Warning! This post is born from a spoiler from Final Fantasy XIV‘s expansion, Heavensward, at about half the way of the story. I’ll try to avoid spoiling it openly, but there will possibly be words or phrases that may give an idea of what happens, therefore: SPOILER WARNING.
There’s a certain event that happens midway through the Heavensward leveling experience that really caught me off-guard. It’s one of those things that you see coming just a few seconds before it actually happens – and then it hits. Hard. I had seen the memes on Twitter, but without context it was impossible to know.
A day or two later, I was checking out a post in the World of Warcraft forums about XIV – it seems to be a topic over there, as some are claiming to leave WoW for XIV while others compare both titles – some positively, others negatively. Until I stumbled upon one poster that stated that XIV has a “mediocre story“. My first reaction was laughter, since one of XIV’s more celebrated strong points is the story and the way it is presented. Then I started thinking: I don’t remember any moment during my 5 years of WoW where the story punched me so hard in the gut as the one I referred to up there (and that’s not even taking the final events of 2.55 in consideration).
That’s not saying that Warcraft’s story is bad. WoW’s site used to have a lore encyclopedia that told the entire history of the universe, and it was a pretty interesting read. On a more modern setting, Warcraft 3 presented the tales of several heroes fighting against the Burning Legion, but it was the story of Arthas and his descent into a Death Knight and eventually Lich King that was the most interesting to me. It was the very announcement that WoW was having an expansion to deal with this very character that made me jump into that game in the late days of the Burning Crusade.
I played WoW until half-way through Mists of Pandaria, before the Timeless Isles patch. The story had its up and downs, but as interesting as it was at points, I can’t remember moments that had as much impact as the best ones from XIV. I am not alone in thinking that WoW’s charm wore off a bit after the Lich King, but even then I can’t remember such an impact. I enjoyed the switch to pre-rendered cutscenes using more detailed character models that began in Mists, but was it too late? One cannot simply say that one story is better than the other, since both Square Enix and Blizzard are very good at telling stories; is there a different approach?
Someone on Twitter gave me an answer: “In WoW you’re just a spectator while in FF14 you’re the protagonist.” XIV’s uses in-engine cutscenes for all story developments (with a couple of exceptions) and this allows them to include your character in all developments, reacting to what’s going on, even if it is through nods (as you are a silent protagonist). Even further, the characters in the world react to you as the hero of the story – even to the point of making fun of the fact you often do menial quests considering your position and fame – like the very memorable moment when you finish the 2.0 story (not 2.55, but vanilla 2.0) in which you come to your headquarters and everyone is clapping and happy to see you there, victorious.
And here we are, midway through Heavensward, seeing my character devastated at what’s happening around me. And I think that’s the kicker. It’s not just me watching an important story development, but my virtual avatar showing every ounce of despair and sadness in his expression. Together with Heavensward’s fantastic soundtrack it creates a terrific scene that can make even a sidelines character become just as important as any other.
I haven’t finished Heavensward yet (currently at level 58) but a few folks on Twitter who have basically say to expect an incredible closing. I can’t wait to get there, and see the next developments in this story.