Heavensward is massive. Obviously as an expansion it was always going to make Final Fantasy 14 bigger, but the amount on offer is staggering. With nine new areas (each one 50-100% larger than anywhere existing in the game already), a storyline that matches the original (A Realm Reborn) in scope, and three new jobs to try out there’s a lot here to keep you occupied for the next few months. It’ll be time well spent too, this is a seriously impressive expansion for an already epic game.
You have to finish the main ARR quest before you enter Ishgard and the new areas of Heavensward though. If you haven’t played FF14 before, or let your subscription slip, you’ll have a fair bit of catching up to do. It may seem like an odd choice as most MMOs let you wander into new areas when a new expansion hits straight away, but it makes perfect sense here. This is a Final Fantasy game after all, a series known for its epic, twisting storylines. To bypass it would be a disservice to a truly gripping tale. Yes, it may seem a little intimidating to get through, but the chance to play Heavensward is worth every second of it.
The Heavensward story starts off where A Realm Reborn left off. After becoming the warrior of light, fighting off huge Primal beasts, uncovering a deeper Ascian plot (the true nature of which has yet to be fully revealed), and dealing with an invading Garlean empire (not to mention the issues your allies are dealing with within their own ranks), your journey to Ishgard gets off to a bit of a slow, solemn start. That’s not a criticism though. In fact it’s incredibly fitting given the gut-wrenching climax of the A Realm Reborn story. Instead of trying to continuously and unnecessarily one-up the drama levels, the story takes a quiet turn to ease you into the next chapter of your tale where you’ll find yourself making unexpected alliances in your efforts to deal with the dragon threat.
The change in voice actors is a little jarring when you first start Heavensward though. While some come as a great improvement, others disappoint. The once husky tones of the strong-willed Admiral Merlywb now seem disappointingly wheezy. It’s a minor irritant in the grand scheme of things, though I did find a few other bizarre narrative moments. During one integral plot point a few hours in I found myself hugely distracted by the ridiculous hat a character was wearing. Here she was, dropping a hugely important reveal that changes everything... while looking like a tiny, sugared garden gnome. Yes it’s a dumb thing to notice, but it’s a little difficult to feel shocked when you’re too busy stifling laughter over a fashion faux pas.
FF14 also has a crafting system so deep that it easily rivals the fighting, and it’s expanded upon in Heavensward. As well as all of classes rising to level 60, the option to build your own airship by working together with your Free Company (basically a guild). By placing chosen schematics on the board you can all see what needs to be made or gathered to finish each part of the ship. You can then send it out to explore and gather rewards for you. It’s a little simplistic, but it’s a nice goal to collectively work towards with your friends and the developers has promised to expand upon it in further patches.
It’s also the best MMO you can buy on consoles. The Elder Scrolls Online should have taken notes, FF14 shows everyone how it should be done. Everything maps easily to a controller, and jumping between targets feels intuitive. However you will have to learn to juggle your hotbars a bit more with all of the new skills that have been added, but you won’t be at any great disadvantage compared to PC Players. While the PS4 can handle the vastness of the game, PS3 owners will feel more of a strain as the new areas take longer to load in.
The expansion also adds three new jobs to try out. The Greatsword-wielding Dark Knights are epic to behold, black and red magic pulsating from their bodies between heavy strikes. There’s a real sense of glee when you use one to do a massive leap straight into battle, like an armoured-bomb dropping onto unsuspecting dragons. Machinists are a little fiddly compared to the other classes, you need to stay on your toes to track your gun’s ammunition use and how all of your skills slot together to get a decent amount of damage from it.
While managing your turret is great fun and adds some variety to a standard party, it is the most disappointing in terms of damage of the three. Astrologians are also a little complicated with their random card-drawing mechanic to juggle on top of their healing spells, but it feels rewarding rather than confusing. There’s a satisfying element of risk to it as you learn to make the most of the hand you’ve been dealt.
Together they bring a much needed shake-up to the older party make-up. They give you more options when it comes to running dungeons or taking on Primals. The balance does need a few tweaks, but Square Enix has a good track record when it comes to listening to player feedback and fixing issues fairly quickly.
Each of the older jobs also get new skills as they race to meet the new level cap of 60. While each one feels like a definite improvement in theory, adding excitement for Paladins who felt a little slow, for example, there are a few kinks to be ironed out. Some skills don’t quite do as much damage as they should, or don’t complement older skills. Bards in particular are complaining about falling behind in terms of power. If you’re a hardcore player focussed on being on top of their game it’s irritating, but for most people the difference is so slight that they won’t even notice.
But by far the highlight of the expansion is the ability to fly in the new areas. The increased speed, compared to travel on the ground, makes ducking and weaving between floating Islands or gargantuan trees while you take in those expanded vistas a real treat. It’s a fantastic way of taking in the game’s exceptional sense of style. The only drawback is that it takes a lot of work to do so. Finding Aether currents to ‘learn’ about an area’s wind patterns is a chore. Those beautifully huge, sweeping landscapes from the air are tediously long slogs from regular eye level. But as soon as you unlock the ability to fly in any given zone previous frustrations dissipate in the breeze
Heavensward is an excellent new chapter for Final Fantasy 14 fans. There’s so much to see and do out in the wilderness, and the story is just as gripping as in A Realm Reborn. For new players this is an excellent time to join to see what the fuss is all about. Yes, you’ll have to catch up on the base game before you actually get to experience Heavensward, but you’ll find yourself following a story that happily stands its own among the narrative highs of the Final Fantasy series.
This expansion was reviewed on both PC and PS4.