I am finally on the final step of one of Final Fantasy XIV’s most lengthy, gruelling challenges: the “Relic” quest, which can begin the moment you hit level 50 and will keep you going right up into top-tier endgame play. It was designed as an alternative for more “casual” players to be able to get better weapons over time without having to jump into super-difficult raids — a process which requires organisation and commitment from people in order to make any meaningful progress. The intention was to give these “casual” players something that would take about as long to complete as it would for a raider to be able to master top-level content and score the sweetest possible loot from them, but somewhere along the line the Relic questline became all but obligatory for everyone to complete, if only as a matter of pride.
As previously noted, it’s a long and gruelling — though not especially difficult – process.
First you have the quest to acquire the weapon in the first place. This is an involved, multi-part affair that involves tracking its timeworn and weathered form down — usually from the depths of a monster-infested area — and then setting about finding the materials that master weaponsmith Gerolt needs to restore it to its former glory. Rather inconveniently, these materials can only be found in the somewhat uninviting lairs of Eorzea’s Primals Ifrit, Garuda and Titan, so having already floored these massive enemies once during the course of the main story, you’re now tasked with killing them again. This used to be a genuinely challenging task, back when the base Relic was pretty much the best weapon you could get in the game, but it’s become almost trivial now thanks to how well-geared the vast majority of the level 50 population is now. There’s also a dungeon to run (Amdapor Keep, which was the hardest four-player dungeon in the game when it launched, but which again has now become somewhat trivial) and two more boss fights against a Chimera and a Hydra that are new to the Relic questline.
After all this — and a bit of testing out the unfinished form of the weapon on unsuspecting members of Eorzea’s beast tribes — you’re finally blessed with an item level 80 weapon, which can be upgraded to item level 90 and made to glow in a rather fetching “this is special!” manner through the judicious application of Thavnairian Mist, a rare concoction that can only be acquired by exchanging Allagan Tomestones with collectors of rarities. Tomestones are a special currency rewarded for completing content at level 50 — since you no longer get experience points at this level, having reached the level cap, they form the basis for progression beyond this point. Pretty much anything that involves other people will reward you with Tomestones, be it four-player dungeons, eight-player Trials, twenty-four player raids or the extremely tough challenges of the Binding Coils of Bahamut.
This form of the weapon, known as Zenith, used to be pretty much the best weapon you could get outside of downing Turn 5 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut — a tall order even for well-geared players even today — and acquiring one of the Allagan weapons. But as time went on and the game gradually expanded with each new patch, so too did the Relic quest.
It began with Atmas, a step which, for many, proves an insurmountable obstacle, but which sets the pace for the amount of commitment required to finish this lengthy process. Atmas are small crystals containing the souls of fallen warriors, and can be acquired randomly by participating in FATEs — public events that occur every so often in each of the game’s zones — and completing them successfully. There are twelve Atma in total to collect, meaning you’ll have to visit twelve different zones to participate in FATEs. In game terms, this step was designed to get level 50 players helping out with low-level FATEs, since a tweak to how experience points were awarded in the game’s early days saw people turning to instanced dungeons for quick experience points rather than wandering around out in the open world helping one another.
The cruel twist in the Atma step was that once you’d acquired all twelve Atma, all that happened when you “upgraded” your weapon was that it lost its cool glow from the Zenith step. Its stats didn’t change at all. But it was still an important step, because it made your weapon ready for the gradual upgrade process that came next.
By exchanging further Allagan Tomestones with a collector in Mor Dhona, you could acquire books telling tales of the “Zodiac Braves”, and you’re told that by recreating these tales of derring-do using your Atma Relic, you can improve it considerably. What this boils down to is a set of objectives — 100 specific monsters to kill, three specific dungeons to complete (or, more accurately, three specific bosses to beat), three specific FATEs to participate in and three specific levequests (short, repeatable quests) to complete. You had to do this nine times in total; each completed book rewarded you with a small increase to the stats on your Atma weapon, so it gradually improved over time. When all the books were completed, your Atma weapon regained its glow — a more substantial one this time — and became its Animus form.
Next up, you’re told that you can improve the weapon further — and, crucially for this step, customise it — by infusing materia into a “sphere scroll”. In order to do this, you need the sphere scroll itself (which costs yet more Tomestones), seventy-five pieces of Alexandrite as a catalyst to infuse the materia into the scroll, and at least seventy-five pieces of materia of the appropriate types to give your weapon the stats you want. Alexandrite can be acquired by participating in FATEs, bought with Allied Seals acquired by beating the giant monsters of The Hunt, or by digging it up using Mysterious Maps acquired from a strange old lady in Mor Dhona who appears to have been using them to clean her kitchen. The more materia you attach to the scroll, the higher the chance that the infusion will fail; fortunately, you only lose the materia if this happens, while the Alexandrite remains in your possession. Your reward for successfully infusing seventy-five points’ worth of stats into the sphere scroll? Your Relic’s Novus form, which has a somewhat more imposing glow.
For a while, again, Novus was the pinnacle of what you could have in terms of weaponry, and it was particularly powerful due to the fact that you could customise it. The materia to do this — particularly for popular stats like Determination (which increases damage) and Critical Hit Rate (which increases the likelihood an attack will deal considerably more damage than usual) — didn’t come cheap, and the only other alternative was to “Spiritbond” equipment by using it to defeat monsters either in the world or in dungeons, then turn this equipment into materia, with random chance determining whether you’d get the kind of materia you wanted or a useless alternative. Thus, Novus was a long, difficult and expensive process for many, but taking the time to complete it would give you a strong weapon that would see you through pretty much anything the game could throw at you.
Then came another step. By “soulglazing” your relic and using it to collect soul energy — known colloquially as “light” owing to the fact your weapon glows with varying levels of intensity when it acquires this energy — you could make it more powerful still, improving the stats you’d infused into the Novus by a set amount according to the combinations and amounts you put in. In order to acquire light, you simply had to do pretty much anything that involved other people — dungeons, trials, even FATEs. Light was acquired at a very slow rate, however, and many resorted to running the same things over and over again for hours at a time in order to gain light most effectively. In practice, however, you could gain light at a good rate simply by playing the game as you normally would, attempting to acquire Tomestones to gear up your armour to match your increasingly powerful weapon. Upon filling your Novus with light, you’d be able to turn it into its Nexus form, the ultimate incarnation of the Relic you found all that time ago, and a weapon that you’ve truly helped to make your own.
But your efforts don’t end there. Through this whole process, you’ve been developing a relationship with both a scholar of these ancient weapons and a local master blacksmith, and it eventually becomes clear that it’s possible to recreate the legendary weapons of the Zodiac Braves themselves — but in order to do so there is, unsurprisingly, a somewhat convoluted process involved that requires you to do the dirty work of four separate individuals who have what you need to complete the weapon, but who aren’t about to give their prizes up quickly.
By far the most gruelling part of this phase is acquiring specific items from specific dungeons. These are drops similar to the Atma in that there’s only a random chance of you acquiring them when you complete a dungeon, and no guarantees. Consequently, you may find yourself running one dungeon lots and lots of times in order to acquire one specific item; at the other end of the spectrum, however, sometimes you get lucky and acquire it straight away. It’s unpredictable and, at times, infuriating, but oh so satisfying when you get what you need.
After completing this epic slog, you’re rewarded with a brand new weapon, recreating the form of one of the Zodiac Braves’ weapons and infused with the soul energy you collected using your Relic. (These Zodiac weapons take the form of iconic weapons from past Final Fantasy games such as Excalibur for a Paladin, Kaiser Knuckles for a Monk, Yoichi Bow for a Bard and so on.) This is the stage I got to tonight: I now have Excalibur and its companion Aegis Shield.
But there’s one final step to go: embracing the weapon’s apparent sentience and sense of will, and forging an unbreakable bond between the two of you. In order to do this, it’s another light grind similar to that for the Nexus, but this time instead of having to collect it all in one weapon, you gradually fill up twelve “mahatma” with soul energy, and the process is considerably quicker than before. This is the final step of a quest that’s been in the game since launch, and your reward is a weapon that is likely to be the absolute best piece of equipment you can get until the expansion Heavensward arrives later this year and makes all this work irrelevant. (Actually, that’s not quite true; producer Naoki Yoshida has said that those who put in the work to complete this questline will have a leg-up on whatever comes next come Heavensward time. Thankfully.)
It’s a slog, to be sure, and it’s even something that a lot of players will find offputting and want nothing to do with — thankfully, there are numerous alternative means of acquiring weapons, so even if you’re playing multiple classes you don’t have to go through this epic grind for all of them — but by God it’s satisfying to reach a milestone in. I’ve likened it before to the idea of “building your own lightsaber” in a Star Wars game — something which has never been given the gravity it deserves, even in the Star Wars MMO The Old Republic – and it’s true. By the end of this process, your weapon, even though it’s just a collection of numbers, is part of you and your play style, and an important part of your character as a whole; the unbreakable bond between character and weapon isn’t just for lore reasons — you’ll feel it yourself as a player, too.
So wish me luck as I proceed on the final chapter of the Relic quest; I’m hoping to have Excalibur’s “Zeta” form before I head off to PAX later this week. We’ll see if I’m successful!