Two years ago I dove into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn not knowing what to expect. Turns out the game had gone through a complete revamp and it made great use of a proverbial phoenix down that are prevalent in the Final Fantasy series. You can read the 2.0 review here. If you are a masochist and want to relive how bad 1.0 truly was you can take a look at that boondoggle’s review here. The biggest difference between going into the review of Heavensward as opposed to A Realm Reborn is now the bar is raised. Can Heavensward keep the momentum going for FFXIV?
In this first part of the review in progress I’m going to touch on the barriers to entry. I had intended on talking about the new classes too but those will have to wait until next week. Square Enix has asked us not to dive into the story until later on this month to avoid spoilers for everyone. I can respect and honor this decision and it is very similar to the request they made with A Realm Reborn. Also I have yet to really experience much of the new story because I ran into a wall. One we've chronicled a bit in Victor's columns.
About those barriers to entry, they are a doozy. If you played FFXIV in the past but haven’t played the game since the release of 2.55 and are looking to jump right into the new content after you install Heavensward you are in for a rude awakening. It’s not going to happen. You will be able to take advantage of certain new systems and the upgraded client that runs on DirectX 11 but you will not be able to learn either of the new classes or take part in the new Heavensward story until you complete the previous story. You will also not be able to level up your crafting or gathering skills past 50 until you get one of your Disciples of Magic or Disciples of War through the 2.55 story line. I had previously completed the game through 2.2. When I logged into head start last week I had to progress from Through the Maelstrom, and complete Defenders of Eorzea, Dream of Ice, and Before the fall. On a technical note the game runs well on low end machines. I know this isn’t something everyone is worried about but while trying to push into the new expansions and through the old quests I would log into the game whenever and wherever I could. In order to do this I used a laptop that isn’t really designed to play MMOs on but the client ran very well.
Needless to say l was less than thrilled at the prospect of spending the entirety of early access doing old content when everyone else was playing in the shiney new zones. Those content updates ended up being in the neighborhood of 70 quests and required about 24 hours of gameplay to make it through. I didn’t skip through the cut scenes and I actually read the dialogue. I didn’t want to rush it and not be able to report a true approximation of how long it would take to get through these quest lines. I did get lucky with all of the primals and dungeon quests though. I had very short queue times and was able to complete each instance on the first attempt. Square Enix has nerfed a lot of these encounters to make it easier for returning players to make it through. Because of this I believe my experience is probably typical of what the returning player can expect. Something else happened along the way through all of those quests.
What started off as a daunting task of being “stuck” playing content I had no desire to play and I view as nothing more than a chore and part of my job actually became a joy. I watched as the team behind FF XIV honed their storytelling craft and stopped having you run willy nilly around the world to conveying a more cohesive and intriguing story while having you run around the world a little less willy nilly. I ended up completing the last quest in patch 2.55 right as they closed the servers down on Tuesday night to perform the final maintenance as head start ended and the official launch began. So yes I did spend the entirety of head start doing the old content but I had a lot more fun than I thought I would along the way.
I know there are a lot of players that are not happy about the prospect of going through the 2.1 to 2.55 story. I was one of them. They believe that if they are 50 they should be able to jump right into Heavensward. I also know that some players spend the majority of their time crafting and completing the main story with a Disciple of War or Disciple of Magic when they prefer just to craft and gather is an undue burden to progress their crafting from 50 to 60. I sympathize most of all with the crafters. It seems to me they get a bad deal. But for the DoM and the DoW out there this really only makes sense. The Heavensward story picks up right where 2.55 left off.
Yes you could read a wiki or talk to other players and get a quick grasp of what is going on but it would not make a lot of sense from a narrative standpoint for you to skip from point D to point J without visiting all the story points in between. While there is a group that argues that other MMOs don’t make you do this I think Square Enix has proven by this point they are willing to part with the industry norm on certain aspects and do things their way. Also just because most companies have always done something one way with their expansions doesn’t mean that is the only way it can be done.
While Square Enix has erected some pretty talls barriers in the game for some aspects they have worked to alleviate them in others. They made a few adjustments to main story quests that take you from 1 to 50. Yoshi P has stated in a recent interview with MMORPG Editor in Chief Bill Murphy that you will earn enough experience from just doing the main story quests to get from 1 to 50. This will substantially expedite the leveling process for new and returning players that never made it to 50 before the release of the expansion. In addition the quests at 50 introduced in patches 2.2 to 2.55 will reward you with two full sets of gear that are at item level 110 which is also a requirement to take part in the new content. You won’t have to worry about grinding dungeons or primals to head north. They do however have inconsequentially experience rewards. A little under 5k a piece. Having completed 2.2 through 2.55 I had earned less than one third of a level.
To no one’s surprise there have also been some server issues. I have always been befuddled on the way Square Enix has their data servers set up. Once again I feel this has come back to bite them in the butt. While no where near as severe as with the release of a Realm Reborn there have been certain data centers where players have experienced extended downtime. On Cactaur I have been lucky and have dealt with limited queues and nothing that has extended past ten minutes. On the grand scheme of things while these service interruptions have made an impact, those impacts seem to be minimal.
I liked the end of 2.55 and it set up a nice cliffhanger on what was to come in Heavensward. It also made that launch trailer make sense for me where before I had no idea why all of a sudden dragons were everywhere and I was headed north and some scary looking wannabe pope was snarling at me. Next week while still avoiding story I’ll dive into the three new classes which I did unlock and see how they fit in with the current rogues gallery of available classes.