How a Poorly Designed Boss Made the Entire FFXIV Community Lose Its Shit For A Goddamn Month

February 21, 2017

Final Fantasy XIV is my current weakness. I wrote about it previously when I discussed the game’s interesting rules concerning addons and log parsers. Today though, we’re talking about Zurvan.

Recently added in patch 3.5, Zurvan Extreme is the latest Primal, a single raid boss generally intended to be easily killed in PUGs. Despite being touted by the developers before release as intended to be harder than other recent bosses, well, Zurvan is pretty goddamn easy. The fight itself only has three mechanics that aren’t some variation on “don’t stand on X when he casts Y” and two of those could be completely skipped on day 1 with a decent amount of DPS. The fight was cleared within an hour of the servers coming back up after the patch and some of the first groups to do it seemed honestly confused that nothing seemed to actually happen until the boss was pushed to 60% HP.

Many more groups after that seemed even more confused when they tried the fight and found that, for them, things did happen and they ended up wiping to a fight that they had previously been told was faceroll. And then everyone got really salty when they figured out what the hell was going on.

The way the fight works is as such:

  1. Literally nothing happens for the first 50 seconds or so of the fight. Some fire puddles get dropped underneath players that have to be moved out of but for anyone that’s played any MMORPG for any length of time, getting out of the fire ought to be second nature. Parts of the floor drop out during this time but the safe one to stand on will always be the south one that you spawn in on, so there is exactly zero point for this mechanic to even exist. For this entire minute of the fight the boss is essentially one of those targeting dummies you practice your rotation on in town. Congratulations you just beat phase 1.
  2. Literally nothing happens for a few more seconds. Seriously. The last part of the floor drops down and you get to stand around attacking the boss a little bit more. Welcome to phase 2. It ends at 75% of boss HP.
  3. MOTHERFUCKING SOAR. Most mechanics in FFXIV are handled with memorization rather than reaction, including Soar. The boss disappears and some bright red lines appear on the floor. From this you’re meant to extrapolate where is a safe place to stand by doubling the length of the lines in your head. If players try to stack for this, they’ll die. But since there are only 2 patterns that Soar can take, everyone just claims a position and goes there and it becomes one of the easiest mechanics in MMO history.
  4. Demon Claw, which never, ever happens. You will literally never see this mechanic in phase 2. The tank is meant to position the boss against the wall of the arena and everyone is meant to stand in the big glowy rectangle to share damage but that never happens because you will literally never see Demon Claw in phase 2 unless something has gone very wrong.

The above two mechanics are meant to repeat until the boss hits 75% HP, which pushes the fight into the phase 3, where nothing happens except for the standard fare of “don’t stand there when the boss casts XYZ”.

Unfortunately, these mechanics don’t repeat. Most of the time they don’t even go off once. Because the first phase was essentially a minute and a bit of free DPS time and the boss has quite a small HP pool, it’s very possible with a decent level of gear and skill to just skip that second phase altogether and never see Soar and Demon’s Claw until much later in the fight. Where you just ignore them.

How did PUG groups react to the fact that 2 out of 3 mechanics in a fight can be straight up skipped? As saltily as humanly possible, of course.

Although the fight had been out for less than a week multiple Party Finder entries had some kind of stipulation in the description that the group would disband or the lowest DPS would be kicked if the group even so much as saw the first Soar. Some parties had their minimum item levels set so high that most of the people who could actually join probably didn’t need the weapon that the boss drops anyway. Even parties for first-time clears were forming with the idea in mind that skipping the fight’s second phase was the only acceptable outcome of doing the fight.

People ragequitting over not skipping, ragequitting over other people wanting to skip, many, many reddit and forum threads… A month later skipping Soar has become a meme in itself and party finder seems to have calmed down a bit. But for a while, the salt was real. And it was all Square Enix’s fault.

Tuning a fight such that an entire phase can be skipped on day 1 is incredibly bad encounter design. You kind of have to wonder how much SE actually playtested the fight before releasing it, since it was apparently intended to be harder than previous ones in the expansion.

Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t use a Public Test Realm like WoW does, meaning that all encounter testing is done in-house. Did Square bother to test how easily the trial could be cleared at different gear levels or just the bare minimum required to enter? Were encounter testers playing classes that they were knowledgeable about or comfortable with? Are the QA employees that Square uses to test raid encounters just not as good at the game as even the most average player?

Of course, focusing this post entirely on how an entire phase can be easily skipped doesn’t do justice to how poorly the fight was also designed in every other way.

The add phase lasts way too long to be fun and consists of the exact same group of mobs being spawned three times. The next mechanic, Broken Seal, is somewhat trickier than Soar and Demon Claw but is still completely trivial to groups using VOIP.

The final phase sees one more Soar and Demon Claw that can’t be skipped with average DPS, but the widely accepted strategy for dealing with those is to use the tank’s Limit Break to nullify almost all damage from ignoring Soar and for the tank to use their invulnerability skill to soak all the Demon Claw damage alone. So players still don’t have to do those mechanics.

So yeah. Zurvan Extreme is probably one of the most poorly designed raid encounters I’ve seen in my decade+ of playing MMORPGs. Nothing really happens during the entire encounter and the few things that do happen can either be skipped, cheesed or just completely ignored. It’s not visually interesting nor is the music that plays during the fight at all good or memorable. And the poor encounter design makes pugging the fight more of a chore than it has to be because the possibility of skipping an easy mechanic makes the average PUG player really, really angry for some reason.

It’s sad to see an otherwise good series of bosses end on a sour note like this.