Heavensward review with FF 14

When director Naoki Yoshida and his team at Square Enix brought Final Fantasy XIV from the brink of death, it was a remarkable achievement. They’d done the seemingly impossible, and over four million players have enjoyed the fruits of that success. But two years later, Yoshida would have to show fans of Final Fantasy XIV that they could not only continue to build upon their redeeming MMO, but exceed it.

 

Heavensward takes the strengths of A Realm Reborn, and just builds upon them. The writing, already gripping and addictive, is taken to new heights. The expansions zones are bigger and better than ever, and players can take advantage of their verticality with the introduction of flying mounts. 

 

Along with the reptilian Au Ra race, three interesting jobs - Dark Knight, Machinist, Astrologian, and free company crafting, Final Fantasy XIV has proven once again why it’s one of the best MMOs out there, and there’s very little reason why you should not be playing it, today.

 

The wait for Heavensward had me in all sorts of excitement, just like when you’re waiting for the next season of your favourite TV show. See, Final Fantasy XIV has a truly amazing story. A lot of MMOs these days use their narrative to loosely bind a dozen or so systems together - they feel empty, hollow, almost like an afterthought. 

 

FFXIV’s storyline is its backbone. There’s love and betrayal, comedy and sadness, epic boss battles and touching moments that stay with you long after they’ve passed. The writing is top-notch, and its consistent quality drove me through the entirety of Heavensward with an insatiable hunger just to know what happens next.

 

It’s interesting to note that some of the english voice actors, even for certain main characters, have been switched up. A Realm Reborn players may have to get used to two-year old characters suddenly sounding unfamiliar at best. It’s a pretty ballsy move by Square in an effort to spruce up a previously forgettable effort, but unfortunately wasn’t enough for me to switch from the original Japanese audio.

 

The world of Eorzea has opened up more of her exotic locales for players to explore. Previously closed to all foreigners, the city-state of Ishgard finally has accepted the need for outside help in their embroiled war with the Dravanian horde - a host of dragon-kin hell-bent on the city's destruction.

 

Aiding Ishgard takes you through some of the most varied environments FFXIV has to offer. Beginning with Ishgard and Coerthas Western Highlands, you’re introduced to a cold and unforgiving winter desert. Soon, you’ll move onto the tropical floating islands of the Sea of Clouds, where the sun proudly stands tall in the sky. Still further afield is the home of the dragons themselves, Darvania, which is home to battle-scarred mountains and teeming Chocobo forests.

 

The zones themselves are huge - we’re talking almost double the size on average of the ones in A Realm Reborn. Moving into a new map always had me taking a few moments to recompose myself, as I looked into the vast abyss of unexplored content. Helping you to explore all of this extra real-estate is the introduction of flying mounts. You’re given the power of flight early on in Heavensward, but before you take to the skies with your cute Chocobo, you have to earn it.

 

Each zone is comprised of Aether Currents, requiring both on-foot exploration and quest completions to collect. Only once you’ve collected all of the currents in a zone, are you able to fly in it. This is where FFXIV gets it right with this compromise, something other MMO developers struggle with as they’re determined players don’t simply disregard their hard-laboured landscapes. 

 

As long as you do a little bit of exploring, you’ll end up finishing all of the currents in any one zone just as the main storyline is taking you to somewhere new - but you’ll still have a few dozen side-quests still to complete. Players only concerned with the main story can just move on, but completionists - like me - now have an even easier time finishing up every last morsel a zone has to offer.

 

With a healthy dollop of DirectX 11 smothered onto the game, journeying through Heavensward’s zones is a real treat for the eyes. Rarely has a game had me tap the screenshot key so much as I discovered one beautiful vista after another.

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