Published on July 6th, 2017 | by Nathan Misa
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood PS4 Review
Summary: Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is one of the best MMORPG expansions in recent years, with a compelling and well-written main story, intriguing Far East setting, a wealth of new content and important QoL refinements.
Heals for days!
Whether you’re an overly-eager newbie entranced by war’s possibilities or a shell-shocked veteran returning to the battlefield, Final Fantasy XIV is a daunting but excitement engagement to jump into. For four years, Square Enix has treated fans to compelling war stories and epic backdrops in its persistent MMORPG world of Eorzea, and now its second expansion, Stormblood, brings a wealth of fresh content and adjusted playing options that can be, quite honestly, a little overwhelming at first – but it’s easily the best new reason to get (re)invested.
For starters, Stormblood increases the level cap to 70 for all disciplines and brings two new DPS classes: Red Mage and Samurai. The former is a hybrid ranged/melee build with swordplay and casting options dealing massive damage, while the latter is a strictly close-quarters combat role. Both can be accessed at level 50 via some painless quests in Ul’dah and are thankfully not locked behind new areas or story quests. There has also been significant streamlining of the game’s core battle and job systems; advanced classes are no longer locked behind leveling up two subclasses, cross-class skills are shared among similar jobs (Mages and Summoners, for example) for more meaningful character customisation, and new role-specific abilities called Job Gauges (and new job-specific UI) unlock as you level, further diversifying playstyles. For instance, the new Red Mage gets a combat meter which when filled with white and black magic can be unleashed in the form of powerful and sweeping sword attacks, the Samurai gets a Sen Gauge with three unique effects and weapon skills built up via combos, and the gun-wielding Machinists have a heat gauge which can amplify damage the higher it gets.
I’ve rolled a Monk since I last played FFXIV, but I couldn’t resist the allure of the new jobs. The Samurai immediately became my new favourite with its high-damage combat attacks and finishers and graceful swordplay animations (not to mention the cool armour) and mastering its Sen Gauge and the right timing for combos kept me engaged in every combat encounter – though the Red Mage’s black and white magic casting, healing capabilities and energetic rapier stabs grant it a flexibility which has, without surprise, quickly proven most popular with the wider community.
The new Stormblood campaign can be started once your character has reached level 60 and you are up-to-date with the Main Quest Scenario. The ambitious expansion continues the world-spanning story of the Warrior of Light and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn in what FFXIV creator Naoki Yoshida describes as the “third season” of a long-running TV drama series. However, Stormblood wisely spreads the spotlight among a collection of characters and explores what fickle concepts like freedom, war and redemption really mean for them. Arguably, the exile Lyse Hext is the nominal lead of Stormblood’s expansive narrative (Heavensward players will remember her as Yda) and her journey alongside the Adventurer to gather an army of freedom fighters to reclaim the city-state of Ala Mhigo (her homeland) and the Eastern state of Doma, both under the bloody occupation of the Garlean Empire, drives the main plot forward.
War stories about an exhausted and oppressed people rebelling against an overwhelming Empire and its better-equipped legions isn’t exactly unique for Final Fantasy as a franchise, but the complex politics, intimate interactions and character development is easily some of the best writing the franchise has ever seen – ironic considering MMORPGs aren’t usually lauded for strong core narratives. As a returning player who hasn’t been played since the original A Realm Reborn days, I used the new purchasable Tales of Adventure item to skip past Heavensward quests I had yet to complete in time for Stormblood’s release and was swiftly intrigued by the grim atmosphere of the expansion. There’s a noticeable level of brutality, death and violence inflicted by the tyrannical Garlean Empire and its goons against the diverse Ala Mhigo populace and its heroes that brings a sense of intensity to the conflict I don’t recall feeling during A Realm Reborn. It’s a slow burn at first – arriving at Rhalgar’s Reach and putting up with disillusioned resistance fighters and scared villagers for several hours isn’t exactly action-packed stuff – but by the time I stepped off the docks to explore the Japanese-inspired port town of Kugane, I definitely felt like much-needed vanguard of the Eorzean Alliance.
The writers have ultimately done a great job grounding the plot with more serious moments and gritty realism, peppered with bittersweet and humorous interactions the game is beloved for. It’s also bolstered by some genuinely moving voice-acting work and well executed cinematic cutscenes that never seem to outstay their welcome. The sociopathic Zenos yae Galvus is perhaps the most despicable and interesting antagonist the series has ever produced in my opinion, and he made Stormblood’s primary conflict compelling enough to fight the whole way through to its surprising conclusion.
The new zones of Stormblood are major highlights and the enigmatic Eastern continent of Othard and its distant neighbours prove as exotic and aesthetically pleasing as ever. Whether it’s the vast Azim Steppe grasslands and its nomadic tribes, the fertile East-Asian lands of the oppressed Doma city-state, the isolationist Hingashi archipelago and its Japanese-inspired port town of Kugane or the near endless depths of the Ruby Sea and its Kojin beast tribes, every area has what seem like endless amounts of intriguing lore and histories attached to them in addition to raids, FATEs, Primals, dungeons, side quests and colourful NPCs filling out the world to make it feel alive. It’s all about the same size as Heavensward in terms of scale, but in my opinion a lot more interesting to play – solo or with a friendly party of friends and/or randoms.
For all of its Game of Thrones-esque main story brilliance and sweeping new lands to fight through, there are some weaknesses in the Stormblood package. The new underwater exploration tied to the Ruby Sea is meant to be the new hook feature but feels underbaked once the flashiness of its seamounts and eerie mystery wears off as there are no special combat encounters tied to deep sea diving. Far too many of the side-quests and even some of the quieter main quest portions, too, feel particularly uninspired and fetch-questy; they often have little to no lore or item rewards for so much back-tracking (“Go here, kill this, come back”), though there were a few surprise standouts that matched the epic main quest. I somewhat expected Stormblood’s team to use the second expansion as an opportunity to push the boundaries of FFXIV’s quest design and introduce more creative scenarios, but unfortunately it remains very similar to what we’ve had before.
Playing Stormblood on my PlayStation 4 Pro on a 4K television was definitely a great couch gaming experience, given the new Pro patch adds a toggle option to push the visuals to checkerboard 4K or stick with better performance and frame-rate. Many of my MMORPG friends swear by PC as the only platform to enjoy FFXIV, but the customisable HUD and UI coupled with the big-screen TV was perfect for my needs – and hearing Masayoshi Soken’s sweeping soundtrack in surround sound (I love the Kugane Night theme) was icing on the cake.
The Final Verdict
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood offers a compelling and well-paced resistance-versus evil empire MMORPG plot, several new fantastically colourful Eastern-inspired zones and dungeons to explore and conquer, and a stellar amount of quality-of-life refinements (better mains story quest tracker, party finder system and the aforementioned Job Gauge mechanics) which makes it entirely worth jumping back into for returning players. Newbies can importantly still access the new classes with Stormblood’s purchase and play through the Main Quest Scenario as one of the two compelling new roles to properly catch up to Ala Mhigo’s moving plight – or buy one of the optional story-skip and job-skip potions to gain immediate access to the expansion so you desire.
I’ve never been the most dedicated of MMO players; I hate the long queue times, sometimes can’t stand the grindy nature of the average play session, and I generally have very limited time to play 60+ hour multiplayer video games after work. But Stormblood’s strengths in the main story department coupled with genuinely strategic and engaging combat systems meant I wanted to make time for its narrative, and I eased into the intimidating amount of expansion content without needing a team of friends to assist or push me forward (yet there was always a friendly party of adventurers to find whenever I did need a helping hand). The sheer amount of rewarding gameplay and content on offer is why I recommend Stormblood to anyone even remotely intrigued in how far FFXIV has come since launch.
Primary Format – Games – Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4
Game Genre – Massively multiplayer online role-playing game
Rating – M15+
Game Developer – Square Enix
Game Publisher – Square Enix