I grew up with the Final Fantasy series so it always pulls at my nostalgic heartstrings whenever a new one is released. Disappointed with the release of XIV in its 1.0 state I was amazed at how Square Enix was able to right the ship with the release of A Realm Reborn. XI was a great MMO and now SE has been able to turn XIV into a worthy, if not direct, successor.
Excited about the prospects of Heavensward I jumped back into A Realm Reborn with trepidation due to the sheer amount of story quests from content patch 2.1 through 2.55 that I would have to complete to even begin to take part in the expansion. A few days in I found that I was no longer worried about completing these quests because I had been pulled into the Machiavellian story involving heads of state and the quest for the almighty gil. SE has also added additional quest rewards to make sure that players are appropriately geared once they reach the new Heavensward content.
Square Enix did a great job tying the story together and even giving a nod to an earlier character that you met when your adventure first began. At the beginning of Heavensward you’ll find yourself in the capitol city of Ishgard. On the run from Ul’Dah, you along with two other members of the Scions of the Seven Dawn seek asylum from your new allies. In exchange you will become entangled with their war against their nemesis the Dravanians. Square Enix has ratcheted up their story telling techniques and spins an engrossing web in this expansion that rivals any they have told so far. They start to explore more deeply into religious themes in this expansion and the dangers they perceive are inherent of dogmatic practices and religious fanaticism.
The biggest change to the gameplay in Heavensward is the addition of flying mounts. If you have returned to the game after a long absence the rest of the systems like triple triad, chocobo raising, gambling at the Golden Circle, and housing have been patched in with 2.1 through 2.55. Flying in MMOs is a divisive topic and Square Enix went about implementing it in a cautious way. For the most part you will have completed most of the content in a zone before you can actually fly in it, in particular you will have to unlock the Aether currents. This still leaves a sense of exploration the first time you go through a zone before you can hop on your mount and just quickly navigate the area.
Final Fantasy XI was widely heralded for its crafting. For XIV in A Realm Reborn SE did a serviceable job making sure crafting was important at the highest levels especially to create better harvesting and crafting gear. Crafters were also able to create gear that was on par with the earliest tiers of raiding gear. While Heavensward continues to provide crafters an outlet through creating items for housing crafters feel less relevant in the rest of the game. Also crafters cannot progress beyond 50 unless they have leveled a Disciple of War or a Disciple of Magic past 50 and completed the final quest of patch 2.55. Square Enix didn’t force Disciples of Land or Disciples of the Hand abilities to be tied to a characters Disciples of Magic or Disciple of War progress in A Realm Reborn. It seems odd that they would choose to do so now.
Heavensward introduces three new combat jobs to the game, Machinist, Dark Knight, and the Astrologian. They also provide 5 new high end abilities for all of the existing classes and provided the bards with a damage based limit break. The Machinist will allow you to play with guns and turrets and focus on damaging your opponents. The Astrologian is the new healer that can also buff the party or debuff the target with the help of their draw ability. The Dark Knight is the new tank added to the mix that provides some of the damage dealing ability of the warrior married with the damage mitigation of the Paladin. Some of the classes still have more complicated rotations than others and for more technical players that is welcome. However some of the classes could still use some balancing which Square Enix is hard at work on having already released one patch to work on balance issues.
If you enjoyed A Realm Reborn you will feel right at home in Heavensward. It really adds more of everything, more dungeons, more raids (Alexander), more zones, more classes, more primal fights, more bad guys to fight, and more countries to save. If you did not like ARR you won’t find much different to draw you in now.
Some may argue that the current generation of MMORPGs is filled with throw away imports that focus on monetization over quality. While that seems true for most of 2015’s releases Final Fantasy XIV’s expansion Heavensward bucks that trend and proves that there is still room for subscription based MMORPGs on the market that are not named World of Warcraft. If developers create a compelling game that is well polished and has content updates staggered at a reasonable pace they can be successful. Square Enix might even be able to teach the subscription based old dogs a new trick or two about timely content releases through an expansion cycle.
- Gameplay: 8 - The core gameplay systems have remained unchanged except that flying has been added into the mix. You won’t be able to fly right out of the gates in the new zone, however, and that’s a good thing.
- Aesthetics: 9 - The game already looked great and now supports DX 11. Also has one of the best scores in a MMO.
- Polish: 8 - The PC and PS client took a few days but they are running solidly. The Mac client needed some more time in the oven. Aside from that very few issues have been popping up.
- Social: 9 - Functional Free Companies (guilds) and with support from Linkshells that act as loose social circles (chat channels) this game supports playing with friends. Don't forget the handy Duty Finder!
- Longevity: 9 - With 30 to 40 hours of new story focused content and a growing subscriber base Square Enix has proven that FFXIV has some staying power.
- Value: 8 - This new expansion will set you back 39.99 and doesn’t come with 30 days of game time. But there's a whole Final Fantasy game's worth of story content on top of the usual MMO replayability as well.