Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
On the day of the official launch, I posted my initial impressions on Heavensward and have since completed the Main Scenario, dabbled with some of the new end game dungeons and loot systems and taken my Miner up to 60 to check out what’s new in the exciting world of gathering.
Now that I feel I have a firm grasp on the initial offerings of Final Fantasy’s new expansion, it’s time for a full review!
One thing that a lot of the larger outlets are talking about is that you have to complete the Main Scenario from A Realm Reborn and all of the patches in order to arrive at the 3.0 story. It seems that no one likes this requirement.
However, Yoshida himself put it best. He describes Heavensward as a second season to a television show. If you’re going to watch a show, you’re going to do it from the beginning. This isn’t all to say that that future expansions for Final Fantasy XIV will follow this format- and truly if they did, the more you add, the more problematic it becomes for people to get into the new content- but for Heavensward it works. Players jumping into the game for the first time aren’t missing out, they would still have to do the previous content anyway and now they get bonuses to experience points earned in these dungeons which will make them progress through A Realm Reborn’s story faster than players did upon it’s release.
Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO- and it’s rare in that it has an exceptional story that it focuses on. Having to go through A Realm Reborn to experience Heavensward is simply story line progression- one that after Patch 2.55 becomes incredibly emotional and it’s well worth doing. Heavensward simply makes you do that story based content and you should be thanking it for that. If you’re playing this game and you have zero interest in the story then you’re doing it wrong- very, very wrong.
It’s hard to talk in depth about Final Fantasy XIV’s story without spoiling anything. You start out in Heavensward (after completing the Patch 2.55 story) completely shutout. Events have happened that have left you with no other choice but to go north to Ishgard. What unfolds from here is a story that fights with told history, bringing new truths to light and brings about its finale with a boss fight that will make fans of the series squee with delight at its execution.
The ending also helps to keep the door open to what we can expect in the 3.x patch series and it looks like it will be just as dark and jaw dropping as the current Heavensward quests which makes me very excited to see where things will go.
With the launch of A Realm Reborn, we got a look at how Square Enix handled the core problems of Final Fantasy XIV 1.0. With Heavensward, we see a refinement to many of those systems including new ones to promote diversity among the player base.
Heavensward increases the level cap from 50 to 60 and it makes the path to it relatively painless if you follow the new storyline on a single job. The Main Scenario quests increase in level as you progress and are timed in such a way that as soon as you hit that level barrier, you’re in a new area and able to do a multitude of sidequests that will either get you that level up, or pretty damn close. The gaps that aren’t completely made up of sidequests can be filled nicely by running some of the new dungeons for a chance at some gear upgrades which you’ll be needing later on to meet some item level requirements for the new endgame dungeons. The only downside to leveling up along with your exploration into the new areas is that the sidequesting can get very tiresome. The quests in the Churning Mists for example have you walk around and reunite a team of Moogles what feels like 100 different times. Of course this is also completely avoidable if you choose to level through other means such as FATEs, dungeons or leves.
The way the new dungeons are set up also is a worthy mention here. So often would I see someone in a dungeon in Final Fantasy XIV leave after a certain boss. The chest didn’t drop what they wanted and so they didn’t want to waste anymore time and would leave- making the remaining party members wait for a replacement. The chests in the new dungeons drop a heavy amount of new gear and accessories and the pieces it drops feel almost random for the entire dungeon. In one particular instance we opened a chest found shortly after getting loot from a boss and saw the same two pieces that we had just seen. This will hopefully prevent people from leaving groups when they don’t get what they want as it gives you a reason to stay throughout an entire instance instead of up to a certain boss fight.
Additionally, with the most recent update, Heavensward has gotten it’s first new raid in the form of the Goblin Primal, Alexander. After listening to players who wanted to participate in the story line but found the original Binding Coil of Bahamut too difficult, the first release of the Alexander content is being called a normal mode, giving players a beatable, but still challenging set of fights that are accessible via the Duty Finder right from the start. The difficulty of these fights are what I consider perfect- you wipe to it a few times while learning the mechanics before finally getting a clear. For the hardcore players, a savage difficulty of Alexander will be available soon as well. The loot system is also quite different for Alexander (normal) where instead of receiving two possible drops in each run, you get tokens. These tokens can then be exchanged for whatever gear you want. If you want a new set of gloves for example, you would need to complete Alexander’s current areas and walk away with two Tarnished Gordian Cranks which could then be exchanged for a new set of hands. The pool for these tokens is smaller than the loot list of the Binding Coil which means fewer runs and (hopefully) less chance of you getting bit by the RNG gods.
There are new Temple Leves for Heavensward, issued by the Temple Knights of Ishgard. Not much has changed with the leve system however there are new “large scale leves”. These leves take up 10 leve allowances and promise greater rewards for more effort. I haven’t tried the leves on a battle class yet, however the only promise they make for Disciples of the Land are that they’ll waist your allowances. At present, I’ve found absolutely no reason to do the large scale leves unless you only have a short amount of time and know you won’t be playing for the rest of the week. The leves I’ve done offerered me just over 2x the experience points that I would have gotten from using two allowances. In the long run, using the normal leve system is much more beneficial if you’re looking to get more exp out of your allowances.
After completing the Main Scenario, players will start to hit the grind for the Allagan Tomestones of Law to exchange for new high level gear. Similarly, crafting and gathering classes can earn a type of currency as well, a scrip, in exchange for collecting certain items and turning them in. The system for battle classes isn’t anything new and works the same as it always has. The only downside to it at present is that the items that use to upgrade these pieces are currently exclusive to the new Hunt monsters. After the myriad problems the hunt system caused during its release it’s surprising that this is currently the only way to upgrade the new gear. For those that don’t want to deal with the drama of early pulls and hunt linkshells, the mark bills that are offered both daily and in a weekly version offer a fair amount of seals that can make upgrading your gear a reasonable possibility.
On the gathering and crafting side, you now have an entirely new component to these jobs with collectibles. These are items that you can craft or gather with the specific intent on turning them in to Rowena’s House of Splendors. After level 56, you can turn in these and earn scrips which are essentially tomestones for crafting and gathering- these can be redeemed for level 58 gear. Currently the game is only handing out blue scrips, with red ones coming soon, presumably offering level 60 gear in way of the new class specific armor. What’s so nice about collectibles is that in addition to scrips, turning them in will also net you a solid amount of experience points which is a nice addition for helping these classes reach the new level cap.
The lead up to the release of Heavensward included lovely cinematics by Square Enix’s Visual Works as well as videos showing off new locations and abilities found within the expansion. Jumping into Heavensward, musically, is a pleasing experience. That is, until you get to your second field area and realize they’re reusing a lot of the same music. The sound design for areas differs greatly from A Realm Reborn. Where you used to traverse the areas and queue up small pieces of the music for the area, it feels that Heavensward just plays several different tracks on a loop including one that is specific to that area. To enter a brand new area for the first time, only to hear the same music you heard in the last zone is disappointing. As someone who wanted constant, looped tracks in A Realm Reborn, I now realize how well their previous approach worked and almost wish they had done something similar here.
Sound design in field areas aside, the music that makes up Heavensward is a solid addition to the already amazing soundtrack that makes up Final Fantasy XIV. There are some tracks such as The Great Gubal Library and the music found within the new Alexander raid that stand out (in a good way) with how different they are from the rest of the music found in Eorzea. However that’s not to say that I don’t have an issue with the way a fair amount of the tracks were handled. Many tracks in Heavensward use one of a few basic melodies with an added twist. While these tracks are different, and by themselves are great pieces, hearing them after hearing the others often makes me think “oh hey there’s a snippet from that other song in here that I’ve heard a bunch”.
Of course that’s simply my opinion. I could certainly see Soken and the sound team at Square Enix playing more with the idea of Heavensward being a “second season” of a show and giving the season it’s own set of recurring themes where players hear these reused melodies and know that they’re doing Heavensward content.
The last thing I want to touch on for audio is the voice acting. Many characters who had iconic voices in A Realm Reborn now have new voice actors. Gideon Emery as Urianger for example stood out so much and now in Heavensward it would seem he has been recast. Any cut scene where Urianger comes in and starts speaking now just isn’t the same for me.
I’m not going to speculate on the reasoning behind not bringing in the previous voice actors for Heavensward because I honestly have no idea why the original talent wasn’t used again. But I will say that Square Enix should have gone out of their way to retain the voice actors they used in A Realm Reborn.
The areas in Heavensward are large and beautiful. They’re also designed in a way that makes them irritating when doing sidequests on foot, making the ability of flight (once you unlock it) that much better. Too often when doing sidequests in these new areas will they continue to make you take what always feels like the long way around. The next NPC you have to talk to is just to the east, but if you want to reach the level they’re on you have to go all the way north, go up the cliff, and then come all the way back down.
That annoyance aside, flying is awesome and you should do everything you can to unlock your Aether Currents ASAP. Some of them can only be obtained via quests, most often those involved with the Main Scenario, however there are others that you simply find on the field while exploring. To help you find these currents, the game gives you a compass that when used, tells you the direction and distance of the closest current. Put this on your hotbar, constantly push that hotbar button, and collect every single current you can while doing sidequests in these new areas. As soon as you get that last unlock from the Main Scenario you can jump up and fly all over the place saying “screw you ledge that I had to go all the way around to get on!” as you explore previously unreachable areas.
MMO expansions are a tricky beast when it comes to a review- they take time, and at the end of the day (and lets be honest here) if you play the MMO in question, you’re going to buy the expansion anyway and have most likely already done so.
That having been said, Heavensward takes Final Fantasy XIV’s reborn realm and takes those high emotions from Patch 2.55 and twisting them into a beautifully dark Final Fantasy story while also polishing many aspects of the gameplay to make the game both more accessible and enjoyable.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Square Enix for PC. Screenshots provided by Square Enix.