Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was nothing short of a video game miracle. Game director Naoki Yoshida and his team had done fantastic work on turning around the failure of the original Final Fantasy XIV into one of the best MMOs since World of Warcraft and had created a world worthy of the Final Fantasy name. With the release of Heavensward, they have proven that their success with A Real Reborn was not a fluke, and have made an expansion that is worth the time, money, and effort to invest in.
The first thing to note about the launch of Heavensward is that it is one of the smoothest launches of an online game I have ever seen. I still recall the nightmare of trying to start in the new area for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and more recently, the constant plaguing connection issues during the launch of GTA: Online. However with Heavensward, I was able to connect to the servers with relative ease on Excalibur, one of the most populated US servers in the game, with only a couple incidents where I needed to restart the client. I have not noticed any outstanding lag issues even in highly populated areas, and the game has set up several instances of zones to divide the player load. The only downside of this implementation is that the only way to change instances is to have your character walk out of a zone and re-enter it. It is odd that there isn’t an easier way to change it, but it is only a minor annoyance.
At the end of patch 2.55, the Warrior of Light, the player character, is in dire straits. Framed for the murder of the leader of Ul’dah, and with few allies remaining either alive or loyal, they travel to the land of Ishgard, where the native Elezen are locked in a holy war against the Dravanian dragons. The main story quests follow the Warrior as they try to clear their name of the murder and become involved in the war between the Ishgardians and the dragons and find a way to bring an end to the conflict. While the storyline isn’t terribly original, it is still compelling and fun, and is certainly not a chore to play through. The voice acting has received a huge overhaul with many existing characters being voiced by new actors, and with greatly improved direction. The writing is solid with interesting characters, surprises, and even genuinely emotional moments. I find myself interested and invested of the storyline of Heavensward, something that can’t be said about many other MMOs.
The new zones introduced in Heavensward are gorgeous, from the snow covered Coerthas Western Highlands to the sky-floating islands of the Sea of Clouds. Exploration of these zones will not only provide beautiful sights, made even more beautiful with the new DX11 client, but also provides subtle world building and lore expansion. Players are also able to fly in these new zones, provided they complete the necessary steps to unlock the ability. The new dungeons in the expansion are also more than just crawling through caverns, and have their own unique designs. Notably, one of the later dungeons is inspired by Anor Lando from Dark Souls in both architecture and enemy design, and is one of the best in the expansion. All of the areas in the game are further improved by Masayoshi Soken’s fantastic score, who deserves to be recognized amongst the likes of Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura as one of the best composers for Japanese RPGs.
Heavensward not only features a new continent and storyline, but also significant gameplay additions as well. A new playable race called the Au Ra, a humanoid race that appear to be a hybrid between humans and dragons, have been added. All of the existing jobs have their level cap increased from 50 to 60, with new quests and actions learned every couple of levels. Three new combat jobs were also added: Dark Knight, Machinist, and Astrologian. Dark Knight is a greatsword-wielding tank that uses the power of Darkness to increase their abilities. Machinist is a DPS job that uses a firearm and turrets to deal damage. Finally, Astrologian is a healer that uses tarot cards to boost their allies in various ways. Each job starts at level 30 and they all have their own unique questlines. I am currently leveling a Machinist, and while it is a fun class to play, it does need some major improvements. The main mechanic of Machinist is Ammunition, a self-buff that increases attack power and grants additional effects to weapon skills for a certain amount of attacks. These boosts are necessary to be effective, but they expire way too quickly. After Ammunition is expended, your weapon skills only have a 50% chance to grant the additional effects Ammunition provides 100% of the time. This significantly reduces your damage output, and makes prolonged fights a struggle. Hopefully, the developers will recognize this issue, and Machinists will gain some kind of improvement in the next major patch.
Despite the balancing issues, I still highly recommend Heavensward for fans of Final Fantasy XIV and MMOs in general. It should be noted, though, that all of the Heavensward content is locked behind the completion of the A Realm Reborn storyline and subsequent content patches, with the exception being the Au Ra race. New players will take a while to reach the new content, but leveling new characters is significantly easier than it was at A Realm Reborn’s launch, thanks to generous experience rewards and gear drops. New endgame content is already planned for in the next major patch update, so there is no worry of the game becoming stale in the near future. The launch of Heavensward has been an overall great success, and I hope the game continues to provide one of the richest MMO experiences of this generation.