On June 20th, 2017, Square Enix released the second major expansion for FINAL FANTASY XIV, STORMBLOOD. With it, many changes to how the game is played were introduced, along with new and beautiful areas to explore.

However, due to an unexpectedly high volume of players, the game suffered many glitches during the Early Access period that made a beautiful expansion all but unplayable.

The Woes Of Early Access

One can always expect server issues during the release of an expansion for any MMO. HEAVENSWORD had the same problems with lagging and people being suddenly disconnected from the game. Those are acceptable and expected outcomes when hundreds of thousands of players are online at once. What was unprecedented was the sheer volume of people causing the content to be unplayable at all.

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The major issue behind Early Access and some of the initial release of STORMBLOOD was that players hit a brick wall where we couldn’t progress through the story. This was due to an instanced fight triggered by an NPC named Raubahn. The issue was that solo instanced cut scenes and fights transported the player to a separate server where they could engage in the fight uninterrupted.

A long line of players waiting to finish the quest “Best Served With Cold Steel.”

When massive amounts of players are all trying to get into that one server, it turns into a scenario equivalent to a horde of people trying to get through a small hallway. Some players found a way around this by lining up one by one and taking turns. Other opportunistic people elected to merely form a mass of bodies and hope for the best.

No Quest For You!

Once you get past Raubahn, one would think it would be smooth sailing from there. But, as luck would have it, there was yet another solo instance that was a brick wall for players. This time it was a quest involving Raubahn’s son, Pipin. Guess it runs in the family.

To top it all off, the servers that host the actual dungeons were inaccessible and causing players to disconnect. One specific issue, which involved killing one of the new bosses, Susano, caused an error to occur and kicked players from the game.

With all of these players being disconnected, it would be a simple matter of just logging back in and resuming where you left off; at least in a better world, it would be. The high number of players being kicked out at once resulted in a long queue of players trying to get back in. Log in times would range from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Compared to HEAVENSWORD Early Access two years prior, it wasn’t anywhere near as problematic as STORMBLOOD Early Access was. This may have been attributed to the North American data center servers being moved to California. The new hardware just wasn’t prepared for the sudden influx of players. At least we’ll always have the hilarious memes that arose from these issues.

Who needs to build a wall around Mexico when we have Raubahn, Pipin, and Susano here?

Travel Ban And Transfer Incentives

To ease the strain on the servers, the development team implemented restrictions on the highest congested servers, Gilgamesh and Balmung. One of the restrictions was preventing players from transferring to those servers. They also offered free items to players who transferred from a congested server to a less populated one.

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This has caused a slight inconvenience since new players are entering the game every day and if they want to play with friends who are already on Gilgamesh or Balmung, they would be unable to for the time being. Hopefully, the restrictions will be lifted once the servers stabilize.

After Early Access ended, the game itself finally stabilized, and players could make progress in earnest. Despite the initial issues, it was well worth the wait.

New Job Classes

Official STORMBLOOD CGI render for Samurai

STORMBLOOD added two new classes, Red Mage, and Samurai. After trying out both, I was surprised at how much fun Samurai was since I don’t usually play the warrior classes. It boasts the highest DPS potential than other class, the only downside being not much raid utility with no access to support abilities.

Plus, katanas are just cool. My only criticism of the class was memorizing the Japanese names of the attacks so I could remember which button to press.

Official STORMBLOOD CGI render for Red Mage

Red Mage is the new class that undeniably stole my heart. I have always been a fan of swords and sorcery combinations since my Arcane Warrior days in Dragon Age up to Spellblade builds in The Elder Scrolls series. In contrast to Samurai’s pure DPS play style, Red Mage has pretty high damage potential but also has plenty of support utility.

This class has a potent heal spell that’s good in a pinch if the healers are preoccupied; it can revive dead players, so the healers don’t waste mana, and provides a party wide damage boost every two minutes. This cumulates in an enjoyable class with an easy rotation to pump out damage. Most importantly, there are Game of Thrones references in the story since one of the characters in the Red Mage storyline is named Arya. This fits nicely since Red Mages use rapiers.

Themes Of Stormblood

The narrative of FINAL FANTASY XIV is no stranger to war. STORMBLOOD brought a unique perspective by exploring occupied countries and attempting to incite a revolution to free those provinces. What followed was a clash of ideals as the would be revolutionary leader and companion, Yda/Lyse Hext, tries to fan the flames of revolution in Ala Mhigo and Othard to free them from the oppressive Garlean Empire.

Don’t let the dress fool you; Lyse Hext packs a punch.

By this point in the story, Ala Mhigo is at its wit’s end after decades of fighting and losing. Lyse’s greatest challenge was overcoming the repetitive rhetoric of “this time, it will be different.”

Lyse learns that she comes from a naïve mindset, having never lived under Imperial rule she didn’t understand why people were so hesitant to fight. She used that experience to grow stronger and lead by example to rekindle hope in her people.

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The perfect foil for Lyse was Fordola Rem Lupis. Fordola is an Ala Mhigan born woman who betrayed her homeland to join the Garlean army and rose through the ranks to attain citizenship and all the benefits it entails.

I want Hayley Williams from Paramore to cosplay Fordola Rem Lupis

She leads the Skulls, a group of fellow Ala Mhigan youths who never knew life without Imperial occupation. Where Lyse represents freedom through liberation, Fordola has been raised by an occupying force and believes compliance is best for Ala Mhigo.

Exploring The Effects of Imperialism

The main fault with Fordola’s reasoning is that the Empire considers themselves racially superior to everyone else. They looked down on others and called them savages. Fordola and The Skulls were content to be second-class citizens since they benefitted directly from it. They also blamed the freedom fighters for the Empire’s prejudices against Ala Mhigans. As we explore Ala Mhigo and Othard, we don’t see a lot of sprawling landscaped and untouched cities.

Instead, we find ruins, we find religious iconography torn down, and we see hopeless citizens too afraid to fight. The citizenry’s spirits were crushed beyond repair through daily abuse and oppression. Square-Enix took an interesting, and bold, approach in exploring the effects of imperialism. It didn’t go unnoticed that the Imperials were pale skinned and believed themselves a superior race.

More Dialogue Options

While navigating the narrative, our characters were noticeably given more dialogue options in the cut scenes. It didn’t change the story, merely the responses of the NPCs. It adds a layer of immersion when we can present our characters however we want instead of just nodding along at everything.

We can even choose to acknowledge the big bad boss as an equal…before we kill them.

Author’s Favorite Scene

My favorite scene was at the beginning of the expansion when one of our companions was injured. If you play as a healer, as I did, the dialogue is different and one of the NPCs requests your assistance to help heal her.

This was after many players voiced their frustrations in the last expansion. An important character was poisoned, and our poison cleansing healer selves just stood there as they died. It was nice to get an actual shout out and help heal our friends in a cut scene.

Krile telling the Warrior of Light to help heal Y’Shtola

Endgame Fight

It’s never a proper FINAL FANTASY XIV expansion without an epic boss fight at the end, and STORMBLOOD didn’t disappoint. In expansions, we faced The Ultima Weapon and The Knights of The Round. For STORMBLOOD, we faced the dragon Shinryu, who was summoned at the end of HEAVENSWARD.

Players have been clamoring for more challenging content outside of raids and Shinryu delivered by combining mechanics from previous boss battles. The mechanics were familiar enough for experienced players but not predictable in their execution. Any slip up would result in either massive damage or deaths. The animations were also redesigned for that fight.

Players on the more casual side demanded that Shinryu should be nerfed but what’s a game without a challenge?

Minor Critique

My only grievance with the game was that the Ala Mhigans were all noticeably dark skinned yet we have to focus on their stories from a white perspective. Namely, Lyse. While Lyse is one of my favorite characters, I was suspicious of the dark tones of the other Ala Mhigans. I was even more skeptical of Lyse’s father, Curtis, being as dark as they come.

It could just be that Lyse was designed before her backstory was fully fleshed out in later expansions. Lyse was in disguise for most of the game, so they could’ve given her some traces of melanin when she revealed her identity.

Comic by Tazzmarazzy

The Next Two Years

While 4.0 is done, the story is far from over. Just like HEAVENSWORD, the next two years will be filled with patches that expand the story of STORMBLOOD.

Hopefully, we will put an end to the Garlean empire, or at least lead up to the next expansion where we take the fight to their lands. Until then, in the words of Naoki Yoshida,

“Please look forward to it!”

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