Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward : A Return to Form for the Franchise
Two years after the release of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which was itself a successful turnaround for the suffering Final Fantasy XIV MMO, the game's first expansion, FFXIV: Heavensward, has released to high expectations from the game's consistently growing user base. Where A Realm Reborn was a reboot of a game that was considered a total failure, Heavensward was to be the first upward building block on top of a successful foundation. Hopes were high, and speculation was positive based on the success of A Realm Reborn, and the two years of patches that sometimes added enough content to last for months. Thankfully, Heavensward is a tremendous success, and only now, months after release (and a month out from the next major patch), are the cracks starting to show in a relatively light endgame.
Heavensward is strongest when it comes to the story. Final Fantasy XIV has always had a story that was above what most other MMOs on the market could deliver, but Heavensward is the first time that the game has felt like a true Final Fantasy game. The story puts the player, who is on the run after the events of the "Before the Fall" patch, in hiding in the northern territories of Ishgard. To this point, Ishgard has only been known to the players as a place of exclusionary politics and a rich history involving dragons. Heavensward puts these politics, and the dragons, front and center. For the majority of the time you will journey with a small cast of characters, each of which have their own, impressive, personal journey. You will meet ancient dragons, explore long abandoned dungeons, and traverse some impressive landscapes, which can be seen from a new perspective thanks to the always fun flying mounts introduce for the expansion. Occasionally, you will take a dip back into the arc that was left behind from A Realm Reborn, but the focus on a smaller story, with interesting characters, feels like the best story Final Fantasy has been able to produce in years.
The moment to moment gameplay in Heavensward remains largely unchanged. The Dungeons, Trials, and Raids are still assembled in the same way they were in the base game, though there are some highlights from a story and visual angle as you progress through the levels. The six new areas introduced have their own unique feel and story, along with more interesting side quests if you are willing to pay attention to them. Each new class gets a handful of new abilities to manage, which changes up your strategy during fights, but by the time you've cleared the level 60 dungeons, you'll have your new rotation down in time for the new Extreme Primals and the Alexander Raid.
There are two major problems facing Heavensward, and they are both related to the longevity of the current state of the game. Firstly, it takes a long time to get to level 60 even on your first class. The grind is mitigated as much as possible by how interesting the story is, but there is no effort to hide the grind if you choose to take any other classes to the new level cap. However, that is a choice every player will make while being well aware of the time investment ahead of them. Far more critical for the game, and something that won't even have an attempt at a fix until November, is the lack of endgame content. The Alexander raid is fun, with the Savage mode being a brutal check of skills for the majority of the player base. The Extreme Mode Primals are already irrelevant, and crafting is as much of a grind as the leveling the combat classes. There's plenty to do for about a month until everything starts to feel repetitive. The Esoterics Tomestones that are used to purchase the highest level gear you can buy are only obtained through a roulette of two dungeons, or PVP, which still isn't a focal point of the developers. Other than that, you will run the same four Alexander floors, whether on Normal or Savage (the bosses and location are the same for both). That's it, and it has been this way since a couple of weeks after the release of the expansion.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward may be in desperate need of new endgame content, but that doesn't change how great the journey was to the end of the current content. Heavensward is a notable high point for the Final Fantasy series in recent years, and the future for the MMO remains bright, with the next major patch around the corner, and hopefully many more patches, and even bigger and better expansions to follow