Final Fantasy 14 is consistent. That may be an odd way to describe an MMO given the tumultuous stigma of the genre, and doubly so considering the game’s travesty of a launch in 2010, but nothing captures what Final Fantasy 14 has accomplished with its A Realm Reborn re-release and now two expansions better than consistency.
Square Enix manages month to month, patch to patch, to manage player expectations and then deliver on or above them. The Stormblood expansion, now more than a month past its launch on both PC and PlayStation 4, is no exception. Stormblood is rich with the high-quality content fans have enjoyed across the ten major content patches and Heavensward expansion pushed out since the MMO’s relaunch.
Stormblood delivers players away from the chilly city-state of Ishgard and into the throes of two different regions’ revolutions – Ala Mhigo and Doma. Therein lie two new playable classes, the Red Mage and Samurai, two new Primals, eight dungeons, and Square Enix’s most compelling storytelling yet. Broader changes to the game itself have also been made, reworking the battle system and making improvements to each job, and as expected from an MMO expansion these core feature additions only scratch the surface of what Stormblood adds to Final Fantasy 14.
Story remains the lifeblood of Final Fantasy 14 in the Stormblood expansion. The Ala Mhigan revolution has remained on the periphery of the campaign since the MMO’s beginning, with Doma’s occupation by the Empire growing in prominence since the Au Ra Yugiri led a group of refugees to Eorzea. Stormblood drives the Warrior of Light headfirst into both conflicts after a battle between the ancient Omega Weapon and a new terrible primal threatens to upend the stalemate between Garlemald and Eorzea. It’s a thrilling conflict that ties together the entirety of Final Fantasy 14‘s story up to this point.
Yet the star of Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood is without a doubt its main villain, Imperial Viceroy Zenos yae Galvus. The Final Fantasy franchise has a pantheon of awesome villains, from Sephiroth to Kefka, and Zenos deserves a place of honor among them. Zenos’ endless hunt and his willingness to cut away weakness even from the Empire drives the Warrior of Light forward and turns Zenos into the player’s most daunting foe. The encounters featuring Zenos slowly approaching the Warrior of Light, a constant, looming juggernaut of obscene power, are some of Stormblood‘s most memorable moments.
Apart from Zenos, new characters including Hien, Yotsuyu, Fordola, Condrad, and the tribes of the Steppes truly bring Stormblood‘s settings to life. Certain main cast members are not quite so compelling, but the supporting cast more than makes up for it.
Perhaps most exciting, Stormblood, unlike Heavensward, wraps up its main storylines well. There’s no cliff-hanger conclusion to be found months into the future. Stormblood ensures that future of Final Fantasy 14 is mysterious, a welcome and exhilarating surprise.
Square Enix invested heavily in revamping Final Fantasy 14‘s battle system for Stormblood, but in practice it should be familiar enough to any returning players. The reworks do away with some needless complication, like cross-class abilities, and target both balance and job individuality. For the most part, Square Enix delivered on its priorities handily, though certain jobs have admittedly struggled with overly harsh nerfs. But the majority of jobs in Stormblood stand tall, distinct in visuals and style if not mechanics.
Not coincidentally the two jobs that best represent Square Enix’s aspirations with the job changes are the two new additions, Red Mage and Samurai. Each job’s actions flow into others in unique ways, the Samurai using high-power katana combinations, and the Red Mage mixing black and white magics with melee attacks. Both jobs feel fast and exciting to play, but just as importantly look incredible in motion. The Final Fantasy fantasy is real.
The understated highlight of Final Fantasy 14 remains the ability to swap between classes and jobs on a single character. While leveling each individually is still a headache in Stormblood, that accessibility of being able to switch at the click of a button remains one of the MMOs most compelling features, and leveling them is wholly worth it. Completing each job’s unique quests fills in a slice of story within the world that would otherwise have never been noticed – and that includes the crafting classes, too. While Stormblood doesn’t feature many unique quests per job, they’re some of the best non-campaign stories in the game.
If there’s criticism to be made regarding Stormblood it starts with the lack of risks taken. Most all of Stormblood‘s achievements come upon the well-trodden path that Heavensward wrought before it. Story, dungeons, Primals, Tomestones, raid, Savage difficulty, it’s all mirrored in structure from start to end-game. Stormblood, despite its level of quality, has difficulty standing apart.
Stormblood‘s caution contributes to an even bigger problem, growing more significant with each expansion: Stormblood is a challenge for returning players and outright unwelcome to new players. The constant release of new patches means dozens of hours of back-content to churn through before arriving at Stormblood‘s beginning. For players that are trying to get their friends to join them, it’s an obstacle many won’t be willing to cross. Square Enix did start offering microtransactions to skip content and leveling in Stormblood, but that seems an unfair cost to expect from players.
These criticisms, while wholly valid, are negligible beyond circumstantial frustrations. The MMO remains worth experiencing, story and all, from level 1 through the expansions even for new players, and the lack of risks is ignorable so long as the content on-hand remains exceptional. However, these issues will continue to compound with each new risk-averse patch and expansion release. No one’s expecting another Calamity, but with such a talented team working on Final Fantasy 14 there must be some refreshing new ideas to be found.
With the release of the Stormblood expansion, Final Fantasy 14 remains one of the best MMOs on the market, and oddly enough it’s an MMO whose most compelling asset is a huge, dramatic story campaign that’s largely single-player. If all you did after purchasing Stormblood and resubscribing was play through the campaign and then unsubscribe, it would be well worth the endeavor. The stories of Lyse and Ala Mhigo, of Hien and Doma, and most of all of Zenos yae Galvus, are each incredibly compelling.
Beyond the story, there’s so much more exciting content to be found. Square Enix fills Stormblood with beautiful settings to explore and intriguing characters to meet. Kugane, one of the two new social hubs in Stormblood, may be the most visually impressive MMO city yet realized. Square Enix puts such wonderful detail into every facet of Final Fantasy 14 and each expansion seems that much better than what came before, and that’s not even delving into the social atmosphere of the MMO, which is overtly friendly and constantly entertaining.
Do yourself a favor and lose yourself in the world of Hydaelyn for a good month at the very least. You won’t regret it.
Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PC copy of Stormblood for this review.