Final Fantasy XIV is, without a doubt, one of the best experiences for the series in recent years. While the original Final Fantasy XIV failed, it came back as A Realm Reborn and became a masterclass in storytelling and engaging gameplay. Several years ago, that already excellent story was bolstered with the first expansion, Heavensward, which brought the Warrior of Light and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn into the skies. The recent expansion, Stormblood, takes a more grounded approach to its story and migrates to the Asian-themed country of Doma, currently under the influence of the Garlean Empire.
The fundamental gameplay for Final Fantasy XIV has not changed. Two new classes were added in Stormblood, the Red Mage and the Samurai. Having two DPS classes felt a bit questionable in a game that is sorely lacking healers and tanks, but it somehow all ended up working out. The Samurai feels great to play on the side during quests, but during longer events I prefer my Paladin, not just because he gets through dungeon queues a lot faster. What’s nice is that the player no longer has to spend hours grinding through the story and other classes in order to get the new class. The process of obtaining and leveling new classes has finally been streamlined.
I do have to say, though, that combat still feels like it’s somehow less involved from other MMOs that I have played in the past. While other MMOs felt a little more chaotic in the commands needed, I found Final Fantasy XIV to always have this dance, a rhythmic dynamic, to its play. It feels a little bit slower than the fast paced rushes, and it’s something that Stormblood has maintained. Do I like this better? I actually do, because I admittedly am a bit slower on the reflexive game, but there are times in battle where I feel like not much has happened over a long period of time running the same cycles of attacks and buffers.
Stormblood, however, has an extremely high barrier to entry, a barrier to entry that is hampered down by the story content that proceeds it. Each expansion is a full game in itself. For those who were dedicated enough to stick to the game from the beginning, they should be more than prepared to tackle the new content with ease. For players with demanding schedules, though, it’s a bit worse off because there is simply an enormous amount of story content that must be crawled through. This load of story content before Stormblood is made difficult when the zones are rather empty and listless. The story content, compounded with the price of the Heavensward and Stormblood expansion packs and the monthly subscription costs, means that players will have to shell out a bit more for a quality Final Fantasy experience. This can be alleviated with the purchasing of some in-game items that allow for the skipping of story content or leveling a class directly to 60 and getting the gear for that level, but to skip the stories and get the power up is $68, more than the cost of a game.
Once the player gets past that, though, the experience is incredible. With great voice acting support, stunning environments, and an incredible soundtrack, it just might all be worth it in the end. The music is noteworthy in itself. Composed by Masayoshi Soken, it can go from calm and peaceful to dramatic and bold in an instant. For Final Fantasy XIV, the soundtrack has always been incredible.
Unfortunately, the end tell is that while Stormblood delivers a great story experience, the game’s quests are still not up to scratch. Side quests yield little reward, and often consist of the dreaded fetch quests, or simply mashing the button to advance dialogue. The questing experience still feels roughly the same and feels like it has yet to evolve from beyond simple fetching and killing a few monsters. Even the story quests themselves involve meeting characters at locations, or fetching for a villager. Aside from the occasional instanced quest, there’s not much diversity.
Whatever my feelings are for the questing mechanics, the overall experience is one I would still recommend to anybody excited about Final Fantasy. The game has a characteristic polish that is apparent entering the game; characters and environments are detailed and vibrant and the music is incredible. Stormblood is an all around experience that builds upon the previous content, but unfortunately has a high level of entry. While these entry points are skippable with the new class and story skips, in a way it feels like cheating the system because there is quite a lot of story that the record keeper misses.