It’s been around a month since the Early Access portion of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood has begun. Since then, players have been able to access the full amount of the games storyline, as well as end-game content. As we’ve previously covered the early-access portion, the storyline in FFXIV did look promising and the dungeons we had completed at the time were fun. But now that we’ve gone further into the game, completed the Main Story Scenario, and as well as end-game content like Extreme Primals and the new Omega raids introduced in patch 4.01, we thought it was time to give our full review.
The biggest draw to Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood, despite being an MMORPG, is its focus on the storyline content. Stormblood’s story continues the overall storyline where it left off at the end of the previous expansion pack, Heavensward, and goes into the conflict between Ala Mhigo and the Garlean empire. This conflict was built up on during the later stages of Heavensward and finally became relevant at the end of the final patch during that expansion.
What I liked about the story in Stormblood is that it was pretty much a tale of rebellion right off the bat. It didn’t take long to build into the interesting parts of the story, it was just interesting from the get-go. Right away you’re sent to do some actionable things that directly correlate to the story, there isn’t much lollygagging around. It gets particularly exciting early on when you fight the big-bad almost right-off-the-bat which only pushes you deeper into it.
The theme of the story seems to be centered around the theme of rebellion. Not just in direction against the evil Garlean empire, but also against yourself, against fate and against destiny. I quite liked how you’d have expected things in the story to go a certain way, fill you with all these feelings and expectations, only to have them be thwarted later. Not only that, but throughout the story, you are actively rebelling against the empire so it’s also something that’s directly visible too. Going around, gathering forces, making new friends, it’s all an awesome and fun time in the Main Story.
Of course, the Main Story isn’t the only draw of the game, with the gameplay having been changed up a bit from what it was. The core mechanics of the game are still Everquest-like, but, now there are a few changes to the system that was in place that are actually pretty interesting to play with. In the old system, players would spam skills, sometimes there would be combo sequences to make certain attacks more effective or give additional benefits. This system is still in place, but, there is a new system planted on top of it.
Now players also have new gauges to fill by meeting certain requirements by using skills, or taking damage, or healing or whatever it is for that job. What these systems do is enable the player to utilise special abilities for that role. For example, the flower system for White Mage can sometimes be a lifesaving ability preventing people from being killed, or powering up some abilities extending protection. My main class, Summoner, has two gauges to be considered, one for Aetherflow stacks and another for Dreadwrym trance time and Bahamut stacks. If you build into Dreadwrym Trance twice, you can summon Bahamut to do excessive damage to enemies.
These additional changes to the battle system make the game more interesting and dynamic. The criticism that I have with them is the same criticism that I had for Heavensward, and that is that it takes too long to reach the interesting point with the battle system changes. For example, early on into your jobs new life in the 60-70 level bracket, you’re given this cool new bar to look at. Sometimes it will build and you’ll get one technique to play with. What that technique is, is entirely dependent on your job. As a Dark Knight, you’ll get a MP regen skill early on, as some cool sword skills as you level. As a Summoner though? This thing isn’t even useful until you hit level 70. I should have expected this, as Summoner in the past has been pretty boring to play until you hit the final level and are finally one of the most fun classes to play in the entire game.
Throughout your journey you’ll need to group up with players to take on dungeons, both to progress the story and to power yourself up through levels and equipment. This hasn’t changed since Final Fantasy XIV’s release, so I wont talk about how it works. However, I will say that the dungeons in the game are actually pretty fun and each one adds its own unique challenge to the list. This is as opposed to just being mass genocide runs where all you do is need to hit things. There’s stuff to dodge and in some boss fights, interesting new mechanics.
These dungeons aren’t the only challenge to be found for grouped content. There are also three new Primal fights to be had, and Extreme versions of two of them (at the moment). At the time of writing, I’ve cleared both the Extreme primal fights enough times to say that they’re difficult, but not too difficult. I would say somewhere around the level of difficulty of Sephirot Extreme is where they lay.
Also recently added is the new Omega raid. The setup much like the Coils and Alexander raids. This 8-man foray trims off the running aspects of the raid that was seen in those two, and instead (at the moment) drops you straight into a boss fight. These fights are actually pretty fun mechanically, but mostly rely on players not being uncoordinated. It’s much easier to run a premade group than it is with randoms, but it’s not impossible. I would say that O4 is the most difficult content in the game so far, and I can’t wait for the savage version.
Dungeons and Raids aren’t the only point of interest with there being a few new FATEs being added to the game with unique rewards. The most interesting of these are the hidden Fox FATEs and the Ixion FATE. Both of these FATEs drop tokens that can be traded for unique items, as well as a mount. While I don’t have the Ixion mount, I do have the Fox items.
Even more things to do are just small things like being able to swim on and under the water, new emotes to collect and use, as well as the playing the glamour game. I’m certain that I’ve missed a lot of things to do, so the only way to grasp on things is to really try it for yourself. But the things I’ve touched on are the most important for me, so it makes sense they’d come to mind quickest.
Aesthetically, much of Stormblood is kinda interesting and unique. I like that it goes from a kind of traditional fantasy setting for a portion of the story, and then moves into a more oriental fantasy setting for another portion. This works really well and the change in scenery invokes a sense of wonder and adventure that seeing the same kinds of landscapes would detract from. I still remember seeing the port city of Kugane for the first time and feeling a strange sense of familiarity with my time spent recently in Japan. Meanwhile, another area, The Azim Steppes, really reminded me of Hyrule from the latest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild.
There can’t be all compliments though as, early on, the game takes you to a dense desert-like area and then to another one towards the end. Somehow, I feel like these areas aren’t too interesting until you meet the sexy snake girls. After coming out of NieR: Automata which did an interesting job with a desert landscape (also published by Square), it just felt a little uninteresting.
Unfortunately for this expansion, the music is good, but it isn’t as varied as it could be. Heavensward had a tonne of memorable tunes, with the best coming from the Primal fights and the Alexander
rave raid. Stormblood’s soundtrack though, it seems to be the main theme song played with different instruments and different timings for each area. It doesn’t really start to become exciting until you reach Omega where all of the songs are lifted straight out of Final Fantasy V (for the moment). Even the Primal fights songs aren’t too memorable, with Susano’s only getting stuck in your head because it takes you 8hrs of fail Party Finder groups to clear the Extreme fight, and Laskhmi’s is a pretty terrible pop song (although catchy).
Many MMOs have a problem with running out of things to do once you actually finish the game and begin the gearing treadmill, and FFXIV has been a little similar to that in the past. You log in for a couple of hours, do your daily dungeons for tokens then log off until you need to come on to raid or something. However, even now, there is still plenty to do even if you’re done with the gear climb. Things like the expanded Wondrous Tails, as well as side things like The Golden Saucer and Hunts can keep you invested even after running out of things. I mostly just spend my time idling and doing ERP with cat-girls though.
The final bit of criticism that I have for the game is the introduction of “Jump” potions that can be bought from Square’s cash-shop. While they sound okay in theory– being able to pay to skip content and levels to catch up faster– they don’t into account that the players buying these boost tend to not be the nicest people. I’ve had too many leaf players (<60h played) come into end-game content and just be utterly cancerous players. Not only in how they play, but how they behave in groups too. I can handle teaching a player that is willing to listen to advice, but when they openly start flaming people for playing the game right and being unable to listen to and accept advice (even when given in a friendly manner), it makes it less stressful to simply kick them from groups. It’s too bad too, because the few toxic players that end up in these groups give the rest of boosted players that just want to play the game a bad reputation, causing many people to simply kick them on sight.
Overall, I can say that Stormblood is a strong expansion into the Final Fantasy XIV universe. My only concern is that with a strong entry, the expansion may begin to lose momentum at some point. However, that point is not this point, and, more importantly, as Heavensward has shown us, it’s likely to continue being hype right until the end.
Rating: Kitty waifus /10
This review is based on the PC version of FFXIV: Stormblood as supplied by Square-Enix for the purposes of review. It can be purchased from multiple sources, be sure to verify that the version you are buying is correct for your account and region. The author plays on the Leviathan server, on the Primal Datacenter.