It's momentarily tempting to say that this is a return to more old-school design, but that's not accurate. There was a time when the very concept of solo content was seen as something strange and alien, certainly not something to be put in the game as a major part of the progression path. Not to mention the fact that conventional wisdom says these are terrible options because we all complained about it. You can long for the days of slow travel between zones, but back when your only option was slowly picking your way through Valkurm Dunes in Final Fantasy XI, I doubt you thought it was a great design choice.
There are lots of places where the game seems primed for a full-on rant. The numerous times that the game comes to a screaming halt for an instanced raid, for example, something that it does on 13 separate occasions. Or the quest that requires you to run across Thanalan, have a conversation, run back across, then up to Gridania through several points with no convenient connections, and then back to your origin point with nary a sidequest along the way. Heck, the initial Primal fights don't give you anything aside from a pittance of experience.
And yet the game never triggered my ranting gland. At no point did I throw up my hands and decide that this simply wasn't worth the effort.
Part of that was a combination of timing and my own character choices. I decided early on that I wanted to play my Marauder for a good chunk of the storyline, and a good tank never wants for friends. And it's early in the game's lifecycle. People with less time to play are still moving through things, so there's heavy demand for doing things that are otherwise less than desirable. (There is never a reason to re-queue for Garuda story mode.)
But a lot of it is due to the way that the game is designed, starting with a steady ramp-up in instances, threats, and general scope.
One of the things that the game skillfully avoids is using a zone and then abandoning it. I was questing in Eastern Thanalan on three separate occasions, each time in a different segment than I had explored before. If you head to the North Shroud early on you find yourself with several quests in a low-level region... along with Banemites milling about just on the other side of a bridge.
You won't get attacked by them; there's enough distance between you for that. But they crouch there, taunting you, letting you know that one day, you'll have to face them. Most of the game taunts you with more regions to explore that you have yet to see, threats you will face when you're ready but not before.
Nothing feels arbitrary. When you're assaulting Stone Vigil, it's a nest of major draconic threats that requires more than one person to clear. But when you're facing off against some of those threats earlier in a solo fight, you're there with several NPCs and don't have the time to assemble a proper strike team. The last three bits of the game require an eight-person team, but you're taking part in a large-scale military operation. And considering your final opponents, eight people feels entirely fair.
The points when you're wandering all over feel like points when you are actually aimless, when you don't know what to do next. You're not just running to random points for the heck of it; you're running around because things are kind of a mess. It's a mirroring effect.
But the game also benefits from the fact that you're never really stymied. You have limitations, yes, but there are always options for leveling, always things to do if you can't get a group right away. Between leves, FATEs, and the plethora of other classes to level, there's nothing stopping even a DPS character from queueing up and still playing during the wait time.
If you couldn't change classes easily, if you weren't gifted with a plethora of gathering and crafting options, if there weren't solutions for the need to quest when there are no quests available... then maybe there would be reason to get annoyed. But as it stands, even when the main story goes into normally obnoxious territory, it still doesn't force you into miserable situations. You've still got fun stuff to do.
But how is the whole thing as an actual story? We'll talk about that another time.
For this week, feel free to leave feedback down in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, it's time to talk about how to make money, and the week after that I am going to drop some spoilers in the aftermath of the conclusion.
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.