Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward PC Review: Onward and Upward

Square Enix delivers one of the best MMO expansions ever.

Review by Mike Williams, .

Let's get this out of the way upfront: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is a class act of an expansion.

You may be wondering why this review is coming in August, when the expansion itself came out at the end of June. I was previously playing Heavensward on my old PC that hadn't been updated since 2008. That's good enough for some PC titles, but Final Fantasy XIV is bar none, the best-looking MMO in operation today. The characters are smooth and detailed, the armor is great, the spell effects are amazing, and the level design is still some of the best in the business. Around halfway through my playtime with the expansion, I decided that Heavensward deserved a new rig. I needed to see it at full bloom.

Square Enix did not disappoint. When you're cruising above certain areas in Heavensward's new regions, having a PC that can show you everything as the developer intended is worth every penny. From the opening look at Ishgard to the Churning Mists or the Sea of Clouds, Heavensward outdoes A Realm Reborn visually, mostly by expanding upward.

Of course, before you can get to all this new content, Square Enix wants to make sure that you're prepared. If you started A Realm Reborn, but missed some of the later patches, I have bad news for you: you need to finish the game's primary storyline up to the patch prior to Heavensward (patch 2.5) to even see the new content. Yeah, you can't even go sightseeing if you're not up-to-date. That may seem unfair to others who are used to being able to tour new areas in other MMOs, but here it makes sense.

Like Blizzard has been doing in some of WoW's latter expansions, Final Fantasy XIV is heavy on the plot. Unlike WoW though, you're not the main focus of that plot. Instead, FFXIV has a whole host of major players for you to occasionally interact with and it's through these characters that the story is experienced. By the end of A Realm Reborn's cycle, a few major cast members and organizations bit the big one, leaving the player without a support structure in the expansion's new lands.

Where do you want to go today?

The shift in region also allows Square Enix to throw the motivations and status quo of the main cast members into some disarray. I feel like they're more active in Heavensward, especially within the backdrop of Ishgard's ongoing war. The main story is still well-told and interesting, and the character voice acting is of good quality (though no one ever wonders why you don't speak).

I also want to call attention to some of the side quests. Many of them are throwaway like every other MMO, but there are the occasional few with a great sense of humor about them. I don't know if that's primarily through Square Enix' Japanese writers or their English localization counterparts, but I appreciate a game that's willing to make me laugh every now and then. It breaks up all the fantasy seriousness.

Heavensward is an expansion, so that means new features outside of a few brand-new stomping grounds. The biggest new feature is flying mounts and flight in general. In true nFinal Fantasy XIV fashion, you can't just pick up a flying mount and take off to the skies. You have to earn it, my friend. Each region has wind currents that you have to attune to in order to fly within that area. Some you can simply find by exploring, while others are locked behind certain content. This means you've usually explored an area before you get the chance to soar over it.

This gives you the added benefit of actually appreciating each region; Blizzard has lamented in the past that flying actually diminishes some of the impact of ground-based level design. In WoW, they tend to lock flying behind a skill you can only acquire late in the expansion, going so far as to leave flying out of most of the recent Warlords of Draenor. Square Enix' implementation is a bit more elegant for future expansion purposes, as wind currents can theoretically extend forward to any new areas. Even beyond that, there's still new spots out there to explore once you've taken to the skies on your Chocobo. I do wish there was more of an indication of which quests require flying ability though. They're not plentiful, but later in the expansion it becomes a bigger problem.

Next up are the three new jobs: Dark Knight, Machinist, and Astrologian. Each new job fits into one of the three major MMO roles and all three lack base classes, so they begin at level 30. The Dark Knight is the new tank class, splitting the difference between the Warrior's damage dealing and the Paladin's mitigation. The Astrologian is a healing class focused around a floating star globe with various cards allowing them to heal or deal damage. Finally, the Machinist is patterned off of FFXIV's version of Cid; the class wields magitek handguns as a damage dealer with additional support abilities in the form of mechanical turrets. I had the most fun with the Machinist, which is surprising considering my preference for heavy armor tank classes.

On the road to the new level cap of 60, you'll also be getting new abilities for the previous classes. They've also undergone a few balance and ability changes, with my personal favorite, the Paladin, picking up some additional moves to make it a bit more exciting. (The job was a bit boring before, but I feel like Square Enix has finally gotten it to a solid place.) There's also the new Level 3 Limit Breaks, upping the "holy crap, that looks awesome" quotient for certain classes, like Summoners.

The Astrologian can't tell your future. Don't ask.

Leveling up the new classes does highlight one of the issues that persists in Final Fantasy XIV: there are still leveling ranges that feel like they have content holes, where the quests just dry up. FFXIV's answer to these holes has always been leve, FATE, and dungeon grinding. These are valid sources of content, but they feel secondary to the main and side quests that exist in the game. It feels like the game is saying, "Go do these things until you've reach X level." That's nitpicking, but it's something that popped its ugly head up from time to time.

Final Fantasy XIV's overall job/class system remains one of the most elegant class systems in an MMO. Instead of pushing you towards a number of alts, FFXIV goes in the opposite direction. You'll usually have a single character who you've tirelessly leveled in every job and class. You certainly don't need to max out everything, but if you want to, you can do so on the same character. I appreciate that instead of having 5-8 different characters to experience everything and the addition of the three jobs showing how this system can expand in the future. There is a new race, the reptilian Au Ra, but you don't have to roll a new character unless they really tickle your fancy.

The main story is estimated at 40-50 hours by Square Enix and I can't tell you if that's correct or not. I tend to be more of a wandering completist when I play MMOs, instead of aiming straight for the critical path. Once you've finished the main plot though - which has rather a open end - there's still new dungeons (nope, you still can't speedrun them), new Primal fights with Bismarck and Ravana (with hard-mode versions!), and the new raid dungeon Alexander. The Hunt system has been expanded to give you more to do while questing and the crafting jobs now have their little endgame, though I admit there could be more to it. Groups of crafters can work together to build an airship, but you're not really connected in any real way; unlike a dungeon or raid group, you never really feel like you're working together.

I see you, Rav.

Regardless, this is only the beginning of Heavensward. As of this writing, we're up to patch 3.05, introducing the Savage version of the opening Alexander raid wing, new items, red crafters/gatherers' scrips for high-level items, and other balance changes. Like any MMO, Heavensward is constantly evolving, this review is just covering the current state of the game.

All told, Heavensward is probably the best MMO expansion I've played since World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. It plays the same card BC did, adding flying to expand its existing environment upward. It retains that same feeling of new exploration and wonder. Unlike World of Warcraft, there's no need to reach out to everyone, so there's still a sense of having to work hard and earn even basic progress. It's still impressive that we even got to this point, because an MMO relaunch of A Realm Reborn's scope is unheard of. Yoshida and his team stuck that first landing and now they've doubled down and made that world even better with Heavensward.

I always feel like a review can rarely encompass everything that comes with an MMO, but like I said before: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is a class act of an expansion. If you're into MMOs of FFXIV in particular, it's worth your time and money.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Am I a Fashionista?: The swing in armor designs are you level goes from awesome to ridiculous. Be prepared.
  • Lasting appeal: It's an MMO folks. You'll be playing this for a very long time.
  • Sound: The boss fights in this game feature some great tunes. Masayoshi Soken is doing a great job.
  • Visuals: Goddamn, Heavensward looks amazing.

Final Fantasy XIV evolves with Heavensward, an expansion that takes A Realm Reborn upwards on the wings of a Chocobo. In addition to flying, players get an all-new storyline, new Primals, a brand-new raid dungeon, and three new jobs to level up. FFXIV still retains a few annoying issues here and there, but Heavensward is one of the best MMO expansions I've played.

4.5 /5

Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward PC Review: Onward and Upward Mike Williams Square Enix delivers one of the best MMO expansions ever. 2015-08-14T23:00:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 8

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  • Avatar for christopherhughes97 #1 christopherhughes97 3 years ago
    This is actually still helpful for me, I'm just hitting level 47 on my first class. Good to hear that the expansion is good.Edited August 2015 by christopherhughes97
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #2 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    I got to raiding Alexander and I am about ilvl 185 now. It was a lot of fun but I got a little burnt out. Going to stop for the time being till the next content patch but I have to say FF XIV is definitely the best MMO I have ever played. It also looks ridiculously gorgeous on my 1440p monitor.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #3 Kadrom 3 years ago
    To answer your question about the humor--it all comes from the localization. The head of the localization team, Koji Fox (who also does the lyrics for the songs in the game and is a pretty fun guy) has talked at the fanfests about how the Japanese flavor text for the quests is often totally dry and he injects all the puns, pop culture references, and dick jokes into them.

    I love FFXIV--I played FFXI from 2004 til like 2010 and was very sad when the original XIV turned out to be so awful (even by an FFXI player's standards). The turnaround that Naoki Yoshida has accomplished is nothing short of a miracle.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #4 touchofkiel 3 years ago
    I was a hardcore FCOB raider before the expansion, but I took a break sometime in May, avoiding the massive rush and crowds of the new content. Glad I did - I feel like I can really take my time with everything, no rush or pressure. 3.0 is impressive so far, but just to reiterate - you need to do ALL the 2.X content, and that includes all the stuff in 2.55 as well.

    For newer players, adding up all the content patches - 2.1-2.55 - is basically a full expansion in and of itself. Something like 15 dungeons, lots of primals (with 2 difficulties), hardcore raids, 24-player raids, and a hell of a lot of quests. And that, folks, is why a sub fee is 100% worth it.
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  • Avatar for christopherhughes97 #5 christopherhughes97 3 years ago
    @Kadrom Ah, I was in Southern Thanalan the other day and wondering whether there were a few major Dune fans on the dev staff or if it was a localization thing.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #6 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    Looks really incredible - probably a good idea to upgrade your rig! The astrologian looks really cool too.
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  • Avatar for whr10022 #7 whr10022 3 years ago
    Deleted August 2015 by whr10022
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  • Avatar for mariathomas81 #8 mariathomas81 3 years ago
    Deleted August 2015 by mariathomas81
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #9 KaiserWarrior 3 years ago
    I've been playing MMOs for a long, long time... and after I fell out of love with WoW around the end of Wrath of the Lich King, I thought I'd never play another one like that again.

    But, well, here I am. Two years later, still paying Square Enix my monthly sub fee, and not regretting even a second of it.

    XIV is the best MMO since WoW, hands-down. I certainly enjoy it far more than current-day WoW, though I still feel in some ways that WoW at its height (Burning Crusade ~ Wrath of the Lich King) was better. But the Heavensward expansion has definitely given me some serious deja-vu for Burning Crusade.

    The flying mounts. The new areas that are in some respects rather similar (Churning Mists bears more than a passing resemblance to Netherstorm, especially during the aetherstorm weather; Dravanian Forelands could almost pass for Terokkar Forest in a few places). The updates to classes that make them much deeper and more interesting (Seriously though, I'm so happy that WAR has finally come into its own as "the DPS tank").

    At the same time, it's got a style all its own. I was really impressed with how well Yoshi-P and his crew pulled off the very sombre, reflective tone of the expansion's story thus far. It helps of course that I changed up to Au Ra once the option was available, and the story for 3.0 is largely about dragons -- it all just feels so appropriate, even though nothing in the game directly links Ishgard's dragons and the Au Ra as a race.

    And all of the new content is just plain fun! The new primals (including an amazing bit of fanservice for the one that hasn't been named thus far) all have interesting mechanics and amazing music; I really, REALLY enjoy the fact that Ravana is basically just a really big dance and his theme for phase 1 is essentially a waltz to go along with that.

    I haven't had this much fun with an MMO expansion since The Burning Crusade, and in so many of the best ways XIV is making me feel like early WoW did all over again. An incredible feat given where they were when they launched 1.0.
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  • Avatar for gbeans #10 gbeans 3 years ago
    I've enjoyed Heavensward so far, but it's striking how different jobs are Pre-50 and 51+. I would expect some differences, of course, but some jobs (such as Black Mage) are turned on their heads in terms of maintaining a rotation and their abilities. It's striking how a Black Mage can be buzzing along and then be like, "Welp, lost my buffs, back to 50 rotation for 90 seconds."

    Other jobs have been augmented in such a way that doing pre-50 activities makes me cry because of the neat abilities that are locked off. Warrior was already mentioned. Monk gained more flexibility in their damage and a way to offload their Greased Lightning stacks rather than simply lose them. Ninja can better maintain their Huton buff without having to recast constantly. There are lots of little nuggets like that for nearly every job.

    Personally, I've found the direction that crafting went with Heavensward to be a bit off-putting. At one point, the stated goal was to make it more accessible (which it is by better gear being available early and at low cost), but the devil is in the details with advancement beyond middling crafter being teeth-gratingly annoying. For a game that encourages putting everything on a single character, it's baffling that they've limited master crafting (3 of 8 max) and gathering (1 of 3). To add salt to the wound is how the 'artifact' gear -- the gear sets that are job specific and make you *look* like your job -- are gated behind the Red Script system and it will take around 2 years to equip all jobs. I'm certain something even better will come down the pike sooner than that, so it feels like the system is already in a self defeating pattern of 'wait it out'.

    Mike is correct about the crafting room / airships; a single or small team of crafters can do it all themselves, but that's more a player choice than a consequence of the system. In my guild, folks are pretty active in contributing finished products or gathering materials. One person is in charge much like a Foreman keeping a project on track, but a lot of workers contribute to the overall success. My biggest gripe with the system is the lack of available housing for newer formed guilds. You can't enjoy that team building exercise if you don't have a guild house. It's a long-standing issue and hopefully more housing is added (in greater quantities) sooner than later.

    This all might sound more negative than I intended, but there are always wrinkles hiding under the new expansion shine. I'm hopeful since FFXIV's dev team has been pretty receptive to feedback and forward thinking in ironing out issues. That's a hope I've rarely held with other MMOs.
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