It seems that everyone is more than happy to tell you about the near miraculous turnaround of Bungie’s, Destiny; from its ho-hum release through to its game changing expansions, Destiny does indeed deliver a much more impressive experience than it did at launch, but while I’m not trying to underplay the success of Destiny’s post-launch transformation, its successful evolution pales in comparison to what has to rank as one of the greatest comebacks of all time; namely, Final Fantasy XIV Online.
After an all but disastrous launch way back in 2010 in which the game was rightly savaged by critics and the public alike for its terrible interface, mediocre gameplay and horrendous collection of near game breaking bugs, Square Enix have since turned around the games’ fortunes to such an extent that it would now (especially on the back of the latest Stormblood expansion), be considered amongst the finest MMORPGs of all time. That might sound like hyperbole, but since the incredibly successful re-launch via the aptly named, ‘A Realm Reborn’ (an all but new game complete with new systems and an entirely new engine), Final Fantasy XIV Online has gone from strength to strength, culminating in the latest, and arguably most enjoyable expansion yet, Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood.
The thing is, while the Stormblood expansion and it’s fantastic new job roles, underwater exploration, Asian-inspired lands and compelling narrative is an absolute no-brainer for pre-existing fans, as part of a ‘Complete Edition’ aimed at what one would assume are those new to Final Fantasy XIV’s increasingly fantastic but invariably, increasingly complex world, it is an admittedly tougher sell. For a start, as great as Stormblood’s content is (and it really is great), if you want to skip right to the level 60 required to take on the Samurai or Red Mage roles, you’re going to have to cough up the cash. If not, well, I’ll see you in Ala Mhigo in what, a few months? The fact of the matter is, if you’re new to the online world of Final Fantasy XIV, this Complete Edition delivers an almost bewildering level of content. It’s all good stuff, but yeah, these kinds of games aren’t exactly the easiest to get into.
Saying that, if you’ve ever been interested in MMORPGs, now is the time to take the plunge and Final Fantasy XIV Online: The Complete Edition is the way to do it. Despite the engine being quite a few years old at this point, FFXIV stills feels like a decidedly modern-day experience, and after years of polish, updates and refinements, you’ll be entering a world devoid of the bugs that often plague games of this ilk for months (if not longer) after their initial release.
The base game remains, while initially overwhelming, a compelling, addictive and carefully structured MMORPG. The story isn’t the greatest of all time, but as is the case with the finest games in the genre, the best stories are invariably those that you make yourself, and with a world as rich as that of, Hydaelyn, there is no shortage of opportunity when it comes to Final Fantasy XIV.
The same is true of the first major expansion, Heavensward which not only includes an absolute mountain of additional content, but also raises the level cap to 60. Of course, like the main game, reaching the level cap is far from the end of the experience with the maximum level cap once again coming with the challenge of hunting down the new, rare and powerful equipment scattered across the previously locked, Ishgard area. With arguably a superior story to that of the core game, additional job classes and a host of new raids, dungeons and PvP modes, Heavensward is basically a game unto itself….and a very good one at that.
That brings us to the latest and probably the most successful interpretation of the formula to date – Stormblood, with its fantastic new character classes and utterly compelling world is undoubtedly Final Fantasy XIV at its best. Beyond the gameplay receiving additional refinements via the aforementioned underwater exploration, the standard level increase (up to 70 at this point) and the inclusion of two fantastic new classes, the major difference here is in the quality of its storytelling. The narrative throughout Final Fantasy XIV is solid enough, but Stormblood is the first time that it has proved genuinely compelling.
While the fantastically gorgeous CG cut-scenes certainly help, it’s the tone of the story that really makes all the difference here; this is emotional, often hard-hitting stuff – exactly the kind of things you don’t expect from the often cookie-cutter world of MMORPGs. Set in the new Asian-inspired lands of, Ala Mhigo which, despite being referenced way back in the original iteration of the game, has never actually ben playable until now, Stormblood tells a compelling yarn tied to an array of visually impressive and artistically imaginative locations. Needless to say, access to this new area has been worth the wait.
With its fantastic narrative combined with some of the finest quests in the series to date and an array of brilliant dungeons to assist in all of your levelling needs, Stormblood represents the amazing journey of a once reviled video game from commercial and critical disaster to arguably the very head of the genre. Whether that is true will be at least party down to personal taste, but when playing the new Stormblood content, it’s hard to argue with the consistent quality and the assuredness with which the series now carries itself.
It’s not all perfect of course – the underwater sections feel somewhat tacked on thanks to a lack of unique abilities or combat options, there is still the issue of having to grind your way (or pay your way) towards the newer content, and yes, the side-missions are still a bit pants and are devoid of the kind of rewards that their effort require of you, but despite these problems, Stormblood remains a fantastic experience for those willing to commit and a brilliant addition to the larger Final Fantasy XIV Online universe.
Final Fantasy XIV Online can be a rather overwhelming experience at first (especially if the Complete Edition represents your first foray into its grand world), but push past that initially steep learning curve and you will be treated to one of the finest MMORPGs around and a great Final Fantasy game in its own right. The new Stormblood content is the best so far, and while it does take a lot of effort to get to (level 60 doesn’t come easy), the payoff is certainly worth the effort. With Final Fantasy XIV’s exceptional gameplay now married to a genuinely compelling story, Square Enix have completely overturned the games’ horrendous launch to deliver what is now a genre defining experience. It might well scale even higher heights in the future, but at this point, Final Fantasy XIV Online has nothing left to prove.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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