene, I can safely say that I’ve seen more groups fall apart in this raid tier than in any other. While the first two bosses aren’t bad, the third fight in particular is so unforgiving that most of the community has taken to calling it a ‘static breaker’. The fight is unique in that if even one person messes up, the whole fight has to be repeated. It’s not that it isn’t recoverable, so much as that it is very difficult to recover when there are any mistakes at all. This has been slightly remedied with better gear, but still remains a problem to this day. Even experienced groups of excellent players can spend hours wiping (something I had the misfortune of dealing with the other day), with gear that’s perhaps over-leveled for the fight.
The problem with the 4th boss is more from the lack of people clearing A3S than the fight itself. A4S is challenging for sure, demanding a decent amount of skill from all 8 players. However, the most challenging part of the fight might simply be finding competent players to do it with.
A Japanese player did a recent census and came up with 770,000 active players (his metrics for deeming a player active are listed here, although I’m reading shoddily translated Japanese). In order to determine if players had cleared A4S or not, this guy counted the number of mounts that can only be obtained by clearing, and came up with 5,841. There are plenty of groups where everyone has the mount, but some might not be reliably clearing enough to finish off the mount in their group. So, at most, we’re talking maybe 7,500 people having cleared, give or take a few (my estimate, but it’s still pretty tiny).
So we’re essentially saying that less than 1% of the worldwide population has cleared the raid tier as of January. Keep in mind that this tier came out around late July, so people have had plenty of chances to bash their heads against the content. This is an incredibly small number for a series of fights that Square supposedly expected a decent portion of the playerbase to clear. Having finally finished it myself a few weeks ago, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. I’ve been without a static for over a month, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by really talented and helpful players, and it’s made getting through the latter half of this content less difficult for me than a lot of people. A3S and A4S are difficult fights, for sure. But haven’t we had difficult fights in the game before?
Of course. But I think what makes this raid tier so brutal is that it requires something entirely different from a raider than any of these fights have before. Previously we had to perform mechanics which were usually the same every time in addition to our usual roles in the fight. There were very few reactionary mechanics, which is where I feel like Alex Savage differentiates itself. The last two fights of this tier require every raider to deal with mechanics that are constantly in flux throughout the fight, and the unforgiving dps and heal checks mean that players are forced to change what they do in order to make up for mistakes. I think this is why so many players struggle with it. This tier encourages you to play like a top tier raider might play, and for that reason, it’s been really punishing to the midcore raiding community. You can’t just go on autopilot and take care of mechanics robotically, or you kill your team. Every mechanic requires you to stop and go through a mental checklist of several things at once. Towards the end of A3S, I have to do the following checklist just to take care of one mechanic:
- Heal the tank
- Regen the tank
- Move out of an AOE
- Check HP bars, get rid of a debuff that kills a player if you miss it
- Position myself for a mechanic where I’m attached to another person and have to react to where they are on the map, in potentially two different ways
- Simultaneously get rid of the other debuff
- Get out of the way so the tank doesn’t kill me with the boss
All of that happens in the space of about 5 seconds, and can change depending on where your partner is, who your partner is, whether the other healer is helping or damaging the boss, and what your tank is doing with said boss. When I first did this, it was completely terrifying, and I screwed it up a million times before I finally got it right. This raid tier requires a lot out of players, and some players just aren’t willing or able to give what it requires— in either time or practice— to clear.
Ultimately this tier hasn’t been good for the community. I’ve watched 3-4 groups of raiders I personally knew blow up their groups and move on to other games, tired of wiping on the fights, or crumbling from the drama of constant frustration. It’s forced me to pick up and find new groups, which has been a huge blessing in a lot of ways, but also not something players should be forced to do just to clear the fights. I’ve even seen talented players leave my server for greener pastures, and I can only imagine that the drain is worse on smaller servers.
On the other hand, this raid tier has been excellent for my skill as a player. I’m a better healer and raider than I think I’ve ever been, and it’s really opened my mind to new ways to play the game. Alex Savage has been an incredible teacher, and I’ve loved every challenge it’s thrown at me so far. There’s some talk about Square Enix making the next raid tier easier, and I can’t help but feel a bit sad about that. I crave challenges like Alex Savage, and I’ll be sad to see the level of execution required in the content to drop. Ultimately though, I do feel like something needs to change if Square wants to keep players of all levels invested in the game. As cool as clearing something that less than 1% of players have cleared is, Square doesn’t make their money from less than 1% of the playerbase, and they should probably keep that in mind when designing raid content. Until the next patch, though, I’ll be enjoying the content and trying to help as many people through it as I can.
To anyone who raids, what makes a raid tier too hard? At what point do you call it quits?