Disclaimer: Because of the scope and content included within Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, this review is designed to be a “first impression” of the game. Because of this, it is important that readers understand it is subject to change as the game is revised in the future.
The Final Fantasy series has been a staple in my gaming for as long as I can remember. While it may not have been the first series that I played, it is the first series that I truly sunk my teeth into.
It is difficult for me to find a single title that truly sold the series for me, because all of my favourites are similar in how equally accessible and deep they are. I still find myself returning to titles like Final Fantasy X even after hundreds of hours because even though it might seem pretty linear on the surface, once the game opens up – it really opens up.
It was this accessibility and complexity that made me interested in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in the first place. I was hesitant at first, because I heard the horror stories and read countless bad reviews about the original Final Fantasy XIV, but I knew A Realm Reborn was as new as it could be, so I bit the bullet.
When I first started I was amazed at how easy it was to pick up and play, and as I continued I was impressed with how difficult to master it was. The time escaped me, and as I write this I have about 19 days of playtime invested into A Realm Reborn.
When preorders went live for Final Fantasy XIV’s first expansion, Heavensward, it was a no-brainer for me. I was comfortable with what I had grown to love, and I figured Heavensward would be more of a good thing. What I received in the end was something that shocked me – not because it was bad – but because it was a different experience than I anticipated.
Heavensward is big. Really big.
One of the things that surprised me the most when I started playing Heavensward was how much the player has to accomplish in order to start enjoying the $40 worth of content.
I found this to be quite frustrating at first, because I figured if I was spending money to play the content, I should be able to play the content immediately, no matter how much I’ve played the base game. As I started to dig into Heavensward, I started to realize that this was actually a really good thing.
The reason for this is simple: by only giving veteran players access to the new content, the game doesn’t need to hold the players hand anymore. Instead players have this massive world to explore, and they can choose to explore it however they see fit.
This also led the developers to focus on size, rather than accessibility, and it pays off. The game is massive. The smallest region I have encountered after travelling to Ishgard – the new city-state in Heavensward – feels significantly larger than the biggest region in A Realm Reborn. If I had to guess, I would say the smallest region is double the size when compared to the locations in the base game.
There’s a lot of content added to the world, but when I play Heavensward I don’t feel overwhelmed. The music and scenery are beautiful, and a large amount of side-quests are scattered through the new areas. There’s a lot to do and a lot of things to see, which makes travelling kind of a burden.
That’s where the new mechanics come in, however, as the developers have livened up travelling in Heavensward.
Flying is cool, but the trick is getting there.
With the new spaces in Heavensward it was important for the developers to find new ways for players to interact with the environment. The result is flying mounts, something that has felt like it was missing for quite some time.
Rather than handing the player a flying mount on a silver platter, like one might expect them to do, the developers make players work fairly hard for their mount. On top of that, once the mount has been acquired players have to work hard to fly in the various areas.
This is probably the most frustrating thing about the game, not because I feel that players shouldn’t have to work for cool new features, but I feel like as soon as I can fly in an area, I’m forced to leave if I want to continue the main scenario quest line.
This is because players have to attune to 15 “Aether Currents” in order to be able to fly in an area. With 10 of the currents scattered across the map and located by interacting with an “Aether Compass” item, and the other five acquired by completing various quests.
The issue is that the final current in every area I have come across – keep in mind that I have yet to complete the main quest line and I’ll be updating this as soon as I do – seems to be linked to the final quest of each area.
The only exception to the rule at the time of writing is the questing area for level 55 and 56 characters. The main scenario quests appear to take the player away from the area for quite some time, before returning coming back at level 56.
This makes me think that the developers are holding veteran players to a linear progression for the first five player levels before giving them the opportunity to become fully invested in the areas beyond the gates of Ishgard.
New classes, new quests and the rest of the content
Flying isn’t the only thing that has been added to the game, as it’s part of a massive pool of features added with Heavensward. The new jobs added to the game are especially exciting.
While I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with each of the classes, I have invested some time into the Astrologian – the new healing class introduced in patch 3.0. My response has been fairly positive, as the job seems to be fairly polished and the skills that I can carry over from other jobs make sense.
What’s especially exciting about the new jobs is that existing players don’t have to start at the first level when they begin the new jobs. This is because they aren’t necessarily new classes, but new jobs and like other jobs in the game they start at level 30. They also carry an armoury bonus of 100% when leveling from 30 to 50, which makes running dungeons and roulettes a lot more fulfilling.
The only complaint I have heard about the new jobs is how the cool downs work on the Dark Knight, but I have yet to play that jobs so I am unaware of how valid those complaints are. But I have had experiences with the Machinist job, and I can confidently say that the Machinist is one of the coolest jobs in the game and I’m excited to give it a few more test runs in the future.
The new quests feel familiar, yet refreshing, as the formula hasn’t been drastically changed for Heavensward, but they add a lot more value to the game. With new quests come new duties, and the dungeons and trials in Heavensward are exhilarating.
Specifically, Ravana alone makes the game worth the money, as it is the perfect mashup of challenging and exciting, and the mechanics highlight some of my favourite battles from the base game.
I have had the opportunity to complete three dungeons at the time of writing, and although the DPS queues are quite time-consuming, the dungeons have proven to be worth the wait so far.
The game treks beyond the points mentioned above, but in order to do them justice I’ll leave you, the audience, with a sense of surprise. I can confidently say Heavensward is not light on content.