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Stairway to Heaven

Final Fantasy XIV Columns - By Michael O’Connell-Davidson on July 31, 2018

Stairway to Heaven

It was a struggle, but I did it: I’ve finally cleared every floor of Heaven-on-High, introduced earlier this month in FFXIV patch 4.35. Long-time readers of this column will know that I was excited for the latest Deep Dungeon for months, and, now I’ve finally managed to clear it, I have to say I’m really satisfied with what was released. Here are my thoughts following my first successful foray to HoH’s greatest heights. (I’d recommend those unfamiliar with Heaven-on-High or XIV’s Deep Dungeons to take a look at some of the stuff I’ve written recently on the subject just in case you get lost).

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The little brother of Heavensward’s 200-floor Palace of the Dead, Heaven-on-High is a 100-floor randomly generated dungeon that becomes steadily more difficult the higher you get. You’re provided with bonuses in the form of Magicite, items that allow you to summon primals to clear of all enemies, and pomanders, items which provide various effects to make your life easier, such as revealing a floor’s map.

It’s broken up into ten-floor blocks with a boss at the end of each (with the exception of 91-100), and, while the bosses are always the same, just about everything else is different from run to run. You might have an abundance of buffs or several sets of terrible, weirdly shaped floors in a row; there’s no way to tell, so you’ll just have to deal with it. You don’t know where patrols are coming from, or even what’s patrolling.

This leads to an experience that’s way more interesting than the daily grind. Unlike dungeons or raids, where there’s one way of doing things and very little danger, Heaven on High constantly tests your ability to adapt and thrive. You need to in order to survive: One wipe after stage 30, and your run is over, and it’s back to the beginning with you.

You end up with stories about how things panned out along the way. Our tank — ostensibly a pretty clever guy — saw a room full of enemies and said: “Okay, how about you use a Pomander of Witching [which transforms mobs into mostly-harmless critters] and we just AOE them down?” Sure, we responded. What could go wrong? Within a few moments it emerged that even with a caster limit break we didn’t have the damage to kill everything before they turned back, and by the time they did, they were very, very angry. We had to spend a magicite on top of everything else just to save our asses, and it wasn’t a risk we had to take in the first place.

Our red mage also accidentally used an Odin magicite when we were in a sticky situation and yelling at her to use one of the others. Normally this would be insignificant; regardless of the type, magicite just kills everything on the floor and that’s that. But the Odin magicite is special, in that it can kill bosses, too. We were a few stages away from floor 90, and, with no boss on floor 100, it was the final boss floor before our goal.

We really wanted to just use Odin to guarantee the kill in case it pulled out some nonsense and wiped us, so I ended up getting really salty about her mistake — but it actually worked out in our favour, because the boss wasn’t that hard, and we ended up needing the extra magicite later once the normal floors got even harder. I ended up apologising profusely (and, in a sense, this is a public mea culpa) after we finished, because were it not for that, we likely would’ve wiped a few floors later.

When was the last time you had anecdotes like that about dungeon runs, or raids? How often do you think, “damn, if things went slightly differently, the outcome would have changed completely”? XIV is a brilliant game and consistently surprising, but content and particularly the way the community approaches encounters tends to be pretty static and consistent once the dust has settled. On the whole, there isn’t much room for strategizing on the fly or doing things differently in most XIV, but over the course of a Deep Dungeon dive, a sort of narrative builds up — ‘oh, this is how we dealt with this’, ‘this weird thing happened’, and so on. It’s a really great experience, and I gained a lot of respect for everybody I went in with.

A lesser undertaking?

While the later floors are no slouch, Heaven on High is definitely easier than Palace of the Dead. Dodging patrols and trying to make split-second decisions when a wipe will end a run is no minor undertaking. But even so, I managed to heal it despite barely playing White Mage; the only other max-level content I’d healed before this was expert roulette, and I was very bad at it. In addition, I need to stress just how much easier an 80-floor run to Heaven-on-High’s final stage is compared to the 150-floor run needed to clear Palace.

The total floor count in HoH is almost half, but the number of pomanders is the same. By the time we reached floor 90 and the end was in sight, we basically had a pomander that made life much easier for every single floor. While more floors mean more treasure chests, I don’t think I ever ended up with such an abundance of poms towards the latter end of a Palace clear, so it was much more forgiving.

I suspect we were also boosted by Stormblood’s new jobs; we went in with a part of Warrior, Red Mage, Samurai and White Mage.  Having resurrects on tap with Red Mage is such an incredible boon it feels like cheating, and Samurai really thrives in four-man content where its weaknesses are far less obvious and its personal DPS remains high. (In fact, if there was a greater range of difficult four-man content in XIV, I suspect Samurai would be the butt of far fewer jokes.)

The experience isn’t perfect, and any bugs we experienced primarily related to pomander use. We lost two pomanders of petrification (which turn all enemies on the floor into stone, causing them to die in one hit) because people used them as they died, meaning their effects never went off but the items themselves still counted as being used, vanishing into the ether, and we could have really done with those towards the end. A pomander of concealment, which cloaks the group, inexplicably covered three party members and missed out the fourth, so we had to use another.  When the line between life and death — and therefore five or six wasted hours, if a run ends prematurely — is so thin, stuff like this really shakes your confidence that you’ll get a fair shot in the end.

But outside of these issues, and some of the issues with deep dungeons more generally (such as Red Mage being disproportionately useful), Heaven on High is a really great experience that’s so much more accessible than its older brother. I didn’t come away with the same triumphant feeling I did at the end of Palace of the Dead, owing to the fact that HoH is much shorter, but few people even attempted a full clear of PotD. This is a much more well-rounded experience for a greater audience, and I think if people give it a chance, they’re going to have a great time making the climb with their friends. There really is nothing else quite like it — and making it to the top is an amazing experience.

Michael O’Connell-Davidson / Michael O'Connell-Davidson is MMORPG.com's FFXIV columnist. Follow him on twitter @mikeocd.