Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward in review – leveling content

    
7
Thinking over.
At least we’re finally thought the story. While we walk through a review of Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward in its totality, we’ve taken three weeks covering all of the various stories within the expansion, as well as touching upon a bit of the class design in the last part. Parts one, two, and three cover everything from the main scenario to some of the zone side stories. And now we can move on to the mechanical side of things enthusiastically.

Also, we’re reaching the point where I know I’m going to forget to mention at least one or two things that were really keen from the expansion, but that’s a different discussion.

In terms of sheer volume, of course, Heavensward nearly matched what we got from the base game in terms of patches, and arguably surpassed it in some categories; sure, we only got 10 dungeons from patches rather than 15, but if you didn’t have any interest in Coil in 2.x, you got the entirety of Alexander, which was new. But volume alone isn’t the determinant of how good that content was. So let’s start in on that, albeit not with the dungeons.

On the air.

The environs of Coerthas

One of the things I’ve complained about before is that Heavensward suffered a bit from being concentrated in a narrow field. While the relaunch had a dozen or so areas for every quest, Heavensward had just six, and several of them were largely off-limits. (With good cause, seeing as how Azys Lla isn’t really a place where many people hang out.) It helps, however, that all of the zones in question tended to be really big.

The open world areas also featured a nice trick with flying wherein you do not actually cover all of a zone on your first or even sometimes second trip to a region; there’s more stuff which you can only really access via flight. It’s a bit of wasted potential insofar as many places went on to not actually do much with those hard-to-access areas, but it addressed the obvious problem with flight unlocks per zone quite elegantly. Why would you go back if you have to clear the zone before flying? Because you don’t clear the zone.

The areas also have the benefit of largely feeling distinct and beautiful. I’m still not very fond of the brown ubiquity of the Churning Mists, but it’s not something you see anywhere else in the game. The Western Highlands feel a bit less elegant, but they are distinct from the central highlands, and if we didn’t have at least one snow-choked region we would have found it pretty darn weird.

Having flight also meant that there are fewer chokepoints where you absolutely have to ride through enemies, which is a nice touch. It’s fair to say that enemies in the open world are a touch more difficult than they were in the base game, but since you rarely need to just bypass them, it feels like continuity is preserved.

It’s also nice that enemies in the open world carried along Hunts as a mechanic, which was a nice way of expanding leveling and offering something neat to do while reclaiming a rather mismanaged system from 2.x. There’s a lot to like about the new zones, in other words; what’s not to like is a few odd removals and changes. I want to touch on most of that in the next header, though.

What is directly relevant to zone design, though? Aetheryte placement. The placement of these is terrible throughout the zones. There’s never one where you want one, and almost every single one is just placed right by a zone line. Compare that to the largely central placement in the other zones of Eorzea. If I teleport somewhere, I should not find myself thinking that it’s just a more expensive way to run across the map.

You stay here and don't let anyone just do things in another area, you hear me?

Where are the leves?

While a lot of mechanical adjustments for the expansion worked out quite well, the adjustments made to leves both pretty much sputtered and failed right out of the gate. Leves in general got shoved into an odd corner with the expansion, since they completely removed regional levemetes and instead forced players to run back and forth between Ishgard and leveling zones for… particularly slow gains.

On one hand, I understand this. The point of this expansion’s systems, in part, was to mix up the way that the leveling system worked a little. You don’t just sit and hammer at leves (or run around and spam AoE damage in FATEs, but that’s another discussion), you have to vary things up more. You have to do hunts, you have to follow beast tribes, and so forth. I can respect that.

At the same time, it has the downside of meaning that players who enjoyed just kicking back with stacks of leves (myself) were kind of out of luck, and it made them largely irrelevant outside of gathering and some crafting intervals. The Temple levequests were also something of a wash; they’re tremendously inefficient and don’t really offer much in the way of a reward buff, so there’s not a whole lot of point to them other than bragging rights and using up your stacks of allowances.

We got a lot of really great leveling options here, but this got unfortunately left by the wayside. I understand the reasons why the decisions were made, but I don’t altogether agree with them.

PLANT PLANT PLANT

Leveling dungeons

We got a pretty great lineup of leveling dungeons, really. For a 10-level interval, five dungeons is pretty good, although Dusk Vigil winds up feeling like the odd one out. It’s the only one not part of the MSQ, after all.

Dusk Vigil and Sohm Al also suffer a bit from having either absurdly easy or rather ignorable mechanics for the most part; the first bosses of both dungeons wind up being almost ludicrously simple piles of health to blow through, which is the sort of Big Al’s Discount Boss Emporium crap I expect from Blizzard’s design team. This is, however, short-lived, and The Vault is one of the most enjoyable leveling dungeons we’ve ever had.

The fact that each dungeon has a themed set of armor seems like it might have been a bit of overkill, though. Admittedly, one set of armor is just later models without dye options and one set is really just variants on the same set of hunting furs, but beyond that… it was a bit excessive.

Then again, seeing as how the initial tuning expected you to run these dungeons a lot to level, perhaps it makes more sense in the long run. But I still feel like it’s a bit of overkill, and more to the point, it’s a symptom of the inflation of gear stats that hit things hard once we got up to the endgame dungeons and content.

That, however, will have to wait for our next installment. For this week, you can leave your comments down below or mail them along to eliot@massivelyop.com; next time, I’m going to be hitting Palace of the Dead, high-level dungeons, and what I like to think of as the Numbers Problem. (Including how it could be solved without massively rewriting the game, if anyone cares.)

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Loopy

I agree about the blandness of some of the zones. Soo much brown and gray. I simply didn’t find any of the zones memorable enough (aside from Azys Lla) aesthetically. Honestly, nothing can compare with the mood i get when running through the Black Shroud. It feels like a real place, as opposed to just assets being placed around.

Mobs are definitely more challenging in HW, and by extension an artificial way to slow leveling down. I really did not enjoy how long it took to kill single mobs while leveling, especially once you’ve exhausted your pool of MSQ and side quests. But i think that’s more of a personal issue that i have than a blanket statement.

I actually did enjoy having different sets throughout the leveling. They were beautifully designed, and it felt good completing them with relative ease. It felt like you were truly progressing, as opposed to mixing and matching a clown suit until you got to endgame.

As for the dungeons, i enjoyed them for the most part. Mechanics seemed varied enough, and difficulty was at a good level to ensure i don’t fall asleep as a healer/tank. What i did not enjoy though was the goddamn tome grind in ARF.. if i have to see that dungeon one more time i will literally explode.

Reader
Leviathonlx

My main issue with Heavensward zones is that they looked a bit too dull (even a wasteland can be prettied up) and nothing ever seemed blended. For example, there’s a bridge in Western Coerthas that looks like it was thrown onto the map with zero effort taken to make the bridge look ‘right’. It’s also a bit too noticeable how much copy and pasting was going on and all the repeating textures. Like all the rock structures in the southern portion of the forelands are the same exact model over and over. The zones just feel amateur when compared to the incredible detail Blizzard puts into their zones and I expect better of Square and sadly screenshots of Stormblood zones look to be those same problems all over again.

Dungeon wise I liked everything for the most part when leveling. My complaint would instead be that some of the leveling dungeons should have been max level as it was completely unacceptable to release the game with 2 max level dungeons. Even if Stormblood ends up mostly being more of the same I hope they don’t make that mistake again.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Rottenrotny

I still feel like the more and more they add to the game the less I want to try and get back in there.
If there’s such a thing as releasing content too often it’s FFXIV.

Reader
Sorenthaz

I recently just hopped back into FFXIV to play it more srsly (I.e. playing it gor hours at a time again) and oddly enough am loving the hell out of it more than I have before. Even though this weekend all I’ve done is go through the Palace of the Dead over and over again as my Monk is steadily getting lots of goodies and exp from there, so once I hit 60 by this weekend I’ll have the glowy weapon ready to whip out.

I think overall HW has pulled me into the game more than ARR ever did. I’m actually eager to see how far I can get before Stormblood in the hopes that I won’t be stuck playing catchup again. Lol.

bereman99
Reader
bereman99

On one hand, there is so much brown in the Churning Mists, and then some more for good measure. On the other hand – Zenith, which might be one of my favorite areas in the game.

One thing they carried over from ARR that worked well was a sense of weather that worked for the area and helped sell the idea of the place (Drybone not withstanding, though aether shifting shenanigans from the Calamity might be a believable blame there). We’re told that the sudden ice age hit Coerthas fast and hard and Western Coerthas does its best to convey that with its frequent snow and low visibility (though the rare fair skies in the morning following a blizzard leads to this amazing sparkly effect as the sun rises…one of my favorite environmental effects in the game). Water is meant to be somewhat scarce in the Sea of Clouds except via water aspected aether crystals and I honestly don’t remember seeing it rain there.

I felt like they almost forgot something with the first boss of Dusk Vigil…it feels like there should be some manner of breaking the stun or sharing damage but as far as I can tell it’s just health sponge and avoid the aoe if you weren’t the one stunned. The first boss of Sohm Al feels more feature complete for a first dungeon boss – kill adds to prevent damage increase dodge stuff – but undertuned to the point where it barely mattered unless there was some combination of undergeared that led to the fight going on too long.

That said…Sohm Al’s final boss is as solid an entry in bosses you’ll find in my opinion and perhaps the first test for leveling players (with the Aery and Vault being steps two and three of that test).

For the gear sets…I’m confused as to how having the visual sets be unique to each leveling dungeon is a symptom of the item level power creep problem. Changing the stat curve wouldn’t impact having different visuals per dungeon, so I’m not sure how they’d connect.