Final Fantasy XIV's upcoming expansion Stormblood looks to build upon its predecessor Heavensward by introducing a wealth of new content while also implementing changes to better streamline its mechanics as a whole.
Stormblood's major additions include new dungeons, new raids (with one taking place in Final Fantasy Tactics' Ivalice), swimming and diving, new zones, and two new jobs: Red Mage and Samurai. But the expansion is also changing the game's established mechanics in more drastic ways. For example, you no longer have to level up other jobs in order to gain the skills and abilities essential to play your character's primary job. You're now able to simply pick and choose from a list of abilities that you would've otherwise needed to grind other jobs for. And with the addition of the Job guage, which helps you keep track of important resources and visualize important factors, there seem to be plenty of fine-tuned adjustments coming in Stormblood that improve the overall quality of life in Final Fantasy XIV.
We recently got the opportunity to discuss Stormblood with Final Fantasy XIV director and producer Naoki Yoshida, discussing the expansion's new jobs, its various mechanical changes, and what players can expect.
GameSpot: As the second expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, how do you see Stormblood when positioned next to Heavensward? Is it meant to be a continuation? The other side of the same coin? A completely new flavor?
Naoki Yoshida: With the storyline of Final Fantasy XIV, it's very much like an overseas TV drama series. Stormblood could be seen as the third season of the Final Fantasy XIV saga. It's a brand-new adventure that the warriors of light will be experiencing. And we've created the story so that even if you haven't played through all of Heavensward, you should still be able to enjoy the content offered in Stormblood.
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Not only that, but it has been about four years since the launch of A Realm Reborn, and as time has progressed, some elements from that initial release have become overly complex. With Stormblood, we wanted to simplify those elements for players jumping in now. But at the same time, we also made sure these adjustments accommodated veteran players who have been with us throughout these years. As a result, there were many changes and revisions made to the usability, the in-play experience, player experience, that have been implemented with Stormblood.
Why do you think accessibility is so important to the MMORPG genre as a whole?
An MMORPG is a game where you spend a long time playing, so accessibility is incredibly important. But as creators watching over a community of players, when you look at one single player playing versus the big picture of a MMORPG of this scope, it's actually very rare for a person to continue playing for five or six years. From a developer's perspective, we would love to have as many people continue to play the game a long time, but we do start to see the average gameplay time; the data is there. We also need to make sure we're bringing in new players in order for our community to keep growing, so we can continue expanding.
For people who are not familiar with the franchise, now that Final Fantasy XV has been released, they may get the impression that our game is older. They might think, "Why should I play a game that's not the brand new Final Fantasy?" That's not the case. We are an MMORPG and we are continuing to grow. I think it's very important to be able to deliver that message to people who don't know us very much and to appeal to them as much as possible.
At what moment did you identify that it was necessary to simplify the gameplay?
It would be around right the time we released patch 3.2. or sometime around then was when we had an increase in the amount of new players joining Final Fantasy XIV. A lot of the feedback that we had observed was that some elements was second nature to our veteran players, but that wasn't necessarily the case for our new players. At the same time, we were also starting to see a greater disparity between our core players versus our more casual players. We were starting to see different issues arising around that time; so we started to consider that we would need some changes by the time we launch Build 4.0.
What are the two new jobs all about?
The Red Mage is categorized as a caster--like a black mage or a summoner. But in the Final Fantasy franchise, the red mage has always been depicted as a hybrid job that can inflict both magic and melee damage. For Final Fantasy XIV, we made sure to take advantage of both of the Red Mage's distinct characteristics.
The Red Mage is also unique in how it casts spells, being able to perform a chain spell where it casts one spell and instantly follows it up with another. You can then shorten the time it takes to cast a certain spell by utilizing that chain spell and raising your DPS (damage per second). The more you strategize and pay attention to how you execute these different actions, the more effective the damage of your attacks become.
As for the samurai, it is focused on melee DPS, so it's not meant to be tricky. The class brandishes a katana, which allows it to perform different sword skills, actions, and special moves by accumulating its various actions. It's a very concentrated.
The samurai also has the most versatile combo rotations, allowing it to select different attack routes based on the moves it uses. These attacks charge the Sen gauge, which is a special meter you fuel by executing combo rotations associated with special symbols: Setsu (snow), Getsu (moon), and Ka (flower). Once these symbols are earned, you can perform powerful finishing blow move.
What combat changes are planned for all the classes and how have they been affected by the changes in Stormblood exactly?
From a general perspective, there are some jobs that don't change in terms of the rotation of the different actions you had at level 60. But with the implementation of the new job gauge and job-specific UI, there have been major changes to each individual job. For example, the warrior and its various stance changes is definitely one of the more noticeable changes. But on the flip side, some of the jobs that we feel are already at a state of being complete may not have gone through too much change.
We did try to make it so that people who are proficient at managing job actions can utilize them better. But at the same time, we made adjustments for inexperienced players, so they can still produce a certain level of DPS through their jobs. Our goal was to try to bridge the gap and lessen the disparity between hardcore and casual players.
No matter what job you try out, you'll get a different gameplay experience from Build 3.0 or Heavensward. In terms of actions, if you are the type of player who is really good at managing your MP, and you're a healer, you might not need to slot in an MP regeneration action. Instead, you might opt for something that could better support your other party members. As a result, the updates to classes in Stormblood allow you a higher degree of freedom to decide how you want to execute your character's actions during a given sequence.
How big is the geography of Stormblood compared to Heavensward?
The overall geography is comparable to Heavensward, so it's about the same in terms of scale. However, in the new areas that do open up, you still have to unlock the ability to fly, which means you'll be traveling on land for a while until you unlock a zone's wind currents. As a result, you might think the maps feel large because you've grown accustomed to traveling all over the place on a flying mount for the past two years.
Of course, as you progress through Stormblood, you'll unlock flight capabilities, but we encourage players to explore every nook and cranny of a zone by walking, by ground mount, and then eventually by flying mount as well.
What can you say about the amount of quest content in Stormblood compared to Heavensward?
We tried to pare down or lesson the number of subquests to put more emphasis on the main scenario quest. That said, the overall volume of quest content shouldn't be too different. But if we start to include the different job and class quests into the discussion, then there is much more content in Stormblood than Heavensward.
What exactly can we expect from the Return to Ivalice content?
First and foremost, because this is an alliance raid, you'll be going in with 24 players to experience the storyline and the different battles. But in the content, the realm of Ivalice--which you may be familiar with through Final Fantasy: Tactics and Final Fantasy 12--appears in Final Fantasy XIV as more of a redesign or a reinterpretation than a remade conversion.
In terms of who is working on the scenario, though, Yasumi Matsuno--the creator of Ivalice--is involved in the creation of this content, so there could potentially be a facet of Ivalice that may not have been depicted elsewhere. However, since this is content that we will continuously update for a long period of time, we'll be sure to share more details once it's ready.
We also have prolific character designer and director Keita Amemiya joining us in the graphics department mainly as a boss character designer. Due to his extensive work across both film and games, he has a fresh perspective that the main Final Fantasy XIV team may not have. We are hoping that some of the boss battles are going to be very refreshing because of his different take on design.
If you could describe each Final Fantasy XIV expansion in one word, what words would you use?
That's a difficult question. Of course, with a Realm Reborn, you can condense it down to "reborn." It would definitely be "expand" for Heavensward. As for Stormblood, I believe "evolution" is the most fitting.