If my /playtime is to be believed, I’ve played a lot of Final Fantasy XIV. A lot. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a cheap way to be sociable for me, it’s a way for my wife and I to spend some time together, to have something in common to talk about. When the expansion got announced it was at an opportune time, as we had cleared all the story content, our crafters and gatherers had done almost everything, and we were just mopping up optional content. We were ready to get a wriggle on to a new area.

Stormblood is based around the liberation of Ala Mhigo. The Garleans have had Ala Mhigo under their control for years and years, forcing the people into either servitude or to flee into Eorzea. I wrote an article about how I wasn’t really insanely excited for this story beat, but after playing it I will admit that I was wrong, and this totally plays out wonderfully. The story is a lot tighter and more interesting than it was previously, and the ending is absolutely awesome, if not more than a little emotional.

I could write a billion words on Stormblood, but I’m going to try and keep this to as close as 800 words as I can. The zones in Gyr Abania and Othard reek of persecution and a toll on their peoples. The first area you step into, The Fringes, is covered with the scars of battle, is covered with aggressive fortifications and monsters. This continues the more you go through the zones. In fact, most zones are split clean in two, with you being unable to access them until further through the game. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Ruby Sea and Yanxia zones, both of which I find incredibly relaxing. Yanxia especially feels like a very rural Japanese village, complete with light shamisen music in the background. It’s honestly incredibly serene, if you can ignore the horrible oppression.

The entire battle system has been reworked to combat skill bloat. Skills that get newer versions, such as Ruin to Ruin 2 have all been rolled into one, which in turn has completely decimated my hotbars, but it streamlines things amazingly when you’re running synched content. Swings and roundabouts. Cross-class skills have been replaced with role skills, so people can get all their relevant skills by levelling a single job, instead of having to level two others, which caused slowing down of progress or worse, those skills being completely skipped. Players don’t have to level a second class to unlock their job anymore either, which is absolutely awesome.

One of the new additions is swimming, but I can’t see a real great use for it. Unlike flying in Heavensward which made getting around so much faster, swimming doesn’t really grant you access to new areas, it doesn’t speed up transport, it isn’t quite as seamless as flying and there’s no new animations, so it all feels a little lacklustre. The changes to sprint, however, increases the manoeuvrability of fights, so everything feels a lot more action packed, with most fights focussing on movement rather than straight DPS. I love this change as it means people actually have to pay attention.

It’s not all sunshine though; the launch was incredibly rough, with people getting caught behind one of three main story instance walls. The way the game was designed, if you can’t get into those instances, you’re completely locked off from the other areas, which means you couldn’t even access the main hub town. It was over a day before I could access it, and most players weren’t so lucky. There’s onus on the players here too, as they were overloading it, and SE reported they were having DDoS issues, but I hope there will be lessons learned here.

For new players unfortunately they need to have completed the entire main scenario to enjoy Stormblood (now 423 quests), but SE are selling a main story skip potion to allow players to just play the newest content. Not a lot of the story will make a huge amount of sense if you do this, and you certainly won’t have the full enjoyment of the two main female protagonists in the story, who are a complete joy, but it makes sense, a lot of the end of the 2.x saga are an absolute chore, even if the story is decent.

Stormblood is an absolute joy. I was fairly lukewarm on Heavensward, as it didn’t change too much of the original formula enough, and it had plenty of ideas that were later scrapped. This time they have really played around with it, the quality of life changes are fantastic, the music and writing is a lot of fun. Honestly, I’d have no issue recommending this to everyone, it’s a real gas.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood was received as a digital code for review purposes on PC. The entire main scenario was played, as well as all dungeons, and both extreme primals were cleared. If you want to check out my character, please use this link.