Hello, all you freedom fighters and Warriors of Light. Today marks the launch of the Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn expansion Stormblood. MMOs like FF14 are beastly affairs, and expansions like Stormblood are no different. With a new region, dungeons, classes, and more to try out, it’s going to take some time before we’re ready to give a final verdict on the game.

But rather than wait until then, why not come along and enjoy the journey with me? For the next few days, I’ll be adding entries to this review diary, chronicling my thoughts about Stormblood. Once I’ve seen enough to judge the overall product, the diary will morph into a more familiar, traditional review. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Day 1:

One of the first things you should know about Stormblood is what you need to do in order to play it. FF14 is a very story-intensive game, much more so than many other MMOs on the market. That hasn’t changed for Stormblood – if anything, the expansion reinforces the idea that this is not the type of game you drop in for every odd expansion or so. It’s a commitment.

See, you can’t get to Ala Mhigo (the new region in Stormblood) without beating the story for the base game plus the first expansion, Heavensward. You also need to be level 60, though odds are if you’ve done the former, you’ll have hit the latter. You likewise can’t just pop into a new dungeon without clearing story content first.

This made playing Stormblood a bit of a headache. The expansion launches in earnest today, but I also got some time in via a special early access period this past weekend. As is often the case when MMO expansions launch, the servers became congested. Queues to log in numbered into the thousands, and even if I did manage to get in, there was always the chance I’d simply get booted from the server if I tried to talk to a busy NPC. And since I needed to talk to those NPCs to progress, FF14’s reliance on story was creating a bottleneck.

Tired of getting kicked from the world, I decided to check out what Stormblood added that didn’t require me to be in the same place as everyone else trying to progress: the two new jobs, Samurai and Red Mage.

I thought for sure I would prefer the Samurai, thinking back to my middle-school fascination with anime characters like Kenshin Himura (Rurouni Kenshin), Suzuka (Outlaw Star), and Sesshomaru (Inuyasha). How cool would it be to do the thing those sorts of characters do, cutting an opponent faster than the eye can see, and time seems to freeze until the sword is dramatically sheathed?

I wouldn’t know, since I quickly found the Samurai not to my liking. The job requires players to accumulate what’s called “Sen” and “Kenki” in order to produce different effects and abilities. I never quite got the handle on managing these resources, and felt like I was clumsily stumbling along. I also never got the sense of dramatic flair that I wanted from the class, though it’s possible the really cool stuff comes later.

In any case, I decided to try out the other new job Stormblood adds, Red Mage. And let me tell you: me likey. If you’re familiar with Final Fantasy (or even if you’re not), you might know that White Mages cast healing magics while Black Mages cast damaging spells. Red Mages do both, and are pretty good with a sword, too. This makes them a sort of jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but damn are they cool. Look at how fancy these guys are!

Like the Samurai, I had to manage my job carefully – but the Red Mage’s unique resources made much more sense to me. Every time I cast a Black Magic spell, one side of a gauge went up. Every time I cast a White Magic spell, the other side went up. If I got them both high enough, I could unleash devastating physical attacks. It was easy to see and understand, and it felt good to cleverly dance between disciplines.

Let me paint a picture of typical combat for a Red Mage: a giant monster is bearing down on me. I leap out of the way of its attack, backflipping yards away. From a distance, I fire off Black and White spells, then dash forward with my sword. I get in a few basic swipes and then blast him with a combined flurry of slashes and magical power. It’s super fun to watch in action, and I love the mobility it encourages. Plus I get a hat with a feather in it. It’s pretty rad.

Both of these classes start at 50, so I need a little more time to grind up to 60 if I’m going to use either as my main playstyle when I finally do start tackling Stormblood’s story content. Speaking of, hopefully Square Enix has implemented enough stability measures so that I can. We’ll find out!

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