FFXIV: Stormblood Expansion Review

That’s right, on Sunday I started my next leg of FFXIV journey, and before I knew it, I advanced so far that it was already sensible to finish the expansion story. So, lo and behold, I arrived in a purple forest of Shadowbringers and can now look back at the Stormblood expansion as a whole.

I did not experience all the content – leaving out several raids (namely, the animal farm fights) and a couple of side dungeons, not to mention all the side quests which I intend to do someday later. But the major story is complete.

Story

Speaking of the story, Stormblood was the expansion I loved from quest one to quest last. As it became a pattern, there’s a “leveling” major arc which ends in an epic climax, then the story cuts all loose ends through patch content, no stones left unturned while moving the story forward, and the final leg tosses hooks for the future, setting theme for the next expansion. Unlike Heavensward, which was quite good, but not always good, Stormblood was engaging throughout the whole run.

I really like the delicate balance between major politics when you can perfectly understand the movement and the purpose of armies and events in a bigger picture, but also personal character stories and development. The attitude of every character to the current events is explored carefully, and you definitely believe how and why the characters make their decisions how to proceed next and what to do with their own and others’ lives.

Both old faces (Lyse, Leveilleur twins, Raubahn, sultana, Scions in general) and new faces (Hien, Yotsuyu, Asahi, Zenos, Fordola, Maxima), not to mention many minor boys and girls, received an utmost attention, were perfectly shaped and developed, and you really cared about what was happening to all of them. That’s what makes a perfect writing!

Yes, the major MSQ ended in an uplifting climax, but the patch story was pretty grim and tossed us back a bit. It ended with quite a disturbing note: the Empire did not give up at the very least, keeps pushing steel and blood to the borders, which we barely contained, and you and your company of Scions collapsed and were clicked out of reality at this hour of need – as I understand (spoiled it to myself a bit), to a shard/version of the planet, an alternative Draenor of sorts. While I have no doubt that my alternate journey would be quite interesting, it’s already itching me to be away from the home world, where things are that dire.

There’s nuff to be said about major arcs: the uprising in both countries, the establishment of peace and matters in both Far East and Ala Mhigo, the Empire’s push back, the Ascians and the final leg of Scions’ BSOD: everything was done perfectly. Character arcs were all just as good, especially Lyse, Hien, Fordola and Zenos, with a small “but”: Yotsuyu.

It was an amazing character which I tracked with utmost interest, until her finale. They really went far with well, not redemption, but hope, up to a persimmon heartbreaking scene, extremely well, and it went down the drain in a course of a couple of quests. Reducing all the writers’ work done so far to a generic primal stuff… it was not illogical, but I really, really hoped for another outcome. It did not struck me as a bad writing, like what they’re doing to Sylvanas now in Blizzard camp, but I was quite depressed, as there was much hope and ache for the well-being of Tsuyu, and it was shattered in pieces in a jiffy. Spectacular as it was, the raid was most bitter, and the following cutscene crushed foot on what could have been an inspiring arc.

Zones

I’ve written about this a lot, so I’ll be brief: yes, the zones managed well to convey the feeling and vibe of their countries, and no, Doma was done bad: one village to convince us that it’s local “China” was not enough, not in the very least. Solution could have been quite simple: even the existing number of story arcs could have been done in several settlements.

Graphics and Visuals

I’m pleased to see that graphics improve by expansion, and Stormblood was another step forward. This is especially obvious with foliage and water: a “mosquito swarm” of leaves and grass in Gridania alone could avert fresh players from the game (if you could only see me tinkering for an hour with graphics settings to mitigate that at the start), while Stormblood’s flower beds, trees and fields can really compete with the best examples of other games.

Alas, not everything went improved. The rocks which make the majority of the terrain are still kinda on the downside, as are kinda cardboard buildings, which is especially an issue in Azim Steppe capital and Kugane city. No one bothered to think how people actually live in Ala Mhigo quarter, making it resemble a factory of sorts rather than a city for people – no benches, no gardens or anything, just walls scraping the sky.

Luckily, this is not a problem for the house/palace insides, halls and rooms – well there it’s quite believable that these were built for people. Not to mention the group content – raids and dungeons are not just where the art team exceeds themselves, they also make it most spectacular, over the top, and every next dungeon and boss is always an awe.

Another problem are the nights. Unlike WoW, for example, the day/night cycle changes not according to server time, but in an hour and a half. This is not a bad decision per se, solving the problem of those who only play in a specific time frame, allowing them to see both night and day. The problem is how night time is done.

It’s simply too close to reality for a media product. If you happen to travel by night, everything – buildings, characters, environment – would be fifty shades of grey, and god forbid it’s some important cutscene which would look drastically different if you came across it in day time. As IRL, yes, but it’s a media product.

Some crude example could be a comparison of the battle of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings’ Two Towers, and the battle for Winterfell in Game of Thrones. In both examples, it’s a dark night, illuminated only by torches that characters lit. But in LOTR you can see every last pimple and hair on an orc’s face, while during an undead onslaught in GoT you can hardly tell what is even going on. It’s not as bad in FFXIV, for sure, but I can’t help cringing a bit when the night comes.

And artificial lights are also still an issue. As a person suffering from astigmatic vision, FFXIV’s lanterns, windows and alike during nightt ime remind me very well what the world looks like without my glasses: removing a circle-shaped halo from light sources would be very welcome.

Music

Nuff said, I’m a fan of this game’s composers, and they did not dissappoint at the very least, again. Can’t help wishing Measure of His Reach was my anthem, and ambience tracks are, as always, wild, diverse and beautifully performed and arranged. The eastern theme is something I’m humming long after a logout, and Azim Steppe holds one of the best tracks in the game.

I don’t remember if I expressed my love to Japanese’ love for piano pieces – as a keyboardist and pianist myself, I appreciate its heavy use. Which also makes it inspiring to play them at home by myself :)

Group Content

Do I have to repeat myself? It is amazing as always. Not only the gameplay, the intricate dance with bosses and friendly groups, but also the environments and the fact that art teams go totally crazy and wild with boss designs. Basically, every next boss and room is an awe, and every next dungeon is queued for with utmost eager.

I die too often for my liking – maybe once or twice per dungeon, but it has to do with newcomer’s issues, I think. Even if I read about the boss abilities while in queues to plan my encounter actions and single out the deadliest mechanics, you can’t really master it without trying and personal experience, and when you did, the dungeon’s in the past, not to be revisited again, unless on alts and/or leveling another class/job.

Moreover, very deadly and unforgiving mechanics are quite more often than in, say, WoW dungeons, so you really don’t want to miss a void zone, killing adds, standing in circles and all the usual stuff like that. It’s not too hard to execute, but if you ignore it, it’s certain deaths and wiping. Well, luckily there’s always a CR aka Raise ready for dying people, and wipes – if they rarely happen – are not an issue, as people just get up and try again, discussing and explaining tactics if needed. Not really an issue, but I’d like to survive better :)

***

Conclusion here is simple: Stormblood was an awesome expansion, which delivered an amazing story and character development and very notable, giant strides towards the overall game improvement, albeit with certain few drawbacks. The rumor is, Shadowbringers is even better and the pinnacle of the game so far, so I dare it to exceed this experience :) I’m already in, and as my WoW gameplay is declining to still a bit distant, but certain and already visible lull, I’ll jump to the First very soon and see it for myself.

3 thoughts on “FFXIV: Stormblood Expansion Review

  1. I agree with your assessment of Yotsuyu as a character – I loved her return arc and thought it would be fun to explore, but alas, the trial ending feels a bit anti-climactic, especially when the fight mechanics make clear that she has a conflict between her past and moving forward with Gosetsu, which made it sadder. I would say that is a clear strength over modern WoW content – the story is well-conveyed and I wish there was more but the team had a different idea.

    The fun of Shadowbringers is in relating the places you go to the places you remember from the Source, and the game will use clear relations in places where it wants you to draw the parallels, which is pretty cool. I won’t say more other than that your concerns about the Source events is worth holding on to!

    With the delay, you might actually be in the waiting room with the rest of us for Endwalker, since the Shadowbringers content is so easy to run with and move through.

    The graphics point is funny, because you identified something that was technically allowed with Stormblood – as that expansion cut loose the PS3 version, the graphics fidelity went up and maps per zone got larger by a little bit, going from 512 MB of total RAM on console to 8 GB made a huge difference in texture details and overall world size, and we’ll likely see a similar change after Endwalker whenever they decide to lock in on PS5-only for the consoles.

    Lastly, on the dying point – the game’s leveling dungeons don’t always do a good job keeping you on an item level par with the content unless you’re in patch content, and seeing a sprout dying is hardly the worst thing :). Once you get to Shadowbringers content, you should have your item level pulled up to a point where the health values fix a lot of that, and a lot of the mechanics as the game moves on are more recoverable, although a lot of vulnerability stacks will still make your healer mad!

    Excited to see what you think of Shadowbringers story and worldbuilding!

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    • “The fun of Shadowbringers is in relating the places you go to the places you remember from the Source”
      – yes, I figured out that much :) The greeting guy made it perfectly clear!

      On dying, WoW is more like: boom! Bad stuff is suddenly happening to you, react! If you don’t, you suffer damage, then more damage, then more damage, and then die.

      FFXIV is more like: alright, here’s boss carefully and slowly laying out void zones, adds and stuff before they strike, it’s spectacular, and you have a pretty wide window to pull your shit together and get out of the way and to a certain place to avoid it COMPLETELY. But when it strikes, it strikes, well, we warned you, and you had all the time in the world, now eat dirt :)

      For example, if a WoW boss belches a pool of bile, it’s almost immediate, it starts melting your feet, but you have a couple of seconds to react and move out before it eats away your health. You’re supposed to get hit, but you’re also supposed to do something with it when it hit you.

      If a FFXIV boss belches a pool of bile, there will be a beautiful warning pattern on the floor where he’s planning to, and you’re supposed to move out of it completely, or else. You never wait and see what happens, or if you could survive this attack: it’s safe to presume that you don’t by default.

      Not quite a problem with most void zones, as you can figure out this on spot. But certain unexpected mechanics are trouble – like a boss flies high in the sky, you have no clue what it’s gonna do: it may strike the whole arena, strongest in the middle, you die if you’re not at the very edge, or appear in one side and blow you off if you’re not close to it, stuff like that.

      Of course, it’s not a problem with current content on farm, as you learn quickly. But when you see this dungeon for the first and last time (when time comes to alt jobs and alts, you already simply forget what was happening), and you need to carefully read tactics for every boss, it’s impossible and a bit counterproductive to memorize every dungeon on the way. No practice, too: as you don’t get attempts, the dungeon’s got carried through, and is a thing of the past. Hence dying, even if I try to come prepared :)

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