Filthy Casual 3 – Heaven’s Ward goes Heavensward

Final Fantasy 14’s first full expansion pack, Heavensward, arrives on Tuesday, but for everyone who pre-ordered, access started on Friday. I would imagine that means everyone, at this point. Certainly, the world’s never been busier, and for the first time in a long time, I was greeted with the message “World is Full” when trying to log on late Friday afternoon. It was a message I hadn’t seen in a fair while.

Heavensward is a more grandiose start than the main game. As it continues the main story thread, it’s difficult to talk about the particulars, but story-wise, one thing stands out in particular. The new voice acting. I’m not sure I’m a fan. The voice acting was never particularly strong, and I know they’re trying to diversify the accents, and create a better sense of region, but some of the newer additions don’t quite have the same charm. Gideon Emery seems to have left the cast, too. It feels like they’re going for a grimier, more realistic feel for a handful of characters. I can’t say if they’ve gone back throughout the whole of the game and retconned the voice acting, but for a long term player the jump is evident – and I imagine more so for those for whom the story had no break.

One welcome change, sound-wise, at least, is the new soundtrack.  It has a greater sense of unity than the previous area’s music did, the area to battle music flows together particularly well, and attentive listeners will notice themes and allusions to the Uematsu composed “Dragonsong”, the main theme for the expansion. It’s also nice to have a primal fight that doesn’t devolve into slightly naff metal (Although the Mad Capsule Markets inspired Titan fight was actually pretty good). Ravana’s theme is grandiose, with swaying violins serve to represent Ravana’s elegant movements, combining twirling swordplay with insect flitting. It starts out as a waltz, perhaps a nod to the dancestep style combat of the major bosses. At around half way through the fight the guttural rhythmic chants present in the first part move to the forefront –the folk violins give way to a buzzing baritone that sounds both insectoid and imposing. A certain sonorous sovietism takes over –Ravana, after all, represents the head of a tribe with a singular consciousness, one that are attempting to rise up above those who’ve overlooked them previously. Ravana is a new addition to the vast Final Fantasy pantheon – named for the Hindu demon king, he takes the form of a giant insect. A cross between Gilgamesh and Odin, he is perhaps a little too familiar in design, but he represent’s FFXIV’s first unique primal, and hopefully the first of many.

Ravana was the third time I had grouped up in Heavensward. My first Heavensward group was a pretty casual one. Someone called out in the “shout” chat mode, which lets you proclaim anything you want to everyone in the area, that they were looking to do a FATE called “We Fought a Dzu” (silly pop culture puns abound in the localisation). Usually FATE groups are reserved for players in for the long haul – to do FATE after FATE in order to grind levels, but the inclination here was the offer of loot. This wasn’t a particularly good bit of loot, but rather a cosmetic piece designed for glamours, in this case in the shape of a baby behemoth, a far less intimidating creature than the fully grown beast. For those who have the collector’s edition of the main game, you’ve seen this already, you were given one as a minion. For the rest of the planet, it’s a porcine purple peculiarity. The draw for me wasn’t neccesarilly the earrings, but rather the chance to discover just what the hell a Dzu is. Turns out, a Dzu is a giant yeti. A mountain of fur with a broad grin, set in parentheses by two curved tusks, the creature has an air of cuddly toy about it. These large enemies are often the largest creature in the area, and take the role of the area’s unofficial boss. They tend to offer a specific reward – in this case the aforementioned earrings, but often a minion, which are tiny creatures that follow your character around for no purpose but aesthetics. It should be noted that minions tend to bring out the inner collector in a lot of people. For my sins, I’ve gathered 72 of the little bastards.

Heavensward is expansive. The larger areas give the world a much denser sense of wholeness. The variety in the pre-expansion areas did keep them from feeling like simple zones that you move in and out of, but these newer areas really exacerbate the feeling of a rolling world. Flight is a new addition, but you only unlock the ability after you’ve scoured the map for aetherial currents (and a handful of these are only available as quest rewards.) Just like in real life, you need to attune to these before you can take wing (N.B, Probably not true. I’ve never seen a pilot reach out to embrace a glowing, swirling ball of green mist, but then I only know one pilot, and his flight training was esoteric and obscure.) Early access ends tomorrow morning, when Heavensward officially launches, but I can’t help but feel everyone who was planning on playing it has indulged already. I’ve seen several players sitting at level 60, a couple with the jobs that have only just become available. No doubt people have burnt through the story, too, but I feel like I’ve barely taken my first steps into the new world. After all, I’ve unlocked a mere handful of the new areas, despite fairly intensive play sessions this weekend.

Next week, we go dungeoneering!

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