Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for the previous expansions mentioned in this article.
If there’s anything I’m known for, it’s my obsession (addiction?) to Final Fantasy XIV. Interestingly enough, my first impression of this expansion when the announcements started rolling in was actually pretty negative. I mean, who wants to save Ala Mhigo from the Garleans? They’ve done nothing but make your life miserable since 2.0. I mean…killing the leader of an entire nation and forcing you into exile (though spending an entire expansion with interesting characters like Aymeric, Haurchefant and Estinien was pretty great)…who’d want to help those people?! The Garleans can have them… But then in February this year, YoshiP and Square Enix announced that Doma would also be in the expansion, and later trailers showed that the Xaela tribes would be included as well. That’s when the hype got super real. And despite some early server issues, I have to say I’m LOVING it.
As I stated in my previous Final Fantasy XV review on this site, I’ve played every single numbered Final Fantasy game (except for X and XI) as well as many of the spin-off titles. Final Fantasy XIV, from A Real Reborn through Heavensward, continues to capture the spirit of the franchise. Since this is a review specifically of Stormblood, I’ll give some brief context for the game thus far. You, as the player in this MMO, are the warrior of light—a powerful adventurer gifted with the blessing of light which grants you the power to take down primal gods. You, alongside the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, use your abilities to help the people and nations of Eorzea as a neutral party. In A Realm Reborn, you quelled the Garlean threat and stopped Bahamut. In Heavensward, you ended the Dragonsong War in Ishgard, shut down Alexander and saved Estinien. And now, in Stormblood, your objective is to liberate Doma and Ala Mhigo from Garlean occupation.
Let’s talk jobs and mechanics first—there were many job changes introduced in Stormblood and two new jobs were introduced, Red Mage and Samurai. Everyone’s experiences with these changes and additions will most likely be different, but the unifying change is the job gauge and the removal of timers. The gauge for each job does different things, and I can only speak to Black Mage and Red Mage (one of the two new jobs) at the moment. The biggest change with Black Mage was the Enochian timer. Instead of 30 seconds to refresh with Blizzard IV, it is now optimal to keep up Fire IV with Astral Fire or Umbral Ice. Personally, I find this to be more tedious than the original version of the skill, which is why once I hit level 70 (I’m 69 right now), I will be switching my main job to Red Mage, which I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. The balancing of black and white mana attacks is fun and once you’re in a groove or have really good luck with procs, it’s amazing! I haven’t played much of Samurai yet, but I’ve heard it’s very similar in technique to Ninja, so I’m looking forward to it once I am done leveling Red Mage.
The other big change was the removal of cross-class skills in exchange for role skills. Many of these are pretty basic. Mages get a lot of skills that reduce agro, a standard version of Virus, automatic swift cast and a few others. I am kind of disappointed that raging strikes were removed for Black Mage…but I guess you win some, you lose some.
Now, the story—you and your friends decide to reignite the flames of revolution in Ala Mhigo by first freeing Doma. So, off to Doma you go! From there, with the help of old enemies and new friends, you must remove the evil Yotsuyu from power and restore Hein to his rightful place on the throne. That is the basic story, but being a Final Fantasy MMO, it's far more complicated than that. The Doman part of the story was especially fun. Kugane is beautiful with a lot of hidden gems if you take the time to explore. My favorite part is the Azim Steppes in Othard, since it’s the first time the player gets to really meet any Xaela NPCs.
There are multiple new dungeons, two new Primals (beast race gods), new minions and mounts, new hunts and gear to enjoy. My favorite dungeon so far has to be the level 65 dungeon. I don’t want to give too much away, but many dungeons and raids in Final Fantasy XIV have repeating mechanics that make them pretty mundane. But the second boss in that dungeon has some new mechanics that are really interesting. It’s not so much of a boss fight but a test of how well you do the mechanics. It’s kind of like the opposite of “Simon Says.” Out of the two new Primals, I much prefer Lakshmi over Susano. Her fight is simple yet elegant and the musical score for the fight is gorgeous. Lakshmi's aesthetic is pretty reminiscent of Sophia in the Waring Triad while Susano reminds me of a much more talkative and annoying Ravana-Gilgamesh mix.
Another new mechanic for this expansion is swimming and underwater mounts. While diving under the water is introduced as a skill later in the Mainline Scenario Quest, anyone from level 1 can now swim in certain bodies of water. With this, you can also utilize fun new emotes such as float and play dead! I’ll admit, the second I logged in, I found a body of water to play dead in…I ran up to friends and would just float lifelessly next to their bodies. It was 6 AM and I needed to entertain myself. Anyways, you won’t need aether currents to learn how to swim, but there are new aether currents for flying in all of the new areas, so be sure to pick those up. The final most notable new mechanic is the blow dart mini-games throughout side quests and the MSQ. There are entire quests where this seemingly random aim and shoot mechanic is used… It’s kind of random but interesting. I don’t know why Square Enix felt it necessary to add it, but it lends an extra layer of excitement to the story.
So, Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO and very much a Final Fantasy game at the same time. You don’t have to play with other people outside of dungeons if you don’t want to. But one thing you must do is progress through the MSQ to access Stormblood content. Starting with this expansion, YoshiP and Square Enix introduced two new items to the Mogstation store to combat that leveling wall. One is level jump book for one specific job of your choosing (excluding Red Mage and Samurai) and the other is a story jump book for either just A Realm Reborn or up through the end of Heavensward. I used these items on my alts. The level jump book, priced at $25, is one-per-account, so if you plan to use this, choose wisely. The A Realm Reborn book is $20 and the Heavensward book is $25. I don’t really see the point in getting the A Realm Reborn book only, since the Heavensward one includes both expansions. But I do understand the pricing. While $50 total is actually fairly cheap when you compare it to World of Warcraft’s jump options, I think developers want you to play the entire game because it is very much a JRPG as it is an MMO. While the A Realm Reborn story is fairly tedious until around patch 2.3 (or whenever you started doing errands for Haurchefant), Heavensward took what worked in A Realm Reborn and made the MSQ much better. So far, Stormblood is continuing this trend. I think these level and story jumps are worth it if you have an alt you want to progress or if you are new and joining friends who are already at Stormblood content. If you are planning on starting on your own, I highly recommend playing the story from the beginning to the end since it’s actually really good. It can get dull at times, but I’ve laughed and cried at many cutscenes in the story.
Final thoughts… I know I am super biased when it comes to this game and franchise, but even with all the changes, technical problems, the initial MSQ wall (that was kind of sloppy, Square Enix) and some other things, I am loving the expansion so far. I am not done with it since the DDoS attack has made it very difficult for me to log in after work and get much play time in, but I’m super excited to finish it and then play it four more times on my alts. There have been many moments that have literally made me scream, cry and laugh out loud. The soundtrack for the expansion is just as beautiful as the other games and the new areas are breathtakingly gorgeous! The only thing lacking so far is that there’s not enough Aymeric for my tastes, but hopefully gorgeous Elezen husband will come back into the story at some point. For now, I’ll just have to settle with Magnai and this one character who returned but it’s a spoiler so I can’t say who… I hope anyone considering picking up this expansion, returning to the game or starting it for the first time takes the plunge. Square Enix has learned a lot since its first attempt with this game in 2010 (trust me, I was there on launch day) and has improved even more between 2.0 and 3.0. I am excited for future patches and things to come in this game. Happy adventuring!
Hint: There are a lot of changes since 2.x and 3.x so try to explore as much as you can. Even if you're an older player, there's plenty of new mechanics and play styles to explore.
by Marlene First
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