Final Fantasy XIV is one of gaming’s more interesting comeback stories. When it was originally released in 2010, it was…well, it was garbage. Straight garbage. There’s simply no way around it – the game was a massive embarrassment for Square Enix and looked to many like the beginning of the end for the legendary publisher. Three years later, the game was re-released as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, essentially a complete overhaul that skyrocketed FFXIV from dead last to the top of the charts. Many games have tried to claim the title of “World of Warcraft Killer”, only to find themselves being vanquished by Blizzard’s beast.
But Square Enix’s attempt, originally a stain on its series’ name, is actually coming close. With that history out of the way, we’re here against all odds to talk about A Realm Reborn’s first expansion: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward.
First, a disclaimer: if you don’t already have a character with at least one combat job at level 50, you should probably skip Heavensward. This is one of those MMO expansions that’s intended for the hardcore fans and offers little incentive to anyone else. Until you access the new areas and storyline, the only real benefit Heavensward offers is the ability to create a character from the new draconic Au Ra race, which is aesthetic at best. It also allows players to level from 50 to 60, but experience gains from non-expansion content are largely middling so this shouldn’t really factor into a buying decision.
Further, access to the new content is heavily gated behind the original game’s plot. Even after you’ve gotten a combat job to level 50, you’ll need to get through FFXIV’s entire main story quest. If this doesn’t sound intimidating, consider that it’s at least a ten-hour time investment AFTER all the content up to level 50. New players who are just starting out should expect an investment of around 40 hours before they can access anything in Heavensward. If you’re new, the best course of action is to save some money, get the original game and finish clearing out the older content first – by the time you’re done, chances are you’ll be able to pay a bit less for the expansion.
With that said, if you’re able to meet the prerequisites and access the new content, Heavensward is one of the best expansions ever released for an MMORPG. It hits all the high notes: a fulfilling expansion to the original game’s story, interesting new zones and boss battles, new classes and expanded abilities for existing classes and even a new gameplay feature here and there. Combining this all with a heavy dose of polish helps lift Heavensward above your average expansion.
Unlike most MMO adventures, FFXIV is heavily plot-based, so I’m not going to go into the story too deeply for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say that if you complete all the content before gaining access to the expansion, you’re left on a cliffhanger, and Heavensward resolves that cliffhanger nicely. I can also say that the majority of the new content takes place in new areas in and around the city of Ishgaard, a Gothic-inspired metropolis with a heavy religious influence. When you aren’t scouring the land completing quests, there are several new dungeons to explore as well as a pair of new Primals to battle with your friends. All of this new content is absolutely fantastic and worth seeing – fans of the original game, which you’d have to be to reach this content in the first place, will fall in love with Heavensward.
One of the big selling points for the expansion are the new jobs. Since these are technically jobs in the game’s parlance, they start at level 30 and don’t branch off of an existing class, so you’re given access to a significant number of abilities right from the start. The Dark Knight is a tank that offers a more complex playstyle than the existing Warrior and Paladin, requiring players to manage multiple resources and cooldowns at once to be effective. The Astrologian is a healer with elements of the series’ popular gambler classes; while it’s not quite as effective at straight healing as the existing White Mage and Scholar, it makes up for this with powerful support abilities. Finally, the Machinist is a gun-wielding DPS class that implements turrets into its long-ranged combat style.
The fact that these jobs start at level 30 is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, players don’t have to level them up from square one, allowing access to more interesting content immediately. On the other, this means that there isn’t much room to learn a new class before taking it into party content. The long and short of this is that you’re going to feel a twinge of panic every time you see a Dark Knight or Astrologian in a Duty Finder run, because they’re probably going to be terrible at their job and get everyone killed. You’re going to have a complete panic attack when you see a Machinist, meanwhile, because they’re one of the game’s more difficult classes to use properly and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever find random players doing decent damage with them. Naturally, since these classes are the hot new thing, they’re all over the place, so be ready to deal with some subpar performance.
These jobs aren’t the only new hotness in the expansion, though; for instance, flying mounts are now available. They’re also a giant pain in the butt to actually use. Flying is only available in expansion zones and must be unlocked on a zone by zone basis through a combination of questing and scouring the zone for “aether currents.” By the time you’re able to fly, it’s more a convenience than a necessity since you’ll have already done a decent chunk of that zone’s content. This also means that Heavensward’s zones are larger than those in the base game to account for players being able to fly, so expect increased travel times.
There’s other nice quality of life bumps as well, of course. Older jobs have new abilities available, though the quality of these vary from job to job – as a Dragoon I found that the new Wheeling Thrust and Fang and Claw mechanics did little but complicate my attack rotation, but I’ve heard glowing reports from Paladins and Black Mages. Crafters have new goodies to work on, while gatherers have new items to dig up and a new Collectable system to help with advancement. And, of course, everyone can now level to 60, which requires an absurd amount of experience and is bound to keep players busy for awhile.
All in all, Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is basically a gift to fans of FFXIV and a non-entity for everyone else. If you’ve been into FFXIV for awhile and can meet the prerequisites for the new content, this is an obvious purchase because you’re going to love it. Everyone else, well…if you enjoy MMORPGs, FFXIV is probably the best on the market at the moment, so you ought to give it a shot and look into Heavensward once you’ve made some headway!