Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is everything you expect (and that’s outstanding)

In my mind, Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is all about sticking the landing. After a few years of FFXIV being out, the game has consistently earned high praise from people who play it. Heavensward was recognized as a definite high point for the game, improving more or less everything in the game and adding more besides. So the question was whether or not Stormblood would continue down the same road or try to dramatically upend things, break down what once worked well and lose sight of what people enjoy.

The good news, then, is that it sticks the landing.

Everything that worked well in Heavensward has been brought forward and refined, and the parts that hadn’t worked so well have been trimmed away, repurposed, or outright removed. It feels very much like an expansion to the same core game, but in the process it manages to address almost every complaint I had over Heavensward almost incidentally. And it continues on in the high standards the game has set for itself over the years, resulting in an expansion which I’m already in love with after finishing the main storyline.

A hunter must hunt.The premise of the story was pretty clearly established at the end of the prior expansion, of course; in the wake of an unexpected attack, the Eorzean Alliance (newly flush with Ishgardian forces) is pushing across the border into the long-occupied land of Ala Mhigo. The goal, then, is to push through Imperial defenses with the help of resistance forces and take out Zenos yae Galvus, regent of the area and Legatus of the XIIth Legion.

In the interests of not spoiling anything that isn’t spoiled already in the trailer for the game, I’ll just say it doesn’t work out as planned. And players ultimately find themselves heading to the Far East, first to the port city of Kugane, to liberate Doma from Imperial aggression and weaken the Empire on two fronts.

While I greatly enjoyed Heavensward’s story as a whole, I honestly like Stormblood’s more. Part of the reason for that is that it involves none of the usual magical MacGuffins along the way; the story is told almost entirely around political maneuvering, with only a few magical doodads in the background here and there. But it also flows better, with only one or two diversions that seem to be not strictly necessary.

Sadly, one of those diversions includes a Primal fight. You’ll know it when you get there.

It also winds up being an unexpectedly hopeful expansion. Heavensward was very much about cycles, about locking into patterns and how difficult and impossible it could be to not perpetuate those patterns. Stormblood is about finding hope when it seems dead, and it gives you every reason to despair repeatedly… but then the light comes.

When you look at the situation in the game, it’s bleak. Dig deeper, and it becomes even bleaker. Yet despite everything, the conflicts in question can be dealt with. And eventually, hope shines through despite everything.

The polish on the story this time is improved as well; characters move about more naturally, and your traveling companions are both more varied and more naturally moved on and off the stage. Even Lyse, who is probably the most consistent member of the group, has her own thing to do and never feels superfluous. And your antagonists develop into interesting figures in their own right, at turns both tragic and contemptible, often deserving some rather bleak fates while still eliciting some measure of compassion.

I’d be remiss in not noting the voice acting, which is uniformly great throughout. Even the minor voiced characters get a bit more personality from the voice acting, and big players like Alisaie and Grynewaht are well-served by their portrayals.

Mechanically, the game’s story plays out similarly to Heavensward, not improving on a formula that already worked wonderfully. There are five dungeons along the leveling path, starting at level 61 and progressing in two-level increments; you’ve also got two trials along the way. Between that, it’s a bunch of quests, sidequests, hunts, roulettes, and hunting for aether currents to turn on flying.

We make for war.

It is, however, helped along by certain minor tweaks. For example, in each of the leveling dungeons, you’ll be awarded an extra item directly in your inventory that matches your job, so you’ll always get at least one bit of gear from clearing the whole thing. Run it enough times and you’ll be able to acquire most of what you need. The hunts also unlock in earlier levels, so you can pick up hunts when you can start getting that experience boost rather than when you can necessarily clear all of them unquestionably.

FATEs have also seen a couple of minor tweaks. Certain FATEs will be designated with an experience bonus, awarding significantly more experience when completed; meanwhile, enemies will randomly spawn in any FATE to offer a buff upon completion that will greatly increase the experience from the next FATE you clear. These stack together, and they give you some incentive for taking part in FATEs even if not aggressively farming them. There are also still minor event FATEs across the various zones, often with unique little cosmetic rewards along the way.

Ultimately, all of this means you’ll have reason to practice your job – and you’ll need to do so because every single job has gone through some pretty aggressive changes. Even the ones that have largely been preserved have been heavily altered, and some of them feel almost like entirely new jobs like Machinist.

This was, understandably, a point of anxiety when moving into the expansion. Thus, I’m happy to report that some jobs have made it out of the change better or worse than before, they all feel pretty similar. Scholar may not have gotten the same sort of quality-of-life bump that White Mage did (despite people theorizing the exact opposite prior to release), but both of them still come off like the jobs they’re supposed to be.

SWORDThe combat itself hasn’t changed on a fundamental level, but there’s less emphasis on adding in arbitrary bits to behavior and more emphasis on following a natural flow. You don’t just hit single DoT effects, for example; you apply them as part of the combo you wanted to do anyhow. While little pieces have been lost, the overall feel is more pleasant.

As for the two new jobs, while they may have briefly deformed the meta by offering nothing but DPS, they’re also both fun to play. Red Mage in particular is a textbook example of how to make a melee/casting hybrid work properly, as both sides of the job feel equally important and cool. Samurai may be “just” another melee DPS, but it takes the interlocking combos that were once part of Ninja and makes it really work as its own.

In fact, one of the best things about the expansion as a whole is that every job seems to have its own moment of just feeling cool, times when you get to just be impressed by the neat things it can do. Ninja busting out its big Level 70 Ninjutsu combo and then exploding in a flurry of lightning, slashes, and leaps. Paladin creating a defensive bulwark for the whole group. White Mage throwing out a destructive spell before blessing the entire party. Red Mage diving in, slashing away, and bounding back. Machinist unleashing mobile artillery in a flurry of shots. It’s just cool.

All of this is stuff that I could gush about for days, and I’m always half-tempted to do exactly that. I’m in love with the state of the game and the cool stuff this expansion offers. Heck, I haven’t even touched on the soundtrack, which is uniformly brilliant and features at least one musical cue I’ve been waiting for since we learned a name.

You’ll know it when you get there if you’re a long-time series fan.

The zones are better designed and feel more natural and less annoying to navigate. The enemies feel varied and fun while also familiar. Kugane is a much more compact city than Ishgard, but it still feels full-sized. The lore of each zone is spectacular. I can go on for days, even including quality of life stuff like water floating, but eventually I’m just gushing to anyone who will listen.

And I finally have a NIN glamour I'm happy with.

The biggest downside of the expansion, unfortunately, is a purely technical one. This is not a launch devoid of issues; queues on populated servers like Balmung have been persistently lengthy, and that’s even ignoring disconnections that have been ongoing. There were also technical issues sticking people behind a wall in the early main scenario, preventing a huge portion of players from even seeing Kugane due to an instanced quest.

Yes, those issues appear to have been cleared up, and the congestion will die down. It’s still there, and you can’t ignore these facts.

Aside from that, all of the issues are… nitpicks here and there. Little things. Mostly things not even worth mentioning as negatives, like the removal of combat leves; that’s annoying, but it’s hardly a dealbreaker.

The short version is that if you’ve enjoyed Final Fantasy XIV up to this point, you’ll adore Stormblood. The quality of life for players and the variety of options continues to impress, and I was happy to work my way through the story and get into Expert roulettes once again. It’s a fun game with a lot to offer, and the expansion serves perfectly as an improvement and refinement of what works best in the game.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be patiently waiting for Namazu beast tribe quests.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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38 Comments on "Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is everything you expect (and that’s outstanding)"

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Giannis Papadopoulos

Square enix did the obvious: dont change something that is working well, just enhance it a bit and throw 1-2 qol here and there.

Blizzard should have done the same…

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Suikoden

Eliot, you will be happy to know that I resubbed to FFXIV after leaving way back from right before Heavensward came out. BUT, let me tell you what got me to come back. The hurdle, for me, was always coming back to the game after having all the end game on farm, and trying to figure the game out again at that level, while at the same time not wanting to really go through the entire game again on a new toon, and most of my classes were leveled quite a bit, if not max. Also I wanted to re-experience the story, not just re-watch it, because it’s a big selling point to the game.

THEN I heard about the 100% bonus EXP for new characters rolled on preferred servers!!! I figured that was a great opportunity to re-roll my toon, on a new server, and re-experience the game from the beginning, while still progressing at a decent pace. So far I’ve been getting 100% exp from everything since I’ve been back, and playing a class that wasn’t in the game prior to me leaving, while getting sucked back into the story. Well done Yoshida, well done.

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Chris Brown-DeMoreno

FFXIV sucked me back in with RDM, the class I’ve been waiting for since 1.0. I’m enjoying it but I’m actually afraid I’m enjoying it JUST because it’s RDM. All the problems that made me leave are still here. I’m using the term “problems” loosely because they are just personal gripes really; the biggest being the combat. Starting out with RDM at LV50 you have roughly 11 abilities and I find myself using about 9 of them regularly. The other two, such as the refresh, are unnecessary. If you have a good tank, you don’t need it to wipe enmity and there’s rarely a need for MP. This is fine as I understand situational use. The 9 that I do use however are the problem. It’s a constant cycle of the same 3 abilities in sequence over and over and over. When there’s a proc you do that and then you go back to the same sequence. When you have enough gauge to do it, you jump in and do your melee combo which is a sequence of 5 abilities. You’ll do it once, and go back to doing that same sequence of 3 abilities until you fill your gauge for another run at the melee combo.

I’ve always hated this about FFXIV. I contrast it with something like BDO where you have a ton of abilities, it’s your choice which one you pick up as you level, and your choice of when to use them. None of them are particularly ineffective if used out of sequence. You create your own combos. You’re not forced in to scripted ones. Some of the mage classes are a lot more flexible as is Ninja with it’s spells as you’re not forced to use any particular one as a part of your rotation. I just wish they all were.

Again, personal gripes. I still enjoy the game bit at some point it gets a little old.

boredinBC
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boredinBC

I’m glad I jumped back for this one. RDM and SAM are extraordinarily fun.

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Jeff

Loving Stormblood…but it is making me Nostalgic for how WoW use to be with massive populations….before the days of pop culture references and poop quest.

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Chestnut Bowl

Stormblood has been great fun. I especially love RDM (which has been a big surprise for me) and SAM. And the soundtrack is great, as per usual.

“In fact, one of the best things about the expansion as a whole is that every job seems to have its own moment of just feeling cool, times when you get to just be impressed by the neat things it can do.”

It’s clear that you — like the dev team — were not thinking of Monk.

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Reginald Atkins

the first primal fight is just epic as all hell, loved it, I’ve been waiting and hoping for Red Mage since 1.0 and they have not disappointed me in the slightest.

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Jennifer Yaner

I haven’t played in months, I wanted to come back, all I wanted was a new healer class… Guess I’m waiting for a bit on this one.

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IgnisGray

I knew I’d like Samurai, since it’s the class I’d been waiting for since launch of ARR, but I was not expecting to have so much fun with Red Mage. I didn’t find any caster really engaging in this game until RDM. Now I’m trying to decide to main SAM or RDM. :P

Machinist was my jam in Heavensward, and its visual identity is top-notch, but its damage felt so reliant on RNG and luck that I got frustrated enough to quit. I haven’t played it enough post-update to figure out if it’s not such a luck-dependent class anymore.

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Knight Porter

From what I can tell with MCH, the RNG is offset now by there being a positive side-effect to not getting procs with the new heat mechanic.

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Steven Williams

This has definitely not been a good launch for me. One frustration after another hit me since the 16th.

-Couldn’t cancel the preorder of the PC edition a few days earlier, so I had to buy the xpac twice to play on PS4
-This is because my friend’s build didn’t work and after a month and a half of broken parts/incompatible parts/DOA items that needed replacement
-Queues for Balmung being bad even during early access
-Trying to get my friends to switch out of Balmung with me, which worked out after some time
-The solo instance bottleneck ruining my night when I stayed up until 2am to experience the expansion from sheer excitement.
-The PSN code offered on the SE store wasn’t giving the right codes
-Not knowing when my copy will come in and not wanting to play because at the time I thought, who knows when my access will be revoked because the ps4 version was late?
-My copy of the PS4 version came in yesterday. YESTERDAY!
-After all of this I’m on the boat to Kugane and I have to complete a dungeon to pass. Estimated time? More than 30 minutes. Can’t take it anymore, turning game off. Maybe next time they won’t release two of the most requested/fan-favorite classes in the series’ history as f**king DPS.

The game’s gonna be really great when I actually get around to playing it. In a month or so. When I calm down a little. I’m looking forward to it a lot.

As a sidenote, the fanboys on Reddit need to stop defending this, or giving “I told you so-“esque advice like “you should have expected this to happen.” Expecting these kinds of issues feeds into a greater anti-consumerist mentality. I know Yoshi-P’s team is doing their best to fix these issues (and they’ve made great progress), but that should never excuse what actually happened, and what people experienced because of it. Counting Realm Reborn’s sequel/expansion/reboot launch, this is the third expansion-sized update to FFXIV since 1.0.