This review comes late and it's because I wanted to give you the best insight I could. Final Fantasy is about the lore, and the 14th iteration of the franchise does not make an exception just because it's an MMO. I wanted to immerse myself in the Main Quest Story thoroughly, to the last cutscene, skipping as close to 0 as possible. This meant that it took way more time than anticipated to reach a point where I'm comfortable giving you my opinion about it. At the same time, I feel that rushing the content in a game like this, where the lore is important like few others, would have meant that I would have given a half-assed review of a game that honestly deserves better to readers that definitely deserve better. I hope the wait will be worth it.
THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS. There will be no story spoilers, but there will be references to bosses and content. Nothing you wouldn't find in a patch note, but you've been warned.
I'm not by any means a Final Fantasy XIV veteran. I started playing it 3 months prior the release of the expansion and by the time Heavensward released, I had only my main job (monk) at the level cap. That said, the game gave me a blast. I loved the story, the characters, the gameplay, the scenery and the music—oh God the music. In just a month or so, I started anticipating the expansion almost as much as the others of my free company, some of which played since 1.0. A few weeks ago Heavensward hit the stores. Just taking the time to gobble my Fantasia and change the aspect of my character to an Au Ra, the demon-like new race added with Heavensward, I jumped right into it.
Now I'm ready to report.
Heavensward starts right after the dire events that concluded the Main Quest Story of A Realm Reborn. We have Alphinaud, Tataru and The Warrior of Light traveling to the snowy lands of Ishgard to seek asylum. There, as often happens to videogame characters, they find themselves involved in a thousand-years-old war, political intrigues, dark secrets, and the constant menace of Primals. That's not counting the disastrous political situation our heroes left behind them in Ul'Dah, Gridania and Limsa Lominsa.
Focusing on the Ishgardian side of things, Ishgard is in the middle of the Dragonsong War, a conflict that continued for centuries with no hint of peaceful resolution. In this war, Ishgard faces the menace of the dravanian horde led by the ancient Wyrm Nidhogg. The dragons also have the support of the so called "heretics," individuals that decided to side with the dravanians in the conflict. Needless to say not everything is what it seems.
I'll not delve into the details of the plot because I don't want to rob you of the experience. I'll talk of the quality of the lore instead. What we have in Heavensward is the further confirmation that Final Fantasy XIV delivers the most intense and masterfully crafted Final Fantasy story after the PSX games era ... and I'd say it rivals some of the old glories as well.
The characters feel authentic and are masterfully characterized. The dialogues flow effortlessly—though some people could have something to say against the sheer amount of it. I'm not amongst them—and are awesomely written. The story itself is of great quality, with many plot twists and build ups to core moments that will most likely leave you speechless. Even the side quests are carefully crafted. If you played the game before you'll already know it, but most secondary quests have actually their own subplots. Whenever someone asks you to do something, you'll always be learning some kind of backstory behind their reasons. In MMORPGS or RPGs in general, no one does anything for nothing. In FFXIV, they'll also not do anything with no reason.
I wrote before about the importance of villains in videogames. Considering the many storylines that Heavensward follows, one would expect as many villains. That's actually not the case. It's true that you have many enemies. Let them be in the form of politicants or Giant bugs weilding four swords, or hordes of dragons. At every step of the story, you'll feel in a way or another the presence of your actual nemesis.
Everything that happens in Eorzea, has in some way an Ascian behind it. They act mostly in the shadows, but you'll feel the weight of their machinations at every step. You always expect to discover that you've been maneuvered like a puppet. It happened before after all. That sensation is something that I really like in the story of Final Fantasy XIV, and Heavensward in particular, where the Ascians tend to work behind the scenes most of the time, without failing to remind you of them once in a while. It makes you always question the motives of the people you meet and will always lead to something unexpected.
With Heavensward, players will have the opportunity to play plenty of new content. New, huge maps have been added, from the city of Ishgard, that will function as the new player hub for post-50 content, to the Sea of Clouds, an archipelago of flying islands. The view will vary quite a bit from place to place, spanning from thick forests to ancient draconic ruins.
These new maps will present more high grounds, hills and cliffs than the ones in the vanilla game. This means that reaching a certain spot can be pretty difficult while on the ground, since you’ll often find yourself taking long tours in order to find the access to a certain place. That’s why flying is pretty important in Heavensward. Pretty soon in the expansion, you’ll get your black chocobo, your first flying mount. Gaining it is not enough to hit the blue skyes though. In order to gain the right to ride the winds with your trusty steed in a region, you’ll need to unlock all the Aether Currents in the map.
There will be a total of 15 of them. 10 will be found phisically on the map and you’ll have an aether compass pointing you to their direction. The other 5 will be given as a reward for certain quests, some of which are locked behind certain parts of the main storyline. It’s a pretty interesting approach that Square Enix decided to implement to unlock this feature. Surely different from the WoW-esque “hit the level cap and give me a ton of gold” approach. I can’t really say if it’s better.
On the one hand, it means that you don’t have to wait for the level cap to make use of your flying mounts. On the other hand, hunting aether currents becomes boring pretty quick and soon after becomes excruciatingly dull. Unlocking all the currents for all the maps of the expansion is something I never heard someone being happy to do.
Heavensward introduces us with 2 new Disciple of War and 1 Disciple of Magic classes: The Dark Knight, The Machinist and The Astrologian. These new jobs will start from level 30 but will not have base classes. All you need to do to unlock them is reach Ishgard—this means completing the pre-expansion main storyline—and talk with the right NPC.
Dark Knight: it’s the tank class of the bunch. It wields a two-hand sword, wears heavy armor and looks badass all around. The Dark Knight is a pretty difficult tanking class with a lot of micro management to be accounted for. Its peculiarity is that both its stances,Darkside and Grit, can be used at the same time, opposite to the other classes who need to “stance dance.” Considering that Darkside constantly drains MP, the playstyle of a Dark Knight heavily relies on resource management.
Machinist: The Machinist is the second ranged physical DPS to make its entrance in Final Fantasy XIV—the other one being the Bard. It wears light armor and weilds a gun. The Machinist can count on a lot of interesting gadgets like turrets or bombs. It also has a support role, with the possibility to buff its allies. The main mechanic of the Machinist are the procs. Its attacks can proc statuses that will give benefits to his other abilities. So its rotation heavily relies on the procs it receives.
The Machinist was regarded as pretty underpowered at the time of release. Luckily, the latest patch introduced some changes that made this class more viable to play.
Astrologian: Finally we give a look to the new healer class. The Astrologian wields a levitating globe and wears mage robes. This class brings a good number of healing abilities to the party, with the possibility to add some shields on top of it depending on its active stance. The real quirk of the Astrologian, however, is the fact that every 30 seconds it can draw a card and can choose to use it, burn it or save it for later. Every card gives a different buff to the party member you decide to give it to.
The Astrologian can give a great utility to any party. However, many consider its buff mechanics too unreliable. I personally think it’s really interesting to play.
All things considered, all the three new jobs are pretty unique in their own way. They’re fun to play even if in some instances the Astrologian and the Machinist can feel a bit underwheliming because of the randomness of their main mechanics. The Dark Knight tends to be a little more reliable in that regard, but it’s also pretty hard to play efficiently.
On the crafting side of things, there are no new crafting classes. Heavensward, though, introduced the possibility for players to specialize in up to three classes. Specializing in a class means having access to exclusive recipes. This also means that a single character will not be able to craft everything. This is supposed to give more players a way to be competitive on the market. To see if this strategy was the right one, we will have to wait a while to let the prices settle.
No MMORPG would be complete without a healthy dose of dungeons and raids.
Heavensward will leave you content with the new instances that have been introduced. All the dungeons feel vivid and interesting, and all the bosses are generally fun to play against, even if from time to time you can notice in their mechanics some similarities with older bosses.
The scenery is just gorgeous, with a huge variety and attention to detail. Certain parts of some dungeons can feel a bit dull—looking at you, Dusk Vigil—but it’s very rare and far between.
Heavensward also introduced two new trials that will see the players fight against Ravana and Bismark. Now THESE fight are pretty damn fun. They feel dynamic and will constantly keep you on your toes with all the things that will happen on screen at the same time. Ravana in particular will put up a fight that I would not hesitate to define as epic. But maybe it’s just because of the final phase theme.
With Heavensward, Square Enix finally introduced the long waited DirectX 11 support for Final Fantasy XIV. The game has never looked so good, with reflections so vivid and lights so intense. The particle effect, of which the game is filled, are more radiant than ever. Of course, Final Fantasy XIV cannot compare graphically with many games released recently, but with this graphical update it gets pretty close considering it’s a game from 2013.
Final Fantasy XIV had a wonderful musical theme, and with Heavensward Square Enix managed to continue on that line. Starting from Dragonsong, the main theme for the expansion, to every piece of sound you’ll listen to, the music will make you immerse in the game perfectly. You’ll feel pumped up by the music during a boss fight, or relaxed while strolling in the Chocobo Forest busy doing some side missions. The musical theme is wonderfully crafted. Just like with the vanilla game, you may want to consider disabling the themed music while on a mount in order to preserve your sanity.
If you liked Final Fantasy XIV, Heavensward is more Final Fantasy XIV. Meaning it’s more vast, more beautiful and more fun than ever. If you are an old player, you may want to consider giving it another shot. Be warned, though, that you can access most of the content of the expansion,meaning everything but the new race, only after completing the pre-Heavensward storyline.
This game was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on PC.
Heavensward reconfirms Final Fantasy XIV as one of the best MMORPGs out there.