Eorzean Diary: Lonely Explorer

One of my favourite additions to Final Fantasy XIV over time has been the randomly generated dungeon Palace of the Dead.

I actually like it specifically because it’s one of the few pieces of content in the game that can legitimately be run solo while it’s still “relevant” to you. Other dungeons and Trials in the game only really become soloable once they are so far beneath your character and item level that the only reason to run them is “for fun” or for the sake of their story, but Palace of the Dead is pretty much always useful for something or other, be it levelling an alt class or simply obtaining some endgame tomestones.

The other nice thing about Palace of the Dead is that it’s been specifically designed with soloing in mind, since it even has its own leaderboard for solo adventurers.

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For those less familiar with Final Fantasy XIV, the usual way a dungeon works is pretty formulaic. Four players — tank, healer and two damage-dealers — run through a linear series of corridors, battling groups of enemies along the way before reaching one of the dungeon’s three bosses. Each boss drops a treasure chest with gear and, if the dungeon is level 50 or higher, awards Allagan Tomestones of various denominations which can be spent on endgame gear.

Palace of the Dead works a little differently. For starters, if you run it in multiplayer, the standard “holy trinity” rules do not apply for party composition: sometimes you don’t get a tank, sometimes you don’t get a healer, sometimes you don’t get either… and, of course, sometimes you get all tanks or all healers. This variety makes things pretty interesting — though lacking a healer in particular can make the challenges of the Palace rather more significant than they otherwise might be, which is why it’s so generous with potion drops.

The enemies in Palace of the Dead are significantly weaker than your average dungeon enemies. Some of them still pack a punch in terms of damage output or special abilities, but for the most part, even a solo Paladin — one of the lowest sources of damage in the game — can flatten them in just a few hits.

 

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The real challenge in Palace of the Dead comes from situational awareness. Taking on one enemy at a time is no problem even for a solo adventurer, but when you’re faced with a room full of enemies you have to be careful not to take on too much at one time. Even a tank can quickly get overwhelmed if you try to deal with too many enemies at once — and each floor has “wandering” enemies that saunter from room to room as well as those that spawn in specific rooms, so you need to watch out behind you, too.

Fortunately, Palace of the Dead’s other unique mechanics help you counter this situation somewhat. In particular, the special item Pomander of Witching enables you to render a group of enemies temporarily (mostly) harmless by turning them into toads or imps, which is great for emergency situations when you get bum-rushed by an unexpected group. Likewise, the Pomander of Rage enables you to turn into a manticore, which lets you one-hit kill most enemies, assuming the random “floor effect” in your current location hasn’t disabled knockback, which is where the manticore’s power comes from.

The nice thing about these options is that they don’t make you invincible. Even with fully powered-up weapons and armour — you gradually improve both inside Palace of the Dead, independently of the normal gear you wear outside and in the rest of the game — all it takes is one unfortunate mishap to leave you splattered across the nearest wall and having to start all over again if you’re chasing high scores on the leaderboards.

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Some people aren’t a fan of this “risk and reward” mechanic that Palace of the Dead has going on. And for sure, if you’re running it to level an alt class, or to get Tomestones, it can be infuriating to spend half an hour or more battling your way through hordes of enemies only to get flattened by an unlucky spawn — or, worse, the rather easy bosses that appear every ten floors. But for me, that riskiness is part of its appeal: it’s one of the few things in the game that you aren’t all but guaranteed to get through as soon as you step in there; it’s one of the few things in the game that isn’t completely predictable and pre-scripted, and for me, it’s one of the most exciting parts of the game as a whole as a result.

I’ve also found it a good way to familiarise myself with new classes. Since you level up in an accelerated fashion throughout Palace of the Dead, it’s a good way to get a general feel for how a class might play at high level. There’s no substitute to practice in a proper party, of course — and I’d discourage players from thinking that they can learn everything there is to know about a class purely from soloing Palace of the Dead — but in many ways, Palace of the Dead can provide a “preview” for high-level play in a particular class, and subsequently help you make a decision on whether or not you want to make it a priority to level.

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Through Palace of the Dead, I’ve come to learn and love Summoner, for example, not only because it is one of the best classes with which to solo Palace of the Dead, but also because it’s a satisfying, enjoyable class that fits nicely with my play style. Thus far I’ve taken the class from level 15 (where I left it many months ago, as Arcanist, having levelled it as a prerequisite for White Mage) all the way to 52 purely using Palace of the Dead and a couple of Levelling Roulettes. I’m pretty sure I still have a lot to learn about playing it in a multiplayer scenario, but Palace of the Dead has allowed me to do things like set up my hotbars in advance so I’m already familiar with the useful rotations and combos by the time I get to 60, as well as simply get a feel for what the class is “for” and how it works.

Palace of the Dead has seemingly proven to be quite popular with the player base as a whole, for a variety of reasons: the fact it’s a good source of experience points for levelling, a decent source of tomestones and also drops some good random treasure — mostly for glamour purposes — at irregular intervals. It’s also a nice change from the usual grind, so I hope the idea of “Deep Dungeon” continues to be explored and expanded upon throughout upcoming expansion Stormblood, since it’s already off to a strong start.


Eorzean Diary is a regular column based on enjoying the world of Final Fantasy XIV as a more casual player.

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