It’s been a week since the launch of Stormblood, and following all the thinking I did on Heavensward as FFXIV’s first expansion came to a close, the new one has really given me a lot to think about. I made sure to set aside time for Stormblood so that I could really dive into it in a way that I’ve not dived into FFXIV in a long time, and with the first week of 4.x now behind us, I have to say that I’m pretty optimistic about the game’s future. Obviously, it’s hard to give a full on review of an MMO expansion just a week end (since it’s likely that the whole of Stormblood will last around two years), but I wanted to collect my thoughts on some of the things I’ve exposed myself to over the last week: namely, the new Main Scenario, the revamped Ninja, and the new job, Samurai.
The Main Scenario
I’m only just through level 64 in Main Scenario terms, having paused shortly after hitting that level in order to pick up the next quest in the series, but overall my impression of the MSQ in Stormblood is far better than that from either Heavensward or A Realm Reborn. The Main Scenario in both 2.x and 3.x suffered from some pacing issues. In A Realm Reborn, the MSQ was treated more as a gameplay chassis than a storytelling method, with long stretches of narratively-dead fetch quests taking up hours of time. The team started to avoid that with Heavensward, but on the whole, the narrative often lacked focus, with altogether unrelated plot lines taking up valuable Scenario time.
I’m happy to say that, for the most part, those problems seem to have been dealt with for Stormblood. While there have been a few brief instances of “fetch” style quests in the Main Scenario for the expansion, they’ve been brief and only tallied a few quests in total. Even those brief fetch-ish sections have ultimately served the narrative in some fashion, and since they’re short enough, they have yet to detract from that narrative. Contrary to Heavensward, too, Stormblood‘s Main Scenario feels more cohesive: there are strong thematic elements here, and the story telling makes sure to keep those thematic elements front and center, on both the Ala Mighan and Doman fronts.
The Stormblood Main Scenario has also gone out of its way to put emphasis on characters who were, up until this point, bit parts, and it’s been great to see otherwise minor characters step into the spotlight for awhile. Obviously, I don’t want to spoil anything for those who may have only just begun (or who have yet to begin!), so I’m not going to go into specific details, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the shift in focus away from the main players in A Realm Reborn and Heavensward.
Ninja Changes & Additions
I already took a more detailed look at the previewed changes to Ninja from the Stormblood Media Tour, and very little changed between that build (which was, apparently, from April) and the one that launched with Stormblood’s Early Access period. I was lukewarm about the changes initially, but I was trying to reserve judgement until I had actually played with things, and I have to say that now that I’ve played Ninja up through 65, I’m largely pretty happy with how things have turned out.
With the removal of Dancing Edge and Mutilate, Ninja now has a fundamental rotation that’s about as straight forward as Monk’s (and in some respects, perhaps even simpler than it). After two years of Heavensward Ninja feeling woefully incomplete without the presence of a Warrior for the Slashing debuff, I’m overjoyed to report that Stormblood Ninja is completely self sufficient in that regard.
In terms of overall feel, Ninja feels a lot more like its A Realm Reborn self, in that it fires with all cylinders from the get-go with relatively high initial burst that stays mostly steady throughout fights. All ninjutsu now benefit from the trait damage bonuses that replaced poisons (just as it benefited from poisons in the original Ninja launch state)j, and with the effective removal of one timer maintenance debuff, Ninja now can satisfactorily use Aeolian Edge more often than its other finishers. That just plain feels good.
When it comes to the Ninki gauge, accumulation feels rapid enough that you’re never going to really forget about it, and as an added bonus, we can now stack Skill Speed to reduce auto attack delay, further increasing Ninki generation. I don’t know if that’s going to be advisable (given Ninja’s general abhorrence of Skill Speed due to Mudra clipping issues), but it feels good. Even at 65, I find myself planning around Ninki generation, trying to line it up Hellfrog Medium with Trick Attack, and it feels like a pretty solid expansion to Ninja’s toolkit.
I do have a bit of an issue in terms of flavor, though: none of the post-60 job quests seem to be tied to abilities or training in any concrete way, and so there’s almost no context for the sudden ability of the player character to summon a frog demon for Hellfrog Medium. While the ability hits very hard (and is very satisfying to use), it honestly feels out of place, and I think that’s a shame. It’s even more of a shame since the post-60 Ninja storyline easily could have incorporated learning strange new techniques (much as even the presence of the Lagomorph for Mudra failures is worked into the job story). That’s left me feeling slightly sour on the job on the whole, but as far as the mechanics go, it plays very well.
I started out the expansion with Samurai leveling (which turned out to be a pretty wise choice given all the trouble with Main Scenario instances plaguing the first few days of Early Access). At 50, upon unlocking it, the job flat out overwhelmed me, as it’s somewhat unique compared to the other melee jobs. By the time I had gotten the job to 60, though, I’d really come to appreciate the way it’s put together, and given my distaste for Hellfrog Medium, it honestly has a chance at becoming my new main.
More so than any other melee, Samurai feels flexible. Its timers are all pretty long (30 seconds!), and by rotating the three basic combos, you keep all of them up without any real fuss. Since your two 3-hit combos have the same Potencies, you can switch between them as the needs of your timers dictate. None of your Potencies suffer from missed positionals, either—your reward for striking properly from behind or the flank is extra Kenki, and post-62, you gain so much Kenki that you probably won’t be too sore if a turning boss means you miss one here and there. The Sen Gauge complicates things: each combo gives a particular Sen, and you don’t want to overlap them before spending them, so that you’re making the most of that, but on the whole it’s a very different feel from Dragoon, Monk, or Ninja.
I’ve been progressing in Samurai more or less right behind Ninja, and I have to say that I’m really enjoying how adaptable the job feels. Samurai feels adaptable in much the same way that Ninja did upon its original release (which also included a relative lack of positional requirements). In lieu of slavish devotion to positional attacks, Samurai has to contend with melee cast times for its Iaijutsu attacks (and these can be interrupted just like spellcasting can be), which has provided its own unique challenges—but these attacks come with huge payoffs: a minute-long damage over time debuff, high single target damage (the highest potency attack in the game that I’m aware of) or high, no TP-cost AoE damage. That makes the extra challenge of managing casts in melee feel worth it, and I have to commend the team on making something so tricky feel just plain good.
Overall, I have to say that Stormblood has managed to rekindle my love for FFXIV in ways I didn’t know were necessary. I’ve only touched on a few things here, and they’ve been the driving the lion’s share of my enjoyment so far, but there’s a lot of other small things that have really given me high hopes for the expansion. The field zone music seems to exist on an entirely different plane from everything to come before it; monster placement in zones seems to overall be more dangerous; the 50-60 Samurai job story nearly brought me to tears; inventory expansions are a godsend and; gear design on the whole seems far more varied than it was in initial Heavensward.
Maybe these initial impressions will sour as time goes on: after all, I’ve got a lot of jobs to experience, and the Main Scenario is only half finished. I’ve not even been to every new zone or dungeon the expansion has to offer yet. But what I’ve seen in this first week says a lot to me about the expansion’s potential. I left Heavensward only cautiously optimistic about Stormblood. So far, at least, the more I dig into the expansion, the more excited I get, and I really hope that continues for the next two years.