FFXIV: Stormblood Review-in-Progress – This Might Be Better than Heavensward

I’m incredibly glad that Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood has arrived. I’ve been looking forward to this release for a long time, a consequence of my MMO addiction and affinity for the Final Fantasy series.

During the past five days following the beginning of Early Access a lot has happened, both good and bad. Generally speaking, I’m enjoying the expansion a lot, and it has the potential to rise beyond what Heavensward offered two years ago depending upon what the endgame experience is like.

Below I will briefly go over my thoughts so far.

I rerolled to Machinist. Although my original intention was to main Dragoon this expansion, I found its new rotation a bit too simple for my hardcore tastes by the time I almost reached level 61. So, I level boosted Machinist to 60 and have been having a good time (I’m level 66 during the writing of this article), albeit with plenty of frustration due to it being arguably the most challenging job in the game to play effectively.

Final Fantasy XI vibes are everywhere. Intentional or not, several of the areas in Stormblood are reminiscent of Final Fantasy XI, and in a good way. I noticed this early on, with The Fringes reminding me of Tahrongi Canyon and Sarutabaruta with its bold, rounded canyon rocks. Similarly, The Azim Steppe is remarkably similar to La Theine Plateau to its vast open areas with large canyons. Even many of the indoor areas are flavored similar to the Eastern themed regions of Rise of the Zilart. As a fan of FFXI, I appreciate this greatly.

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There are some new quest ideas later in the experience. For the first four hours of leveling I was disappointed that everything felt similar, with the tried and true item collecting, NPC interaction, and mob killing quests that we’ve done countless times at this point. Roughly around the time I visited The Ruby Sea and Yanxia at level 64 that changed for the better. There are some neat interactions in later quests that help keep things interesting, including one where you shoot tranquilizer darts at guards to put them to sleep before sneaking past them.

The class changes are welcomed. I’ve only played my Astrologian, Paladin, Machinist, Ninja, and Dragoon post v4.0,  but each of these classes feel better now than prior to the update. In some cases it’s the little things, like Paladin finally getting an AoE attack along with a better offensive rotation, or Astrologian being able to visibly see drawn cards on a dedicated UI panel. From what I’ve been hearing, not every class has seen great changes, particularly in the case of Monk and Summoner who have their respective communities up in arms at the moment. But overall, the class revamps were a big win for the game.

Red Mage and Samurai are huge additions. I have leveled Samurai to 53, while one of my good friends leveled alongside me as a Red Mage. These two jobs are major additions to the game climate, providing new play styles that veteran and newbies alike are enjoying. They’re incredibly popular due to their flashiness and exciting rotations, which ultimately kept me away from maining one—I prefer to be a less popular job.

Launch was a nightmare. As covered in my recent feature, there have been serious issues with servers since the dawn of Early Access. I’ve had my MSQ progress stalled for hours at a time, have been disconnected mid-run while doing a dungeon or PvP Frontline, and more. This has significantly hampered my progress and enjoyability of the game. Thankfully, things appear to be getting a lot better despite tons of new players joining in yesterday for the official debut.

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Swimming is a great addition to the game. There aren’t necessarily any major gameplay loops involved with the new underwater mechanics, but it is a larger part of the experience than I expected. Swimming across a sea to get to an island, diving deep to the ocean floor to visit an underwater city, and even traveling from one fresh water pool to another using an underground chamber are just some of the concepts Stormblood explores. If nothing else, being able to enter water means fewer invisible boundaries, something that I thought was one of A Realm Reborn‘s greatest design flaws.

The first dungeon is atmospheric. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to avoid sharing specifics. However, I will say that the first dungeon of Stormblood could end up being my favorite dungeon in FFXIV history. I’ll be hopping into the second dungeon later today, and if it’s even close to being as good as the first, we’re in for quite the ride.

As usual, armor sets look beautiful. I don’t know how Square Enix does it, but even the most basic of armor sets—the ones that you toss into the trash after a few hours of use—are worthy of screenshots. I’d go as far as to say that almost every set you can find during the leveling experience looks better than raid armor in World of Warcraft. Well done, Square Enix.

Susano is a visual masterpiece. The first trial of Stormblood, which you face around level 63, is a crazy fight. My group managed to take him down first try, so in terms of difficulty he’s not all that intimidating. However, I admire the visual design of the battle. It’s certainly a big improvement from the days of Titan and Garuda. I look forward to facing Susano on Extreme.

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I’m somehow enjoying PvP. I was not into PvP at all during A Realm Reborn or Heavensward. The changes delivered by Stormblood have changed that by improving job balance, and simplifying the number of available skills. It feels a lot better than before, and although combat still isn’t nearly as cohesive as World of Warcraft, in addition to AFKers posing a huge problem, it’s a nice break from PvE while providing huge chunks of experience points.

I still can’t stand leveling. I derive most of my enjoyment in FFXIV from playing with other people. During leveling, it’s difficult to sync up with other players to knock quests out at the same time, so I usually end up alone for the journey. It’s mundane, especially since most classes are designed to be played in parties. At least this time around I’m not leveling a healer.

Thanks for the inventory space. The inventory expansion, including several more slots in the Armoury, is a bigger deal than it may appear. It’s much easier to carry along several sets of glamour items to make sure that each time you upgrade, you can transition the visual appearance ASAP. This change is also good for minimizing the feeling that you have to visit a vendor to sell items often.

Almost there. I’m currently level 66, so I should hit the new level cap within a couple days. Once there, I’ll explore endgame before delivering my final verdict.

FFXIV: Stormblood is off to a great start. I’m hoping the endgame is enough to keep in invested for the months to come. Stay tuned for my full review.