As someone who only played around ten hours of Final Fantasy XIV around its “A Realm Reborn” relaunch, jumping into the newest expansion Stormblood with a fully-leveled character in a new class was a slightly daunting prospect. I remembered the MMO last time I played it being a rather clustered affair of numerical fiddling and overwhelming stat management. While that’s kind of still true, Stormblood does a lot to simplify UI elements and give visual clarity for what different classes should be doing to remain effective in battle. If nothing else, Stormblood makes jumping into a new class easier than it was when I played A Realm Reborn.
I spent roughly eight hours playing Stormblood at a press event last week, and I spent the bulk of my time exploring the two new playable character classes, UI alterations, water-themed areas of the map and a new dungeon introduced in the expansion.
The most immediately obvious change for returning FF: XIV players will be the overhauled class UI, which now features visual gauges customised to each class and focused on showcasing the specifics of how they’re playing their class. The newly introduced Red Mage, for example, had a pair of vertical gauges which fill in white or blue depending on if the player uses white or black mage spells, and a gem up the top that glows red if the player has used roughly the same quantity of both spells, white if notably more white magic was used, and blue if notably more black magic was used. If the two gauges get too out of sync, it’ll be harder to earn meter of the type that fell behind, making it tougher to use high-end abilities at speed. All the needed information about how the class is being played is displayed visually and can be understood at a glance, even for new players.
The Red Mage was a fairly complex character to jump into as a player not super versed in XIV, due to the amount of knowledge of spell types needed going in. But their balance of offensive and support skills did make them a very valuable addition to dungeon teams once using them was understood.
The Samurai is a short-ranged DPS class that is low on defense and high on combo attack damage. The class’s core loop seems to be alternating between three diffferent attack combos which each activate a glowing coloured circle on the Samurai’s UI. The more of these circles activated, the more powerful one of your attacks that depletes that set of circles becomes. I found the class most effective activating the three combos in quick succession, activating an ability to double the strength of my next attack, then unleashing the three stored up meters at once. While the Samurai class is designed around this loop, there’s minimal punishment mechanically for not sticking closely to it. You can take breaks to use other abilities that are more fitting to the current enemy encounter without any repercussions, which makes the Samurai a relatively easy class to jump into at the top end and play to a decent degree of competency.
In the preview event we got to see a few new areas of the Stormblood expansion, but did have some limitations placed on our ability to do more than passively spectate in a couple of them. Kugane is a beautifully city hub with a very eastern architectural style, but without being able to interact with a lot of NPCs it’s tough to tell how enjoyable the area will be in practice.
The Ruby Sea region was probably the most interesting new environment shown off, mainly due to the addition of new swimming and diving mechanics. Swimming in FF XIV is pretty simple, just point the camera to set your vertical direction and move as normal on the horizontal axis. There wasn’t really much to do underwater, but the ability to get into and move through water properly did help to make the world feel a bit less limited. The underwater areas I was able to explore felt very tonally different to the areas in the base game, which was a pleasant surprise.
Gyr Abania is an area of discarded ruins set into barren rocky environments. While it was distinct from the rest of the areas I was able to visit, there wasn’t a great degree of variety within the region itself that I encountered in my time with it.
The main bulk of my time with the expansion was spent repeatedly playing one of the new dungeons, Shisui of the Violet Tides, using both of the newly introduced character classes. Set in an underwater arena sheltered by a barrier so that the player can walk and engage in combat rather than simply floating, the dungeon contained a couple of bosses with interesting mechanics. One mini boss required players to hide inside boxes and get transformed into elderly women to avoid getting pulled into an AOE attack, and the final boss of the dungeon featured a huge glowing eye that the party had to turn away from in order to avoid being affected by it powers. Both bosses seemed thematically linked via this idea of fleeing and avoiding their stare, and both mechanics were well signposted and easy enough to avoid. I was able to consistently beat the level 63 dungeon (synced from level 70) in roughly thirty minutes with a party of four, and in several cases was able to brute force through the content with an ill-equipped party of press all wanting to try out the new classes rather than focusing on balanced party makeup.
Overall, my biggest take away from playing Stormblood was that it seems focused on bringing in new players, or lapsed players like myself. The UI overhaul definitely made jumping into a new class easier, and simplifying down some old skills into a relatively concise 16 ability cap for all classes that fits onto a controller layout made jumping in a little less daunting than it usually is jumping into a new MMO at the level cap.
I want to revisit Stormblood down the line when it’s released and I can get a feel for how viable getting into the game with this as an entry point is, while perhaps looking at how the game handles teaching skills to new players who purchase the soon-to-be introduced real money item for skipping to level 60. But I enjoyed what I played as a lapsed player.
Good UI can do a lot to make MMOs more accessible a few expansions in.
Disclaimer: Travel, accommodation and meal costs were covered by the publisher during the press trip to experience Stormblood.