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

    
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Red means dead.

One of the things that I really do love about Final Fantasy XIV, from relaunch to now, is that it is indisputably a game that begins as it means to go on. By the time you have reached 50, you’ve seen all of the styles of content that the game intends to throw at you, and from there it’s just a matter of execution and new versions of that content. Being a veteran means that you half want the designers to surprise you with something completely new and half fear the upheaval that would cause.

In broad strokes, the biggest leveling change was that leves have gone from being functionally gone to actually gone. Farewell, gentle levequests, we scarcely knew you. But the point of today is to talk more about the general leveling content and the environments used for leveling, so let’s start by taking a look at our tour of the various zones and the quests therein.

Oh, the places you'll go.

Zone maps and the lackluster depths

Here’s the biggest weakness with the way that the zone maps were presented. I entirely understand the choice to have no underwater or swimming combat, and the rationale there was smart. It also meant that the underwater areas could be big and expansive, giving you plenty of stuff to look at. Far from uniform scenes, the underwater stretches of each region of the game feel distinct and different in entertaining ways.

It’s a pity, then, that there’s not much to do down there. The Ruby Sea in particular suffers from this. A huge chunk of the zone is devoted to a gigantic seascape that, while gorgeous, offers no real content beyond gathering nodes and the aforementioned gorgeous seascape. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve yet really gotten content that makes great use of going underwater; similarly, there’s a reason that no other zone makes much use of underwater exploration. It’s not even present in The Peaks or The Fringes.

This would all be a major problem if the expansion maps suffered for lack of things to do as a result of the diving. Fortunately, while swimming has yet to be rolled out in all the places it would be nice and remains something of a curiosity on a whole, the actual maps are still big and nice. It doesn’t feel like we lost out on content in exchange for swimming, so it’s hard to feel too cranky about it.

While Heavensward had a few zones with some major issues (Churning Mists looks bland, Azys Lla is empty, Sea of Clouds is a pain to navigate), Stormblood largely avoids these problems. It can be a bit annoying dealing with the two elevations in The Peaks, but flying between them isn’t horribly onerous; the Ruby Sea has that big underwater stretch in the middle, but the actual islands are interesting and there are some neat switchbacks.

Three of the zones are also nicely bisected in a way that feels very organic, allowing the story to explore content and travel further without more overall zones. After the initial two starting zones, Heavensward basically has you go zone-by-zone and clear each one out; Stormblood, on the other hand, uses half of its zones twice over, and each one has both a unified look and a distinct visual character to each half.

Overall, I think I prefer the zones in Ala Mhigo and Othard. They have some failings, but they feel at once more grounded and more interested in doing stuff with the entire map. Pity about diving, though.

Where you can't see.

The leveling dungeon experience

I was none too fond of the first two dungeons in Heavensward because both of them felt perfunctory. Thankfully, that isn’t a problem we have in Stormblood. In fact, the earliest dungeons are arguably the best leveling experiences in the expansion; if you’re looking for a dud in the bunch, I’d look to Doma Castle, and even that is debatable.

While the early dungeons are definitely tuned and meant to be easier mechanically than the expert-level dungeons immediately beforehand (likely as an easier on-ramp for people who finished up the MSQ and then took a long break), they’re also not simple by any means. It’s entirely possible to wipe on bosses or trash in both Sirensong and Shisui, and I’ve watched more than a few overconfident players loudly profess that leveling content is stupidly easy before dying to easily avoided mechanics.

In general, it seems like the dungeons here were tuned toward both experimenting with new mechanics and presaging things that would later be very important. The stacking debuff fields and the forced movement abilities in Sirensong come up again later, as does the necessary debuff of Shishui and the plethora of mechanics present in Bardam’s Mettle. There are familiar mechanics, but the team clearly is still trying out new styles of fights and new ways to pace a boss encounter.

Doma Castle may be the weakest of the batch, but most of that is just due to a bunch of mechanics that come down to well-telegraphed dodging instead of asking you to do something different. It’s still a fun and interesting instance. As a whole, the leveling dungeons retain the high quality of dungeon content that the game has long trafficked on, showing off both unique designs and fights that require attention without being unfairly difficult.

The one complaint I really have is that the dungeon gear from Doma Castle is also really underwhelming. It’s a version of gear from the last expansion that you can’t dye, despite the base version being open for dye. Kind of a missed opportunity there, even if it has thematic justification.

Let's protest by playing!

Heaven-on-High

This obviously wasn’t in the game at launch, but I’m including it here because there’s not a whole lot to be said about Heaven-on-High that’s wildly different from Palace of the Dead. It covers a narrower level band and the fact that it’s split into 1-30 and 31-100 instead of Palace having 1-50, 51-100, and 101-200 is probably a good thing on a whole; there’s less fluff and more effective content to pull you into the meat of the content. The top-level aspect of the content seems to have been downplayed compared to its work as leveling content, although that might just be my perception.

Regardless, Heaven-on-High made it clear that the Deep Dungeon format can indeed be brought format and remains compelling without requiring massive rewrites. What we had here were edits rather than wholesale alterations, and those edits make the game mode stay interesting and different. I look forward to our third Deep Dungeon in Shadowbringers, as I have no doubt we’ll get one.

Of course, this expansion as a whole did a lot of work to make leveling more doable across the board. Alliance Roulettes and bigger rewards for beast tribes had a big impact, as did things like the experience bonus on FATEs; it doesn’t feel like Heaven-on-High is as vital simply because, well, there’s just a much broader spectrum of ways to level. So on a whole, this expansion made for a better time when exploring the game world, even if that meant that things like the Deep Dungeon weren’t quite as arresting at first.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, we’re going to start talking about expert-level content, starting – once again – with the dungeons. And there’s a lot to talk about there, even as we had fewer dungeons than ever before.

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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Thomas 242

Huh, I actually find Churning Mists to be one of the better zones in the game, aesthetically and thematically at least.

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psytic

Holy crap does this games expacs ever have a boring and bland open world. You look at the ARR areas and yes they were smaller and not created for flying but they all had beautiful varied foliage and unique little sub areas such as the hot springs or the flying city or peach orchards.

Ever since flying has become a thing the maps in HW and SB are mostly vast expanses of nothingness and are bland with little going on. The graphics, shaders and HBAO is nice but the map design and variety has been piss poor out side of one or two post ARR zones. Its a shame honestly as I know they can do better they did it in ARR.

Now we get SB bland bad lands with less going on than thalanen. Bland boring rocks floating in the sea with a few green trees plopped down. Even HW man were those zones bland flying rocks with a few trees. They need some sort of multiplication slider like in WoW that you can increase the amount and radius of ground cover foliage most expac zones its just the bare ground texture.

That Lake in SB where you swim to Skalla under water. Not even moss growing just one bland rock texture underwater I almost though I was swimming in Ever Quest 1.

Game is fun dont get me wrong but its clear their focus is on the instanced content.

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styopa

I’m a little bit sad about FFXIV.

I was HARD into it since September, having ‘missed it’ when it came out. WHM to 70, AST to 70, SCH to 70, PLD to 70, NIN 50, and the craftings all up to 40, I was having a pretty good time, had all sorts of plans of what job was going to be my next to level, I’m in an absolutely outstanding FC with terrific people…I was quite pleased to be playing it.

Then…I stopped for a bit. A friend got into GW2 and I bought Hot and PoF to join him. I jumped back into that (after 6 years away…whew) and while it’s certainly fun to play, I am sort of reminded of the reasons I found it unengaging. Its fun WITH someone but solo? It’s just…dull.

Then of course the CoH thing happened. I sort of avoided it for a while, as we’d left the game just about when CoV came out, mainly through boredom. But I thought sure, I’ll try it, wreck my rose-colored glasses when I realize how repetitive it was and start remembering all the nits I’d picked at the time. But…not really? I’m enjoying the HELL out of it. Remade my iconic character, and myself and 2 friends are kickin’ ass in Paragon City.

…which leads me back to why I’m sad about FFXIV. I look back and realize…I was sort of on the treadmill, and didn’t notice. I’d jump in and do my beast dailies, gain a level or two running PotD on my NIN, reset my ventures, Fridays I’d go get the easy 80 at the Fashion Show in Gold Saucer, do whatever seasonal event was up…but I wasn’t really doing much MORE than that. Perfecting the meticulous, rote dance-steps for the hardest raids hasn’t been appealing to me for ten years or more. So what was left in the game had become perfunctory, dammit.

I’ve bought Shadowbringers in advance, so I’m looking forward to pushing my main back through the MSQ at that point, but I’m sort of afraid that even after I go back I won’t have nearly the interest I’d need to re-cap all the jobs that I enjoyed.

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cursedseishi

I don’t know if I’d say Leve Quests are functionally gone… For any combat-based class? Definitely. The change from having them available in most all the maps from 2.0 to the main town and main town only reduced them to little more than utilizing one Leve Quest to farm amber, and nothing else. temple leves were a waste of time as well, despite their intent as ‘greater reward, less time’.

Stormblood doesn’t even have that going for it. And not even because they removed battle leves from the game. But because they are pushing leves out from crafting/gathering now too, it feels. Between the beast tribes, Grand Company turn ins, Collectible appraisers, and our BFFs/Easy-Scrip turn ins? Why bother doing any of the crafting or gathering leves? Mining or Botany would hit the same issues as any battlecraft in Heavensward, and honestly your time is likely better spent gathering materials to craft for collections rather than leves.

Fishing was the only Leve I dealt with in Stormblood, and even then I only did that because–at the moment at least when I did it–the fish wanted for it were cheap as sin on the Market Board. And I only did… fifteen or twenty, tops?

And with the way they are going, I feel like they’re just going to drop the leve quest system in general. Which is a shame. During 2.0, I did leve quests consistently. Battlecraft or Tradescraft. Paired with the challenge logs, they could give more than a healthy chunk of xp weekly and were great to level up any of the classes. But part of that necessitates having these givers out in the game world.

Dantos
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Dantos

honestly, I skip most of the leveling content, I just do the msq and grind dungeons.

JonBuck
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JonBuck

I finally completed the 4.0 MSQ yesterday. I’m not sure if I’ll finish 4.56 before Shadowbringers launches at the rate I play. There’s just so much to do beyond just MSQ and dungeons.

I think my favorite zones in the game are Yanxia and the Ruby Sea, particularly the Kojin village. I could sit and listen to the ambient music down there all day.