Adventures in FF XIV have continued, and Smudge and I have gotten perhaps halfway through the main story of Heavensward. We’re pressing forward at a pretty good clip, but we’re also clearing out all the side quests as they appear, and a good number of those show up pretty regularly, often in places where we’ve already done optional quest chains.

The initial part introduces you to the new hub city, Ishgard, but then splits into to concurrent chains in two different zones. The surprising part is that after a round or two introducing part of one zone, it ends (with the rest of the zone being about 5 levels tougher), forcing to continue on the other path.

The Coerthas Central Highlands is definitely a larger zone than we gotten used to in regular FF XIV, and a lot tougher to get around. Flying mounts were introduced in this expansion, and you can tell that the zones are designed with the ease of flight to get around in, but they make you walk around it all first. The mechanism for that is actually fairly clever, with needing to go out and find particular spots, and do certain quests with ‘getting to know the winds’ as an excuse for why.

The thing that really hits you is how slow the base mount speed is. You get a few free upgrades to mount speeds in the main quest (here and in base ARR), and I’ve gotten thoroughly used to that as the ‘default’ speed, so suddenly being in a zone where that boost doesn’t apply feels like being stuck in molasses. Conversely, you can buy a second round of speed boosts, and you really feel that difference too. Smudge and I are still buying those for the original world, though we’ve done it for everything but La Noscea now.

The second zone, Dravanian Forelands, was a bit more temperate than the first, but continues with the sense of being on the fringes of the world, with one settlement in the area, plus another beast tribe… and dragons. Actual talkable dragons in fact. Until now, all the dragons we’d seen are enemies, and even when they talk they aren’t very good conversationalists. An interesting nod to all of this is that there’s no Chokobo Porters (taxi rides, effectively) out here, instead you find an occasional chokobo statue that can summon a ride.

Again, it’s a large zone, and while it’s generally not as vertical as the previous one, there are places that you can only go once you can fly (such as the location of a treasure map I found).

After that, it’s on to Sohm Al, the floating mountaintop… past that to a land of floating islands known as the Churning Mist. Again, there’s places you can only go by flying, but it’s more unified than you’d think. Some of the pathways are fairly confusing though. One might wonder about all the architecture that’s in good shape after a thousand years, though it turns out there are caretakers.

Plot-wise, it has stayed mostly focused on the war between Ishgard and the dragons, with the main plot turning into a Fellowship-like small band off to find and end to the fighting. Most of the previous main cast is presumed dead, so there’s been a lot of new NPCs to deal with, starting with the man that sponsors your stay in Ishgard:

Once the ‘war’ part truly takes over the action, you end up with Alphinaud, Estinien (the major NPC from the Dragoon quests), and Iceheart/Ysayle. Naturally the last two have problems with each other, that drives the plot to reveal a clearer picture of just how the war got started a thousand years ago. (FF checklist: thousand year-old events important now, check!)

Amazingly, Kan-E-Senna actually got involved in the quest at one point, helping cement her position as my favorite leader of the three city-states of Eorzea.

The final confrontation (and third Heavensward dungeon) is very nicely done, and seems to be the midpoint for the main story. Several characters have declared ‘peace’ in the immediate aftermath, but it’s certain that a real peace will remain elusive for some time to come. There were several points in here where Smudge and I were, ‘hey, what about—’, and then it got immediately brought up in the plot. It was really tightly written and presented here.

During the central plot, other threads have been given their turns on center stage, including a too-late explanation of why the character is not shut out of the original hub cities. It’s fairly well handled, and comes with it’s own ominous ending: the Garlean Empire is getting ready to invade again. This could become the focus of the second half, but I have a feeling it’ll be part of the post-Heavensward plot.

Meanwhile all the class quests are continuing, with quests ever other level, instead of every five. Since these usually come with new abilities to join an already overflowing button bar, I’d have been happy with every 5 (for two abilities instead of five). The odd part is that they’ve scattered all over. Bard, for instance, has been going into new zones as we encounter them in the main story, with a pair of new NPCs, but Scholar has stayed with Alka Zolka and Surito Carito near the Wanderer’s Palace, and Summoner has switched from operating out of Gridania to being based in Ul’Dah.

Some of the new abilities are fairly nice, but it’s hard to keep up with everything with the old abilities too. But the real problem we’ve been having is that the quests hand out an excessive amount of gear. Basically, there’s new general (white) gear every two levels in Heavensward, and the quests will hand out one of everything (and two of a few things, as you get a few class options for chests in one quest, and then the other class options in the next quest). This seems excessive right there, but worse, all of this gear is high quality. It used to be be that high quality was the reward for crafting your own gear, but now that’s been taken away. Worse, crafting high quality while climbing up the level progression is very hard thanks to crafting being a lot harder to manage in Heavensward, what with more and more excessive material requirements, and difficulties in getting abilities up to manage them. And worse still, in many cases at-level gear is impossible to craft without buying it on the market from other players, as the raw materials are locked away in zones you can’t get to yet. I really don’t know why Square Enix made it this hard, and the quest rewards are trying to suck all the meaning out of it.

But, crafting is by far the biggest gripe here (and an important one, as FF XIV generally has the best crafting system I’ve seen). Content-wise, it has continued to be solid, with good story (with still ho-hum questing), interesting new zones, and dungeons that seem to be getting more inventive.