The Lifestream Reviews: Stormblood

by July 17, 2017 0 comments

It’s been a month since Stormblood – the latest Final Fantasy XIV expansion – was released. We at The Lifestream have been sinking whole days of our lives into the new story, dungeons, areas and jobs and just like you our loved ones are now concerned for our well-being and our rooms have gone from slightly cluttered to special edition episode of Hoarders. But we have worked tirelessly to reach the end of the new scenario in order to offer you three separate perspectives on this monumental new addition to the MMO whose story – both in the game and behind the scenes – remains one of the most fascinating in the franchise.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for Stormblood.

The Stormblood Logo featuring an ominous figure clad in Imperial armor.

“This expansion has been a hit”

Review by Jason Tandro, Community Manager

I’m a Dragoon main who began his adventure in the 2.4 era of A Realm Reborn. I am decidedly casual player, but one who likes to dip his feet in everything he can, within reason. I got drawn into the story, the characters, the world, and the activities. And to those ends, and more, Stormblood is a resounding success.

Without spoiling too much, those who finished the Heavensward patches know that we’ve been preparing to finally do something that has been hinted at since about Level 20 of A Realm Reborn. We’re going to liberate Ala Mhigo and Doma to boot. As a result the story is incredibly focused. Stormblood focuses on the Garlean Empire with practically no diversion. We also get to meet some incredible new bad guys who make us pine for the dignity and temperance of Gaius Van Baelsar.

A looming figure of Susano, one of the new Primal fights.

Susano, one of the new Primals, will challenge you to the ultimate sword fight.

The journey will take us to the Fringes, Peaks and Lochs of Ala Mhigo but also on a journey across the sea to Othard, which is where we get our first look at the larger world map. After an amazing first dungeon in the middle of the Sirensong Sea, we arrive in Kugane – the new city-state hub of Stormblood. The clear Japanese aesthetic is strong with this one and it features some unique climbing areas which go hand in hand with the new Sightseeing Log entries. The residential area of Shirogane is great if you have the gil to buy a plot of land, with a central market district that is especially beautiful, but at launch you cannot purchase apartments yet.

Our journey into Othard proper across The Ruby Sea is where we learn how to dive. This was one of the game’s key selling points as underwater exploration has always been a part of some of the most beloved Final Fantasy titles. However, like in those other games, it’s better in concept than it is in practice. There’s no underwater combat, and really nothing to see apart from some pretty scenery, so it is in reality just another place to do fetch quests, albeit much slower. There is one optional dungeon beneath the waves accessible at Level 63, but to access it you must dive to the bottom of a massive trench which is honestly a little tiring – even on a flying mount (which can traverse the undersea areas).

An undersea view, featuring a player riding a chocobo.

Underwater exploration is one of the new highlights of Stormblood.

Speaking of said dungeon, the sidequests in Stormblood are actually noteworthy. Yes you will have dozens of random kill and fetch quests but each settlement has one character who unlocks a chain of four sidequests which tell a story about their plight. The best part about these is that once you complete the quest lines for these individuals new quests will pop up which will link two of them together and neatly tie up both of their stories. These are the kinds of sidequests we needed so much more of. As far as leveling goes, these sidequests offer reasonable EXP, FATEs now offer better rewards for their time than they did in Heavensward, and even trash pulls in the dungeons aren’t too bad. Dungeon and FATE farming remain the best way to fill out your levels in terms of speed, but the sidequests and Hunts will get you there too if you prefer solo play.

The game is geared to ease new players in, and you will find that you can accomplish most of the story without any reference to video guides. It takes a slow and steady approach and re-teaches you the mechanics of each type of attack at a fairly non-challenging pace. If you’re a hardcore veteran you might find it a bit too easy for your taste, but there are some unique boss mechanics and some truly incredible Primal fights to look forward to. And if you’re still not satisfied the final boss is one of the toughest main story quest fights ever conceived. So far the endgame content relies on two dungeons and two EX Primals to farm Primal Gear and Tomestones of Verity. The endgame dungeons are actually quite fun, each offering a unique flavor and one of whom features a surprising guest which fans will enjoy immensely.

Concept art of Omega, the new 8-Man Raid available with Patch 4.01

Concept art of Omega, the new 8-Man Raid available with Patch 4.01

I haven’t mentioned the Red Mage or Samurai as I don’t wish to step on the toes of AvecAloes’s upcoming article discussing the various jobs (with help from all of us in the community), but I will say that they graciously start off at Level 50 and allow for wildly different DPS styles. Samurai gives us a pure damage dealing machine, at the cost of practically nonexistent utility, whereas Red Mage lives up the hybrid hype, serving as a solid combination of support, healing and DPS. Both are quite fun to play as and both are relevant to the story.

Lastly I need to mention the game’s soundtrack: it’s fantastic with a fresh combination of the far east and battle hymns aplenty. There are also some nice little motifs stuck in for veterans, notably a slight homage to Shadow’s theme tucked away in one of the recurring story themes, and a full on remaster of Cyan’s theme (both from Final Fantasy VI). This is not unexpected, as FFXIV relies heavily on Final Fantasy VI in many ways that are self-evident.

So in conclusion, how does it fare? Well there are some missteps. So far diving is a let down and the “Raid Actions” item is cute but so far has not been implemented that well. It’s hard to look at these things and not think “gimmick”. And at times the areas don’t seem quite as impressive as the ones we got to explore in Heavensward. But apart from those truly minor complaints everything else about this expansion has been a hit. The new content is fun, the story is gripping, the characters are top notch and the new areas are fresh and fun to explore. I am looking forward to seeing how things grow from here.

Another image of the Warrior of Light and Lyse sparring.

The Warrior of Light and Lyse go toe-to-toe.

“Red Mage is insanely fun”

Review by Joe, Social Media Manager

I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIV since A Realm Reborn’s launch back in 2013. It definitely started out as an enjoyable mixed bag, with a few hiccups at first, but improved steadily over the course of regular patches. Both Heavensward – the game’s first expansion – and Stormblood have done much to shape the game from a good MMO to a fantastic entry in the Final Fantasy franchise.

To start out I’ll mention that I usually play a healing job (Scholar to be precise) but I decided to level one of the new ones for my Stormblood experience. Red Mage has always appealed to me more than any other job in the FF series, so naturally I was over the moon when it was slated to arrive in-game this expansion. Without going into too much detail, the job weaves a combination of black magic, white magic and melee combos while jumping in and out of range. It is insanely fun.

An image of the Red Mage, one of the new jobs in Stormblood.

The Red Mage, one of the new jobs, is a stylish blend of magic and swordplay.

After spending a couple days leveling my Red Mage job to 60 – the required level to begin the new Stormblood story – I got to sink my teeth into the narrative. It’s been a few months since the last addition to the game’s main scenario, and with the cliffhangers it is oh-so fond of providing us with it’s of no surprise I was desperate for more. The story got off to a great start; we travel to Ala Mhigo, meet up with some familiar faces and even get a showdown with what will be our big bad this time around. At some points I even let out a gasp. A literal gasp.

Peppered throughout the generally solo story experience are dungeons, taken on by a light party of four players. All of the dungeons in Stormblood are visually gorgeous, taking us from voyages to castles to underwater palaces. Of course, as a DPS player this time around, seeing a new dungeon pop up in the story is both an exciting and sobering experience.

An image of the new city-state, Kugane.

The new Japanese-inspired city-state of Kugane is sure to be a new player favorite hub.

Unfortunately throughout my Stormblood experience the queue time for dungeons – necessary to find you a balanced party of all roles – was abysmal. Most of the time it meant close to an hour of waiting around before I could progress, which can really take you out of the gravity of impacting story moments. The long queue-time isn’t a new development for FFXIV, but when combined with the first week’s server congestion – upwards of two hours wait to log into the game – it can get a little frustrating to just enjoy the game.

Fortunately these are only slight issues in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately the full weight of the story will be brought down upon you, keeping you on your feet and desperate to see it through to the end. Oh and what a remarkable end it is. Well, in vaguest sense of the word ‘end’. We can expect a continuation of the story within a few months when the 4.1 patch drops. What we did receive was a very satisfying climax to the expansion’s events. It’s definitely the most transfixed I’ve been by the game for some time!

The desert stretches of the Gyr Abanians Peaks.

The Peaks, one of the new areas in Gyr Abania, features some truly breath-taking vistas.

But even with the story complete (for now) there’s still plenty to do. With your character at maximum level you can tackle two new dungeons, regularly obtaining gear rewards for your character. Stormblood also introduces extreme variants of its two trials, though I’ve yet to properly experience these myself. In addition to this, a new set of 8-player raids are set to be released as of this writing, which will branch off of a major story moment that happened earlier this year. There’s plenty to be excited for too. In the not too distant future players will be readying up to tackle the next 24-man raid, currently titled ‘Return to Ivalice’. Final Fantasy veterans are particularly excited, though details are sparse at this time.

I’m eager to see how Stormblood evolves over the next couple of years. With the previous expansion I became very attached to the story’s leading characters and found myself humming the familiar motifs behind Heavensward’s unique score. It’s hard not to have expectations, but fortunately Stormblood is off to an incredible start. I already love the characters and the general boss theme music gets my blood pumping something fierce.

To wrap up, I’d like to praise the things this expansion has done well and what I’d love to see in the future. The narrative, music and characters are all truly deserving of praise, along with the voicework that has been steadily improving for years after a very rocky start. As the game progresses I’d love to see some more unique approaches to questing, as FFXIV doesn’t currently stand apart from its MMO brethren on this front. For my part, I’ll be leveling up some more and trying to stay calm about all the changes they made to the Scholar job.

A stunning view of Rhalgr's Reach and the massive statue of the deity.

Rhalgr’s Reach, one of the new main townships of Stormblood, features an amazing view ripped right from the trailer.

“The best story in a Final Fantasy game since XII”

Review by Carlie, also known as Gentleman Inspector Hildibrand

After three weeks that included massive queues, plenty of crashes (more on that later) I have finally finished Stormblood and it was for the most part a great experience.

Now Stormblood was a new experience for me with XIV as it was the first content I have ever done when it came out. As much as I loved Heavensward, Stormblood just feels more fun and vibrant. The expansion visually is just lovely, in particular the new areas in Doma. I absolutely adore Kugane, both because it is a beautiful place and because unlike previous cities in the game it is not separated into two sections. As a matter of fact I like it so much that I decided to drop my favorite hobby of jumping on spikes in Limsa for it. There’s also an early side dungeon that visually is the best I have ever seen in the game. The dungeon quickly became a personal favorite and one that I could easily play again and again.

An external view of Shisui of the Violet Tides, one of the new dungeons.

Shisui of the Violet Tides, one of the new optional dungeons, presents a stunning undersea view.

The story in Stormblood is about liberation in both Ala Mihgo and Doma. While Heavensward story focused on a conflict that’s been going on for centuries and the effect it had on the people of Ishgard, Stormblood focuses on nations that have already been conquered for quite some time. This brings the inevitable conflict between people when the possibility of rebellion comes up: do they fight or do they try to be part of the nation that conquered them? This conflict can be seen in particular between older and younger generations; older generations might be more willing to fight for what they lost but a younger person that has grown up under occupation only know that reality and might have less incentive to fight. One of the things that I like about Stormblood is that the events have been building up for quite some time, all the way back at least to the 2.0 patches. What I both love and find incredibly frustrating about Stormblood (and by extension Heavensward) is that the story and characters are much better than anything Square Enix has done with the main Final Fantasy titles since XII.

A profile of the Samurai, one of the new jobs.

The Samurai, the other new job in Stormblood, feels right at home in Kugane.

Now let’s talk about job class and game issues. I played as a Monk, which gained party synergy and the three riddle abilities in this patch. I can honestly say as someone who’s not an expert on job classes, I didn’t get any real idea of how the riddles are supposed to fit into a rotation. As for game issues the queue times during the first week are rather infamous at this point, especially if you were in a highly congested server like I was on Cerberus. Now if you add two hour wait times to constant DirectX fatal errors that the game still has not fixed, well then is a complete nightmare. Thankfully as an East Coast American in an European server it meant I could play in the mornings and evenings when the server was relatively empty and get back in easily when the game would inevitably crash.

All in all, a great expansion that unfortunately brought plenty of technical issues.

A view of the Fringes in the morning sun.

The Fringes serve as your gateway to the exciting new world of Stormblood.

Our combined scores average out to 8.7 out of 10. If you’re a Final Fantasy XIV player, what are your thoughts on Stormblood? Let us know on our forum, and if you’re on the Cerberus server, look out for players with the «TLS» Free Company tag and give us a /wave!

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