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Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood Review – Explore Eorzia and build your army! Stormblood is here!

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Two years ago, you took your first steps into the icy mountains of Ishgard, redeeming yourself as a champion of the realm and proving the impossible to be mere child’s play. Since then you’ve conquered dragons, countless primals, more dungeons than a spandex loving gimp, and even made a bit of Gil on the side. Whether you’re a hard-core MMORPG freak like myself or just a casual gamer, you’ll know the word that Final Fantasy XIV fans have been rejoicing over…

Stormblood!

For those of you who aren’t casual or hard-core, then Final Fantasy XIV is the extremely popular MMORPG from Square Enix. It’s currently composed of three parts to the game, the first being A Realm Reborn which is the base game, then expansion number 1; Heavensward, and now we’ve seen the introduction of expansion number 2; Stormblood which was released on 20th June 2017 for Windows, Steam and for the PS4.

It’s been three long months since Final Fantasy XIV teased us with patch 3.56, a patch which set up the foundation of the Main Scenario Quests (the story) for the transition into Stormblood. This patch would see the introduction of many of Stormblood’s main characters, including some old favourites, such as Lyse, the ‘Lady in Red’ who can only be described as a badass monk, Gosetsu, a very bulky samurai who has travelled from Doma to contact the group about news of a certain ‘incident’, and Zenos, the main antagonist for Stormblood who is just a crazy but lovable lunatic.

Patch 3.56 also did a nice job of transitioning us into entire story behind Stormblood, as a result we lost some friends but gained some new, but finally got to understand why we would be travelling to these distant far off worlds in the first place. To build an army!

It’s not long into the Stormblood story that you finally get to jump over the wall you fought so hard for (previous story) and make your way towards the Ala Mhigan territory. The initial beginning of the story for Stormblood establishes pretty quickly that you’re fighting for the independence of Ala Mhigo and Doma from the clutches of the empire, who have not only kept a firm grip on command but also badly mistreated these people. You’ll learn of a number of attempts to gain independence, but each one has failed miserably. Then again, they weren’t the Warrior of Light, but you are… -wink wink-

You’re main focus on Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood will be to build an army to fight for the independence and freedom of Ala Mhigo and Doma. In doing so you’ll come across many new characters, settlements and factions that will need your help, some interesting and funny new quests to follow and some absolutely delightful cut scenes which will leave you drooling at the mouth.

For obvious reasons, I can’t say what those cut scenes are about, but I can say that they’re breath-taking, will leave you with goose bumps and will make you the happiest little lalafell that ever walked the lands.

As you travel the vast world of Eorzea, you’ll get to venture out to some incredible new areas in search of settlements. The Ruby Sea’s, is a huge map filled with water, sandy beaches, a completely underwater area which has very quickly become mine and my friends favourite area. The Azim Steppe is huge area filled with plains, hills, settlements and the odd mountain or two, almost reminiscent of Zelda’s Ocarina of Time field area.

There’s several other areas, and I won’t go through them all, but Stormblood’s new map zones completely topple that which we saw in Heavensward. The areas are not only unique, but beautiful to look at, interesting to explore and just fun in every way. There were times when myself and my friends would just walk around, taking in the sights and the different areas that we had offered to us. The level of detail in the areas is impressive to say the least and each area has its own unique feels, ambience and interesting aspects that really shine through.

This wouldn’t be an expansion without a dungeon or two! Or seven… Naturally, your new found liberation attempt will have you wandering the world of Eorzea and trying to find new allies, as a result you can expect that some of those allies are going to want to throw you headfirst into the nearest dungeon.

The more noticeable dungeons include Shisui of the Voilent Tides, a level 63 dungeon which is set in an underwater palace, brimming with enemies, coral, beautiful surroundings and great mechanics to really wet your appetite (no pun intended). The level 65 dungeon is Bardam’s Mettle, a trek through the rocky, mountainous areas to tame a flying stallion and will ultimately lead to, in my opinion, one of the best quests in the game, a grand battle royale for leadership. The level 67, Doma Castle dungeon begins to bring you into the end game slightly, with some more difficult mechanics to grasp, some really amazing and tearful cut scenes and a fascinating backstory that will leave you wanting more.

Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood gives us what we need and then rams everything we want down our throats (in a nice way of course). The dungeons are nothing like those found in Heavensward, they’re actually interesting, fun and enjoyable. I can say without a doubt that there wasn’t one dungeon I didn’t enjoy. The different mechanics of each boss found in the dungeons are amazing, the new areas themselves are beautiful, each dungeon has a great atmosphere to it and they’re an absolute blast to run through!

If you’re a fan of the game already, then you’ll probably know what I mean by new primals. If not, then a primal battle is a one off boss fight in which (typically) 8 players get together and go head to head with a big, bad beastie of a boss. Well the new primals are Susano, a lightning-loving giant Samurai and Lakshmi, who takes the form of a beautiful goddess. There’s one more, but telling you that would spoil the story, so I won’t be doing that!

Whilst I’ve not had chance to go over the extreme versions of these two primals just yet. I can say without a doubt that the normal versions were incredible. Susano has some really fun and brand new mechanics, an amazing quick time event, an interesting backstory, and is a very quick and frantic fight. Lakshmi on the other hand, well the music is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in the Final Fantasy world so far. The fight is incredible with a new mechanic that requires the use of an item to stay alive at ‘most’ times and probably one of the scariest and most interesting primal encounters I’ve had in a while now.

Both primal fights are really fun and interesting, and whilst I did go into them almost completely blind as a Main Tank, they’re not overly hard either (as long as you kind of know what you’re doing). In comparison to the Ravana and Bismark primal fights that we saw in Heavensward, these two new beasties are more enjoyable in every way and I had a blast (albeit very digitally painful) experience of taking on these two new threats.

As you can probably expect, Stormblood has increased the level capacity for all players, from a previous level 60 to a now level 70, with a combination of 15 different classes to choose from, that’s a total of 150 levels, and that’s only including the battle classes! As a result, you can expect to see some new and sexy skills which will ultimately give your players class a little bit more to play with.

In order to stop player’s keyboards and controllers from being mashed to bits, the team at Square Enix have revamped the combat system, removing any skills which are deemed as useless and combining skills to try and reduce the craziness of everyone’s rotation at the end of Heavensward.

As a result, we’ve seen some major changes to the way in which cross class skills work, these are skills which can be shared across multiple classes. Now instead of levelling up a certain class to get a certain cross class skill, any class will be able to unlock skills as they progress through levels. Further to this, the skills themselves are now shared across all roles, so tanks will get damage reduction skills, DPS will get TP (energy) regeneration and safety net skills, ranged DPS will get support actions and so on and so on.

This new change has been met with a bit of criticism by some, but most seem to enjoy the change. Whilst I haven’t been directly affected by it myself, I have to say that it has come in handy to be able to chop and change skills as and when and to have a bit more support on some classes (and a bit less support on others). The skills themselves are all quite useful, so there’s no clear indication of what you should and shouldn’t be using, so be prepared to mix and match skills depending on what instance or activity you plan on doing.

Further to this, all classes have now been granted a unique class gauge. This change was implemented by the developers in order to alleviate any unnecessary clutter and to provide a more simple view on the characters HUD layout. For example, with monks, you’ll now have an icon on your gauge which will measure how much chakra you’ve been gathering and how long you have left on your greased lightning stacks. Rather than having to mess around with looking at the top left of the screen, it’s added an increase to visibility on the class, so those who were struggling with timings before have things a little easier.

It wouldn’t be an expansion at all if we didn’t see a new class? Right?! Well you won’t be getting just 1, and sadly you won’t be getting the 3 that Heavensward offered, but instead you’ll be getting two brand new DPS classes in the form of Samurai and Red Mage.

Samurai is the first on our list, which offers players a new take on melee based DPS. From what I’ve established so far, the class is somewhat broken, with many players being able to skyrocket their damage. That said, the class is pretty fun and interesting, and players can expect to use skills to build up Sen and Kenki which can be used to pull of devastating attacks. As with most melee DPS, you can expect a few positional requirements and some understanding of mechanics, but all in all this class is hard hitting with very good survivability and some really fun mechanics.

Red Mage is by far my favourite though. This class is fast paced, extremely mobile, incredible to play and has great damage. Players will expect to use skills to perform combo actions on spells, as a result they’ll build up white magic and black magic gauges, which will then be used to close in on an enemy and release a barrage of melee attacks before flipping backwards to safety. What’s amazing about this class is that it’s such a change of pace from the norm and offers many players who would normally hate magic based DPS a real difference in the way they fight.

The two new classes have already been welcomed into the Eorzian universe. As a Tank myself, I can’t remember the last time I ran a dungeon or trial where I didn’t have either a Samurai or a Red Mage in the group. That said, Samurai seems to be the more popular choice, with many trials and instances having at least 2 or 3 samurais available to them, but with the damage that they can pull off, no one has been complaining so far!

Final Fantasy XIV has done a great job balancing the different jobs so far. At the end of Heavensward we saw a massive contrast between high and low skilled players, and more specifically the different jobs that people played. As I used to play Monk as a main, it’s pretty safe to say that we had great DPS, but nothing else going for us, so it was a common occurrence for Monks to be left out of higher end activities as they offered nothing to the group. Now it seems as though most classes (some exceptions) have seen a re-vamp into the game and as a result, the skill gap between high and low skilled players has come together a little bit more.

If battling isn’t your thing, then there’s a whole host of things that Stormblood has brought into the gameplay, from diving, spear fishing, mount speed increases, new furniture, hairstyles and cosmetic items to really make you look as badass (or cute!) as possible. There’s lots to do and loads to explore and understand, so you’ll never be shy of an activity in this game.

Whilst it doesn’t lie quite in the area of Stormblood, 4.0 brought a few new purchasable items which would either boost your character straight up to level 60 on a particular class, or some items which will let you skip the story of A Realm Reborn or Heavensward, ensuring that you can take full advantage of what Stormblood has to offer. The reception to this has been somewhat mixed, with some stating that they’ve had some bad experiences with people in dungeons not having a clue what they’re doing and others saying nothing. I can say I’ve only met one particular individual so far so this new change hasn’t had any impact upon my experience whatsoever.

I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Stormblood outdoes Heavensward in every way. That’s not to say that Heavensward was a bad game at all, if anything it completely outdid the base game (A Realm Reborn), but Stormblood takes everything that Heavensward did wrong and does it completely right!

I’ve not put the game down for over 2 weeks now, and in-between gathering better equipment, fighting my way through more dungeons to level other classes or even just wandering around and mining up ore, I’m having a great time! Stormblood has finally re-kindled the love I have with Final Fantasy XIV after a very long hiatus, and I’ve never been happier to see those flames burning again.

Of course with any MMORPG’s, the expansion itself is only the start of something much, much more and new and old players can begin to look forward to the upcoming patches. Some speculation has already revolved around patch 4.01 which is expecting to bring about a use for Yellow Scripts (a new gathering currency), a new aquapolis area for exploration and the big one that everyone’s waiting for, the beginning of the Omega Raid.

If you’re not aware of the Omega Raid, then it’s expected to be similar to the Bahamut and Alexander raids. It’s understood to be an 8-man instance whereby you and 7 others will battle against a big bad boss, or a number of big bad bosses to complete a set objective. If it’s anything like the Alexander instances then it’s bound to be a heap of fun!

One of the only downsides to the entire experience that Stormblood offers was the server queues. As you can probably imagine, and as with any new expansion, the queue to get into the game was terrible at best. The first night of early access saw me waiting for an entire 3 hours to log in, even then only to be met with complaints about how players couldn’t proceed any further into the Main Scenario Quests due to an issue with the servers. This more or less continued over the space of about a week, but now it seems that the servers are starting to settle down a little more.

With due respect though, Square Enix have been doing their all to ensure that the server issues and stability problems are resolved as quickly as possible, and recent reports of a DDOS attack on the game could be the result of all the terrible issues that fans have been experiencing. Whilst it’s not enjoyable to sit in a queue for 3 hours in anticipation, appropriate measures have been put into place to ensure that everyone gets a turn.

If you’re concerned that your PC may not be up to the task of running the new expansion, then the minimum system requirements can be found below:

  • Windows® 7 32/64 bit, Windows® 8 32/64 bit, Windows® 8.1 32/64 bit, Windows® 10 32/64 bit
  • CPU Intel® Core i5 2.4 GHz or higher
  • RAM memory 3 GB or more (4 GB recommended for 64 bit OS)
  • Hard disk / SSD free space of 60 GB or more
  • Graphics card NVIDIA® Geforce® GTX 750 or higher

If you’re still a little unsure, then Final Fantasy XIV offers their PC players use of the new ‘Benchmark’ feature, which scans their system for specs and determines what kind of quality the game is best performed at.

All in all, Stormblood is a breath of fresh air compared to Heavensward. That’s not to say the game wasn’t good, but it’s clear that the Square Enix have learnt so much over the course of the past 4 years and really understand their player bases wants and needs.

It’s not just the technical aspects or the story which offers their fan base so much, but it’s the interesting mechanics, the new changes to the combat system, the new classes and areas that really do make this game so fun to play.

I’ve personally been lagging behind my FC friends, who are all capped across multiple classes now in order to really get to enjoy what the Main Scenario has to offer and to spend time and effort exploring the new areas in real depth, but to me Stormblood doesn’t just offer an increase of 10 levels and some new classes, but a new opportunity to really fall in love with the wonders of Final Fantasy all over again.

Rating:
10/10
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My name's Lewis and I'm 25 years old (I tend to forget that sometimes) and was born and bred in Nottingham. I graduated from the University of Sunderland back in 2011 with a 2:1 degree in broadcast journalism and shortly moved down to Croydon to begin a magical career as an Account Executive. I'm also the owner of a company which creates and develops games. We've not had success yet, but fingers crossed for the future. Any spare time that I get tends to be taken up by games, music, television and game development. I tend to be a bit of a trophy hunter when it comes to games and try to platinum as many as I can. I can guarantee you that anything MMORPG will be loved by me but I also love platformers, RPG and action games. My only down side is it takes me hours to finally pick a character I'm happy with. Favourite games have to be: 1) Final Fantasy VII 2) Final Fantasy X 3) Borderlands 2 4) Persona 4 5) Infamous Second Son

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