FFXIV: Heavensward Early Access First Impressions – A Great Start

After a couple years of development, Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward has finally arrived. As with Final Fantasy XI's first expansion in 2003, Rise of the Zilart, it ushers significant additions and improvements to the original game.

After playing more than eight hours of Heavensward I've decided to run through my personal experience with the expansion in addition to sharing how a few friends of mine feel about the three newly-added jobs. This should help you get an idea of whether or not it's a game for you.

 


A Whole Lot of Good

A launch that's about as smooth as it gets. We as MMORPG fans have experienced tragic launches frequently over the years, early start or not. Recently, The Elder Scrolls Online's console debut was a disaster, and it was less than two years ago that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn had a nasty first couple of weeks of existence. Thankfully, Heavensward has had a great debut as a result of meticulous preparation. The instanced zones on high capacity servers have helped, in addition to the increased size of maps. I hope that this keeps up for its official launch next week.

Some of the best music in any MMORPG. I have absolutely fallen in love with the Heavensward soundtrack. From the moment the main menu comes up, Heavensward makes an outstanding impression when it comes to audio. One of the introduction zones is called The Sea of Clouds, and its theme song perfectly encapsulates the area's wonderful sense of adventure. There's a lot of organ play, evoking the divine and epic theme of this expansion that its composer Masayoshi Soken aimed for.

Zone design is noteworthy. I feel like actually exploring these zones, due in-part to their much larger size, as well as their remarkable atmosphere.

New skills significantly improve existing jobs. While the Dragoon has a new set of abilities that allow it to perform tier four combos enforcing its role as a top-tier pure DPS, the Paladin has received some offensive options and a new off-GCD defensive cooldown. Every job has received at least five thoughtfully crafted abilities to enhance their combat options.

The Au Ra are awesome. The models and animations for both genders of this new race are outstanding. I was sold immediately, and popped a Phial of Fantasia to switch from Hyur to Au Ra within two hours of play.

Flying mounts work well. Navigating on a flying mount feels great in the hands. Finding the Aether Currents to be able to fly in their respective areas is a great mini-game in and of itself.

The voice acting is well-executed. It appears that in Heavensward encountering voice-acted story sequences is more common. Made better, the delivery is much improved from A Realm Reborn. What is here is compelling, and I've found myself drawn in to the narrative much easier than ever before.

Ishgard is a great city. It's based in the frigid cold of the North, making it feel different than the other major cities in the game. It reminds me quite a bit of FFXI's San d'Oria and Jeuno, which is a very good thing. Its large stone buildings are quite the sight, surrounded by an engrossing war-torn atmosphere.

All three new jobs are significant additions. I've spent less than thirty minutes playing the Dark Knight, Machinist, and Astrologian but can already say with certainty that they have terrific mechanics that breathe new life into the game. They each have unique qualities that separate them from existing jobs, offering veteran players new ways to play.

A polished experience. I personally haven't experienced any bugs so far while adventuring through Heavensward. That's a triumph given its scope.

DirectX 11 support is a big deal. With it enabled, the game looks better, sometimes a lot better. Water has been improved, and so has shading. Players with powerful PC hardware have been treated to some serious upgrades this expansion.

Hurray for new limit breaks. Using a limit break that's been tailored to your job is much more exciting than I was anticipating. You can see them all here.

 

Some Minor Issues

A slow start. Heavensward begins by introducing the player to Ishgard and the 1,000 year war that has left the area ravaged. It's interesting, but as with many of FFXIV's story elements it's slow in pacing. You don't encounter any action until about two hours in, which will be off-putting for some.

FATEs haven't evolved. There are many FATEs that you encounter as you ascend from level 50 to 60, and my experience so far is that they're as uninteresting as ever.

There are some server issues. Some players are experiencing a dreadful 2002/5006 error preventing them from playing. It's affecting a small portion of the player base, but these players are very upset, and rightfully so.

The 2.55 requirement is insane. Square Enix has made it a little easier to complete the main scenario quests, but there are still over 20 hours of missions to do at 50 before players can enjoy their new $40 expansion. It's a huge hurdle for some, including a couple of my personal friends.

 

Community Impressions

I asked a few friends of mine on the Ultros server who have been playing the new jobs to do a short write-up on their experience so far. You can read them below.

 

Machinist – Written by Josh "Majin Stormstrike" Orona

"After just a few hours of time with the class, first thing you’ll notice is its array of attacks and supportive weapon skills. You begin your journey with only two rotation attacks, a damage buff, and utility shots. These shots vary from slows, knockbacks, blinds, and interrupts, giving any adventurer the toolkit needed to complete any quest and support any party in duty finder. Early on you’ll find similarities to Bard; a wealth of mobility and support is found here. Firing weapon skills and skills come easy during movement heavy fights. An array of self-buffs like Rapid Fire and the ammunition system help to improve upon your damage output. I would say that damage is not on par with Bard, but is still relatively competitive and could be rewarding if played to its maximum (which isn't easy given the mechanics). Early gameplay can be slow, and flashy effects are not present until later levels (which is the case for most classes). Desired for its control and utility, Machinist provides both in spades and introduces a new taste to Final Fantasy XIV’s already flavorful collection of jobs."

 

Dark Knight – Written by Devin "Kentiah Folena" Stahl

"Just to begin with, I'm not someone that has bothered to tank much in FFXIV, so take what I say with a grain of salt, especially considering how early I am into DRK (currently level 36). However the class seems to be quite fun, especially from a DPS player's perspective. The moves are flashy, the potency of attacks are high, there's two interchangeable/stackable stances allowing for pure DPS, tanking, or a mixture as long as you can properly manage your MP. My favorite thing so far is having some moves be MP based, and some be TP based, allowing you to pretty much always be able to keep threat without fear of running out of your resources. This may not matter later on, but playing an early level WAR you tend to run out of TP pretty fast trying to hold AoE threat. I'm not sure if I would say the class is overpowered or not, but it just feels more fluid overall from my bit of time playing WAR, however this could be just because the class starts at level 30, and comes out with more of its kit accessible. Either way, I feel like DRK will probably be the tank class that gets more DPS to actually tank. It's a blast to play, and I'd recommend everyone to try it out."

 

Astrologian – Written by Aurora Night

 

"From levels 30 to 36 so far the AST has been great. The skills are fun to use and easy to learn. Having Draw right away and being able to use the cards is a blast. GREAT job I can't wait to max it!"

 

Conclusion

FFXIV: Heavensward is on pace to become one of the best MMORPG expansions in history. Its additions and new content improve the game across the board. I'm excited to see what awaits. Stay tuned for a full review once I've experienced more of what the expansion has to offer.