A slice of heaven
Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is a bit of an anomaly. In an age when most MMOs end up going free-to-play within a year (hello Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online), FF14 is going from strength to strength. And with good reason. Not only is it a great example of an MMO, but its also a fantastic Final Fantasy experience its its own right. It also works perfectly on consoles too, everything mapping to a PS4 or PS3 pad perfectly.
And now that world is about to get even bigger with the Heavensward expansion on 23 June. Following the events of the current story (youll have to complete it to get to the new areas), your adventurer sets off North to the gleaming city of Ishgard and beyond, and will be so huge itll take you 50-60 hours to get through the story let alone any side quests. After a hands-on with it Im as giddy as a Spriggan with a shiny new rock, theres just so much on offer. So heres seven reasons why Heavensward is going to be epic...
1. You can fly a fat chocobo
After waddling around A Realm Reborn with nothing but the tease of Gyshal Greens to keep it going, your Fat Chocobo is feeling seriously peckish. Whip out a slice of cake and your mighty yellow steed will be so excited hell take flight, his rolls gently wobbling in the wind.
You can also fly a more stern-looking Griffin and your normal, average weight Chocobo, but theres a real sense of glee as the lemon chubster frantically reaches for his sugary prize. The sense of scale as you fly is just as joyful, the new areas are enormous. With multiple layers and hidden nooks to explore, swooping down over the landscape filled me with awe.
2. The new classes feel fantastic
The healing Astrologian, defensive Dark Knight and damage-dealing Machanist all slot into the existing class balance nicely, each one bringing a little something special to the table. Theyll all start at level 30 rather than at one and you wont need a base class to unlock them.
With such a huge Great sword, the Dark Knight feels appropriately weighty when swung during one of its many dark-themed moves. They also have two stances. Darkside will see you do some serious damage, but will drain your MP, while Grit will see you through any tough blows enemies can throw at you and get them to hit you rather than the rest of your party.
Machanists act a bit like the already existing Bards. They have two Turrets (one for groups, one for single targets) that need to be placed down to lend a helping hand, and can be switched to buff your party when needed. The Turrets wont follow you like a Summoners pet will, its all about skillful deployment.
Finally, Astrologians are the star of the expansion (see what I did there, eh? EH?!), employing healing spells to keep your party alive, stances to aid with damage or buffing your friends, and a deck of cards that keeps you on your toes by dealing (and needing to manage) one of six random effects.
3. You can build your own airship
Part of a Free Company (thats a guild in FF14 parlance)? Then youll be able to buy a workshop for your house and work together to fashion your own flying boat out of fancy lumber and nails. Accessible from the same door as private rooms, the workshop is a separate area where you can remodel the look of your house or swap out airship parts before sending them out of exploratory adventures.
The launch of Heavensward and airships will definitely be putting any crafters and gatherers out there in high demand. Youll have to work together to build four different types of ship parts that are then slotted together. Each piece has different stats so, for example, you may build a speedy ship, but itll run out of fuel faster. It adds an interesting layer of customisation, though Square Enix has yet to release any details on what the rewards for sending out your ship will be.
4. The new moves are awesome
As well as adding the three new Jobs, the expansion will also see all of the current classes getting an update as the reach the new cap at level 60. Adding so many new moves and making sure they all gel together is a tricky balancing act, and one that it still being worked on, but what I went hands-on with was promising indeed.
I tried out the Monk class, notorious in the current game for having an irritating dip in punching power when you find yourself with nothing to hit during a lull in hostilities, but the additions in Heavensward completely make up for that. Youll be able to trade in your greased Lightning stacks for a powerful kick - great if you time it to land just before a break in a battle - and a Meditation mechanic that sees you stack the move while you have nothing to smack. Reach five stacks and you can choose to heal your TP (the stuff that lets you perform fancy moves) or unleash a really big attack to make up for lost time. It really keeps you on your toes, and as soon as I went back to playing without the new moves I found myself really missing them.
5. New players will get a boost
Adding an expansion to an MMO is a tricky business. New players start noticing it more as hype builds, but the amount to catch up on can be quite intimidating, and existing players often rocket off in the freshly added sunset to try out all of the new toys, leaving any newer players behind in the dust.
Game producer and director Naoki Yoshida aims to rectify that with a raft of measures to help new players catch up. If youre starting fresh when Heavensward launches youll get to enjoy the benefits of double experience points for faster levelling, and priority in dungeon queues so you can work on finishing the current A Realm Reborn story. Youll also be able to run dungeons with friends at higher levels without them scaling down, to help you power right on through. Yoshidas aim is for people to play through the story like theyre binge watching their favourite TV series.
6. Dangerous dungeons
Like loot and running through dungeons? Then Heavensward will have eight new ones for you to challenge, among them the Sharlayan Library, which I got my hands on. Filled with books (that have a disturbing number of teeth and demons poking out of them), as well as angry ink pots and magic frogs, its an enchanting place. Its also a challenging one. While the group I was with was still getting to grips with new skills, they were all experienced players and yet we still wiped on bosses. It was never frustrating though, as each failure felt like a lesson that saw us come back even stronger.
Youll also have more say over how your party approaches dungeons, with the updated duty finder letting you set a loot master or having greed only on rolls to give everyone an equal chance, as well as syncing everyone down to a lower level or challenging it with fewer party members to make things more challenging.
7. More everything!
Okay, so those are the six BIG reasons to pick up Heavensward on 23 June, but there are so many other exciting additions that I couldnt choose a seventh. So heres to all the other little reasons that this is the MMO you need to be playing, be that on console or on PC. Deep breath now everyone
A new eight-man raid (with a normal and hard mode) set inside a giant living Fortress called Alexander thats coming two weeks after launch; an extension to the crafting system that lets you specialise in three crafts, and a similar system for gatherers that grants divine favours for getting rare items; your retainers will also be rising to level 60; a new Frontline PvP area with a completely different rule set that features varying spawn points and ruins to take control of; a brofist emote; and new large-scale FATES, recipes, hunts, treasure maps, sightseeing points, quests, and, most importantly, new Triple Triad cards to dish out the pain. With so much on offer, I cant wait to get stuck in.