"Heavensward from 3.0-3.3 was an adventure that felt like Final Fantasy titles of old..."
I know what you're thinking: "Why is he writing a review of a patch from 9 months ago?" The answer is a simple mix of insanity and a need to be thorough on my part. This review will be shortly followed by reviews of Soul Surrender and The Far Edge of Fate, the latter of which only recently wrapped up.
Oh, and know that if you're not caught up on the story of Final Fantasy XIV, spoilers will follow.
Patch 3.3 is a huge turning point in the Heavensward story that began a year prior. The impossible dream of peace between man and dragon is finally within reach. But we Warriors of Light also know that Nidhogg is still lurking in the world, sometimes inhabiting the body of one of our most stalwart allies. And, like any good villain, the wyrm reappears at the worst possible moment to remind us all that he's still
a force to be reckoned with. This spurs the Good Guys™ into action: There can be no real peace talks with Nidhogg rampaging, pillaging, and cancelling Scalebound. Well, some of those things, at least.
The ensuing event proves to be the final such trial with the dragon, in one of the most satisfying and inspiring battles seen in the game up to this point. Echoing the use of A Realm Reborn's inclusion of Answers during the final battle with Bahamut (Prime), "The Final Steps of Faith" is backed by Heavensward's main theme, Dragonsong
. More than anything, this song punctuates the importance of the battle and makes it clear this is the finale of the main events that began with Heavensward's release.
Without retreading too much from past reviews, I'll just say I really adored the story (or "main scenario" as it's referred to in FFXIV) of Heavensward. While A Realm Reborn's plot gradually got better over time, the expansion proved to be consistently strong throughout. Heavensward from 3.0-3.3 was an adventure that felt like Final Fantasy titles of old, as you often made your journey across the land with a host of companions. This trek was filled with moments of triumph, joy, love, and loss, and the amount of time you spent with these characters meant that it was hard not to become engrossed in their tales. Bringing an end to the Dragonsong War was an endeavor not without its share of emotion, so a whole lot of things had to get resolved in this patch, and I was nothing short of satisfied.
The Warrior of Light's work is never done, so of course, there are plenty of scenes showing what's coming next. But as a conclusion to the war, Revenge of the Horde is quite excellent, except for one moment which will have you yelling in anger at the complete ineptitude of the Warrior of Light and company. It's a foolish decision that's since proved to have major repercussions, and I don't know if I'm more angry at the real people who wrote this, or the fictional characters that thought it was a good idea to do what they did.
Other than that, I can't find much to complain about regarding this finale. There's also a surprisingly lengthy epilogue quest that has your Warrior of Light retrace their steps across Ishgard and the surrounding countryside, which proves to be a low-key sentimental journey and feels like a proper way to reflect. It wasn't how I thought this chapter in the story would end, but I'm happy it did.
The quests/raids about the Mhachi people continue in 3.3 with The Weeping City of Mhach. This largely outdoor 24-person raid quickly made an impression by flattening unsuspecting players at launch. Several bosses had new, unseen battle mechanics that people weren't ready for. None of this was nearly as troublesome for many people as Ozma, the killer planet...orb...thing...from Final Fantasy IX. The Ozma battle managed to become one of the most popular parts of Patch 3.3, to the point where, at the Las Vegas Fan Festival in October, the man who designed the battle literally had a room of fans cheering for him. The rest of the weekend, any mention of "Mr. Ozma" creating new battle content was met with much fanfare.
Months later, Ozma isn't quite the sticking point it (he? she?) once was, but as the dev team has managed to keep Weeping City relevant, the battles here still hold enough challenge that you can't exactly sleep through them. The extra challenge over Void Ark is welcome, and besides, I still need to win a loot roll on that minion from the final boss...
Yes, those three words really are a dialogue choice near the outset of the new "beast tribe" moogle quests. FFXIV Producer/Director Naoki Yoshida and his team got a whole lot
of flak from fans over the seemingly never-ending moogle quests in The Churning Mists. There were enough of these quests that I leveled beyond them, moving to the next area, and only came back to finish up when I was leveling up a second job. Those who didn't split the workload grew to resent the little fluffballs, a fact Yoshida has since acknowledged, so giving us this dialogue choice was an olive branch I was happy to accept.
These new quests are similar in concept to the Ixal quests of 2.x, as they're exclusively for crafters. A daily allotment of turn-ins and ever-increasing quest difficulty has you helping moogles and dragons in their work to rebuild a historical landmark. What ends up unfolding is surprisingly touching, on top of the fact that these quests are available anywhere in Heavensward's 50-60 level range. This makes them an excellent way to level up your crafting classes.
So thank you, moogles: You helped get my straggling crafters to 60 while I helped you build a pretty little alcove in the sky. You're still alright in my book.
Patch 3.3 brought an interesting new wrinkle to the existing treasure map system, in that magical portals may appear when uncovering a treasure chest, leading to...more treasure. The Aquapolis is not underwater — despite its moist name — but it does feature battles that get increasingly more difficult as you explore each room, with treasure that scales in rarity. The rub is getting to that next room. Each room features two doors: One leads to wealth, and one will fling you out to the bandersnatches, just like a 1970s game show. The doors animate in several ways, and the animation delays just long enough that you can feel your pulse quickening. Then the door slams, you curse the Twelve...and it opens anyway and you press on. If you're lucky.
This game of anxiety proves to be more fun than it sounds, and the promise of rare loot means that portal is always worth diving through. I wonder if in the future, they'll add more unique styles of treasure hunt modifications? I feel like this is only one of many treasure-hunting twists they could have in store.
One thing that Final Fantasy XIV does not lack is variety: There are often many ways to gear up your characters, and the introduction of the Deep Dungeon provides yet another avenue. This new system features a completely independent leveling system from the main game, and instead of a dozen pieces of gear, you have but two: a weapon and armor. The lack of class restrictions means you may find yourself in a traditional party with DPS, a tank, and a healer...or your party may be Three Ninjas and a
Bard. Between the unique leveling system, randomized floors, and a host of items unique to this mode, it really does provide a new play style.
Even better, delving into this place has benefits for your "real" character too, as when you leave a series of dungeon floors, your main class gets a bundle of EXP, so you can use this "side" mode to benefit in both places. Persistence can also net you nice weapons — it's how I got my highest-level Dragoon weapon — so there's more than a little incentive.
With 100 main floors, and 100 more optional challenge floors that can be rerun at will, the first Deep Dungeon — dubbed Palace of the Dead — has provided me with several hours of good fun. Since it rewards you with weapons and currency to buy high-level gear, it's also a solid alternative to playing through some of the "traditional" high-end content (raids and primals) if you want something less intense.
The plan is to eventually expand the Deep Dungeon concept with new locations, so hopefully we don't have to wait too long into Stormblood to see what type of place the next one will be.
Okay, here we are at the part where I run through the smaller — sometimes cosmetic — changes in the patch that deserve a mention:
- Every patch introduces new hair styles, but 3.3 is noteworthy to me, as it introduced one of my personal favorites: a tussled, short, sassy but serious style. Once again, these hairstyles are unisex and usable by all players, an inclusive decision that I continue to applaud.
- Raid Finder: Separate from Party Finder, this new recruiting portal helps players find parties for the highest-end content in the game, even allowing practice on specific areas of each fight. I'm too out of the raiding scene these days to use it, but I'm glad it exists.
- Recommended Gear Button: AKA the best button ever added to FFXIV's UI. Gear set data is saved client-side in the game. If you play on multiple platforms, that means when you update gear on your PC, it won't automatically be there on your PS4. In the past, the more classes you had, the harder this got to keep updated. But now? If you think something is out of whack with your equipped gear, hit this button in your Character window and you can quickly equip the highest-level gear you own in each slot. This has saved me both time and embarrassment countless times ("Oh, looks like I had a better sword all along and forgot it wasn't equipped; Sorry I got us all dead!")
- High quality lighting on PS4: A new option gives PS4 users access to higher quality lighting and reflection effects, more on par with the DirectX11 PC client.
- Finally, the ability to hide quests from your duty list: I'll do that epic fishing quest one day...but it will not be this day, and I will thank you to stop reminding me of it.
What I love about Final Fantasy XIV's quarterly patches are the variety of things introduced: If each update simply brought some more dungeons and little adjustments, with some side stories tossed in, it would still be fun. But when you get an update like this, with a completely new gameplay mode, a series of quests in which no battling is required, an awesome throwback boss from FFIX, on top of an epic climax to a story a year in the making...it's hard not to appreciate how much goes into each patch.
The following patches wrap up other Heavensward content: the Mhach, Alexander, and Warring Triad storylines, but we'll get to those. In the end, looking back on Patch 3.3 was a good reminder of the important things that were included, and none more important than that Recommended Gear button. Praise be to the Twelve, I adore that thing.