REVIEW: FINAL FANTASY XIV: HEAVENSWARD

Back at the announcement for the first expansion to the now successful MMO, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Director Yoshida made the claim that Heavensward would be equal in content to the originalís launch, now almost two years ago. To bring an expansion out that matched the size of a full priced launch MMO was bold and promising for fans, if not a little uncertain if it could actually deliver on such a promise.

Now almost a month into the launch with most of the content unlocked to the player base now, it is clear that they were not hyperbole. Heavensward brings everything promised and even more for both new and old fans. Delivering more than a 50-hour story and leveling experience, massive new areas and a fantastic score, Heavensward achieved something impossible and not even considered, surpassing the original A Realm Reborn.

Like any MMO, there is a wealth of content, enough to keep casual players busy for years or hardcore players for months. So letís break everything down. A Realm Reborn and the patches that followed proved how important story was to the game and all aspects of the content. Even revisited dungeons that had new and harder creatures received stories explaining why players are returning. Heavensward makes no surprises here with the story being a huge focus and delivering on some of the finest moments in MMOs and the Final Fantasy franchise.

Square Enix and Yoshida have made it no secret that even playing the expansion required the completion of all the main story quests prior to the expansion with the latest story quests coming in Patch 2.55. This can be seen as a hurdle and terrible gate to force players through new and returning, but the storyline is so critical to both reasons for the why the players are going to the new areas and changing many of the established relationships in the original game players would be completely lost without it. Itís a bold move to make and one that future expansion will bare heavier than Heavensward. While it will be viewed as a negative, it is done for good reason and importance for the story that unfolds.



The story itself is a complex tales of a millennia old war between the city-state Ishgard and the dragons, which has left Ishgard in a constant state of collapse and rebuilding. The people are held together by faith and the hope of an end. What the players find is twists and turns, politics and betrayals as the secrets to the origins of the bloody war are laid out. It is a deeper and more personally involving story than A Realm Reborn, where the player was often running errands for much the story to prove themselves a hero. Now established as a hero, it is a journey of discovery and redemption that feels much more at home in the halls of the classic Final Fantasy games. The world is huge and bizarre, it often towers over the player in size and shows its history at every turn. More than just a MMO expansion, Heavensward can stand with the best of the franchise as a single player story with an ending that please all series fans.

With the unlocking of Ishgard in the story, also came several new areas for players. Unlike the original gameís areas, these are significantly larger in scale and expand into the sky with flying granting a greater amount of land opened up. Though numerically it has fewer areas, each area is easily equal to two to four of the old areas ending up being roughly the same amount of exploration. Even more, the new lands were built with the idea of flying in mind. Designed with great need to explore and move up vertically, there will be areas that just canít be reached without flight.



Each new area brings vastly different environments and feelings. These are all old lands with a rich history that time is working to destroy. There are ruins of the old civilizations throughout many of the regions built to a grand scale that truly gives it the fantasy and high adventure feeling that enhances the story. There will often be times that the sights to leave you to pause just to take it all in and think about what might have been centuries before.

Built into the areas is the new flying feature added to the game. A few of the original mounts have been given flight as well as some new mounts for the expansion. But rather than just simply having it unlocked from the start, Square Enix smartly choose to place a need to unlock flight in each area. The method to unlock flight requires the player to travel the new land and attune to wind currents as well as complete story or side quests for the rewards of the current. This gives the players time to adjust to the new areas and take in all the work put in before flying breezes everyone past it all. It is the right amount of investment and reward when it is finally unlocked.



Bringing some new flair and style to the game is a new race, the Au Ra. Working like past races, there are two tribes to pick between, lighter or darker skin to distinguish the tribes. The Au Ra are a humanoid dragon race, which have scales, horns and tail, while still looking more humanoid. They are not fully covered in scales and customization gives a little control on how much scales are on the face. The major difference is in the height, the males are among the tallest of any of the races while the females are among the shortest, not including the Lalafell.

And it would not be a Final Fantasy game without talking about the music. Each of the tracks are beautifully crafted to fit into the area. For those that savor music, there is plenty to leave you just standing and listening for hours. There are several stand outs that will enhance the experience, notably in the dungeons where the epic feel will make it hard to forget.

Looking at the gameplay, the leveling experience is the first and foremost thought entering into an MMO and an expansion. The level cap for FFXIV has increased in Heavensward from 50 to 60. The ten new levels bring a lot of changes and new power to everything. However, it is not a quick run up to 60. Intended to be a similar experience from 1 to 50, it will take time to get the 10 levels. While the first few levels go quickly, by 53 or 54 the wall starts to increase and the need to clear all side quests or run dungeons becomes more important.

Unlike in the original game, the best options for leveling is no longer FATEs, at least in the new areas. The new Heavensward FATEs do not reward exp that scales with the requirements for your next level. As a result, the community has remained in Northern Thanalan if FATE leveling is still your preferred method. But other options still remain. There are enough side quests and main quests to earn all of your levels on your first job, though level other jobs will require different options. The new dungeons starting at 51 are now the best way to earn experience and the daily hunts give a very good chunk as well depending on the pace. The major disappointment is that the new FATEs will largely be ignored by the community as they have been determined not to be worth the time investment for the rewards given.



The new level cap has made vast changes to the existing jobs, making several play is completely different ways now. The old rotations used by players are no longer valid as there are better ones now. All the tank jobs gained more options for DPS while being an off tank, especially the Warrior job. The healer jobs gained some more universal skills while enhancing each of their strengths even further. Then the DPS jobs all had enough changes to make this review go on for pages. But it is simple enough to say that they will all need more time to re-master them. There have been some bugs with certain jobs, but theyíve been very quick to fix them as they are discovered. Some balancing of the new jobs still remain, but are promised in the next patch in a couple days.

Not to be forgotten, there are three new jobs added for the expansion as well. The Dark Knight is a tank, the Astrologian is a healer and the Machinist is a DPS. Unlike the past jobs, these have no base class and start immediately as a job and at 30. To speed up their leveling and any others you might have not gotten to 50, there is a extra bonus for all jobs under 50 from the Armoury Bonus, now it is 100% bonus rather than the usual 50%, which now is only for 50 to 60. Each job fits in well with the existing not replacing, but complimenting the existing roles. The most notable differences come in Astrologian that uses a random card draw mechanic to give out buffs to the party bringing something unique to the healer role.

Though it was not just the adventuring jobs that saw changes. Even the crafting and gathering classes have increased and gained new skills that change the way they play. Crafters now have specialist roles that allow them to have up to three classes that are more powerful and self-reliant without the need for everything maxed. Gathers have the new collectibles, which is also part of the crafters, but changes what the gathers do to a greater extent. Before gathering was a simple click and store and the chance of success was purely based on stats. Now, there is collectibles, which when used on specific gathering items gives a completely new interface more like the crafting one. There the gatherer must increase the quality of the collectability of the item so that it can be traded in for scrips. Both crafters and gathers have new tokens, scrips, that allow them to buy comparable items to the best crafted and melded gear giving new options for those without the money or time.

There still remains a few pieces of content that are not out until this coming Tuesday, but there remains one more thing the end game raid of Alexander. Currently, only the story mode version of him is available, though the hardest difficult of Alexander, known as Savage will be available on Tuesday. For the hardcore raiders, the story mode version of Alexander will not provide a challenge. It is an easy clear with a system that requires farming repeatedly to get the items necessary for gear. But for the more casual or those inexperienced in raiding, Alexander story is a good taste to find out if it is something you want to try out.

Overall, Heavensward is an expansion unlike any I have seen released. It has more than equal the content of when A Realm Reborn released making it worth the price alone, but delivers on an experience and story that surpasses the original. Everything is executed with the experience and knowledge of what worked and did not worked before making this the best entry for Final Fantasy XIV. Though you have to work through the original game if you are just joining or not caught up, what awaits in Heavensward is worth the time. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was already a great MMO and RPG and Heavensward has taken that foundation and flown to greater heights. As a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise or just MMOs, Heavensward easily makes this one of the best on the market right now.

Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward receives
5 out of 5 Epic Dragons