It is now almost two years since Square Enix has polished over the failure of the “first” Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn with a title that finally found its proper place in the MMORPG world. Respecting the tradition of the medium, this first extension, Heavensward, is adding a dense amount of content to the Vanilla version. But is Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward a confirmation or a first misstep of the MMO franchise?
First of all, let’s point out several points that seem essential as a sort of recap for newcomers. You should know that this expansion requires the base game, A Realm Reborn. This may seem obvious but with the current trend of DLCs and stand-alone share on the market, I felt this is a pertinent information for console players. You can also purchase the complete package including the base game and its expansion, soberly called “Ultimate edition”. Another important point about Heavensward, is that Square Enix assumes that you have had ample time to complete the vanilla game throughout 2014 (or even since 2013 for those who had the PC version from the start or the PS3 version). You will need to complete all epic main quests of the main game and reach the level cap (50 in the base game), as necessary conditions to start Heavensward, otherwise you won’t even feel the breeze of this expansion. Finally, it is also important to remember that Final Fantasy XIV remains a subscription-based MMO, to the likes of WOW, set at $12.99 per month. Between buying the expansion (at $49.99) and the monthly sucribption, it seems that Square Enix is confident to provide enough content to keep players hooked, let alone for anyone who hasn’t returned to the basic game recently (which I reviewed back in 2014, which by itself demand hundreds of hours).
Where DC Universe Online (another MMORPG released on Sony’s consoles), despite many qualities, had to inevitably move to the Free-to-Play business model, it is clear that Square Enix’ monthly subscription fee hasn’t lowered the “attendance rate” of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Servers are overflowing day and night, with a recorded four million players to date. An irrefutable proof that rich content and the lore of Square Enix’s iconic franchise justifies a subscription model.
Since its release, A Realm Reborn has had many updates since the game’s release (twenty in total), but many players were waiting to see a true expansion, as it is the custom with PC based RPGs and MMOs. After living the original story, which is not that deep, I was somewhat excited (and a little worried, too) to find out what kind of plot was going to be introduced in this new chapter. Rest assured, the core scenario of Heavensward is in my opinion, a bit more addictive and interesting than Realm Reborn. To save you from spoilers, all you need to know that you will take part in a war against the Dravania Dragons Knights of Ishgard. That last name is precisely the new city and hub of this expansion, which is as sublime as the main towns available in the base game (Gridania Ul’dah and Limsa Lominsa). Nine new areas also await you in Heavensward, each with its own flair and interesting theme and twice as big as those in A Realm Reborn. Anyone who has already traveled through the lands of Eorzea in the past will understand how large scale exploration areas can be.
With all these large areas added, it was more than obvious for the mounts to make an appearance in Heavensward. Between the Black Chocobo, Grand Chocobo, or the Griffon, these flying mounts will allow you to go everywhere, flying over areas from side to side (excluding the city of Ishgard). Not that older Eorzea areas, such as the base game ones will not allow flying mounts, which is a bit frustrating… That said, we are mainly there for Heavensward, and for very long hours. Thanks to these mounts, I managed to reach the Sea of Clouds, a vertical environment that particularly caught my attention by its enchanting design, reminiscent of Bastion, Final Fantasy XIII-2 or even the city of Columbia from Bioshock Infinite.
So with all these new areas in Heavensward, many of you will wonder what kind of lifespan it offers, considering the price close to a full game release. If the developers announced an average duration of 50 hours, it is clear that this is something more or less subjective as it depends on each player. While those in a hurry will probably rush Heavensward as quickly as possible, some will however want to explore every corner, not to mention finish the countless new quests (which are more interesting than the original version). But that’s not all, as much more was added. First, the level has increased from 50 to 60, and while some would say that ten levels are not necessarily a huge gap, I can assure you that it will take time and patience to reach this new cap. It is also worth mentioning that enemies have been made generally more difficult to beat, whether small critters or large bosses. Stronger overall, but also more aggressive. Heavensward also counts eight new playable four-player dungeons, which A Realm Reborn will appreciate quite a lot
Although I hadn’t had the chance to try the new race which comes with Heavensward, the Ao Ra are a virtual creation that came of a world mixing Narnia, Skyrim or Dragon Ball Z, and these charismatic creatures can be created in two ways: embodying the Xaela, adorn you with black scales, or the Raen, filled with white scales. But races are just an esthetic element of character built, and the important part is the jobs system introduced in A Realm Reborn. To further enrich this element of the game, Square Enix added three new jobs to the existing list, which are a treat for Final Fantasy fans, as you can now train to be a Black Knight (a semi-tank wielding dual-handed swords), a Machinist (a useful DPS for anyone who loves guns and generally prefer doing great damage at distance), or the Astromancer (a mage that uses a giant globe to heal and protect its allies).
On the visual point of view, both new characters and level designs once again demand respect. More beautiful even than those present in A Realm Reborn, the new areas in Heavensward are breathtaking. The ambiance is again excellent, topped with music from the master Nobuo Umetasu. The new game cutscenes are sublime, with a special mention to the first one that sets the tone for those who probably expected something less of an extension. Running on PS4 at 60 frames per second, the game is still as enjoyable gameplay wise, whether you are using a DualShock 4 controller or a keyboard and mouse combo (a feature for PC players, but also available on PS4).
However, all is not rosy in Eorzea. While Final Fantasy XIV is probably one the best MMORPG on consoles (the choice is scarce nevertheless), it should be noted that some details tend to spoil the game experience, and have been since 2013. First of them is the voice acting, which is still minimal. Sure, some critical quests have spoken dialogue, the rest of the title, and this expansion is filled with thousands of lines of dialogue that appear during the game which kind of kills the ambience. Quite simply, most casual players will not read what is displayed and is content to go where he’s been told to. The second unfortunate point that remains present in Heavensward is that terrible interface: text is still too small, even by setting the maximum size (and that’s me playing on a 32inch and 19inch screen) and the item management is just crudely rude to the eye. For a game that still requires months of gameplay and investment, it’s not easy to focus on a game for so long while you suffer from a bad interface. I hoped that the flaws of the base game would be somewhat corrected via this new extension. It is frustrating to see that it is not.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward was reviewed using an PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by Square Enix. The game is also available on PC in both retail and online stores releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Generous amount of content
• Those flying mounts
• The endgame content
• Really marvelous music
• New areas that look nothing like the original game
• The crafting system is well done
• The lore and story
• Too much catching-up for newcomers
• Can be tiresome sometimes
• That interface needs a modern look
• The intense grinding needed to reach full potential of a character