When the original Final Fantasy XIV released way back in 2010, there were few good things that you could say about the game. It was a failure at launch and drew criticism from far and wide. After two years on the market, it was decided that the situation demanded a total reworking of the game. Those changes came at the hand of the newly appointed director, Naoki Yoshida. Since then, FFXIV has taken something of a U-turn.
Version 2.0 of the game was given the subtitle "A Realm Reborn" when it launched in 2013. With an updated and upgraded engine, new mechanics, better servers, a new storyline, and a much better reception, ARR has successfully risen from the ashes. The fact of the matter is that the MMORPG is one of the most successful in the genre with over 4 million subscribers worldwide. Yoshida is often praised for having made the game what it is today. The Japanese magician hasn't rested on his laurels however, and is determined to do everything in his power to make A Realm Reborn the greatest MMO of all time.
After approximately two years on the market (and following many content patches), it is finally time for the game's first big expansion - and it's a substantial update.
Heavensward takes us on a journey to the north, to the city of Ishgard, a city-state engulfed in a thousand-year war, the "Dragonsong War," with the nation Dravania. Ishgard is only one of many new areas to explore, and it all seems almost too much to comprehend at first, even though this is an MMO expansion. If you are a fan of the current main storyline, you are most likely in for a treat. The added storyline alone takes around fifty hours to complete in Heavensward, not counting anything else that's being included. A new race is also unleashed: The Au Ra seems to be a cross between humans and demons, and the character models look cool with their muscled bodies and dark horns.
The presentation we were shown was as thorough as possible, and it needed to be: there was a lot of content to show. Nine diverse areas (50-100% larger than the current ones), the level cap has been raised from 50 to 60, many new abilities for new and existing "jobs" (specialisation of a class) and more content for the classes Disciples of the Hand and Disciples of the Land, three new jobs - Dark Knight (tank/warrior), Astrologian (healer/support) and the Machinist (ranged based attacker with a gun). There's eight new dungeons with different mechanics, new raids, new "primals" (magical summoned creatures) one new "super raid" called "Alexander" which will be unlocked two weeks after launch (for gamers to take their time to complete the story first), and a lot more. It is important to note, however, that to be able to take advantage of this new content, you must have completed the main story of A Realm Reborn.
One of the most obvious new additions (in our opinion) is the introduction of flying mounts. One example of this is a kind of chimera, a flying eagle with lion's legs. This mount can be used as a normal on the ground, but can also jump into the sky at any time, letting you fly freely around the new areas that Heavensward introduces. To use the mounts in these places, however, you will need to obtain licenses. Personal airships are also new to the game, and may be used to fly around in, and are also customisable.
We were able to get hands-on with Heavensward - albeit with a few restrictions. First, we were not allowed to travel to other areas except for the couple assigned to us. This meant that we spent most of our time exploring the Floating Continent, but not much else. Second, we were not allowed to interact with any NPCs, nor begin missions that had any form of story content. This was a tad disappointing, and might mean that the expansion still has a way to go before it goes "gold." But we got to test a few new dungeons. Save a few work-in-progress bugs, they worked well, and we look forward to digging into them properly at a later date.
We were equipped with the kind of gear and abilities that every MMOer would appreciate, and we also got our hands on one of the flying mounts. Flight works great. We will not claim that Heavensward is good enough to be a flying simulator, but it works as it should. It allows you to escape from enemies and discover new areas easily.
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward looks to be a massive expansion of an already huge universe. With large new areas, a new race, a new storyline and much, much more, it looks like the fans of the main game have something to look forward to.
That said, it's important to not get too caught up in the hype, because as we've seen recently, online games like this need stability at launch, not just a robust set of features, and it's worth noting that we didn't get to see all that much, and there's still plenty left to do before it's ready to launch. As release is only over a month away, we're keeping a close eye on this one to see if Yoshida's resurrection of FFXIV continues its unblemished run.