Man, how time flies while you’re grinding away at an MMORPG. It was only a few months ago, back in July 2021, where I got to the point where I could review Final Fantasy Online: A Realm Reborn for The Outerhaven after quitting World of Warcraft (and for good reason, both reviewed and ranted about) only a month prior. Now, only 3 months later, I’ve managed to get to the end of two of the expansions for Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward & Stormblood. After 3 months of grinding like crazy through content, does the Final Fantasy XIV Online experience still hold up, or has the experience and hyped died down heading into Final Fantasy XIV Online: Shadowbringers and the lead up to Final Fantasy XIV Online: Endwalker? Let’s take a look.
Name: Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward & Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 Developer: Square Enix Business Division 5 Publisher: Square Enix Game Type: MMORPG Mode(s): Single Player, Multiplayer Release Date: Available Now Game Price: Free (Heavensward) / $19.99 (Stormblood) / $79.99 (Complete Edition) Subscription Price: $12.99 per 30 days
Unlike the usual structured way I did my review for Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, looking at the gameplay, graphics, sound, etc; I’m just going to talk about my experiences with the games and how much my way of thinking when it comes to MMORPG games in general thanks to the experience that I’ve gained in the game.
First of all, I’m going to say that Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn was one of the longest and most soul-draining experiences I have gone through since starting Final Fantasy XIV Online. I know I gave the game a lot of praise in my review, but looking back, it was a huge undertaking for a new player. Since I made the mistake of treating Final Fantasy XIV Online like World of Warcraft, where I was focussed on zone-style leveling instead of just doing the main story quests, having to go back at level 35 to do level 17 quests really felt like I was dragging myself through a knee-deep swamp. You see, an MMO is pretty boring when you are just running around one-shotting everything with no challenge (Except when you are doing dungeons or raids solo, that is fun).
So having to go through the story, which there is a lot of, didn’t feel as exciting as it did once I moved beyond the content. But one thing I will say about Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn that it does really well is when you hit level 50 (The maximum level cap of this part of the game) the experience you earn from quests drops dramatically, making it impossible for you to completely out-level Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward content while grinding Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn content. So instead of hitting level 60 (The maximum level cap for Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward), I ended up being around the level 55-56 mark with my Bard.
One final thing I will say about getting to the end content of Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, there were 2 things that I was very thankful for. Upon unlocking things like basic raids, and the Roulette feature (The Roulette feature allows you to do random Dungeons, Trials, Raids, Alliance Raids, and more for daily bonus rewards) I found myself grinding the end-game currency, called Tomestones, which allowed me to buy a full set of item level 130 armor and weapons (The highest level gear for Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn), giving me a huge advantage moving forward.
The other thing I was impressed with is flying. In World of Warcraft, flying has become something of a feature that the developers hate, thus they make you jump through a million hoops in order to unlock. In Final Fantasy XIV Online, flying is something that is worked into the main story quests but done in such a way that you will unlock it completely only once you have completed the full main story questline. However, in Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, flying just unlocks once you have completed the main story questline, leaving you to do the 2.1 through 2.5 story questline with flying enabled, which is a godsend given the area you do all that in.
Moving into Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward where things started to pick up. A huge difference between Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn and all the expansions is that the expansion content is much shorter than the first part of the game was, making you feel like the pacing of things is more like an action/fantasy film, where you’ve entered the second act and everything you’ve learned in the first act comes together and you start getting that connection to not only your own character, but the world in which you are fighting, and the friendships you’ve created along the way.
Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward is more of a direct continuation of Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, and story-wise I got lost a couple of times since, again due to my own mistakes, I skipped my way through a lot of the story during Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn. So all I saw when it came to the story was more fighting against this empire that has taken over a majority of the lands that you quest in. There was more stuff involving the Scions of the Seventh Dawn moving from their home in the Sands to a new location, thus you moving further into the new locations.
It was here in Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward that I made sure I did things as they were intended to be, mostly sticking to the main story questline only for leveling, which doing Job quests when needed to gain new skills to use as a Bard. However, it was also during this time that I noticed that there is the same problem with Final Fantasy XIV Online that I had with World of Warcraft, that being that when it comes to dungeons, playing as a DPS job means you are going to be spending a LOT of time waiting to join via the group finder, and since Final Fantasy XIV Online places multiple dungeons into its main story questlines, you’ll end up spending more time waiting for a dungeon to populate with random people, killing the rush and flow of the game proper.
It was during this time that I decided to use the Final Fantasy XIV Online job system to my advantage and switch jobs to a Maurader, which would level into a Paladin, both of which are tank jobs, meaning I would get almost instant dungeon runs instead of waiting around… Except that when you change jobs, you’ll be starting back at level 1 (or another level depending on the job). So I spent a lot of time doing things like Hunting Quests, random leftover quests from Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, and then grinding dungeons once I unlocked those. But this was just me spinning my wheels and wasting time as the leveling process for second classes is more grind than anything else, and getting to level 50 was taking FOREVER.
Luckily for me, during my travels through Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward, I got a quest that opened up once my Bard was level 60 to unlock the Gunbreaker class, a new class that was added in Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward, that also acted like a Tank. The Gunbreaker class starts at level 50, so I could use that job instead when I needed it… No, no I couldn’t. Because everything is locked to levels and main story quest, even though my Bard was over level 60, my Gunbreaker was not allowed to do quests that were more than 2 levels above what my job was, meaning all that extra easy experience from story quests was locked till I hit that level, leaving me to grind Roulettes. Nope, not gonna do that. So I gave up on leveling a tank… For now.
Before I hit the end of Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward, I did the one thing that I didn’t think I was going to do: I jumped Free Companies. The Free Company that I was in during Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn was a nice and friendly group, with people being very helpful when it came to grinding those dungeons on a daily. However, there weren’t that many people in the Free Company, leaving me spending many days and nights alone (Yeah, being an Australian on an American server didn’t help). So after a conversation with another player I met during a dungeon run, I was offered a spot in his Free Company, and I accepted.
This other Free Company was a lot more active, they had a discord server, and always had people online at all times. My time with this Free Company (though I cannot remember their name) was well spent, as I always had a group available to help when it came to going into dungeons and also getting gear, as many of the players were long-timers who actually leveled all their crafting professions (Something I didn’t do to this day) and were more than willing to give me high-quality gear as I leveled.
As much as I enjoyed my time on the Aether Data Center, playing on the Siren server (The same place fellow MMO player and Outerhaven writer Josh plays on), this was the time when the “Great Asmongold Invasion” happened. For those of you who don’t know, long time World of Warcraft streamer/Youtuber Asmongold decided to make the switch from World of Warcraft Classic: The Burning Crusade (Which he was playing since he was also disappointed with World of Warcraft: Shadowlands) to Final Fantasy XIV, and given the size of his audience, when he made his choice to join the Aether Data Center (Not sure what server he is on) they all decided to come onto the same Data Center and server, meaning the time to log in to the Data Center and any server jumped up into the hundreds, where it remains to this day. So it was time to take advantage of a free server transfer and move elsewhere… More on that later.
The next expansion sent me into the world of Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood, an Asian-inspired expansion.
As someone who loves the Japanese architectural style, I loved spending a lot of time in Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood‘s main cities: Hingashi and Kugane. These two areas are amazing sights to behold and seeing all the people dressed as either Samurai or just normal Japanese townfolk really makes you feel like you have ventured into another land completely. But it’s not just the graphics that have a Japanese spin to them, the whole story behind Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood has a very Japanese influence in it, mostly the Samurai films of the late 1970s/1980s. You’ll spend a lot of time with some wandering Ronin, who are looking for specific rivals or people who could redeem their honor. You still spend a lot of Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood fighting against the Empire, which joined by members of the Alliance that you’ve helped make during the previous events of Final Fantasy XIV Online, and a new group of rebels you meet along the way.
Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood really ramps the action up with a huge war between the Empire and the Alliance, as well as fighting the new Garlean Emperor Varis Zos Galvus and his son Zenos Yae Galvus. This also includes some solo or small group fights that see either yourself as the Warrior of Light or taking control of other characters to give things a bit more variety. Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood is one of those games where you can’t really talk about it without spoiling everything, so if you want to read all about the story, then you can find the Wikipedia entry or find a storyline video on Youtube if you want to know what happens.
Experience-wise for me in Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood, I kept to the main story quests, for the most part, only taking side quests when it was either job quests, or questlines I found would unlock other dungeons, raids, Trials, etc. This way I wouldn’t (hopefully) over level myself. By the end of Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood, I was actually under-leveled, sitting at level 67 with my Bard by the time I finished the 5.1 through 5.6 post-game content, leaving me to grind 3 days worth of full daily Roulettes in order to finish leveling my Bard to level 70. A bonus of this was that I capped Tomestones as well, allowing me to easily kit my Bard with item level 400 gear and weapons as soon as I hit level 70.
Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stromblood is where I hit my stride in playing Final Fantasy XIV Online overall, I found a lot of my time interacting with the community when I had the chance, as everyone is very welcoming and helpful. It’s where I joined a Free Company (see below) where I felt like, even as a new player, that I was helping people as well as getting help, so the feeling like I was a World of Warcraft refugee was long gone. I actually slowed down enough to enjoy the story and began to find the enjoyment in MMOs that I had over 15 years ago when I first started World of Warcraft, but without all the toxic bullshit that has developed since.
So… About that server transfer.
As I mentioned above, during the time of the “Great Asmongold Invasion” of the Aether Data Center, I took to opportunity to move servers and data centers. Leaving my home, and Free Company, behind me, I made the move over to the Crystal Data Center, and the Malboro server. It was here that I was instantly brought into a Free Company called Taro’s Shrimps, belonging to a streamer that I had started watching: Lily275.
I know what you’re thinking: I got suckered into the whole following a streamer thing, using my time and skills to do things that will only benefit her. Well, you’re sorta correct. Yes, we do spend some time helping her out with leveling jobs, grinding mounts, etc. But that’s what happens in a Free Company anyway. You will spend a lot of time helping a single person as when they get helped, it improves the Free Company in general. That is what makes Final Fantasy XIV Online great, nothing is really done for the individual, but for either the Free Company or the community in general. So while there have been times where Taros Shrimps have done things to help Lily out directly, Lily gives back to the Free Company, and the viewers of her Twitch streams by bringing them through daily Roulette runs or just helping them level, or playing Uber for those without flying.
Outside of moving servers and joining a streamer’s Free Company, I was able to do some more things for myself. Not only did I finish leveling my Bard to level 70, but also leveled my Paladin to level 70, kitting both characters out in full item level 400 gear, but also start on working a few other characters with level 1 jobs like a Thurmamage so I could understand how to play a Mage in general, but also looking into White Mage so I can heal, thus completing the DPS/Tank/Heal trilogy that’ll help later in Final Fantasy XIV Online. I also ground my way through a few different cross-over campaigns, like Monster Hunter, which saw me facing down a Rathlos and a Final Fantasy XV cross-over in which I was able to grind enough MGP (Currency from the Gold Saucer) to buy the Regalia, the car from the game. I also tried my hand at fashion glamour, where I change my gear to look like other items, mostly the Cloud gear from Final Fantasy VII Remake that comes from subscribing to the game for 30 days. Finally, I got to be a part of the Anniversary event for Final Fantasy XIV Online, which saw game director Naoki Yoshida (aka Yoshi P) appear in-game to thank you for allowing him to make his dream come true with the game and also for supporting the game as well, a moment that will live in my heart for a long time to come and made me respect the man a lot more than I did from the myths I’ve heard about him.
My time in both Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward and Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood was a lot shorter than Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, but overall I found it to be a lot more fulfilling, both in the gameplay sense and the community sense. Adjusting to the way Final Fantasy XIV Online requires me to play the game really showed me how to slow down and enjoy the story that Final Fantasy XIV Online wants to tell, as well as finding the right Free Company will have you wanting to come back to the game rather than feeling like it’s a chore to come onto the game and play. Now it’s time to head into Final Fantasy XIV Online: Shadowbringers, then it’ll finally be time to get into the finale with Final Fantasy XIV Online: Endwalker.
Review Disclosure Statement: Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward & Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood was provided to us by Double Jump & Square-Enix for review purposes. For more information on how we conduct and handle reviews here, please visit our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info. Thank you.
Final Fantasy XIV Online: Heavensward & Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood are prime examples of how you should follow up a great opening chapter in a multi-game game like Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn. The time spent with Final Fantasy XIV Online now feels like it is really getting somewhere instead of just one long introduction. While Final Fantasy XIV Online: Stormblood doesn’t quite balance the leveling experience with the story questline, everything comes together as an overall amazing experience leading into Final Fantasy XIV Online: Shadowbringers.
Nice, short stories that are filled with content
Getting into a good Free Company
Excellent cross-over content with fun rewards
Issues with the group finder are still annoying
Not enough leveling experience for other job leveling
Some solo instances are too overturned for the level/gear available.