The real standout, though, is the new raid, Omega. Only the first part is available, but that’s enough for me to say that this is the best raid I’ve ever seen in an MMO. The whole thing is based on Final Fantasy V’s final dungeon, and pits you against bosses in some truly spectacular fights. Do you remember those old movement puzzles you’d often see in tile-based RPGs, where you have to navigate a maze of arrows that send you flying off in a direction until you either hit a wall or another arrow? That’s a mechanic in one of the fights here, all because the boss gets bored and uses it to distract you while she has a cup of tea. Another fight has you using a questionable piece of magitek to levitate and avoid various ground-based attacks, though poor timing will see you taking big damage from gravity-based ones.
The story tying this all together is ridiculous, but in the best possible way. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that it had me laughing almost constantly, only stopping due to being awed by the environments and the fights themselves, and taken in by the cuteness of a new chocobo companion. If past raids are any indication, there’ll be two more parts to Omega, and I can’t wait to see what surprises they have in store.
The good news is that, in keeping with Final Fantasy XIV’s approach to endgame content, you don’t need to be a hardcore, elite player to enjoy Omega. Like the Coil of Bahamut in A Realm Reborn and Alexander in Heavensward, the raid is broken down into individual encounters that can be queued for separately, and each take only 10 or 15 minutes each, depending on how well your group does. They’re not particularly hard fights, either, and don’t require high-end gear, so most players should be able to at least experience what Omega has to offer. For those wanting the challenge of a hardcore raiding experience, the Savage version will offer that.
For many, the big attraction in Stormblood will be the two new jobs, Samurai and Red Mage. They’re both a lot of fun to play – I’d say they’re most exciting damage dealer jobs in the game – and they put out ridiculous amounts of damage. In fact there are some concerns that they’re somewhat overpowered in their current state, especially when Red Mage also brings a lot of group utility in the form of MP/TP regeneration and Raise. They’ll probably be toned down a bit in the coming months, but I don’t think that’ll stop them being as much fun as they are.
I am still a bit upset that there aren’t any new tank or healer jobs, though. This would have been a great time to find a way to introduce true hybrid classes, so that you could, for instance, play a Red Mage as either a damage dealer or a healer. There’s already an imbalance in the number of people playing each role – as indicated by the lengthy dungeon queue times for damage classes – and having both new classes be attackers only makes things worse.
Stormblood also brings a change to the way cross-class skills work. Previously, jobs could use a limited selection of abilities from other jobs, but this required levelling those other jobs. That could be a pain, especially for skills not acquired until a high level and those that are deemed almost mandatory – like having Swiftcast as a healer for instant raises and emergency heals. That system has been replaced by Role Actions, which work in largely the same fashion but don’t require the levelling of other jobs. Basically, each role (tank, healer, melee damage, physical ranged damage, and magic damage) has a suite of abilities that are shared across jobs, and you can choose a handful of those to equip on your character. In most cases, you don’t have enough Role Action slots to use all available actions, so you have to be selective about which one you pick.
I do feel like White Mage got the short end of the stick here, since almost all Healer Role Actions have been repurposed from White Mage abilities so it doesn’t really feel like we’ve gained anything new. But for every other job, there’s a lot of good stuff.
If there’s one thing that’s disappointed me in my time with Stormblood, it’s swimming. The fact that you’d be able to swim was a big selling point all through the lead up to launch, but it doesn’t actually have much of a presence in the game. There’s only one area that makes any use of it, and while it’s novel being able to visit underwater locations, there are very few of them – two settlements and two small caves, all in one zone. None of the new dungeons or boss fights make use of it, which seems like a huge missed opportunity, and aside from a few quests here and there, there’s very little reason to go under the water.
Aside from that, Stormblood is a fantastic expansion. It doesn’t make massive changes, but instead just tweaks a very successful formula and expands on it with a swathe of new content to explore. One of the most impressive things about Final Fantasy XIV is the way it breaks down the casual/hardcore dichotomy, and Stormblood doubles down on that with a wider variety of endgame content for players of all persuasions. A few stumbles aside, the story it tells is great and decidedly Final Fantasy-esque, and takes players through some of the best locations, dungeons, and encounters that this game has seen yet. This is still the best MMORPG on the market, and I’d encourage anyone who’s on the fence to dive in.
Matt received a digital copy of FInal Fantasy XIV: Stormblood from Square Enix for review.