Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood Preview – Eastern Promises (PS4)
Few things gain as much traction in the video game industry as a good old-fashioned comeback story. It’s part of the reason why players latched on to The Last Guardian to the point that, even when all seemed lost for Team Ico’s poignant action-adventure title, there remained some semblance of hope that Trico would still take flight after so long spent circling the jaws of development hell. Ditto for Final Fantasy XV, which began life under the moniker of Versus XIII back in ’06, before enduring a tortured production process of twists, turns, and an internal overhaul that resulted in Hajime Tabata being placed in the driving seat.
Remarkably, both The Last Guardian and FFXV made it to market within a week of one another, and achieved relative success while doing so, proving that, yes, even when the threat of cancellation looms, the possibility of a comeback is never too far away from the pixelated horizon.
With Final Fantasy XIV, it’s a little different. Square Enix’s wildly ambitious MMORPG initially released in 2014 and was considered by many to be the natural successor to FFXI, which also took the core elements of the Final Fantasy franchise and projected them onto an MMO-sized canvas. But for all its promise, FFXIV underwhelmed quite spectacularly — so much so that Square placed subscription fees on hold, tapped new leadership, and postponed the PS3 port indefinitely mere months after launch.
A Realm Reborn
That was in 2010, when producer, designer, and all-around MMO maestro Naoki Yoshida climbed aboard to course-correct Final Fantasy XIV Online. He is, in many ways, the architect behind A Realm Reborn and its ensuing success, and Yoshida-san’s unrelenting sense of commitment, coupled with his vast experience in the genre, have become the building blocks underpinning the fantastical realm of Eorzea.
The secret sauce, however, is the relatively open dialogue between Naoki Yoshida and the community — between creator and player — and there is perhaps no better example of that feedback loop in action than the upcoming Stormblood DLC.
After Heavensward, it’s the second major expansion pack for FFXIV, and it’s packed to the rafters with new content. From high-level raids to the long-requested level cap increase — jobs and classes will now max out at 70, rather than 60 — expanded inventory (!) to swimming, Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood tees up an exciting new chapter in the story of Eorzea, with much of the actual narrative revolving around the liberation of Ala Mhigo. The Garlean Empire is, once again, up to no good, and upon joining the resistance, your journey will take you to the Far Eastern land of Doma.
Perhaps one of the more headline-worthy additions to FFXIV, though, is Stormblood‘s two new, über-stylish DPS classes: Red Mage and the Samurai. The former straddles the line between range and melee and is, quite frankly, a delight to play. There’s a certain elegance to the Red Mage’s combat design, and by alternating between Black Magic and White Magic in the heat of battle, you’ll begin to fill the all-new job gauge. Each gauge is designed with the specific class in mind — so, in the case of the Red Mage, that meter takes the form of a crimson-red vial — and they’ll lend players the ability to keep track of important mechanics in real-time.
Eorzea Continues to Thrive
And so, after mowing down a handful of Tatsunokos whilst exploring the Ruby Sea, I was able to call upon the Red Mage’s Corps-a-Corps ability to rush my helpless target and deliver an oh-so-satisfying combo chain. It helped that this particular Stormblood preview build opened up all jobs at the max level of 70 from the get-go — an embarrassment of riches if ever there was one — but playing as the Samurai still proved to be a little cumbersome by comparison.
That likely comes down to my inclination to choose range — or range/melee, in this instance — over a class versed in CQC, but of the two newcomers, it’s not too difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Red Mage cements its place as a bankable, more intuitive damage-dealer over the more sluggish Samurai. There will always be room for improvement and fine-tuning, of course, and one of the main talking points of Letter from the Producer Live XXXVI revolved around Square’s desire to overhaul job mechanics.
Whereas Heavensward introduced Astrologian, Dark Knight, and Machinist, Stormblood taps out at two new jobs: the Red Mage and Samuari. This, coupled with the gradual shift away from the class system — players will no longer have to spread their time across various jobs in order to open up the top-tier skills; rather, the primary three roles of DPS, Healer and Tank will be able to access a group of skills immediatley — is Square’s answer to a system that had become increasingly complex with each incremental update in the 3.0 series.
Shisui of the Violet Tides
And then there’s the strikingly beautiful Far Eastern architecture of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood. Granted, the preview limited exploration to three primary locations — namely the Ruby Sea, Gyr Arbania, and the bustling city of Kugane — but the deftly crafted Asian designs were impressive nonetheless. A dungeon, aptly titled Shisui of the Violet Tides, resided beneath the shimmering waves of the Ruby Sea, while a series of FATEs were peppered across the landscape. Due to the high levels of each available job, I was required to level sync in order to participate in each Full Active Timed Event, but there were instances when my in-game character would suddenly return to level 70 without rhyme or reason, forcing me to level sync once more and forfeit any progress made in filling up that all-important job gauge. It’s a small teething problem that will likely be nixed before launch — but it’s a teething problem nonetheless.
Speaking of level gaps, the sprouts of Eorzea needn’t worry about getting left behind, either; Stormblood will look to address the growing disparity between core and casual players through the Scenario Shortcuts and Job-Level Boost potions, which are designed to catapult one job in particular all the way to level 60. It’s a welcome workaround for those players who perhaps don’t have as much time to invest in Final Fantasy XIV as they’d like, and though the mere thought of accelerated levelling via microtransactions is enough to fuel concerns of potential balancing issues, it’s worth noting that the Job-Level Boost potions will be limited to one per service account — until the inevitable 4.1 patch, at least.
It’s all part of Stormblood‘s mission to address the chasm between core and casual; to reduce the at times overwhelming number of available actions and streamline the HUD for each respective job through Role Actions. Quality of life improvements such as the aforementioned boost in inventory space, along with the advent of a new residential district in Shirogane, help sweeten the deal, and though my hands-on time was spent with a PC build of Stormblood, I’m happy to report that Final Fantasy XIV runs as smooth as ever — even when you’re battling a Daimyo Yumemi with half a dozen allies. Alas, the impending changeover to 4.0 comes at the expense of FFXIV‘s PS3 support, but perhaps now is the right time to pull the plug on Sony’s last-gen system?
The Warrior of Light Marches On
Seven years ago, Yoshida and his team salvaged Final Fantasy XIV from the brink of obscurity, and ever since A Realm Reborn turned over a new leaf, Final Fantasy XIV has been championed as a compelling point of entry to the MMORPG genre — arguably one of the most overwhelming in the business. If revolutions is the underlying theme fuelling 4.0 and its inevitable successors, then Stormblood gets the ball rolling with a sense of confidence. Gone are the days when Final Fantasy XIV was ridiculed as the odd cousin of the FF family; XIV is here to stay, and long may that continue.
Final Fantasy XIV isn’t just a comeback story; it’s a sweeping saga of revolution, redemption, rebirth and ultimately, second chances. Regardless of whether you consider yourself to be a loyal disciple of Square’s MMO, a lapsed fan, or a total newcomer, Stormblood stands as a tantalizing new chapter in Eorzea’s storied history. The 4.0 series is off to a cracking start.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood was previewed at a press event in Hamburg, Germany, where Square Enix provided travel and accommodation. All content previewed during the event was played on PC. It’s still under development and is therefore subject to change.