The story of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood takes our heroes to the faraway lands of Ala Mhigo, oppressed and occupied by the Garlean Empire for 20 years. We join the Resistance in their efforts for liberation, though not all the people of Ala Mhigo see eye to eye. The older generation longs for their days of freedom. The newer generation has grown up under Garlean rule and knows nothing else. There is a disparity in perspective between the old and the new that changes their mutual experience.
This same disparity exists between veteran Final Fantasy XIV players and new ones. And it’s a gulf that Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida plans to bridge.
Yes, Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is the second major expansion to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. But unlike the first expansion, Heavensward, which pulled our heroes into European high fantasy and an ancient war, Stormblood is a new beginning in both story and design. The result is a more approachable, more visual Final Fantasy XIV — one that aims to bring the community closer together, and welcome newcomers who have yet to see some of the best the franchise has to offer.
Let’s be realistic: not everyone interested in Final Fantasy XIV has several hundred hours to spare to play through the staggering amount of content in A Realm Reborn and Heavensward. That’s why the new Tales of Adventure items exist. These optional items can be purchased to skip forward in the story, or boost a single class up to level 60 (the new cap is 70). Currently, only one job can be boosted per account, but this goes a long way in bringing new heroes into the fold.
Yoshida describes the thinking behind these items with a metaphor. Final Fantasy XIV is a mountain. Veteran players have been slowly climbing this mountain for the past several years at their own pace, stopping now and then to enjoy the view. They may not feel like they’ve come far because they only climb a few steps at a time.
But for new players starting at the base of the mountain, it can be overwhelming to see how far everyone else has risen. These items are designed to lift those players up to meet the rest of us — not push them past the devoted longtimers and beat them to the summit.
The second fundamental change to the formula is the introduction of Job Gauges. Now, every battle class has its own unique gauge that tracks important information with colorful aplomb. Players will spend less time squinting over rows of small icons and timers, and more time focused on the flow of the battle, with critical job-specific info displayed across jeweled lights, mechanized meters, and blossoming flower petals. The change is small, but the result is colossal. It feels more like a Final Fantasy and less like a spreadsheet (no disrespect to players who pore over spreadsheets — I admire you dearly).
Yoshida and his team have also made great strides in streamlining the skills our heroes learn over time, collapsing redundant skills together, enabling our hotbars to update automatically given specific leveling requirements, and reworking cross-class skills altogether.
Now different roles (like tank, healer, and damage per second classes) share a pool of unlockable skills. No longer must a player level multiple classes to fully empower the single job of their choice. Stick with one, and sail it clear into the endgame.
These kinds of refinements also significantly streamline the flow of combat for DualShock 4 users, providing them with even more room to customize and tweak their preferred setup.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood is exactly the kind of step forward you want to see from a long-running MMO. It embraces its strengths while abandoning traditions that no longer serve the player. With a new Garlean threat to face, new lands inspired by classical Japanese art and architecture, and even a full swimming/diving system to enhance exploration, Stormblood is an exhilarating next step for Final Fantasy XIV.
You can take it with me when it launches on June 20, 2017.
All content previewed during the Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood media event is under development and subject to change.