I haven't completed the final battle in the Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood expansions' main story line. The titular quest has been sitting in the top left corner of my screen for a week, and I've been doing everything I can to ignore it. I don't want it to end.
Being a highly successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Final Fantasy XIV isn't going to end any time soon. The story of Stormblood, in which the forces of good in the world of Hydaelyn attempt to liberate two city-states from the oppressive grip of the Garlean Empire, will continue in some form or another until the next Final Fantasy XIV expansion arrives.
I just fear that once the final boss falls and the credits roll it will be all over. No more late nights spent tackling a seemingly endless string of "one last" quests. No more shuffling off in the middle of the workday to play a little more "for review purposes." Hours played per day will become hours played per week.
Stormblood's fast-paced story doesn't help. After a failed attempt at rebellion against the Garleans in the city-state of Ala Mhigo, the Warrior of Light (the player) and their contingent of non-player character allies hatch a plan. They travel to the other side of the planet, to the Asian-inspired lands of Doma, and help that city-state liberate itself from decades of Garlean rule. Then, with the Empire's resources stretched thin, the Eorzean alliance returns to Ala Mhigo to finish the job.
If there's a place you got to go, he's the one you need to know, he's the map.
Reading over it now, it doesn't seem like the sort of thing that can be accomplished in the span of a few weeks, even with the ridiculously powerful (when the plot calls for it at least) Warrior of Light on the good guys' team. Alliances are formed, tribes are united and massive battles are pitched with a speed that would make a Game of Thrones fan's head spin.
It's not all epic battles and monumental feats of diplomacy. Between story quests the Warrior of Light, champion of Eorzea, killer of gods, spends time fetching people's food, weeding their gardens, handing out flyers — you know, side quest stuff. Square Enix does its best this time around to keep the menial labour somewhat exciting, with longer, more story-rich quest lines trumping one-off "kill X of Y" types.
This time side quests aren't limited to the land. The expansion introduces swimming to Final Fantasy XIV, allowing players to dive into select areas to explore the briny deep. It's an impressive means of travel with some very cool special effects. It's also woefully underutilized. With no underwater combat, the watery depths of Eorzea are home to simple fetch quests. Of the handful I encountered, two involved fetching a dropped fishing pole.
Epic adventure, right there.
The side quests are mainly a chance to explore the expansion's beautiful new environments and outstanding soundtrack between rapid-fire rebellions and revolutions. Shit goes down fast in Stormblood. It's silly, but it's a welcome change of pace from the meandering side story that was Final Fantasy XIV's previous expansion, Heavensward. The narrative that began when the game relaunched in 2013 as A Realm Reborn kicks into high gear here, setting the stage for the updates to come and, according to game director Naoki Yoshida in a recent interview with Kotaku, at least two more expansions.
In my quest to avoid the ending of Stormblood, I've spent a lot of time exploring the streamlined job progression system introduced in the expansion. Previously a player who wanted to be a Paladin, for example, would have to level two lower-tier jobs, Marauder and Conjurer, to 30 and 15 respectively. That job-juggling's been done away with, and now all one has to do to become a Paladin is level the Gladiator job to 30 and undertake a simple quest.
Rather than have players level up extraneous jobs in order to unlock borrow-able skills for their main, each job role now gets a pool of role-specific abilities that unlock as they level. Again it's less job-juggling, plus the role-specific abilities help give newer players a sense of what their place is an a party.
Coupled with experience percentage bonuses introduced for the expansion's launch, these changes make levelling up new job classes a joy. I started my new character, Clan Destine, as a level 60 Black Mage (thanks to a job potion purchased for $US25 from Square Enix's Mog Station store).
Now I am a level 53 Bard, level 30 White Mage, level 30 Summoner, level 30 Astrologian, level 20 Gladiator and level 8 Lancer. On top of that I've also dabbled in the game's two new jobs, Red Mage and Samurai.
I'm also a level 51 Fisher. I fish all the fish.
In a game with essentially three roles — damage, healing and tanking — adding two more damage jobs to the mix was an odd choice. The addition of Red Mage and Saurai bring the total damage jobs in Final Fantasy XIV to nine, compared to three each healer and tank.
The new additions are a blast to play with some very cool mechanics. The Red Mage, which I've leveled all the way up to the new cap of 70, has a mechanic where the player builds up a balance of white and black magic and then unleashes them in a flurry of powerful sword strokes. It's so satisfying. Not as satisfying as it must be for a healer or a tank to hop into the "duty finder" and get matched with a team immediately while damage jobs wait in half-hour queues, but pretty good.
With two new job classes to master and more enjoyable ways to level up the previous thirteen, there's plenty for me to enjoy in Stormblood without having to pull the trigger on that final battle. Now that the initial new and returning player rush, server issues and frequent DDOS attacks have subsided, I've got all the time in the world to fish, forage, craft and fight my way around the liberation of Ala Mhigo. They have been oppressed for a while. A few more weeks won't kill many of them.
Final Fantasy XIV is one of the best massively multiplayer online role-playing games going, one of the few able to maintain a monthly subscription model in a day when even an Elder Scrolls MMO has to go free-to-play. Stormblood's epic narrative, gorgeous new locales, spectacular battles and some fresh gameplay mechanics make a great game even better.
I am never going to finish it and no one can make me.