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Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Review – An Eye for an Eye

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Two weeks ago today, Square Enix released the first true expansion to their highly successful MMO, Final Fantasy XIV–Heavensward. The expansion comes after almost two years of gameplay, though several massive updates to the story and content have done well to hold players over.

Moving from the last major update at 2.55 (Before the Fall Part II), Heavensward picks up right where the story left off. It forges onward and upward with the Warrior of Light, Alphinaud and Tataru seeking refuge in the Holy See of Ishgard–a city that was previously closed off to all visitors.

The expansion added a ton of new content, including moving the level cap from 50 to 60, 8 new dungeons, 5 new trials, 6 new massive areas, 3 new jobs, flying mounts, a new city, and more. Heavensward, like any good expansion, has tons of new stuff to see and do, with new content everywhere you look.

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Now, to get the review rolling, let’s discuss story. There will be spoilers for the story up through 2.55 here – you have been warned.

MMOs, by and large, are notorious for their poor stories. They often range from nonexistent at worst, to campy and acceptable at best, with few exceptions. FFXIV’s story suffered from this until about update 2.3, where the narrative began to move away from typical cheesy fantasy movie fare to something that felt more like a strong Final Fantasy storyline.

This change seemed to reach a head in 2.55, where shit truly hit the fan. With the assassination of Sultana Nanamo being pinned on the Warrior of Light and the betrayal of a large faction within Crystal Braves, the Scions are all forced to flee Ul’dah, with each and every one trying to cover the Warrior of Light’s retreat – and each one presumed dead – the conclusion of 2.55’s story left the remainder of the group with virtually no where to turn to.

Heavensward picks up right from there, and the story doesn’t lose its trajectory. While the majority of Heavensward focuses heavily on the Dragonsong War and its background, it also deals with and wraps up some loose ends from 2.55 – like what happened with Raubahn, Nanamo and Ul’dah.

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Heavensward’s plots also keep the darker, grittier feel that the later updates had, with some great twists and turns, and even some rather emotional parts. There was even one event in particular that was severely upsetting following a really awesome dungeon. All in all, I would say that Heavensward’s story is the strongest part of FFXIV’s narrative to date–with one of the scenes after the final story battle hinting at some very interesting things to come.

Moving on, let’s discuss graphics and music. To start, alongside Heavensward, the new DirectX 11 version of the client was launched as well. The new graphics from the DX11 version aren’t like looking at a whole new game, but they do noticeably improve some textures and other minor graphical bits that help to make what’s on screen look better overall. While the PS3 and PS4 versions remain unchanged in the graphics department, the game still runs fine on both (with PS4 running head and shoulders above the PS3 as always) and looks great on the PS4.

The new music in the expansion is great. Several battles and dungeons have really fantastic tracks that seem right at home in a Final Fantasy game, while others seem to be a bit of a departure from series standard, though still awesome in their own rights (Great Gubal Library, I’m looking at you and your strangely awesome jazz). The final battle from the main story quest line has fittingly epic battle music to go along with one of the most visually impressive fights in the game to date.

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Now let’s talk content. Heavensward brings a lot of new things to the table with a good 30 or 40 hours of content at bare minimum. There’s tons of quests to help get any class from 50 to 60, as well as plenty of dungeons along the way to help classes get there after the first. Even better, once you have a class at 60, the armory bonus for classes under 60 is boosted significantly to help players get subsequent classes leveled faster. This is especially helpful with those three new jobs added with the expansion.

The dungeons that have been added are all fun experiences, though some are much better than others. There are new boss mechanics floating around everywhere, keeping you on your toes throughout most of your experience. A few especially fun dungeons include one where a boss has you moving totems outside of Area of Effect attacks to prevent them from coming to life, as well as several that are truly AoE dodging dance parties. They all offer new experiences that are a blast to run through.

The new trials featuring Primals Ravana and Bismarck are both enjoyable as well, though while Ravana is truly a blast (especially when playing the EX version), Bismarck can be infuriating, as it is virtually a single giant DPS check, similar to the way that Odin’s trial was set up. If your group can’t put out enough damage, there’s no way to clear it. However, the fights are both well designed and are enjoyable when they work.

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Along with the previously announced Primals, the conclusion to the Heavensward story is also a trial, as mentioned above. While not particularly difficult, the fight is insanely fun, and one that I’ve actually found myself running more than any other trial just for fun. I don’t want to spoil the fight, but it does pit you up against a rather iconic Final Fantasy summon in one form or another.

Also added was the ability to go into dungeons utilizing the Undersized Party option. This allows you and a group of already partied up friends to enter a dungeon at your actual level with your real equipment, rather than being synced down. While it’s not particular useful beyond looking to power a friend through some forced story content, or gathering gear for glamour purposes, it does lead to the potential for a lot of fun. Running through Primals solo or duo is silly and nigh-useless, yes, but loads of fun.

Also added, as of today (July 7th), is the newest Raid, Alexander. A huge mechanical Primal summoned by the Goblins, this is the latest offering to the more hardcore crowd, requiring high end gear to enter. Furthermore, shortly down the line, the Savage version of Alexander is planned to be added, giving the hardcore crowd even more to do. While they haven’t given an exact date for that addition yet, it seems to be coming fairly soon.

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The new content also brought 3 new jobs to the game – Dark Knight, Machinist, and Astrologian–as well 10 new levels and 5 new skills for all of the existing jobs. These have been well regarded for the most part, though Bard and Machinist’s damage has been widely discussed due to one of their skills being a rather hot topic right now, as well as the target of a hotfix included in today’s patch.

The three new classes are all interesting, however. Dark Knight falls somewhere in between Paladin and Warrior, the two existing tanks, while exceling at dealing damage and tanking at the same time. Machinist is a crowd control master, many of its abilities having additional effects like silences and stuns, while also being the second non-magic ranged DPS class alongside Bard. Astrologian is a healer that has access to a wide range of support buffs for the party, centered around tarot cards. However, they give up solo damage potential for these buffs, making them significantly less viable on their own (even with Cleric Stance), but great in a party situation.

There are tons of other additions, though most are not huge impacts on the overall game. Flying Mounts have been added, and they are a blast. Flying around the new areas really show off their size, but you’ll have to walk around the area first and finish the story quests before you’re given the ability to fly in it. Flying is faster than walking mounted, though, so it is still useful.

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A new playable race, the Au Ra, have been added, though as racial abilities aren’t a thing here, it’s really just aesthetic. New weapons and armor have been added, of course, as is par for the course with any new content. New housing items were added, including a Triple Triad board, allowing you to (finally) play Triple Triad in houses. Limit Breaks have all been adjusted to be more class focused, as well as giving Bard a damaging attack rather than having it utilize the healer’s 3rd level Limit Break.

All in all, Heavensward made for a great expansion for the game, and is a great springboard for things to come. The story has never been better, and the new content is fun and gives players plenty to do. Lots of minor issues were fixed and addressed, while a few new ones have cropped up, though they’ve already been getting targeted with hotfixes. As far as expansions go, Heavensward definitely delivered. It expanded the game in a way that no simple update could, and felt like a sequel to the original game, more than just another part of it.

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Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward was reviewed on PC using a code purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8.5

Pros:

  • Great new dungeons and trials
  • Tons of new content
  • Three new fun classes
  • Lots of little quality-of-life improvements

Cons:

  • Some skills are unbalanced
  • Plenty of grinding is required
  • Mac client reportedly has issues (No experience with Mac client on my part)
  • Just about all Heavensward content requires players to clear 2.55 before being able to access it
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About

I'm a pretty chill guy. Huge video game fan, but a bigger anime fan. I also love to write - obviously.



13 comments
  1. ashikenshin
    ashikenshin
    July 7, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    “Just about all Heavensward content requires players to clear 2.55 before being able to access it”

    Not really a con since the story in 2.0-2.55 is awesome. It’s like telling someone that the fifth season of Game of thrones isn’t as good because you have to watch the first four seasons ;)

  2. Chris Gregoria
    Chris Gregoria
    July 7, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    While I totally agree, it’s a con for many people since you need to clear your way through 2.55 to get to any of the new stuff, including Dark Knight, Machinist, and Astrologian.

  3. ashikenshin
    ashikenshin
    July 7, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Yeah the new jobs shouldn’t have been locked. One of my friends still has a long way to get to the job he really wants to play.

  4. Chris Gregoria
    Chris Gregoria
    July 7, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Yup. Thankfully they start at 30 at least, so it’s not a total wash.

  5. Unmotivated
    Unmotivated
    July 7, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    The story was pretty trash, I thought. Even if you ignore that it was told through a meaningless chain of fetch quests, full of tone whiplash as they try tell 5 different plots at once, attempting to build political intrigue before before calling you back to the Rising Stones to go deal with the primal of the month, the “shocking” plot twists relied on a lot of nonsensical “whoops your character is suddenly a moron” moments to set them up and the payoff is absolutely not worth it. I do not envy new players right now, who’ll have to go through over a years worth of terrible fetch quests just to unlock the content that houses the majority of players.

    And let’s not ignore that that content is a complete repeat of the 2.2+ gated progression where they introduce a new set of item level gear that you get through grinding tomestone dungeons for 3 months, and only when they introduce a NEW set of tomestones will they actually attach that old gear to new, more varied content – which is immediately outdated on arrival because it’s only used as a dumping ground for irrelevant gear.

    The new jobs are alright, but role homogenization hit them hard. Machinist and Bard are almost perfect clones, offering the same set of gimmicks, buffs and utility, all because they couldn’t risk breaking the mold too much, they gave Bard some vital shit for raids so the only way to add a new ranged DPS that isn’t completely invalidated is to give them the exact same moveset. Same happened to Astrologian, White Mage has HoT, Scholar has shields, you only ever have two healers are once, so what does AST do? Well, it can switch between HoT AND shields! But not during battle, you just switch to whichever healer you don’t have in your Duty Finder group. Riveting.

    The new zone design is a lot better admittedly, but there’s nothing to really do in the zones besides the quests you get on your road to your first level 60. They’re still full of trash mobs with no reason to fight them, and it should be noted that the FATEs for the new zones currently give abysmal experience for the time it takes to complete them, and the 51-60 EXP scaling is brutal. Once you burn up all the quests getting your first 60, if you want to level anything else you’re better off hopping back to Northern Thanalan and joining a FATE train there, it’s better experience then you’ll get doing anything in the new areas, and considering that leveling alternate jobs is pretty much the only thing to do in the game if you don’t raid, the fact that it’s such a huge slog is a huge turn off, though this is one thing I’m guessing will be fixed in a couple months.

    The crafting and gathering changes are kind of nice at least, if a little grindy. The new crafter skills are meant to alleviate the need to leveling every other craft just to be decent, and Fisher looks like it’ll be kind of fun again, after they sorta killed it with all those new “only catchable off a double mooch at 8AM during a triple thunderstorm” fish.

    Sorry to jump in and vomit negativity everywhere, FFXIV is still easily the best mainstream MMORPG on the market, but every patch after 2.1 has just been a two year-long parade of missed potential.

  6. Lolli ♫ Pop
    Lolli ♫ Pop
    July 7, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Yeah, its all fine and well, but they still require you to buy the game multiple times if you want to play on multiple platforms.

  7. Ippiki Okami
    Ippiki Okami
    July 7, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    As someone who dislikes MMOs but loves Final Fantasy, is FFXIV a good game to play solo or do you have to group with people a lot? Thinking about picking it up but I am terrible at group content/raids.

  8. Matt McCoy
    Matt McCoy
    July 7, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Well, there are dungeons you’d have to do in order to further the story and get lots of exp to grind. So yeah there is a lot of co-operation among groups to play it.

  9. Narmy
    Narmy
    July 8, 2015 at 12:46 am

    It’s not really good if you want to play solo. I tried doing that, but partway through the main quest you have to do some mandatory group dungeons, so I stopped playing there.

  10. ashikenshin
    ashikenshin
    July 8, 2015 at 11:08 am

    “story was pretty trash” hmmm ok, I guess hyperbole is the best thing ever.

  11. Unmotivated
    Unmotivated
    July 8, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    That’s just my opinion, but I’ve never been able to enjoy ARR’s plot at any point. The storytelling has always been really shallow, but they try to cap every underwhelming chain of filler off with an “epic” primal confrontation which satisfies most people who are just looking to unwind after work, I guess.

    If you enjoy it, more power to you.

  12. ashikenshin
    ashikenshin
    July 8, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Yeah, I wasn’t taking your opinion on the story as anything but. I do enjoy the story but I agree that their formula becomes apparent after the second “epic” encounter. But, for me, being aware of their formula for their storytelling is not a deterrent on my enjoyment.
    I haven’t finished the main story for the expansion yet, but I’m not enjoying the goblin part at all, the rest though was pretty fun.

  13. Unmotivated
    Unmotivated
    July 8, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I wouldn’t mind it being so formulaic if they had kept each 2.x patch a little more self-contained, so that they could fully explore one area of the plot before ending with the climactic primal. By the end they were constantly calling you back and forth from political intrigue in Ul’dah, to sabotage in the Braves, to happenings in Ishgard, to spooky scary Ascians, to the primal of the month, and then back to Mor Dhona for more technical jargon about aether currents and shite, all in the space of a single update. I couldn’t get invested in any plotline because of the sheer amount of whiplash.

    Heavensward’s story was definitely a step up, both because it had a unifying goal again, and retconned all the extra baggage they had written in with the earlier patches. I personally wish it were a bit more like FFXI though, where each expansion’s storyline is self-contained with it’s own heroes and villains. Keeping the plot extremely linear is going to get old really quickly. Imagine if the next expansion requires you do to the base game, the 2.x patches, Heavensward and the 3.x patches just to gain access to the new areas. New players would be convinced the world is dead and empty long before they’re allowed into the same zone as 70% of the population.