This review will not contain spoilers, however if you do not want to read anything even remotely related to the MSQ, please skip the first part of this review.
This review will also not go into the Early Access problems.
Hello Eorzeans! Lukile Bravestone here, with a first impressions review of FFXIV: Stormblood! Because this is a first impressions review, please do not take it too seriously, as I have yet to “settle in” to the game. The review has been made “as I played” so it’s been split into categories. Let’s just dive in!
Main Story seems more focused, with less filler quests, and it seems to flow nicer than in HW. Heavensward had major gaps where it would give you 5 MSQs and then leave you to do dungeons or sidequests.
The Main Story itself resonates with me way more than it did in Heavensward. Let me first point out the most obvious reason: Old English. In Heavensward, the dialogue was RIDDLED with old english phrases, with the dragons really taking the cake. It made it hard to relate to any of the characters, made me tired of listening to it, and became a nuisance. In Stormblood, this has been taken way down, and is more or less gone from the dialogues entirely (except for Urianger, bless him). This right off the bat makes me relate more to the characters, because they now speak a language people actually use in the real world. And when you get to the east, they have a slight japanese accent that never dips into the cringy sterotype that usually occurs when westerners try to sound asian.
Then there’s the content of the story. Again, more relatable. An occupied nation desperate for freedom. This is something most Europeans even today have strong feelings about, so this story was something I could relate to much more than the Dragonsong War. Couple that with a much tighter pace than HW, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic experience.
Another thing I didn’t even know we needed, was the humour. A lot of people seem to have forgotten how silly Final Fantasy could be at times, and with Stormblood we are introduced to a talking fish that makes squiggly noises when it moves. It was a nice nod to the Final Fantasies of the past, and a nice icebreaker in a story that was generally very serious and sad.
The characters we are introduced to in Stormblood are all overall strong characters that see some form of development down the road. I want to especially talk about Zenos. Zenos is a character I had originally written off as a shallow cookie-cutter bad guy, but as the main scenario progressed, he showed his true colours and, yes, he was a monster, but he has depth as well. His design is truly unique, with his massive armor, his katana…roulette holster? And his flowing blonde hair all makes Zenos the most epic looking bad guy in the game yet.
I also want to mention Fordola. Her character showed what I would typically call a perfect dramaturgic development. Starting off as a very aggressive woman with a strong survival will, she very slowly develops doubts about her overlord. But never vaivers. She remains a villain from start to end, but at the end we get the first glimpse of regret. To me, this is perfect character development, not cheesy or simple, but deep character development, where we still have to wait and see if she ever turns “good”.
Now the most impressive part of Stormblood’s Main Scenario was the voice acting. Comparing the VA work on HW and SB, it’ll almost be like night and day. And comparing it yet again to ARR, you’d probably think ARR was made by 3 people in a barn. It is clear the actors have had time to get into character, they know their characters well, and their performance is stellar. I have even read online that people who have had their game on Japanese since ARR, switched to English in SB, and has no intention of ever going back to Japanese.
Now, it can’t all be great, and there were issues that took me out of the experience. The biggest one for me, was the lip syncing. Even if this system has been in place since ARR, I still can’t get used to it. Although I felt at some points it was improved, other times it just didn’t work. And when it doesn’t work it crosses into a dangerous zone: the cringe zone. A classic cringe moment in a MSQ is when emotion is portrayed. The actor finishes his/her sentence – and the character keeps moving his/her mouth for a good second or two, before it stops. This is a deeper rooted problem, which we will get back into later, but it is one that sadly still hurts my enjoyment of the story.
I know I mentioned the good pacing of SB compared to HW, but there is still a lot of filler quests that really FEELS like filler quests. I wish they would instead increase the exp gained by the actual main scenario quests, instead of just making dumbed down fetch quests with no actual relevance just to drag out time.
So in this section I will be talking about the gameplay – meaning anything related to the overworld. Not dungeons.
Let’s start off with the Sidequests. In Stormblood there are a lot of sidequests. Most impressive is the fact that it seems like a lot of work was put into them. Some even being on par with a Main Scenario Quest. The sidequests are usually crammed together in settlements, and not scattered around the seven hells like in HW, which makes them much more bearable to pick up and complete, than having to cross the zone 10 times just to pick up and deliver some quests. The sidequests also yield some good exp which helps when the MSQ eventually gates you.
Then there’s the FATEs. I never thought I’d ever say this, but SB made FATEs worth doing again. The new FATE system works like this: Certain FATEs receive an EXP bonus, indicated on the map with an EXP icon. In addition to this, in any FATE, a random mob can spawn that, when killed, gives everyone involved in that FATE an exp buff that works on the next FATE you participate in in that zone. This buff can go so high as 300%. I didn’t expect massive changes to FATEs, in fact I expected nothing, so this was a nice plus for me, and something I am going to use to level my other jobs in the future.
Aether currents are back, and they are still annoying. However, they are not as annoying as they were in HW, where some currents seemed impossible to find and access. In SB they are easily accessible, and not too hard to reach. The quests that unlock aether currents have the unlockable content symbol which makes it easy to distingish them in the sea of sidequests.
Speaking of sea. Let’s talk about the swimming.
A feature that was not present in any incarnation of FFXIV, be it 1.0 or ARR, this was a feature we didn’t ask for, but are glad we got. The underwater areas are massive, the settlements underwater look nice, and there are parts of the water that are incredibly deep, making it somewhat fun to explore.
However. There are some issues here. For instance, in The Ruby Sea – the biggest underwater map – the area is massive. But because there is no underwater combat or anything of that sort, the sea is just… empty. The settlements are far between and blocked off with a loading screen. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Diving underwater was promoted as “no loading screen”, yet when you dive, your screen gets covered with “water”, and at times, the loading wheel shows up on the bottom right side. I don’t understand why though, cause when you are underwater, you can clearly see the people swimming above. We are in the same instance. Why is it still low-key loading? Just to make it even stranger, in the underwater settlements, you can see everyone and everything from the outside – even the name tags, but when you enter the settlement you get a loading screen – and there is no doubt – it is a loading screen. This could just be related to the game’s release, that the servers are struggling, but it’s still something I don’t quite understand.
So let’s get into the world design. In HW we were presented with what I can only describe as either a mostly brown map or an eye shattering white map. In Stormblood… Well we didn’t get the white maps at least. The initial new area in SB is distinctly brown, much like what you’d find in Thanalan or the Dravanian Hinterlands. And I expected this, seeing as Gyr Abania is a mountainous and warm area, but I feel like they could have tried a bit harder to make the colours pop a bit more, as it gets tiring rather quickly.
But once we get south, things change rapidly. I know there are mixed feelings about The Azim Steppe, but I actually find it to be my favorite SB map. I don’t know why, but there is something about that flat grassland that brings back FFXI memories, and it just seems so clean and neat. No annoying trees that block your view – the sky is always visible.
I want to gush about how beautiful Kugane is, but everyone knows that, so let’s move on.
The world feels more alive now, with the brown-ish and dry maps of Gyr Abania to the lush and green areas of Othard. It’s in my eyes, a way better set of maps than what we got in HW. In HW the maps were clumsy, and sparsly populated. In SB the maps are more streamlined, it has a decent amount of settlements and events going on all over the maps and they just feel more… alive.
Speaking of maps, I just wanted to quickly mention the new region maps, which I absolutely love. It was about time they did something to address the horrendous map system of the past. This new system makes it so easy to navigate and get to the next area. Kudos.
I won’t go too deep in here, because I am only a lvl 70 WHM atm, but because I am a WHM I thought I’d explain how I feel the class is getting on in SB.
The battle system revamp was a success, no doubt, but there are adjustments that has to be made on all jobs, WHM included. Divine Bension is practically useless, and the Plenary Indulgence is more of a nuisance than useful. Overall though, WHM is doing alright. The lily system works well, but I still feel like there is too little reward in it, but nothing I’ll complain too much about. One Cure II gives you a lily. I usually spam Cure II 3 times to stack up 3 lilies before I use Assize, and that’s about it. I will get back to this on the podcast.
The job gauges are all neat and adds to the jobs. Especially with the new Red Mage and Samurai jobs, which I won’t cover here, as I have yet to get those to 70. The gauges added a new dimention to the jobs, and I can’t find anything to complain about it at this point.
The new cross role system is nice. It has made it easier to build your job without having to level up classes you are likely to never touch again. Overall, a nice change that was more or less needed.
DUNGEONS & TRIALS
Dungeon-wise, SB doesn’t blow me away, but it does show promise for the future. Stormblood introduced two new elements to instanced content. The Duty Action, and the Duty Gauge. We have yet to see the full potential of these, but they are used in certain dungeons and they add an extra layer of difficulty as well as making certain elements of a boss fight easier to understand.
I won’t grade each and every dungeon, but I will say that SB has good and mediocre dungeons. Thankfully, the good ones outnumber the mediocre one. Yes I said one.
When it comes to trials, it’s hard to grade. There are three Trials – Susano, Lakshmi and the last MSQ trial. Susano has some interesting mechanics, but it felt a bit safe, and similar to other fights we had seen before. Only difference being the phase transition which has the tanks stand in a certain spot and mashing a button in the active time manouver. Lakshmi on the other hand, is a masterpiece of FFXIV’s trial design. FFXIV has always had good trials, and I suppose that makes us a bit spoiled, but Lakshmi was everything I wanted and more. Cleverly implementing the duty action as a key function in the fight, with a beautiful phase transition. Did I mention it’s beautiful? The theme as well – mmm – amazing.
The last fight is… It’s just… possibly the best fight put into the game yet. Has to be experienced.
Overall, the SB trials and dungeons system tries out new stuff, and it’s up to us to respond to them. Do we want our dungeon system to change? Yes. But has it changed enough from HW to SB? I’m a bit torn. I wish they introduced more mechanics, but I’m happy with the dungeons we got so far. I just hope the new mechanics we did get in SB gets built on in the future dungeons, so that we by the end of SB can look back on the HW dungeons and laugh at how basic they are.
Still, at this point, the SB dungeons are different from the HW ones because of the new stuff they added. The HW dungeons was just the same recipe as ARR with a HW theme. But please get out of that safe space Square Enix – you can do better than this.
It became apparent to me the moment I booted up Stormblood that this was going to be a different experience than HW. Thank the Twelve it was. To me, Stormblood far exceeds Heavensward’s ARR rehash. I think the primary reason why I got burned out of HW was just that – it brought very little innovation to the table. Already with Stormblood we have seen new systems and features we did not have before. And even though it didn’t blow me away, at least it shows their willingness to try new things, and we have yet to see the Omega raid, and the Return To Ivalice raid! Eureka is also slated for the next patch, and I can’t wait to see what this new “not Diadem” Diadem brings us. This is the expansion where we’ll see more use of duty actions and gauges. Swimming will surely get a lot of updates in the future, and I’m excited to see where the Main Scenario goes!
This is a better expansion than HW was at launch, as I feel like that expansion was a safe rehash of A Realm Reborn with an Ishgardian flavor (I love HW too, but come on…). With Omega on the horizon in less than two weeks, I am excited for the future of FFXIV!