I’m a genius when it comes to scheduling things, I have to admit. I pre-ordered Heavensward, the first expansion for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which entitled me to early access before the official release date on the 23rd of June. Since apparently, every other person in the world did this too, my only hope for getting onto the game before servers were full would be to take advantage of the dreaded time zones. My plan was simple: I’d be awake while all night but the most hardcore fans would be asleep, letting me into the servers, and I would simply never leave until early access was over. Foolproof, or it would have been if I’d gotten that weekend off work. By the time I was able to log in, I had to download and install the game, which took so long that I had time to get emotionally invested in Final Fantasy X-2 Remastered on the PS3 instead, which is a sentence I never thought I’d type. Then came the legion of login errors, queues, and queue errors; I got very familiar with Heavensward’s opening screen. In the grand scheme of things, my early access experience lasted all of two hours. Then, utilising my scheduling ingenuity, I had a week a play before I went on holiday, where I am writing this from.
I suppose the real question is, was it a convincing week? Well, yes. Heavensward fulfills a long standing goal of the Final Fantasy XIV fanbase, allowing us access to the fourth city state of Ishgard (for the non FFXIV players, think Game of Thrones, but with elves and a massive hate-on for Dragons). After the climactic events of Patch 2.55, which are so immensely spoiler ridden that even a summary is impossible, the player character finds themselves embroiled in the thousand year Dragonsong War, which pits the Holy See of Ishgard against the Dravanian Horde. The scale of the story is still immense, dealing with the machinations of numerous factions, and resolving lingering threads from A Realm Reborn. Interesting new dungeons and fights were promised, and the ones that I managed to run were immensely enjoyable. My particular favourite so far is the fight against the Primal Ravana, a new summon designed specifically for Heavensward. He’s a giant samurai bug monster wielding four massive swords, which he sets on fire regularly. Interestingly, his fight was also where I encountered one of the less likeable things about Final Fantasy XIV, which was that I was expected to know the full fight on the first week of release. Folks, here’s some homespun truths: You cannot be a noob in the first week of content.
But it’s more than just the new fights; new classes were promised and delivered. Now you can choose from the Dark Knight (Tank), Machinist (DPS) and Astrologian (Healer), all of whom have unique mechanics that set them apart from the existing classes. As a predominantly Tank player myself, I picked up Dark Knight and it’s the class I’ve invested most into so far. While previous Dark Knights have been people who consort with Dark forces for more power, these ones are more like Batman for lack of a more apt description, taking massive greatswords and delivering justice to those beyond the reach of the law. Gameplay wise, they rely heavily on MP management, as their primary mechanic burns MP to enable a number of useful attacks and abilities, which makes for a different experience overall. Within a few days in game, I was seeing people in these new classes at Level 60, the new level cap, already complaining that the new classes needed tweaks and that they were underpowered. But you know, MMO’s.
Returning classes now have an increased level cap, which means ten more levels from the previous cap of 50, five new moves for each class, and minor tweaks to various abilities for the sake of balance. As someone who had most classes levelled to 50, I played through them to determine what had changed where, but to my surprise, my main class of Paladin (Sword and Shield Tank, high on defence) hadn’t been changed much at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess. Square Enix promised that it would take roughly the same length of time levelling 1 to 50 to go from 50 to 60, and they seemed to have delivered. A number of people I know have had to stop progress in the main story in order to level up, while others I know have shot straight to Level 60 in the space of a couple of days of intense, never-ending play, regretting it later on. Personally, I kept my progress steady while engaging in a number of other activities that were available, such as flying mounts in the newly available areas.
On the whole, Heavensward is a worthy investment, promising a lot of new content, new challenges, and plenty, for returning classes and new alike, to get to grips with. My recommendation? Don’t rush through everything in the mad dash to 60. Take your time, explore stuff, maybe get involved in the new crafting game. Take up the sword of a Dark Knight, or grab an Astrologian globe. Stop and smell the roses every once in a while. I’m not saying this because, since I am on holiday and can’t progress, I want to stop you from progressing, too.
Really. I’m not.