FFXIV

Eorzean Evening Post: Heavensward Review Part 1

Last week, Final Fantasy XIV dropped 3.05, a large content patch that released the final bit of endgame content that was promised at Heavensward’s launch. Now that we have the expansion in its entirety, it’s time to take a look at what all Heavensward offers.

 

Heavensward Aesthetics

FFXIV has always been a game of great beauty, and Heavensward doesn’t disappoint. The new areas are larger and more wide open than the previous areas we explored. Each zone has plenty of eye candy, be it a snow-swept landscape or a massive spire in the clouds. The expansion also brings a number of new weapons and armor, all with their own looks. There’s the Doman-themed armor you earn from turning in Tomesones of Law, the new set of armor you earn from the Alexander raid, as well as the new set of artifact armor with the iconic Final Fantasy look for each job.

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Heavensward’s soundtrack is also quite good, with memorable music and well-arranged themes. A number of songs are variations of similar tunes, with each town and zone having both day and night music. As always, the primals and trials showcase original scores and that help to provide a unique, heroic battle experience.

Story cut scenes seem more consistently voiced than we’ve seen in the past. However, many of the voice actors have changed since the 2.0 story, and there’s a bit of conversation on whether that change is for better or worse.

 

A Story-Based Experience

When thinking about your standard MMO, good story isn’t usually the strongest selling point. However, FFXIV is working to change that, threading solid story-telling through all of the Realm Reborn content. Heavensward continues the story-driven focus by picking up right where the 2.0 content left off.

From the moment you step foot into Ishgard, the main scenario quests lead you through the expansion, all the way to level 60. With strong character development and plot, it feels like the writers are really starting to come into their own in creating the episodic adventures we’ve played in previous content patches.

Heavensward kicks it up a notch, providing not just an enjoyable story, but characters to care about, and an experience that carries me on a wave of nostalgia back to the good old days of playing the newest Final Fantasy on my SNES or PlayStation. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that in a Final Fantasy game, and I certainly didn’t expect to find it tucked away in an MMO of all places!

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Gated Content

However, building an expansion around a story is not without its setbacks. No matter how enjoyable the main scenario is, there’s only so much story to go around. This becomes especially true at about level 55-56 for most players.

Traditionally, FFXIV has taught players to almost completely ignore the normal quests sitting around in towns and quest hubs. During 2.0, players would play through the main scenario as the major source of experience on their first job, then go back to these quests when leveling alt jobs.

If you do that in Heavensward, you’re almost certain to hit a point where you can no longer progress in the main scenario because you’re under leveled for it. If you’re really crazy-happy about running a lot of dungeons or FATES (which are now more lucrative with the latest patch), you can probably hold out longer than most.

Still, sooner or later, the leveling curve is going to catch up with you, and you’ll need to complete those quests you skipped in order to get where you should be. While there are some quest chains that are interesting and full of lore and personality, there are some that also drag into long, generic fetch-and-find quests. If you’ve done them, or you’ve heard people complain about “moogle quests,” well… you know what I mean, then.

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There’s one other spot where Heavensward is gated: before you even start the expansion. In order to enter Ishgard, you must first play through all of the 2.0 main scenario content. Unlike other MMO expansions where you can just hit a certain level and talk to an NPC to enter new lands, FFXIV wants you to know exactly what all has transpired in the world of Eorzea before progressing.

The opinion on gating the expansion behind the previous game’s story has been one of controversy. However, given that FFXIV is putting itself out there as a story-driven game from start to the finish, I personally don’t have an issue with this choice. In fact, I was pleased to discover that the story I enjoyed from 2.0 continued and logically eased us into Ishgard with a reason and purpose for being there.

The FFXIV team has done a lot to speed up leveling through the 2.0 content, and has even provided free higher level gear to those who are catching up through the main scenario quests. One newer player in my free company just reached Ishgard last week – a whole month after the expansion released – and was quite positive about his experience through the older content, especially the loot he scored along the way.

 

Taking Flight

Flying mounts are a highlight of the Heavensward expansion, and for good reason. All of the new zones are far larger than most of the zones we’ve experienced before. The content in these areas is also made with flying in mind. Some locations you won’t be able to reach until you fly, which you can only unlock after doing specific quests and discovering every Aether Current in each region.

I know some impatient folks were grouchy with complaints of, “By the time we can fly, we’re done with this zone!” I find this far from being true in retrospect. Often, new quests continue to pop up in zones you’ve already completed, prompting you to return to them later. Also, end game content, such as daily and weekly hunts, require you to return to zones to earn upgrades for end game gear. Not to mention, if you’re a gatherer of any sort, I don’t need to tell you how much flying makes your life easier.

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I’m sure that if the FFXIV team continues to release content patches as they’ve done in the past, we’ll be returning to these zones quite a bit in the future, as well. There seems to be plenty of interesting areas in these zones that can be fleshed out for future stories and maybe even dungeon instances.

 

New Jobs, New Race

Along with the raised level cap and new skills for existing jobs, Heavensward introduces three jobs: Dark Knight, Astrologian, and Machinist. This adds one more tank, healer and DPS for players to choose from.

The Dark Knight is a magic-based tank that uses a double-handed greatsword and is empowered by dark energies. The Astrologian is a healer that employs two different stances – Diurnal and Nocturnal – while placing party buffs based on randomly-drawn cards from their divining deck. The Machinist is a ranged DPS who uses firearms and turrets to do damage and provide party support.

While there are plenty of players who have leveled these classes to 60 already, there’s still a lot to be learned about the optimal way to play them. There’s been conflicting opinions, as there tends to be when a new class is introduced, mostly indicating the newer jobs may be a bit underpowered compared to their older siblings.

The truth of this is, of course, in the hands of the player and their skill, I feel. The FFXIV team has encouraged players to continue to experiment and learn their classes in the new raid content before passing absolute judgement. If tweaks are coming, it won’t be until after the raid, Alexander, has been out for a little while.

Heavensward also introduced a new race, the Au’Ra. They are dragon-like in appearance — bearing horns, scales, and a tail — and hail from the far lands of Othard. You can choose roll a brand new Au’Ra character from level 1, or change an existing character into an Au’Ra using a Fantasia potion.

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Free Company Workshop and Airships

Heavensward didn’t forget the crafters and gatherers. Not only did all jobs get a level cap increase, but the new free company workshop and airships were implemented in this expansion. A free company must own a house (of any size) in order to access this workshop and craft the airship.

Crafters and gatherers can pool their resources and skills together to work on building the free company airship. This is made of four different parts that each have three phases of construction. Each phase requires crafter-made material of varying level, and at least 4 crafters present to complete.

Once you put it all together, you get a free company airship that you can send out on voyages, somewhat like a retainer, who goes on ventures. The airship makes timed trips out to sectors on its own, scoring crystals, crafting materials, materia, and sometimes rare items. While there aren’t any promises, the team has mentioned that they’d like to expand the features of the airship in the future, so we’ll see where it goes from here!

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But Wait, There’s More!

I’ve mostly only touched on the content you’ll discover while leveling your character to 60 in the expansion. Once you get to 60 and have completed the main scenario storyline, there’s a lot more that becomes available to you. I’ll talk about what you can expect from Heavensward’s endgame in the second part of this review.

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