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- FINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward
Today marks the official launch of Final Fantasy XIV's first expansion, Heavensward. I've been playing it day and night since Early Access last Friday and while I'm not quite ready to give it a full review, I have a wealth of thoughts to share about how my experience has gone so far.
I began my adventure last Friday by hitting Ishgard with my 50 Paladin. My first impressions were that the design of the new regions—or at least the new capitol city and level 50 zones—are significantly better than in A Realm Reborn. There's finally room to explore, encouraging you to go out and enjoy the beautiful art design of the game. This has become a particular strong point of the expansion as I have spent more time with it.
One of my favorite new additions to the game are flying mounts, a concept that I was apprehensive to support given my past experience with World of Warcraft's implementation. However, I can say that the way Square Enix has worked it into the game, allowing you to gather aether currents in a zone as you traverse through it to unlock flight in that area, combined with the game's lack of open world PvP makes it a truly excellent addition to the game. It's exciting when you finally unlock the ability to fly in a zone, and can take to the sky to quickly get around. Best of all, you can fly early on; it isn't just reserved for max level characters.
After hitting level 51 on my Paladin I was reminded why I believe it's one of the most boring jobs in the game. There simply aren't enough offensive options making solo play particularly agonizing. After speaking to some Paladins who were already at level 56 with three of the new skills, I decided that I won't be taking the job any further. I soon found myself playing the Dark Knight at level 30. I instantly fell in love.
It's been just four days since I started playing Dark Knight and currently I'm level 53 with an item level of 123. I enjoy the class for its wide breadth of offensive and defensive skills, flashy skills, and relatively high ceiling for skill. After running The Dusk Vigil, the new level 50 to 51 dungeon, I can say I truly enjoy tanking as this job. Although, I can say with reasonable certainty that it isn't as good of a main tank as the Paladin, and perhaps even the Warrior. Many of its defensive options are weaker than its equivalent on the other two jobs. However, given how much I enjoy managing mana and staying alive as a Dark Knight, I'm willing to weather the storm and see what the first balance patch will do for the job.
On the topic of dungeons, I truly enjoyed my run through The Dusk Vigil. I loved its atmosphere rich with icy caverns and traps. Its bosses, particularly the second and third ones, are well designed and unique. I was rewarded with a new Triple Triad card for defeating the final boss, although I found no gear upgrades. It helped that my group was on-point, working together and communicating throughout the experience.
The main scenario quests have been relatively good so far. The story in Heavensward is quite slow in pacing, but has some great moments early on. I do find myself skipping cutscenes every so often and relying on the journal to ensure I know the context of what just happened, but overall I've remained interested thanks to the interesting characters. I have actually found the Dark Knight story quests to be far more captivating. I never skipped a moment, and am excited to know that I have at least four quests to complete on the journey to 60 before it's all said and done.
The leveling experience has been both good and bad so far. The Main Scenario Quests provide a lot of experience, but not nearly enough to level, so I've had to rely on both quests and FATEs to keep up. Quest design is completely out-of-date, making no effort to keep up with the times where games like World of Warcraft and WildStar are doing far more exciting things. FATE experience rewards are poor, making them less efficient than heading back to Northern Thanalan. Also, I don't understand how Square Enix can't make it so you can queue for a dungeon with a chocobo companion out, or hop on a flying mount with it summoned. I'm constantly having to juggle Gysahl Green use. On the topic of outdated design, it makes no sense to me that I can't private message friends while in a duty. I was hoping that by now these issues would be addressed. Alas, they have not.
I also want to reiterate on my feature from a couple weeks ago that the decision to make it mandatory to complete 2.55 to partake in Heavensward's offerings hurts the game more than it helps. Yes, it emphasizes that it's story-driven, but not everyone plays for the story. Two of my friends want to play with me, but would never be able to put up with the 100 quests at level 50 just to be able to enjoy the new content. Those who enjoy the story are going to do it anyway, but it makes no sense to punish those who are interested in the expansion with old content. It's downright asinine.
With all these negative pieces of my experience said, I want to go back to my point that I'm truly enjoying the expansion so far. If anything has stood out the most it's the audio design and zone structure. The music is downright captivating, and so are the new voice overs. These two elements mesh extremely well with Heavensward's expansive areas. It's easier than ever to become engrossed in Eorzea.
I have kept tabs on the community to see what people think of the other two new jobs, as well as the skill changes that have come to existing jobs. It appears that Bards and Machinists are the most upset of all jobs. Everything new for Bards is related to Wanderer's Minuet encouraging non-mobile play, compromising their greatest strength in A Realm Reborn. The Machinist's ammunition and RNG-based system has frustrated many, and apparently they are the lowest DPS in the entire game. Outside of these two jobs, many of the changes are fantastic. Astrologian appears to be a very strong and enjoyable-to-play Support. Summoner has quickly become one of the most exciting jobs in the game. Dragoons are topping damage throughput. Overall, the changes are good, but a balance patch in the near future is absolutely necessary to keep people from quitting their main job or unsubscribing altogether.
I'm only level 53 and will be pushing for level cap this week before trying out endgame content and sharing my verdict. Check back for more here at GameRevolution.