Smudge and I recently finished off the main story for Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood. I’m amazed, I figured we’d still be at it when the Shadowbringers expansion comes out at the beginning of July. Not that we’re caught up or anything, there’s five big patches of content to get through too. If we take three months on that… we’ll be about a month behind when the expansion comes out.

First off, the Stormblood storyline features a fair amount of travel. And they provide a pretty decent map of the world as it’s been revealed so far:

Everything so far has been the clear area on the left of the map, with Heavensward going to the northwest portion of that area (you can see Sohm Al), and Stormblood starts by going to the northeast before re-routing you all the way to the Far East and dealing with Doma (which we’ve been hearing of from before Heavensward), and putting major zones on another continent on the right side of the map. This has a side effect of some high travel fees to get around during all this.

Interestingly, we haven’t seen much of what’s revealed on the eastern map yet. Hingashi (the islands) is basically Tokugawa Japan, with the entire country closed to outsiders except at the port of Kugane. So, we’ve seen one city, and the rest of those islands are unexplored. Similarly, we’ve see the sea in between, the coastal areas of Doma, the steppes of Azim, but neither the rocky area to the north, nor the wasteland to the south have been seen.

Plotwise, of course, the action picks up directly from the last patch, with Baelsar’s Wall having fallen to the Alliance, and we get to see the region of Gyr Abania around the city of Ala Mhigo for the first time. It’s largely an arid region with a lot of badlands. And Garlean occupation has not done any favors for habitability. And because there’s just no way for things to go completely smoothly, after some further advances, the Eorzean Alliance and Ala Mhigan Resistance get stopped short after a couple of zones are only partially opened up. The Viceroy of Ala Mhigo and Doma, Zenos van Galvus, steps in personally, and devastates the Resistance, defeating everyone in his way, including you.

This causes a shift of the action to the Far East, and some truly expansive new zones. Kugane, the central ‘hub city’ of the expansion really shows off lots of improvements made by not supporting the PS3 with this release. One of the annoyances of the game is that each hub city is two separate zones, and you end up ducking from one half to the other fairly often. However, Kugane is all in one zone, and is even more expansive than the combined size of any of the old cities.

Part of what makes it so impressive is that the number of NPCs is the city has gone up substantially. There’s probably about the same number of vendors and quest givers and the like, but there’s a lot of people standing around who you don’t interact with. Some of them appear and walk an extensive path before despawning again, some stand around, and many are quite animated, like the fellow constantly shoveling the contents of his rice bowl in his mouth, or the group at the forge above.

The main plot goes several places, but is concentrated on the liberation of Doma, the main Far East nation that was taken by the Garleans, and which rebelled in the period between ARR and Heavensward. The climax for all that is suitably epic feeling, with an attack on the central castle of Doma. A fair amount of damage is done to the scenery, and in the dungeon that forms your part in the events, there’s some nice background bits showing what’s going on. You can see some bits of broken pillars floating by on the left here:

This sort of thing gets repeated later on, after the return to Ala Mhigo, and the advance there resumes, with some really nice cinematics for sieging the city itself:

I do have some real problems with a lot of this part, as the Garleans, and Zenos, is overall way too passive during all this. Now, there is reason for all this, dealing with Zenos’ own hangups, which only helps make the entire ending all the more bitter/satisfying. But, from a story perspective, I still don’t get as much of a sense of active opposition as I’d like. Though certainly a lot happened, with plenty action, some of it fairly dramatic, but the overall flow felt a little thin in places. The Garlean Empire is supposed to have a large, well-equipped military that the Alliance just can’t match, and we never see this during the entire course of the expansion.

Garlemald does have a super-gun, which gets used for dramatic effect:

And the story around that is good, and they actually change the scenery of the zone for that, so they’re definitely playing around with those techniques.

Also, during the siege, flying machina are sent out to harass the Alliance forces, which provides an opportunity for the ‘arrival of left behind ally’ trope (just a little too predictable), but I was thinking, ‘Ishgard has troops here, they’re used to fighting dragons, why not send the dragoons up after them?’ Sadly, Square just has never gotten into figuring out how the militaries of this world actually fight, we just get fairly confused individual fighting even for the big battles.

Possibly the most unexpected thing for me was the fact that the sparring match shown at the beginning of the Stormblood trailer directly comes up near the end of the story. They don’t replay the entire thing there with you in it (for one thing, it’d be a very different fight if you’re not Monk, and I’m only mid-level in that class), but Lyse suddenly gets a new outfit (I hadn’t even realized it was her!), asks to spar, and they show just enough.

Overall, FF XIV: Stormblood is techinically excellent, and despite my problems, is some of the best storytelling they’ve had thus far. I’m really happy with a lot of what they’ve done here.

We’ve already started in on the ‘post-game’ content. And the new benchmark program for Shadowbringers just came out. My system is doing fairly well on some of the high-end settings, and rates ‘High’ when I imported my existing settings.

We’re thinking of instituting an ‘alt night’ once it comes out.