'Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood' Review: Quick thoughts on Levels 60-64 in the Main Scenario Quest

On Tuesday Square Enix officially released Stormblood, the latest installment into the beloved Final Fantasy XIV franchise. While Mic's comprehensive review of the game is pending, here are six quick observations on the magnificent first act of the Ala Mhigan uprising against Garlean rule.

Heavensward, the previous Final Fantasy 14 expansion pack, gave the women of the game very little to do

This is not the case with Stormblood. The game's chief protagonist is Lyse, the prodigal daughter of the occupied city-state of Ala Mhigo. Lyse is joined by Yugiri, a shinobi from a village on the floor of the Ruby Sea. There's also Alisaie, a red mage who gives players a much-needed reprieve from her overly chatty, ineffective twin brother, Alphinaud, whose breathless diplomacy best-serves the story offscreen.

As the Warrior of Light, you join these three women in their quest to lead two separate uprisings against the rising tide of fascism — here in the form of the evil, imperialist Garlean Empire — that threatens to flood their world.

Stormblood drops you right into the action and doesn't slows down

Heavensward sometimes felt as cold and clinical as the snow-cloaked Coerthas Highlands, where the bulk of its story takes place. But the action of Stormblood charges at you at breakneck speed right out the gate and never slows down. If only A Realm Reborn, the 2014 FF XIV reboot, bolstered its confident-but-slow beginning with this level of immediacy, the game wouldn't need to rely as heavily on its passionate subscriber base to make its case.

Stormblood renews the battle between good and evil

Heavensward asked players to eschew notions of good and evil in order to resolve a thousand-year conflict between dragon and man. In Stormblood, we return to the blood-soaked battle between good and evil that began in A Realm Reborn: hampering the onslaught of the empire of Garlemald as it threatens to take over the world.

No character better exemplifies this shift than the villain, Yotsuyu, the opium-smoking puppet of the Garlean Empire. She serves as acting viceroy for the occupied city-state of Doma.

Square Enix/YouTube

She's the sort of campy, scenery-chewing villain who's always thrilling to watch. But after Heavensward shaded the action of A Realm Reborn, Yosetsu comes as something of a missed opportunity — at least, in what we've seen of her so far. When she's introduced, she extols the virtue of strategic surrender — after all, it's gotten Yosetsu, who wasn't born a citizen of the empire, as far as she has.

Her willingness to bend and kneel has allowed her to get this far. But here she's using her story to convince a Doman son to kill his parents and prove his allegiance to her, and by extension, the empire. When he refuses, she has him killed. Later, she'll confess to her bodyguard how much she loves torturing people. Twice.

Her sadism, which comes across as overly telegraphed, erases the shading of her motivation. It's fun to hate her. It's also very easy to do so. But after her boss, Lord Zenos Yae Galvus, the heir apparent to the Garlean Empire, grabs her by the hair and gives her an ultimatum, there's hope that we'll see what her posturing was hiding.

Stormblood's streamlined battle system is a fantastic overhaul

For those hungry for the field of battle, Stormblood's streamlined battle system doesn't disappoint. For MMO veterans, words like "streamline" and "efficiency" may evoke unpleasant memories of other popular franchises that became mind-numbingly simple in an effort to appeal to more players. But Stormblood reduces button bloat while maintaining what makes each job feel special.

Stormblood dungeons are far more interesting than the ones in Heavensward

If the dungeons in Heavensward's main scenario quest felt like they were all snow and crag, the first two dungeons of Stormblood promise more variety to players.

"Shisui of the Violent Tides," a level 63 dungeon unlocked by a side quest in the Ruby Sea, is arguably the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous dungeon in the entire game so far.

Stormblood's new jobs — Red Mage and Samurai — are both a lot of fun

Last, but not least: The two new jobs in Stormblood are excellent. Red Mage, the flashiest of the two, is just as fun as it looks. But it's the Samurai that feels more beautifully realized than its spell-slinging counterpart. A complex skill-rotation that somehow also manages to feel intuitive makes playing as a Samurai a joy. When I'm done leveling my Summoner to Level 70, I will likely double back and bring my Samurai to end game as well. It's that good.

More gaming news and updates

Check out the latest from Mic, like this essay about the sinister, subtle evils lurking in rural America that Far Cry 5 shouldn't ignore. Also, be sure to read our review of Tekken 7, an article about D.Va’s influence on one Overwatch player's ideas about femininity and an analysis of gaming's racist habit of darkening villains' skin tones.