There’s always some uncertainty when the fourth major patch following a new Final Fantasy XIV expansion rolls out. The third major patch resolves most of the expansion’s plot threads, and the fourth patch starts setting things up for the next expansion. This is where we get a taste of where the story will be taking us for the next two years, and though there are hints and speculation before this point, we don’t really start to see what Square Enix is cooking up until the penultimate major patch. I’ve been particularly apprehensive about this patch because Shadowbringers has been so exceptional, but I’m not sure I want the story to go where it’s likely headed. Unfortunately, patch 5.4 all but confirms that the story is indeed heading where I really hoped it wouldn’t. Of course, there will be some surprises between now and the launch of the next expansion, but for now, I’m just a little bit worried.
The main issue with 5.4’s story is its antagonists. There’s a forgettable secondary antagonist introduced and dealt with rather anticlimactically, but the Scions’ first meeting with Fandaniel — the unhinged Ascian with the oh-so-punchable stolen face — and his confirmation that yes, Zenos is just as crazy and bloodthirsty as ever, is what really concerns me. Part of what made Shadowbringers so great was its nuanced main antagonist, Emet-Selch. He didn’t just want to cause pain and suffering throughout the Source and its shards; he had an understandable, if twisted, goal that you could almost sympathize with. Even Elidibus, who was not quite as endearing as his compatriot, wound up being sympathetic by the end of 5.3. With Fandaniel gleefully announcing both his and Zenos’ intentions at the end of this patch, however, I fear the same will not be true for these two villains. I would love for Square Enix to prove me wrong, of course, but as of right now, it looks like we’re returning to the days of one-note villains from Stormblood. As you might recall from my retrospective review, I didn’t much care for that particular aspect of Stormblood, so seeing the story move in this direction is something of a letdown.
There is one great thing about 5.4’s main scenario, though. I won’t spoil it, but it involves resolving a longstanding plot thread and helping a certain unfortunate character from one post-Heavensward patch. This particular resolution has been a long time coming, particularly for one of your allies, and it was wonderful to finally see this injustice righted. It doesn’t quite make up for my disappointment at the end of the patch, but it does help. There is also a new dungeon introduced as part of the main story that serves as a brief but somewhat humorous distraction. Matoya’s Relict doesn’t do anything new or feature interesting mechanics, but the psychedelic lava and porcine final boss might make you chuckle a bit.
Of course, for a lot of players, the main scenario quests are a secondary concern. Patch 5.4 introduces not only a new 8-man trial and its Extreme variant but the final leg of the Eden raid series, consisting of four fights players can challenge in either normal or Savage mode. The new trial is a fight against FFXIV’s version of Emerald Weapon, and it’s a definite improvement over 5.2’s Ruby Weapon. In fact, it’s kind of a reversal of sorts. Whereas Ruby Weapon had a longer and more mechanically complex first half followed by a short and laughably simple latter portion, Emerald Weapon’s first half is short and easy and the second half is where the real challenge (at least in Extreme) comes in. Overall, it’s a more enjoyable fight in my opinion, though the story accompanying it is getting increasingly disturbing. 5.5’s conclusion should be pretty interesting, though I’m prepared for it to be equally tragic.
I have mixed thoughts about the conclusion of the Eden raid. The story has some sweet and heartfelt moments, the lore revelations are intriguing, and the ending is pretty cool if you’re a FFVIII fan, but the whole thing feels a little rushed and reserved in places. Perhaps this is because of the smaller cast of characters or the limitation of four fights as a framework for the story. Whatever the reason, I kept expecting the twists of the plot to hit me harder than they ended up coming off, but your mileage may vary. As for the fights, I didn’t find the bosses themselves that interesting, but their mechanics ended up being fun to work out and execute. I was initially somewhat disappointed by the final boss in normal mode, but as has become tradition since Stormblood, the Savage version has an additional form. I will not reveal the details, of course, but let’s just say that one of my greatest hopes since the the reveal of this raid series’s theme about two years ago has come true in spectacular Soken fashion.
There are a few miscellaneous quests that are also worth a brief mention. First, the NieR questline will not be concluded until 5.5, but there is a bridge quest of sorts to tide us over until then. Unlike the similarly positioned quest we got in 5.2, this quest is meatier and includes a surprise twist that has actually made me quite excited for the upcoming resolution. Second, if you have completed all role quests (including the bonus quest unlocked upon completion of all four role questlines), you can access a small new series of sidequests called void quests. As you might surmise from the name, these quests have to do with the Void, AKA the Thirteenth shard that fell to darkness before the events of FFXIV. Some of the developments in these quests will likely be of interest to players who enjoy the lore of the game’s fragmented world, and though the questline is currently brief, it looks like it will continue in later patches. The resolution to this series of quests has the potential to be intriguing, especially for any players who have wondered whether the Thirteenth could be saved in a manner similar to the First. I know that the events of Shadowbringers left me very keen on the idea, at least, though I had hoped it would be part of the main story and not a side quest, let alone one that requires a fair amount of time and commitment to unlock.
Last but not least, several quality of life additions and changes in patch 5.4 may be of interest to players. First up is Explorer Mode, which allows individual players or light parties to run through completed dungeons without having to worry about enemies or objectives. Mounts and minions are accessible in this mode, and players can freely change to any job they have unlocked, attack striking dummies, and execute limit breaks at will. The dungeons you can access this mode in are limited to those introduced over the course of Shadowbringers at present, but more will be added in future patches. Second, Monk has received the major overhaul the developers had been promising for a while now. I don’t play Monk myself (yet), so I can’t comment much about whether the changes are good or bad, but let’s just say that they are quite substantial. Finally, gathering collectables has been substantially modified. All-new actions have been added for collectables, replacing the old actions entirely, and the interface used to gather these items has been revamped. It is now much easier to tell what each action will do, how much GP it will cost, and the result when you collect an item. In fact, it’s almost too easy to max out collectability now, but I suppose that kind of judgment is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.
That’s true of the rest of the patch too, I suppose. I’m not crazy about the direction the main story appears to be going, but other players who like Zenos and his new Ascian companion may feel differently. One thing seems to be for sure, though: we are headed for an explosive confrontation. Whether that will happen before the next expansion or as part of it, I can’t say. I just hope that round two against Zenos is better than round one.