With Final Fantasy XIV’s first expansion, Heavensward, Square Enix gave the MMORPG a shot in the arm, revitalising its expectant player base. It assured the future of the game with a confident continuation of the monumental recovery job Square Enix had started with A Realm Reborn.
Now, still led with aplomb by the guiding hand of game director and producer, Naoki Yoshida, the second expansion is a chance to keep that momentum going. Stormblood arrives on June 20, and will provide another epic journey into new lands, with new jobs to master, and a lengthy list of refinements and improvements.
“Even though Final Fantasy XV was released last year we thought that this expansion would overwrite the numbering - so we think that Stormblood is the latest numbered entry in the Final Fantasy series,” Yoshida jokes. With some of the big changes coming with Stormblood it might not be as silly as it sounds.
New classes are par for the course with any MMO expansion and Stormblood is sticking to form by introducing two new jobs to Final Fantasy XIV.
The first is the Red Mage, a suave duelist who uses both magic and melee attacks in lightning-fast combos. It’s a blast to play as you chain together impactful and flashy magical attacks before lunging into melee range to deliver a flurry of sword slashes. The coup-de-grace is effortlessly cool, too, as you casually backflip away from danger to unleash one final, devastating, screen-swelling blast of black or white magic. Sensational.
The second new job, the Samurai, is not quite as theatrical as its spell-casting counterpart. Instead, the katana-wielder stands firm at the frontline and executes different weapon combinations to build up ‘Sen’ - a resource that can then be expended to perform a number of different finishing moves. Each series of weapon skills you complete will store a different Sen force within your blade - Setsu, Getsu, and Ka.
Depending on the type of Sen you expel in that final finishing blow, you can apply either damage-over-time effects, wider area-of-effect damage, or a single powerful slash. The Samurai isn’t as immediately enthralling as the acrobatic Red Mage, but still brings its own unique style to the DPS role.
As the game’s level cap has increased over the years, and each job has acquired new abilities, it has become abundantly clear that Final Fantasy XIV is suffering from a lot of bloat in the combat department. Practically every job has a handful of skills that are never used or unnecessarily overcomplicate what you need to do in order to play each job successfully. To solve this, many of these skills have been purged or reworked with Stormblood - a very welcome change.
Elsewhere, the cross-class skill system has been completely revamped. It’s now more forgiving and less dependent on grinding levels on other jobs for required skills. Previously, in order to learn Provoke - a vital tanking skill which allows you to taunt an enemy - you would have to reach level 22 as a Gladiator. Now it’s part of a set of role-specific actions that you can learn no matter what tank job you’re playing.
You can pick up to five abilities from this shared pool at once and change your loadout outside of combat to adapt to whatever situation you’re about to face. As a DPS job heading up against a raid boss, for example, you may want to take the Goad ability to provide one of your party members with some extra TP regeneration for the extended fight. It’s a smart change and these added freedoms give you more meaningful choices when tackling a variety of the game’s challenges.
WIth the refinement of existing job actions, room has been made for a number of new abilities to be introduced on the path to reaching level 70. Perhaps the biggest new addition, though, is that each job has now been presented with its very own ‘Job Gauge’ as a way to more easily display and track the mechanics unique to each one.
The gauges don’t fundamentally alter the way each job plays, but together with the raft of skill refinements, they make ability rotations more forgiving and ensure combat is a more satisfying experience overall. Take Dragoons, who now no longer have to obsessively watch a tiny buff timer slowly tick down instead of the giant boss trying to thwack them. Or Astrologians, who can more clearly identify the card in their hand and any effects applied to it with a quick glance.
It’s all part of a range of quality of life features that make mistakes less punishing and combat more enjoyable. Getting to grips with these new changes is something long-term players should look forward to in Stormblood as they’ll need to learn how to become experts in their job once again.
It’s undeniable that Final Fantasy XIV is one of the prettiest MMORPGs out there. Very few of its peers manage to match the sense of scale and wonder that many of its environments exhibit. Whether you’re soaring through the Sea of Clouds or traversing the Crystal Tower there’s always something fascinating to gawp at. Expect to see more glorious locales in Stormblood.
Though we’ve been restricted in the areas from Stormblood we’ve been allowed to see so far, it’s clear from the ones we have seen that wonderful new locations await. Whether it’s the scorched earth and imposing mountains of The Peaks in Gyr Abania, or the vast ocean blue sprinkled with land masses in The Ruby Sea of Othard, these locations are begging to be explored.
It’s even more exciting when you think of the adventures that await underwater thanks to the new swimming and diving mechanics. It opens up all new fascinating possibilities for the world, including the location of one of the game’s new dungeons: Shisui of the Violet Tides. The blueprint will be familiar to any veteran Final Fantasy XIV player - you’ll still progress through the same trash-boss-trash-boss-trash-boss rhythm - but you’ll be doing so in more mystifying locations like this vibrant underwater bubble.
Yoshida-san has made it no secret that he’s a massive fan of PvP. That’s perhaps no surprise when you discover how much time he invested into Dark Age of Camelot and the influence that must have had on the development of Final Fantasy XIV. Despite his enthusiasm for competitive modes, the PvP content in Final Fantasy XIV has always struggled to resonate with the wider community. That said, some are dedicated to the smaller 4v4 skirmishes of The Feast, while others have dabbled in the clashes between multiple large forces in the Frontline during tie-in campaigns.
Not to be dissuaded, PvP will be refined further in Stormblood in a similar vein to the battle system changes - that means less clutter, better balance, and a smoother experience. Jobs will now have entirely different profiles for PvP, including specific movesets, universal statistics depending on the role, and a handful of customisable support abilities. Yoshida-san also hinted at a new PvP mode that will be made available some time after the launch of Stormblood, featuring battles between two large armies of players. It should be ready by Patch 4.1.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is scheduled for release on June 20, while pre-order customers will receive early access on June 16th. A standalone copy of the expansion is priced at $39.99. A Complete Edition bundle containing the base game and both expansions is priced at $59.99.