The Mog Log header by A. Fienemann
The march to the level cap in Final Fantasy XIV is nothing like that of its predecessor, but it's still an undertaking. The fact of the matter is that leveling shouldn't have taken me nearly as long as it did. The game has been out for over a year, after all. But between my usual inability to pick a class and stick with it, natural disasters, and various other circumstances, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally hit level 50 on my Gladiator.

Receiving the full red cobalt set a level earlier did mean that the level was a bit anticlimactic at the end, but it all balances out.

But now that I'm here at max level, I can look back on the path as a whole and have a different perspective on several parts of the game's structure, both the good and the bad. Especially since it's the first time around that really matters.

If you hadn't already seen this shot in Storyboard, well, good for you!  If you had... well, we're in reruns.Nothing waiting

One of the really strange parts of hitting the cap was finding nothing at the end. You get one last ability and that's the only thing you have to look forward to -- and in some cases, that ability might not even be one you really care about.

Oh, sure, there's more to it than that. You're not going to be going to Darkhold or the high-level Ifrit fight at 49, unless you have extraordinarily well-geared and patient friends. But there are no new active leve camps; there are no new quests in the main storyline; there aren't even many new pieces of equipment. There are some drops, sure, but those aren't mandatory. You reach the end and not all that much changes.

To be fair, this is always the way of MMOs to some extent. But there's usually a very strong endgame component, a sense that at the end of the leveling path, your training wheels are off and now you can get to the real game. In Final Fantasy XIV, you get to the end of the path and the game just looks at you in disbelief. That was the real game, and while there's stuff to do here at the top, it's all extensions of what you've already been doing. Gain marks. Make money. Look for drops, and participate in a couple of things that really are geared toward players at the cap -- but you can be doing that stuff several levels earlier, if you want.

Part of me is a little disappointed by this, but a lot of me is just pleased at the idea that the game offers you what it intends to offer from an early point. It bothers me when games introduce systems that only apply for the highest level bands, or when you enjoy the leveling game but hate the endgame setup. Heck, you don't even have to dwell on the cap if you don't want to -- you can just jump right back and level something else right away.

And a flashback from day one. Story points

Of course, hitting the level cap in Final Fantasy XI helped you bring a conclusion to all of the various threads started in the lower-level missions. You had national missions to conclude, then the single overarching storyline and the various accompanying missions that fleshed things out a bit more... it was diverse. Here, you get a mission at level 46 that claims to conclude an important part of your storyline, and... it doesn't.

I don't want to get into spoilers here, as I know there are people who still haven't finished the story. But the main plot quickly veers away from the national stories into a very different direction, and those national stories never wrap up. There are enough loose ends in Ul'dah that you could use them to suspend an airship, Smithsonian-style. At first I'd hoped that some of these would be addressed by the Grand Company quests, but they're addressed only in the sense of giving a wider frame of context for players to understand the storyline.

Also, the Sultana shows up, and she is searingly cute. But I'm part of the Adders, so that's not as much of a deal for me.

Compared to the much more focused stories in Final Fantasy XI, FFXIV's overall thrust felt a bit too broad past the whole "Path" business. Your companion is a nice touch, but there's not a whole lot of reason to get invested, and the story completely switches gears before completely failing to wrap up in any meaningful fashion. It's like ending a performance of Macbeth just before he murders the king. The conflicts are set up but never expanded on or brought to a conclusion, and the Grand Company storylines have chiefly been focusing on Cid, the respective leaders, and the occasional nod to things that you might only get if you had started in the city. It's working out well, but it's not really a conclusion to the main lines.

I'm hoping that this is just a temporary thing. But considering how final the end of the last story quest seems to claim it is, I think that's a bit more dubious. And considering the fact that all of this is going away in a year, I suspect we may or may not have the time left for things to really develop any further. Still, Yoshida has surprised us before.

So, yes, ding

All told, though, I do feel like reaching the cap was worth the effort. There are changes coming, and it's nice to know that whatever is around the corner, there's going to be more to investigate. Plus, you know, I can go curbstomp some wights pretty much any time I feel like it. Who's using Shadow Sickle now, huh?

OK, it's still you, but it doesn't hurt much any more.

At any rate, if you liked the column or didn't, leave a note in the comments or send a mail along to eliot@massively.com. Next week, let's talk about class distinction and roles as I move into dangerous meta territory.

From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.

This article was originally published on Massively.