Perfect Ten: Complaints about Final Fantasy XIV’s Heavensward, one year later

Still proud of this shot.

It’s hard to believe that it’s actually been an entire year since Final Fantasy XIV‘s first expansion launched. At the time, I played it and called it almost perfect. And it really is. I still love Heavensward, and I’m very hopeful that the next expansion will be so good that it makes this one look like a pile of dog leavings. So to mark its one-year anniversary, here are several things about it I do not like one bit.

Why would I do this? Because perspective is important. Because something can be almost perfect, but it’s important to know where that “almost” lies. Because the things you love should never be immune to criticism, and there’s some criticism that needs time before you can really understand what isn’t working. Because when you look back, there’s a tendency to lionize the past rather than evaluating and criticizing. And last but not least, because it struck me as funny.

Oh good, this again.

1. Two dungeons for Expert just lead to faster burnout

Having three new dungeons with each patch that cycled out the “old” Expert options was a problem when the base game launched. This has not been solved in Heavensward and has honestly gotten worse. Yes, the change in development cycles has meant that we get dungeons with much more polish and reliability, so that it’s hard for me to point at any particular dungeon as actually being worse than the lot; there’s no equivalent of Sastasha (Hard) or Pharos Sirius in the mix. But seeing the same two dungeons repeatedly leadsto the same burnout problems just as rapidly.

The odd part is that it’s a problem we don’t need to have; there’s no reason that at the very least we couldn’t have both dungeons from the same “wave” in the Expert roulette. The Antitower and Lost City (Hard) are not vastly easier than Hullbreaker Isle (Hard) or Sohr Khai. Instead, we just get two at a time, and by the end of a given patch cycle we really never want to set foot in a given dungeon again.

2. The regions got stale pretty quickly

I really appreciate the effort that was made for Heavensward to make bigger maps, complete with varied levels of enemies (a trick that FFXIV has always pulled which I respect) and some areas gated behind flight. All well and good. The problem is that few of those extra areas get used for anything, and when everything important takes place within the same six zones it starts to feel a bit… rote. Here’s Azys Lla, the forbidden zone full of Allagan secrets, the same one we’ve been to three times today!

There are some really neat regions in the game that don’t get nearly the attention they deserve as a result, which makes me sad. Some of this is to be expected, but one of the things that made the base game work as well as it did was that it had a wide variety of areas to choose between. You’d go to the North Shroud and fight things, then you’d head to Outer La Noscea, then the South Shroud, on down the line. No area was ever really done. I’m hoping that 3.4 and 3.5 bring back a bit more of that, since 3.3’s story wraps up the Dragonsong War rather definitively.

Here's the weird zone that no one has seen in forever, you live here now.

3. Everything feels uncomfortably focused

This ties into the above, really, and it’s a problem that could have been avoided but was not. For much of the game, the narrative was spread out across all of Eorzea, but in Heavensward everything is in Coerthas and Dravania, often for little to no reason. Your quests and stories all involve heading up into those areas no matter how little sense it might make because that’s where the story is right now, whether it makes a lot of logical sense or not.

Sure, it makes sense that you’re doing stuff in Coerthas for, say, Dark Knight or Dragoon. But why Bard? Why Ninja? There’s a whole lot of other stuff out there in the world, but because these are The Expansion Zones, those are the places where everything gets funneled, regardless of how odd it feels. It contributes to the sense of burnout and the idea that these are just zones to be finished and then left, not places you might wind up exploring again and again for a variety of reasons.

4. The story could have tied together more organically

At the end of 2.55, players were mired in a major conflict in Ul’dah. That was the ultimate reason why refuge was sought in Ishgard; as bad as it could be, it wouldn’t be as bad as the impending doom waiting back at the major city-states. And that conflict was handled… almost incidentally.

There was a whole lot of great stuff going on with the Dragonsong War, Ysayle and Hraesvelgr, Nidhogg, and the Archbishop. I love the story of this expansion. But it felt at times as if that story was given full attention, while the big cliffhanger that led to that story was almost accidentally just handled in the background when the game remembered it existed. The resolution of that big set of shocking events doesn’t sit well with me, and it leads to the sense that it was a big cliffhanger for nothing.

5. Find the moogle, kupo!

I don’t think this requires any further elaboration.

If I haven't mentioned, I do like the new jobs.

6. New jobs shouldn’t have been gated by the story

Should the expansion have been gated by the story? I would say yes; I like that you have to clear through everything up to that point in order to catch up. (I also quite like the effort made to keep older content relevant as a result.) But the new jobs already force you to drop back down to play with them. Surely there would have been some way to introduce the jobs even if you weren’t yet allowed in Ishgard, yet? Buy the expansion; you can be a Machinist.

7. Levequests became too irrelevant

Not everyone likes leves. I get that. I happen to, and while they’re still there in Heavensward, they’re far less useful. The flow of “go to spot, do leves, return to the aetheryte, get a new set” has been replaced with “go to Ishgard, go to spot, do leves, return to aetheryte, return to Ishgard, get annoyed, do something else.” Part of what made leves work was the idea that you could just chain them back-to-back in the field; having the old-style interface for Ishgard is just annoying.

This really caused a problem in the early days of the expansion, since leveling secondary jobs became far more complicated as a result. With the beast tribe quests in place, it’s a bit less problematic, but it’s still there. It’s a form of content that worked fine and got gutted for no real reason.

Flight of the Matrimony.

8. Gear inflation is an issue

This was always going to be a problem, really. It was a problem as soon as the game relaunched and I was strutting around in level 90 gear at level 50. But the expansion exacerbated it pretty significantly; the end of the base game had us in gear 80 levels above our actual levels, while all signs point to more than 200 levels above the cap for the last upgrades of this expansion. I totally understand not wanting to make the new high point of Heavensward involve level 100 gear for level 60 characters, but we probably didn’t need to be shedding our fully upgraded Ironworks stuff midway through the expansion.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the sort of absurd stat inflation that we’ve seen in World of Warcraft over the years, but that’s not really the point. It’s a problem that just compounds itself as time goes by if attention is not paid, and I’d be fine with having a softer gear curve in the future to help stave it off. It would also help if the game wasn’t shackled to some outdated notions about what rewards should come from what level of content, but that’s a longer discussion for another time.

9. Some base game issues are exacerbated, not fixed

The housing situation has not yet gotten better with this expansion, which is a shame because one of the things expansions can do is address base issues. Gil inflation is still a problem. The old-world hunts remain untouched and pretty broken, even though the cosmetic gear they award is now even more purely cosmetic. And so on.

It’s not that all of this stuff is a set of huge and pressing issues, it’s the fact that it’s being treated more with the attitude of just pretending it doesn’t exist and then sort of shuffling it under a rug. Not ideal.

10. People saw a hint of Samurai as a future job and won’t stop talking about it

Seriously, it’s just a job. I managed without guns or dual-wielding for long enough. It’s not that big of a deal.

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