If you play Final Fantasy XIV anything like me—a few hours every week or two—the promise of even more content seems preposterous. In typical MMO fashion, the world of Eorzea offers no shortage of things to do—and, luckily, most of them are pretty fun.
That said, the upcoming Heavensward expansion doesn't seem to be made entirely with my play style in mind. Coming roughly 18 months after A Realm Reborn's Initial launch, this bundle of content feels engineered primarily towards hardcore FFXIV players. While the three new classes—Dark Knight (a tank), Astrologian (a healer), and Machinist (a ranged fighter)—begin their paths at level one, just as you'd expect, the boost in level cap from 50 to 60, and other features, like a hard mode for high-level players, indicate Heavensward should appeal to those who've burned through FFXIV's overabundance of content and simply want more. But, for director Naoki Yoshida, this first expansion is just the beginning of his game's true evolution.
"With Heavensward, we wanted to focus on evolving and incorporating something that's more unique to Final Fantasy XIV, or perhaps, introducing something that's never been done before," says Yoshida. "Beyond [Heavensward], in what we call the 'Patch 3.X Series,' the different updates that we will be implementing into the expansion... we want to accomplish the goals that we have to evolve the game as well as incorporate unique and new elements into FFXIV. So we want to accomplish that throughout the whole 3.X Series, and we definitely want to bring a new kind of excitement from what was offered in A Realm Reborn. And so, with the launch of Heavensward, it's building that foundation of where we're going to start our evolution—like a launch pad."
A brief presentation before our interview detailed the work that went into many of Heavensward's additions. While in increase in level cap merited new quests and abilities for each of FFXIV's existing classes, Yoshida's team put their greatest efforts into the three new jobs available in Heavensward, which required a significant amount of planning. According to Square-Enix, developing a single job requires a year's worth of work (in terms of man-hours), so creating three for Heavensward—along with their attendant animations, equipment, quests and cut scenes—stood as a massive undertaking. Even so, Yoshida and his team made a serious effort to have these jobs feel distinct, as he explains:
"What's most important to the dev team and myself is making sure each job has a unique gameplay experience, even if they serve similar roles. For example, the Paladin, which is in the tank role... In a battle situation, the Paladin shines in aggroing one powerful enemy, and its abilities are very much focused on defense. So you're able to go into battle and attract that one powerful enemy with someone who has an iron wall of defense which makes it very hard to die. Another job that's within the tank role is the Warrior, but it's better at AOE and gathering an entire range of enemies, and has a higher DPS than the Paladin. So depending on what your play style is, you can choose your actions—whether you want to lean towards DPS or defense.
"This third job within the tank role, The Dark Knight, will feature its own specific mechanic that makes its function unique. The Dark Knight uses the power of darkness—sort of like magic—and that new mechanic is introduced for that job. It'll be a totally different kind of experience—even though it's within a similar category."
The other major addition to Heavensward comes in the form of an entirely new race, the AuRa. These lizard-like demi-humans aren't strikingly different than FFXIV's cat people (The Miq'ote)—at least in terms of appearance—but the Au'Ra still serve as a major addition to the world of Eorzea.
"By adding a new race, you not only have to come up with new content, but also apply changes to the gear that existed for the previous iteration of the game," says Yoshida. "It's a very complicated task to introduce a new race when a game is already established. But, we feel that Heavensward's launch is a good time to create this new race because it's still early [for FFXIV]. We wanted to introduce it early in the process."
Though we haven't even reached the two-year anniversary of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, talking to Yoshida gives you the sense that he's looking for his game to have the same longevity as something like World of Warcraft—even if no other MMO could possibly attain its massive user base. That's okay, though, because A Realm Reborn is still going strong; most subscription-based MMORPGs generally find themselves knocked down to free-to-play experiences within their first few years, but Final Fantasy XIV still feels like a premium experience. And with a visionary like Yoshida at the helm—a guy who seems sincerely passionate about his work—it'll be interesting to see just where it goes next.