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If you read the features list, Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (out now from Square Enix on PC and PlayStation 4 — I played on PC), seems like a solid expansion to a quality MMO. It offers many of the things players would expect from a retail upgrade: new zones, an expanded level cap, new gear, new challenges, and even a few new classes (although FFXIV calls them jobs) to try out. After you sink about a month of solid play into it, however, Heavensward seems to fall a little flat. Some questionable design choices and lack of any significant change to the core game, however, make this feel more like a large content patch rather than a true expansion.
What you’ll like
A strong continuation of an already solid storyline
The one thing that FFXIV has always had going for it is a strong storyline. In this sense, Heavensward continues entertain players with a plot line that guides the player through a titanic clash between humanoids and dragons. Following along the main story quests will give the player all sorts of challenges, plot twists, and mysteries to uncover, all accompanied by many quality cutscenes which we now expect from any game bearing the Final Fantasy name. Despite the mechanics making my journey seem a bit tiresome at points, I still always wanted to see what happened next.
Three new jobs to mix things up a little
Heavensward adds three new jobs: the dark knight, who fills the tank role and wields a giant, two-handed sword; the machinist, who fills a damage role with guns and mechanical constructs; and the astrologian, who acts as a healer who can also summon forth random effects by drawing cards from a tarot-like deck.
While all three of these classes offer enough changes in mechanics to set them apart from existing jobs, playing them is a bit of a catch-22. While they offer the most original and new content of the expansion, they all start out at level 30, so you’re left with the decision to go back and level up to 50 again or continue with the storyline of Heavensward as one of your existing jobs.
Flying mounts that don’t trivialize content
The designers of Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward seemed to learn from past MMO mistakes at implementing flying mounts. Rather than making the flying mounts a one-time unlock, like in World of Warcraft (which even their developers admit trivialized a lot of later content), FFXIV only allows you to fly in designated areas, and you must unlock each one of these individually by gathering Aether currents through questing and exploring the map. In most cases, you’ll unlock the final Aether current for a zone right around the time that you finish the last main story quest in that area. This makes the flying mounts more of a convenience that you’ll use to level additional classes and jobs or explore post-level 60 content.
What you won’t like
Unless you’ve completed nearly all of the previous content, you can’t experience any of the new stuff
Even if you had a level 50 character prior to the expansion, this doesn’t mean you’re ready for Heavensward. In order to set foot in any of the new areas or unlock any of the new classes, you must also have completed all of the post-level 50 storyline content introduced in a myriad of post-original-release content patches. This forces even experienced players who may have started a little late to grind through nearly 100 quests, dungeons, and trials that you encounter after reaching level 50 before they can even look at any of the content that Heavensward introduces. Even the new jobs, which start at level 30, cannot be unlocked until you reach the new major hub city of the expansion.
While this may make sense from the perspective of keeping the continuity of the existing story intact, it left me and several of my friends with unenviable task of powering though a lot of old content before we could enjoy the new stuff. The only single new thing you can experience in Heavensward is the addition of a new race, which in FFXIV only really makes a cosmetic difference. All the new zones, monsters, dungeons, trials, mounts, gear, jobs, and quests were completely locked out for anyone who had not already completed all the content the game had to offer previously. This makes it essentially pointless for any new player to purchase Heavensward.
Lack of any new ways to gain experience makes this feel like the same old grind
While Final Fantasy XIV does give you may ways to gain experience, Heavensward just took these same systems and extended them to higher levels. You still have story quests, side quests, FATEs (location-based encounters that anyone can jump in), leves (repeatable quests for which you get a certain number of allowances per day), dungeons, and a few other mechanics.
The first character that you take through the expansion will mostly level off of the main story quests. Subsequent characters, however, are left to the same, familiar grind. While the expansion does give you new areas in which to complete these tasks, you’re still basically locked in to performing the same few tasks over and over again until you reach the next area. After you’ve run the same dungeon 10 times or completed the same leve quest 10 times, the repetitiveness still hits you just as hard, even if you’re on a new map. In this sense, it feels like exactly the same game, only with a new set of paint.
Extremely large and complex levels can seem like tedious timesinks
To go along with the new flying mounts, the new zones are expansive and much more complex, featuring multiple areas that now stack in the vertical direction. This makes navigating by the in-game map much more confusing (does this path go over or beneath the one I’m currently on?). In addition, it seems that the team intentionally designed several of the maps such that you have to run completely around a central area to get from one side to the other.
While this truly makes you appreciate your flying mount once you earn the right to use it in each zone, it also makes for a lot of tedious running back and forth when you first discover each new zone. The sheer distance you have to run to complete the main story quests almost seems punitive at times.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward offers a good amount of content to an already well-made MMO. Unfortunately, it mostly continues to just provide more of the same experiences you’re already used to rather than change the game in a significant way. The decision to lock all of the new content for people who already haven’t advanced to the pre-expansion end-game also seems to limit the audience and potential sales for this expansion. Experienced players will certainly find plenty to keep them busy, but if you’ve just started Final Fantasy XIV, you will gain nothing by purchasing Heavensward.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is out now for PC and PlayStation 4. Square Enix provided a physical PC copy of this game for the purposes of this review.