Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward in review – the final assessment

    
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Up, up, up.
Here we are, then, at the end of this particular road. We’ve had enough time to look back over Heavensward as a whole, the things it did well and the things it did less well, and where do we stand? Was it a good first expansion for Final Fantasy XIV? A pedestrian one? Or did it make the game significantly worse than when it launched?

All right, the answer to the last question there is pretty transparently a “no,” but let’s not derail the opening preamble here too badly. We’re considering here.

The biggest problem with evaluating any expansion at this point is that until Stormblood releases, we don’t really have a great deal of context, just the base game and what came afterward. Context matters a great deal, but it’s easy to speculate about whether Heavensward will go down as being one of the best or one of the worst expansions. But we can at least look at it in relation to the base game, and what it changed.

Preen for success.If there’s one theme that’s come up time and again in these review columns (and you can check them all out for yourself down below), it’s that Heavensward refined the things that already existed in the base game. That’s not to say that nothing changed, but more that many of the changes were more about a shift to a larger context rather than a big sea change. It wasn’t that Paladin got worse; it was having two other tank classes which could both deal better damage that made Paladin’s utility seem a bit less desirable. Paladin was still solid and well-designed.

When you look at the obvious point of comparison, Heavensward seems almost painfully sedate by those standards. It really does keep things astonishingly similar to the game that already existed, just fixing and improving the flow and providing a better experience all around.

The question is why that’s supposed to be a bad thing.

Heavensward very much followed the same blueprint laid out by a game that impressed the hell out of pretty much everyone, and it refined most of its weaknesses while finding new strengths. Systems that didn’t work quite as well to start with, like Hunts, got a chance to be integrated in the leveling flow from the ground up. There were missteps here and there, like leaving out leves as a leveling mechanic, but that ultimately doesn’t subtract from the focus on what the title did well.

But it also didn’t mean that the expansion went stagnant, either; there were plenty of experimental systems. Exploratory missions, Palace of the Dead, Lord of Verminion, mercenary status for PvP, the very idea of having a normal mode for Alexander – all of these things were ways to shake up the existing formula. Some of them worked better than others, and I’ve pointed out that Exploratory missions in particular took some time to get right and might arguably still not be there.

The point is that the effort was made. As each refinement to the core systems landed, another system pushed the limits of what the game could do without throwing off the existing balance. It’s almost like the developers were trying to provide more options without damaging the choices already in place, or something.

I know, I’m shocked too.

This isn’t to say it was without its flaws, of course; some of the experimental bits really didn’t land well, and the game’s persistent issues with things like housing have yet to be fixed. It also introduced a pretty bad set of number bloat, and while it’s something the game appears to have been planning on from the beginning, it’s also an issue that could compound given a little bit of time. Of course, the availability of item sync addresses that a little, but it’s still going to require another look or two before numbers get out of hand.

All the same, it was an expansion delivering what players already enjoyed in a consistent and fun fashion, and it addressed a number of the flaws from the base game to make a stronger overall experience. That’s exactly what an expansion should be doing, at least by my standards.

None of it helps much if you want the game to be wildly different from what it is, but that’s really on you at this point. From what we’ve seen publicly, Stormblood is staying the course as well, providing more of what makes the game work well without causing any massive upheavals. There will be changes, but we’ve seen nothing to indicate you can’t rest assured it’ll be mostly the same game.

Chain that spell, all right.I admit that part of me would be just as happy without another level cap bump, but I think that also carries with it the risk for the game becoming far too top-heavy. Final Fantasy XI managed to do just fine without a bump for quite a while, but that was a game that wound up being exceedingly top-heavy, with a lot of max-level characters and a large number of people who just… couldn’t compete. It also brought its own problems of making the top increasingly unwieldy from a design aspect.

That’s not to say that I think the game has handled its 1-50 content as best it possibly could; I’d like to see a little more relevance for these lower areas, especially when you consider that the new jobs just bypass them altogether. This expansion already had little for people not already at the level cap; Stormblood will ensure that you do have something to do if you’re level 50, but it’s still mostly about providing that new level band and endgame content.

Does it work? Yes. Would I still be happy to see some new zones filling out the middle of the game? Also yes. It doesn’t really weaken the expansion that it wasn’t there, but it’s worth noting.

Ultimately, past a certain point it becomes a matter of looking for something to complain about. I head about someone complaining that the game patches too frequently, for example. Rather than going down that road, I think it’s worth just noting that there were fields where the expansion underperformed. Not many, and not badly, and that makes all the difference.

So Heavensward was, all told, just about a perfect expansion. It did exactly what it set out to do, didn’t massively disrupt things which were already working while correcting the things which weren’t, and it also gave us a lot of new things to do besides. It had its issues, but I’m happy to see that two years after my first impressions, I’m still pretty comfortable with the evaluation.

And let’s not forget that we can’t have an Haurchefant dropped on us again.

Feedback, naturally, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I’ll have the live letter to react to, and not too long after that I’ll have more fun stuff for you to read, so keep your eyes peeled. We’re done with looking backward for the moment; now it’s time for the next installment.

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.
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Roger Melly

I purchased the vanilla game and heavensward in a bundle . I really quite enjoyed aspects of the Vanilla experience but never made it to Heavensward because a lot of the quests in between the two expansions made me feel like a delivery boy . I eventually got to a point where i had to do some dungeons to advance but there were so many elitist jerks I never got to finish any of those dungeons and eventually gave up out of sheer exasperation .

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Sorenthaz

Playing through rather late since I’ve been playing catch-up for the past months and digging into the endgame content the last few weeks, I think Heavensward has been a great expansion by the end of the long run.

That said, I’m looking forward to the change of scenery and style in Stormblood. Heavensward was really kind of cold and decrepit in a lot of areas, the techno area was interesting but just felt really weird and undesirable to stick around there to me. Flying was implemented beautifully imo, and felt very elegant. Returning to each zone didn’t really feel like it was much of a necessity by the point I hit 60 though – yeah there’s stuff to do but none of it is really worth doing too much in the month before SB. I -could- try to rush the Anima weapon stuff but I’m fine with sitting on my PotD one; might still work on it though over time.

Also will be refreshing to finally have the areas opened up a bit more in terms of swimming. But in general I can’t wait for the theme to be something more stylized rather than sort of just more of what we saw in ARR. That and I really hope that they’re making the crazy ass rotation for Monks less ridiculous, because having to memorize which pieces of a combo chain should be done in which position (flank/back) + having to keep up like 4-5 buffs/debuffs every 20-30 seconds ON TOP OF melee positioning is just nuts.

I’m fine with that stuff on a caster because casters tend to get much more leeway in positioning and don’t have to move as often, but Monks are pretty much the kings of ADHD rotations since you basically never get any time to breathe.

Beyond that stuff though XIV’s finally managed to absorb me into it for more than just a short fling before dropping it and picking it back up again 9+ months later. Here’s hoping Stormblood will keep it up, I’m looking forward to how they make each class feel more unique with their gauges or whatever.

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J.A. āCH

Did they implemented the catch-up mechanism yet (like they did at the end of ARR to get you ready for HW)? Would couple of weeks be enough time to get caught up on MSQ if you only done what was originally released in the beginning of HW?