Travelling through A Realm Reborn
Reviewing an MMO is never an easy task. Which facet do you focus on: the levelling, the end game content, the PvP, the replayability, the gear train and the length of the tail once the dust is settled and you can’t level up anymore? The expansion for Final Fantasy XIV came out on 23 June so, why is there a review now in August? Believe it or not, all I have been playing since June is FF14. I thought that I could start a new character in the new race, hit level 30 or so, grab one of the new classes in the game and head to expansion content once I reached level 48 or so, maybe 50 at a push. It would take a week or two and I would move on, seeing as A Realm Reborn failed to capture my attention the first time round. Was I in for a big surprise.
FF14 is a massive game that follows one long, winding story through a main quest line. Normally MMOs have a thread that causes you to head to a certain area, where several new storylines emerge, before moving on again, with a new main quest to follow. The thread waxes and wanes and shifts through the tapestry of the game and at some points you can jump off to hit new content, such as in World of Warcraft, where there is an option to head through the Dark Portal once you hit level 58 or so, skipping the original game’s end-game content. FF14 offers no such shortcut, as the story that starts with your humble beginnings at level 1 it is the longest contiguous quest that you will ever go on. Yes it takes the odd detour but generally these detours matter in the grand scheme of things, with only one or two quest lines reminding me of those filler arcs that long-running anime tend to be so fond of.
After the events of A Realm Reborn, the journey was still far from over for me. In the time since the game’s relaunch, there have been 5 major content updates, all extending the main scenario questline with new encounters and laying the groundwork for the event that culminates in the beginning of Heavensward. Those five patches add close to 100 main quests to the game before finally heading to the previously shuttered off kingdom of Ishgard. That is a month of playing to reach the expansion!
High politics and strange bedfellows
Once you go Heavensward, you are faced with a mighty, besieged city run by a strange yet devout religion that combats dragons. You are quickly embroiled in the politicking of the four major houses that help govern Ishgard, with the Archbishop having the final say in many matters. While this is happening you are also trying to undo or at least reduce the damage of events that happened right before Heavensward started, events that left you and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn reeling. The Ascians also have plots in place for the people of the north and new primals – godlike beings with devastating abilities – as well as the truth behind the primals, slowly become known to you. There is also the threat of Garlean invasion, the slow-moving machine of the empire turning its attention away from civil conflict to look for those who killed the Legatus and most of a Legion stationed in Eorzea. There is a lot going on, but the story is revealed to you at a steady pace as you battle through new regions and learn more about yourself and those around you. This isn’t the cut and dry story about good vs bad that you thought it might be.
Take flight… if you work for it
Flying mounts allow you to get from point A to B as quickly as possible. They also remove the need to fight through monsters or explore the world around you properly. Why bother travelling through that pass if you could just fly to where you need to be? Heavensward makes you work for your ability to fly in every region you visit. There are several aetheric currents in the world you must attune to, as well as a few of them that are quest rewards before you can take flight. This means that you explore the world as the designers intended, taking in the vistas and facing several navigational challenges before you can just take wing and head to your objective. This also makes the regions that are split into low level and high level seem to make more logical sense. In some regions of the base game you would cross a bridge and suddenly monsters that side of the river were 30 levels above what you were fighting. This time, the higher level monsters are generally in places that you can only reach by flying. From floating aeries of dragons to jagged clifftops there are many area that can’t be reached without flying and new sidequests open once you have the ability to fly in a new region. Flying speed is also faster than your normal mount speed, which feels pretty slow thanks to the new map regions being considerably larger in size than before.
New allies, new jobs
Once you reach Ishgard there are three quests you can start to get the brand new jobs in Heavensward. The Dark Knight is a tank class with good magic resistance that charges into battle with a two-handed sword. Damage dealers get a new ranged option in the Machinist, a gun wielding inventor with access to small floating turrets. If you prefer healing your friends (and skipping duty finder queues) the Astrologian offers another healing option, complete with a few damage over time effects for those dungeons that you are way over-geared for. Unlike the other jobs, these new ones start at level 30 and have no pre-requisite base class, making them a tad easier to level up. I’m currently working on my Machinist level but the story quest for the Dark Knight, as well as the armour and spell effects, just look far too cool to ignore.
Along with new and old enemies
[pullquote_left]If you are a stalwart Final Fantasy fan you will love seeing the Heavensward primals.[/pullquote_left] The war against the primals is far from over, with the northern reaches hiding older primals. The conflict between the religions of the various regions plays a central role to the conversations the members of your group will have, as well as having beliefs challenged by those they encounter. Primals that are the saviour gods of Birdmen and other creatures are just some of the crazy new bosses. If you are a stalwart Final Fantasy fan you will love seeing the Heavensward primals, as there are several primals that are FF staples waiting to be challenged. Then there is still the Ascian threat, a complicated affair given their immortality, nevermind the plots of the Garlean Empire and those vying for power in your own organisation.
Still fighting that lag
Lag is still one of the bigger bugbears for me. Apparently the servers are going to eventually move a smidge closer to SA but it is still annoying that the game seems to have very undependable movement tracking. Running out of the telegraph of an AOE and then dying to it anyway is frustrating and at times embarrassing. The best ways to counter this is to keep moving all the time, hopefully causing you to already be moving out of the AOE before it starts or for large boss fights, memorising the move rotations so that you can get out of the way before they even become a problem. It can be managed, but I doubt I will be rolling a tank any time soon, though some of my SA peers have little trouble. A proper ping meter in the game would be great, guys.
As well as those textures
Heavensward is beautiful. The new regions, the great looking suits of armour, the massive towering gothic architecture of Ishgard look amazing, until you get too close. During cutscenes where characters are talking, or zooming in for a couple of screenshots the low resolution of the armour textures become very apparent, with curved details getting a jagged appearance. While I understand the game is multi-platform, I see no reason to not offer higher texture armours to PC players that want their outfits to look as great as the spell effects.
I started A Realm Reborn with reluctance, remembering how FF14 burnt me at launch so many years ago. But as time went on the characters and their story became really important to me. With the credits rolling I felt a small shiver. Things were not wrapped up neatly, leaving a lot unresolved. Content that will come in the free updates on the way for the game. Man, I really thought I was over being addicted to MMOs.