Raiding in Final Fantasy XIV is…weird.
This weekend, I took my first step into the Alliance Raids, another pillar of Final Fantasy XIV’s endgame content structure.
Unlike WoW, raiding is overall much less time-demanding in FFXIV. The core structure of raiding splits into roughly 3 major content types – 8-player normal raids, which are somewhere between LFR and Normal fights in WoW, and have you queue for one boss at a time, with each instance being self-contained – a “turn” to use the original A Realm Reborn terminology is a single boss and any supporting content that might exist in that instance – any trash would be a part of the “turn” but trash is fairly minimal in the 8-player raids. The game releases 4 “turns” at a time, with all of them constituting a full raid tier. You have to do a quest to unlock the first turn, which leads you to do that turn, and then that enables you to unlock the next turn, and you repeat this sequence until all 4 turns in a given content update are available. On every even-numbered patch, a new 4-instance raid is made available, and there are typically 3 such raids in an expansion. In Stormblood, for example, 4.0 saw the Omega Deltascape raid, with 4 different fights, 4.2 released Sigmascape, with 4 new encounters, and 4.4 released Alphascape, with its own 4 new bosses.
Then, there is Savage, a difficulty mode very similar to Heroic in WoW – it is slightly less mechanically dense, but since FFXIV does not support addons, it doesn’t have to be extra-full of mechanics. Savage modes are unlocked after doing the base raid, and while they can be queued for, they are typically a static group activity. You have to progress through the encounters on Savage to unlock them in order, the same as normal, so completing Deltascape 4.0 opens Deltascape 1.0 (Savage), and completing that opens 2.0 (Savage) and so on. These sometimes offer additional, bonus phases – the current expansion has had end-tier bosses that are references to main-series Final Fantasy games, and the alternate forms tend to mirror things they did in these prior games.
Lastly, the main topic of this post, are Alliance Raids, which are completely different beasts altogether. Alliance Raids are 24-player raids, made up of 3 eight-player groups (called Alliances, hence the name) with each Alliance bringing 1 tank, 2 healers, and 5 DPS to the table. This is queue-able, so no need to have that many friends! These pieces of content more closely mirror what a WoW player might deem a “raid” – they are larger instances, run through in a single sitting, with a few bosses, trash between the bosses, and a storyline running through our involvement there. However, the fascinating thing about many of the 24-player raids in FFXIV is that they are often subplots in their own right, and with both Stormblood and the upcoming Shadowbringers, are made in partnership with guest creators from within Square Enix, so they often end up being love letters to other games and franchises.
The current 24-player raid series that shipped with Stormblood is called “Return to Ivalice,” and if you are an FF fan, you might be correctly excited by that name. It is a raid series focused on locations and elements of the world of Ivalice, explored in Final Fantasy Tactics and in Final Fantasy XII. Similarly to the 8-player raids, each wing releases on a fixed patch number, with the odd numbered patches containing new 24-player content. With Stormblood, 4.1 saw the first wing, The Royal City of Rabanastre, 4.3 saw the second wing, the Ridorana Lighthouse, and the newest patch, 4.5, had the final wing, The Orbonne Monastery.
While longer, these raid wings each take about 30 minutes on average, and similarly to the main 8-player raids, require unlock quests and that you complete the raids in a series in sequence to unlock the following tiers. The quests are more involved, especially in the current era of guest creators, as the setup needed to bring these fanservice elements into Eorzea as proper content is a bit higher. (The next expansion, Shadowbringers, will have to figure out how to integrate the world of Nier: Automata with FFXIV, which is going to be fascinating!) The raids themselves are full of fun bits of reference, as many bosses in Return to Ivalice are pulled directly from FFXII, and several story elements call back to these games with familiar character names and plotlines.
From a gameplay perspective, these encounters fill the gap in difficulty between the normal 8-player raids and Savage, as they have more mechanical density and require a higher degree of accuracy in execution, but are lighter and friendlier than Savage, which is good since the Alliance Raids are matchmade. There are a lot of split-group mechanics requiring your full raid split into 3 (convienently the number of parties in the raid!) and manage mechanics like an add phase, or some sort of split-damage mechanic.
Visually, these raids are stunning – on my PC (huge grain of salt since a 1080Ti on watercooling fed by an 8-core/16-thread CPU can still brute-force a lot of visual detail!), all 24 players casting spells and running around didn’t cause any noticeable degree of performance degradation, and the environments are gorgeous. While there is a lot of desert brown hinted at early on, the fights progress through a bunch of environments, with each raid taking place over multiple settings including tropical deserts, underground waterways, deep ruins, clockwork towers, forest areas, and deep vaults containing dark monsters from bygone eras.
The experience of playing in this way was a bit different – but similar to LFR in WoW, a few strategy videos on YouTube exist along with written guides, and they will clarify many of the mechanics to get you started (it helps that both Rabanastre and Ridorana are fairly far behind the current gear curve, so many groups will absolutely faceroll through them in no time).
Overall, I was actually fairly nervous about joining in an Alliance Raid, but I set out to begin unlocking all the content in the game to see what I was missing. The truth of the game is that you can play through all the other content without doing raids and still have a pretty good time (I still haven’t done Sigmascape or Alphascape!) but the design is actually pretty good in Stormblood, and the 24-player raid series’ have been consistently labeled as some of the best content in the game. I had a good time in all 3 raids in the Return to Ivalice series, and the encounters were simpler than I was used to in WoW, but also made harder by the lack of boss mods meaning that some mechanics require more attentiveness than responding to DBM callouts.
The other nice thing about the content is that the current wing has loot restrictions to one piece per week, the prior wings can be repeated as much as you like for loot. You can still repeat the current wing too, but if you have received loot from it for the week, you can’t get anything else. This makes transmog…err, Glamour, farming much easier, as you are not artificially constrained from joining an Alliance and rolling through the raids to get those last missing looks.
Overall, I was really impressed with my first foray into the largest raid size available in Final Fantasy XIV, and I can only imagine how weird and crazy the fights will be in Shadowbringers!