Endwalker is coming, and I’m not ready for it. I came to Final Fantasy XIV only this year, ravenously tearing through A Realm Reborn and Heavensward before abandoning the game somewhere in the middle of Stormblood, which is generally considered to be inferior to the other FFXIV expansions.
Then news of a new expansion hit, rekindling my desire to restart my journey, hopefully finishing in time for Endwalker’s launch. I harbored no illusions about my ability to power through one-and-a-half expansions’ worth of content before December 8th, but I could try, and trying meant getting through Stormblood first. So I proposed an experiment: Final Fantasy XIV will go down for maintenance at 4AM EST in preparation for a new patch and to open up Endwalker early access for the lucky chosen. If I could finish Stormblood before the servers go down, I’d be in a good spot to get close to the end of Shadowbringers in time to start Endwalker, if not by launch day, then that same week. Could I do it?
Without knowing where I was in the Stormblood main story questline and dedicated to the foolish idea of keeping my tank and healer jobs evenly leveled, I said yes.
One thing I appreciate about Final Fantasy XIV is that it respects your time. If you want to play multiple classes in other MMOs — like World of Warcraft — you have to level different characters for each class, often forcing you to repeat content. Final Fantasy’s job system lets you level as many classes as you want on the same character seamlessly. I can bounce between my gunbreaker tank and astrologian healer while progressing through the main story quest with relative ease. I’ve even developed a method by which I kept those two classes close in level. I’d gain two levels on my gunbreaker, then switch to my astrologian and catch up, rinse and repeat. It’s not a perfect system. Sometimes I’d get too far ahead in the main story quest on one class such that when I switched to the other class, I didn’t meet the level requirement to continue, forcing me to stop progression and grind a little bit to make up for lost XP.
Now you’d think in the mad dash to finish Stormblood before server maintenance locks me out of the game that I’d give up this quirky leveling dance in favor of picking one class and powering through. You would be wrong.
I, like Thanos, am a creature of balance. If my class levels fall too far out of sync, there’s a greater chance that one class would be left behind to toil in meaningless side-quests to catch up. I hate grinding with a passion. There’s a reason I’ve only created one character in a decade of playing World of Warcraft. I enjoy both classes too much to leave one behind because of my stubborn refusal to grind, and that rule stuck even when time was of the essence.
At around midnight, I had about 700,000 XP to go to even out my class levels and unlock the next main story quest. I decided to hop across the map completing fates, which are timed quests with large XP rewards anyone can participate in. I was alone, finishing a fate, when a player joined me. I didn’t catch their name, but when we finished the fate, they performed the kiss emote in thanks. I went to the next fate, and there they were again, and again for the fate after that. I loved it. Our purposes were temporarily aligned (they were probably in need of a quick grinding session like I was), and we had this very human connection and cooperation while never actually speaking to each other, communicating only in emotes. For a moment, there was a bond forged — and just as quick as it came, it was over.
Most of my MMO-playing life has been dedicated to being a damage dealer because I didn’t think I was capable of handling the responsibility that comes with being a tank or a healer. You can generally muddle through with a bad damage dealer, but if the tank or healer sucks, it’s game over. I decided to step out of my comfort zone by playing those classes in FFXIV, and while my confidence in these roles has improved, I still get anxious when it’s time to do a story dungeon. I spent an incredible amount of time last night trying to level my healer to 70 because, even though my tank was already at level 70 and could go on to finish the final dungeon, thereby finishing Stormblood with time to spare, I was terrified of tanking that dungeon. The dungeon’s single boss fight was so complex with so many mechanics to remember and watch out for that I thought there was no way I’d get through it without killing the party, wasting precious time. I spent a lot of time I couldn’t really afford to spare getting my healer to 70 so I could do the much easier (but still incredibly stressful) job of healing.
I reached 70 on my healer by 3AM. The servers go down in an hour, I’m bleary-eyed and hunched over my keyboard, but I made it. Once I finish this dungeon, I’m done. And that should be a quick task because while damage dealers have to wait exceedingly long times to get into a dungeon, healers don’t, as they are generally in higher demand with a lower supply. I entered the queue, and I waited.
What I thought would be an instantaneous queue stretched on and on because my dumb, sleep-deprived ass didn’t realize that most people still playing Final Fantasy XIV an hour before server maintenance probably have better things to do than queuing for a dungeon from an expansion ago.
lol i really did think i could slide in at the buzzer
— Ash Piss-mad Bear Parrish (@adashtra) December 2, 2021
I waited 20 minutes — an unimaginable amount of time as a healer — thinking that my quest to finish Stormblood before time ran out would end here in failure. Of course, I could come back after maintenance and try again, but I was disappointed because I had come so close to achieving my absolutely bonkers goal. I looked away to tweet my failure, my hand moving toward the escape button as I finished so I could log out in shame. I almost missed the “Duty Commenced” box letting me know the party was full and the dungeon awaited. I very nearly clicked “withdraw” in surprise.
Turns out, my fears about this dungeon were unfounded. My group made light work of the boss, Shinryu, with barely a scratch, let alone a death. We just blew through it like wet tissue paper, even though the dungeon guide video I watched made me believe this boss would wipe the party for the tiniest mistake. To the seven of you who queued for a Stormblood dungeon in the final minutes before server shutdown, thank you.
Once Shinryu lay dead, and after several dramatic cutscenes, I arrived at Stormblood’s end with less than 30 minutes to spare.
I won’t miss Stormblood. It was a typical revolution story that didn’t seem to match the grandioseness of the stories that came before it. And while Stormblood didn’t move me the way Heavensward and A Realm Reborn did, this experience definitely improved my overall impression of it. For me, Stormblood was an expansion about the journey, not the destination, and this time, the end of the journey was the best. I will look back on the traveling companions who accompanied me through the final minutes of Stormblood fondly, even though I’ll never remember their names nor much else of what happened in this expansion. Now only Shadowbringers stands between me and my trip to the moon in Endwalker, and from what I hear, it’s the best of the best.