Let's be honest here: If this stuff isn't fun, all of the talk about the validity of forced grouping is kind of pointless. Even if you can, there are times when you shouldn't.
Fortunately for the long-term viability of these dungeons, all three have more than just nice loot (which is apparently shared between them); they also offer a fun ride through regardless. So as you could probably infer from all of the text up to this point, let's take a gander at the first three dungeons in the game and the ones we know for a fact you have to clear right off.
Constant, universal truths
First of all, as mentioned, all three dungeons seem to share the same fundamental loot list, including some very nice and visually distinct chestpieces you can earn for Disciples of War and Disciples of Magic. They're worth hunting down for cosmetics or for lower-level classes, certainly. I know I saw the same aetherial weapons drop in two separate dungeons. So there's not one dungeon or another that's better for loot purposes.
There's not one that's better or worse for experience, either; all of them are pretty excellent for that purpose. Rank 2 hunting logs generally have a few enemies in them from these dungeons, who are utterly unmissable, and every single dungeon pushed me up another level by the time I had finished. Even when I re-ran Tam-Tara and had to sync down, I got a very hefty chunk of experience in the equation, meaning that there's plenty of benefit to running something and syncing down once again.
Most pulls at this level don't require more than basic group coordination and focus on one target at a time and so forth. I'm told that later on it's more important to order your kills, but I'm not sure how much of that is just a matter of things getting dicey if the whole party is attacking different things. Focus on one thing and bring it down.
The layout of each dungeon is straightforward, with a couple of branching paths here and there that lead to an extra chest or two. You can argue that it's not cool to have your dungeon experience be largely a line; I have actually played through the original Wailing Caverns in World of Warcraft, so I am entirely fine with the idea that you can't wind up looping in circles for a week.
Also, despite queueing up for each dungeon as DPS, I never had wait times of more than 20-odd minutes. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that it's a beta, perhaps it's the server, and perhaps a lot of things. The point of anecdotal data stands for those who want such.
Sastasha: Pirates until you can pirate no more
Was there ever a hope that La Noscea's first dungeon would be about anything other than pirates? Limsa Lominsa's entire tourism board consists of reminding everyone that pirates exist, and here we are, dealing with pirates. The quest is even called It's Probably Pirates, for crying out loud. Because pirates.
Cards on the table: I am completely sick of pirates and have been since I was eight or so. At least Final Fantasy XIV generally portrays them as a bunch of criminal thugs who happen to be on a boat instead of lovable scamps with an organ that generates flip one-liners.
Let's talk about the actual content of the dungeon: You have a running fight with a pirate captain which consists of killing adds, you fight a kitty and learn to not stand in things, and you don't get any really nifty mechanics until the last boss requires you to seal grates or deal with adds spawning. What it does offer is lovely scenery, with all of the Las Noscean cave brilliance mixed in with some underground dwellings, followed by a cavernous dock at the end. Pretty, but the boss fights are essentially tutorials for later stuff, and it's not until the last fight that you really get something unique if you've played MMOs for a while. But it's all very capable, and it might be the most fun to run casually.
Tam-Tara: Oh, right, squid-faces are a thing in this franchise
Unlike the other two dungeons, Tam-Tara really doesn't have much of anything going for it. Its bosses are repetitive, the scenery isn't terribly attractive, and the mechanics of even the last fight are pretty mediocre. That being said, it's still a good dungeon -- it's just the weak link in the trifecta, that's all.
The point of the dungeon is that you're trying to break through to the center of this underground tunnel system to stop a ritual, but because the whole thing is laid out in a linear fashion, you can't possibly miss any individual part of this. Most of the boss fights consist of focus-firing down several things before dealing with a tank-and-spank boss, with the sole exception being the end boss. That's a bit more involved, as he periodically becomes invincible and summons a mass of enemies that need to be dropped with area damage quickly.
It's fun, but it doesn't light me on fire, even with the benefit of no pirates.
Copperbell: The finest gimmickry Ul'dah can offer
If the mechanics in the first two dungeons struck you as kind of pedestrian, good news: Copperbell doesn't play like that. Copperbell Mines offers three boss fights that are the very definition of gimmick fights, along with some wandering pulls that require the group to really be on the ball. Really, being on the ball is a constant requirement in here, and while it's not brutally difficult, an uncoordinated group will wind up wiping a few times.
The first boss is pretty simple, but first you have to contend with a full gauntlet of enemies, meaning you need to keep your resource expenditures in check so you've got gas left for the boss. Second fight is all about bombs, splitting slimes, and beating up spriggans. By the time you get to the last boss you're in a two-way race to kill adds before they break down a wall while still putting out damage on the boss, something made significantly harder when the other DPS doesn't bother listening to the announcement of more adds.
I might be bitter.
Copperbell isn't ridiculously tough, but it does ask you to be on the ball and an active participant in the game, and it mixes up dungeon strategies a fair bit. I'd like to see more stuff along these lines, an emphasis on understanding mechanics instead of just raw numbers.
All in all, though, the three dungeons are reasonably easy to clear and fairly quick, and they require awareness and flexibility more than they require strict adherence to a gear standard. I'm looking forward to what the endgame looks like if the development team can deliver more challenges along these lines.
Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I want to talk about Lightning, fanservice, the series as a whole, and tying things together.
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.