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WildStar F2P photo
WildStar F2P

WildStar's free-to-play closed beta is live today


Test out the free version
Aug 11
// Chris Carter
If you happen to currently subscribe to WildStar (or have obtained a code through other means), you're eligible to play the beta today, for the F2P version of the game releasing later this year. Alternatively, you can g...
Star Trek Online photo
Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online goes post-war in Season 11: New Dawn


A New Hope?
Aug 11
// Josh Tolentino
For the five years it's been running, Star Trek Online's story has been one of a galaxy at war. First it was a war between the Federation and Klingon Empire, then between an alliance of the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans...
Neverwinter photo
Neverwinter

Neverwinter: Elemental Evil expansion is coming to Xbox One next month


Slowly catching up to the PC version
Aug 07
// Joe Parlock
It was only a month ago when Rise of Tiamat, the fifth expansion for the free-to-play MMO Neverwinter, was released on Xbox One. At the time, I noted that while it was a decent update, it still meant the Xbox One version of t...
New Warcraft expansion photo
New Warcraft expansion

Blizzard reveals new World of Warcraft: Legion expansion


New Demon Hunter class!
Aug 06
// Chris Carter
Blizzard kicked things off today at gamescom with a new expansion announcement for World of Warcraft -- Legion. It will of course continue upon the story so far in Warlords of Draenor, and Illidan is back, baby! It...
Knights of the Fallen Emp photo
Knights of the Fallen Emp

New Star Wars: The Old Republic - Knights of the Fallen Empire trailer shows off gameplay


Back to 'BioWare-style storytelling'?
Aug 05
// Joe Parlock
BioWare has shown off some more of its upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, at gamescom. The newest trailer that actually shows gameplay can be seen above. The expansion will feature ...
World of Warcraft photo
World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft's at its lowest playercount since 2005


Lowest since vanilla WoW
Aug 05
// Joe Parlock
World of Warcraft isn’t at its strongest right now. In fact, according to Activision’s Q2 2015 Earnings Call, the subscriber numbers have dropped to their lowest point since 2005, with only 5.6 million subscribers...
Lord of the Rings Online photo
Lord of the Rings Online

The Lord of the Rings Online shuts down most of its worlds


Five worlds to rule them all...
Aug 04
// Joe Parlock
Looks like The Lord of the Rings Online hasn’t been in the best shape recently. Developer Turbine has announced it will be closing all but five of the worlds for each region. The only worlds that will remain open in the...

Review: World of Tanks

Aug 03 // Brett Makedonski
World of Tanks (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WargamingPublisher: WargamingRelease Date: July 28, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions) Really, World of Tanks treads the line uneasily that all massively multiplayer online titles do: How do you make a game like this rewarding and nuanced for experienced players, yet inviting and engaging enough for a new audience? Extrapolating from that (and more importantly): How do you convert both Group A and Group B into dollar signs? Wargaming doesn't always do a great job of it, as its intentions often seem paper-thin. That aforesaid selfishness is where the moneymaking lies though, and it can come at the expense of the experience. World of Tanks on Xbox One gives people no reason to press forward except for personal gain. Being killed in a match means it's the end of that match as far as you're concerned. Sure, one could theoretically watch the rest of the round through the cameras of other players, but literally no one will do that. Instead, they'll head back to the garage, hop into another tank, and try again in a different match. This was my exact experience for much of my time with World of Tanks. After several hours of playing (but possibly more spent in loading screens), I checked my stats to see that I had a victory rate of just about 50 percent. That's not bad at all, but I had no idea. Worse yet, I didn't really care. I only cared about the currency dripfeeding into my account at the conclusion of each match. That's all World of Tanks wants us to care about. [embed]296821:59762:0[/embed] The last statement is made obvious by the way which Wargaming organically introduces players to some later-game content. During matches, it's not completely uncommon to come up against an opponent that seems literally invincible. Your ammunition will do next to nothing to it; it will dispose of you with the disdain of a Midwesterner swatting one of a thousand mosquitoes on a humid July night. That is your goal -- you want to be that guy. Make no mistake about it: World of Tanks is a continual left-to-right surge through a spiderweb of tanks you don't yet have, but might have very soon. Those first few come relatively quickly and the progression feels real. After that, everything gets slower. Each match contributes, but less so than before. Looking ahead through that web, some of it seems unattainable (or at the very least, extremely far off). World of Tanks wants your time or your wallet -- pick your poison. Fortunately, giving it your time isn't the worst option. World of Tanks can be rewarding. Every hit landed on another player is satisfying. Blowing them up is exponentially better than just damaging them. Surviving the entire match, destroying several on the other team, and/or capturing a base might just make you feel like you're General Patton. You start to think "I'm getting better. If I keep playing like this, those end-game tanks will be mine in no time!" These are the immutable highs of World of Tanks. It's simply enthralling when you set off on a literal warpath and cut down everything in your way. This is the meat of the game, and it's a prime cut. Excelling at tank-play against other humans feels very, very good. At this point, imminent defeat in the next match is all but assured. That's where World of Tanks is at its worst. Barring the progression frustrations, it's all too often that you'll feel like your opponents know something you don't. Their death machines are probably superior to yours, sure. Still, they'll angle their tanks in such a way that they never expose the weak part of the armor that you didn't even know was weak. They're really good, and you're not sure how to get to that level. The game doesn't teach you, and it doesn't seem like you'll ever learn on your own. It's very unintuitive. For everything that might appear impossible, what you do pick up on your own is invaluable. It isn't long before rushing in looks like a fool's game. Flank, hide, proceed with caution. These vehicles may be harbingers of destruction, but you can't treat them as such. Each minute movement actually means something when you're in the thick of it. These are the times when you'll feel a strategic sense in World of Tanks. Suddenly, things aren't so bad again. Everything seems possible, at least. And, that's what World of Tanks thrives on -- a cyclical mindset between frustration, slight progression, and back to frustration. There are intermittent spurts of elation peppered in occasionally in the event of an outstanding performance. Otherwise, it's right back to not quite understanding why others know more than you do. Which poison did they pick? Time or wallet? Or, heaven forbid, both? Anyone who truly appreciates World of Tanks won't need a review to guide them. They're already well beyond the long barrier to entry. Everyone else will likely find themselves similarly on the outside looking in. There might be something special to World of Tanks, but it's not something that's immediately apparent; it's something that only shows itself after a significant investment. The gameplay can be rewarding at times, but most won't have the patience (or the money) to ever get to that point. Thus, World of Tanks won't ever be more than a quick detour on the way to something that's easier to comprehend. [This review is based on a retail build of the free game downloaded by the reviewer.]
World of Tanks review photo
Pick your poison
World of Tanks is a selfish game. It acts selfishly in that it hides information from its players, expecting them to figure out any and all intricacies on their own. Similarly, it asks its userbase to roll into combat as...

Neverwinter: Strongholds might get me back into the game

Jul 31 // Joe Parlock
Building your Stronghold [embed]296961:59747:0[/embed] With the goal of providing “interesting and meaningful experiences to guilds”, the process of creating and upgrading your guild’s stronghold is at the heart of the expansion. All buildable structures and upgrades are ultimately decided by the leaders of the guild, but those goals are worked towards by every member through the “Coffers” system. Coffers are the total resources available to a guild to help build up their stronghold, and they’re separated into three categories: materials, which are found in the lands surrounding your stronghold such as lumber; treasures, which are earned by playing through the campaign zones of the wider game such as the Dread Ring campaign; and stockpiles, the normal loot, gold, and astral diamonds players earn throughout the game. Finding these resources ensures creating a good stronghold for your guild isn’t just a case of the leaders fiddling with the UI; every member of the guild would have a role to play, be it collecting resources or planning out where structures will go.  Once there are enough resources to build a new structure in the stronghold, or to upgrade an already existing one, the guild leaders can then start the work of upgrading, while also setting the next goal for the guild to work towards. However, the amount of upgrades you can apply to a structure depends on the overall level of the guild’s keep. While structures have a maximum level of 10, the keep can grow up to level 20. However, structures can’t out-level the keep, so sometimes an effort must be made to upgrade the keep rather than simply rushing for all the new and shiny buildings. As players donate these hard-earned resources to their guild’s coffers, they are awarded guild marks with which they can buy new gear and items for themselves at the marketplace. It’s a way of incentivising altruism among the guild, and is one of the few times in the game players can make decisions for themselves that aren’t directly linked to the decisions of their wider guild. Another way the guild must coordinate in building their stronghold is in the new added boons. Boons are passive bonuses granted to players, and in Strongholds, structures can be built to grant the entire guild specific types of boons. There are currently four categories: offense, defense, utility, and Player vs. Player (PvP). The catch is not every type of boon would available for a guild at the same time, as there are only a limited number of boon structures that can be made. This requires decisions to be made about how players within the guild will be buffed. An example given would be a raiding guild may put more emphasis into PvP or offensive boons to increase their power. The boons in each category would be optional for each individual player, however what type of boon is available is up to the guild. It’s a neat mechanic, as now other players who you’d regularly play with have an active impact on how your character works, and how these buffs influence your character may well change in the future. Should the guild decide to change an offensive boon structure to a defensive one, the boons you previously had would no longer apply. It’s interesting, however I could also see it causing some conflict within guilds. The area given to a guild to build its stronghold on is the biggest zone Neverwinter has ever seen: it is three times bigger than the biggest previous one. The zone is split into multiple, smaller themed areas, each with their own enemies and quests. For example, there may be faetouched areas, or there may be areas that are more desolate, and different enemies may be encountered in each one. It’s nice to see some variance in the zone, as Neverwinter does have a problem of each zone being its own themed thing that gets boring sometimes: the snowy zone, the desert zone, or the city zone and nothing but that. Some areas will be sealed off and hidden until the stronghold has been built up and expanded on, but what’s interesting is that the future of the zone isn’t entirely known even to Perfect World yet. The strongholds system is planned to be expanded upon over the course of at least the next two expansions: Strongholds and a currently unannounced expansion after that. According to them, being “done” with building a stronghold simply isn’t possible, as new structures and boons will be made available in future updates.  While there is a storyline planned out for Strongholds and the expansion after that, the specifics of what sort of boons and structures will be included in them are apparently down to player feedback and community suggestions. New Player vs. Environment Content Building up a guild’s stronghold isn’t the only new addition to Neverwinter. Alongside it comes a new range of player vs. environment content, much like in the previous expansions before it. However, a lot of this will still directly help your stronghold grow. Firstly, the act of actually acquiring your guild’s new keep will be part of a quest line that changes as the stronghold grows. At first, your guild and a travelling band of Orcs will both arrive at the same time, causing there to be multiple skirmishes and missions available. Finding guards, protecting farms, and driving off Orcs to ensure that your keep is safe in the early days. As the keep levels up, new enemies will start to appear in the zone. For example, the second phase of the zone involves mercenaries appearing to try and steal the keep from you, giving you multiple quests involving dealing with them. The zone’s campaign appears to play out in much the same way as previous campaign zones such as the Dread Ring have, however there is also the added dimension of it being dependent on your keep’s level. Of course, there will also be a series of daily quests available from your stronghold’s steward too, and they will also help guide players to the next of their campaign quests. Greed of the Dragonflight That’s all pretty standard expansion stuff: more of what Neverwinter players will be used to. What’s particularly interesting is the major new boss fight that occurs in the Strongholds zone. Dubbed Greed of the Dragonflight, the boss is designed to be played by guilds of 40 or more players who must coordinate and plan out how to take down four powerful dragons simultaneously across the map. If one dragon is killed, the other three will flee shortly afterwards, requiring guilds to figure out which players are best suited to take on each dragon, and make sure all four of them die at the same time. Doing so will net the guild huge rewards, some of the most powerful items in the game, according to Perfect World. However, failure to nab all for dragons doesn’t mean nothing was gained. Due to some guilds not having enough players to take down all four dragons, there is a sliding scale of what rewards are given. The more dragons the guild can kill, the better the loot given. What I saw of this event reminded me of my favourite bit of Neverwinter: the timed boss events. Instances are great, questing is fun, but seeing the alert to head to an area of the map to slay as big-as-hell lizard was always really cool to me. It’s involving, it’s hectic, and it looks as though adding in the extra element of needing to size up who takes on which dragon will make it all the more satisfying when the guild succeeds. The difference between normal timed events and Greed of the Dragonflight is that it isn’t only a timed event. Due to a large amount of player requests, Perfect World is allowing guilds to trigger the event manually whenever they like, and so it could become a pretty big part of guild social life somewhere down the line. A New PvP mode inspired by MOBAs Player vs. Player in Neverwinter has been the centre of Perfect World’s attention for a while now: originally offering a fairly basic 5v5 arena mode, an open-world PvP was later added in Icewind Dale, and of course Strongholds will be adding even more for those who like stomping other players. The PvP added to Strongholds is a 20v20 Guild vs. Guild mode, which when I first heard about it reminded me a lot of Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World feature. However, it appears as though the new mode is being more inspired by the likes of Dota and League of Legends. This isn’t a compulsory feature, guilds must queue up to enter the mode. Once in the game, guilds will find their strongholds and surrounding lands “glued together”, with a river separating the two. The MOBA inspiration comes on the emphasis of controlling the various lanes between the two strongholds, while pushing forward and sieging the enemy guild. Perfect World has also catered to smaller guilds that might not have 20 players online at a time. When in queueing, if a guild has enough players to spare, they will be transferred temporarily to the other guild and fight for them instead. It’s a nice way of evening the playing field, but it will also be interesting to see where their alliances lie once the match is underway. It’s worth noting I didn’t get to actually see any PvP in action, due to the problems setting up a game with 40 players just to show me it would’ve caused. As such, all of this is only how it was described to me by Overmyer. Final Thoughts As previously mentioned, I’ve got a fair amount of experience with Neverwinter, however the lack of something to keep me interested once I’d finished the story quests meant I dropped out of the game soon after. Guilds have always been something in MMOs I’ve had an interest in, but never found the right match – I always ended up in quiet, inactive guilds where nothing ever happened. Strongholds looks like it wants to solve both of my problems, while giving me more of the solo content that got me into the game at first. I’m somewhat concerned that finding decent guilds might still be tricky, but maybe the new toys guilds can play with will convince people to give running guilds a go. PvP has never been a big interest of mine. I got into Rift’s quite a bit, but still eventually found myself going back to questing. Neverwinter in particular has been quite notorious for equipment you can buy in the store being perceived to be more powerful than stuff you can earn in-game, which always put me off PvP. However, if it’s true that the rewards from Greed of the Dragonflight are some of the strongest in the game, it could go a way to fix that problem. Overall, I’m excited. I’m definitely going to be going back into it just to see how all of these new mechanics change how people interact within guilds, if at all. Plus Dragonflight is a condensed version of everything I like about Neverwinter, which is great. Neverwinter: Strongholds will be released on August 11 as the next free expansion on PC. Neverwinter is free-to-play on both Xbox One and PC.
Neverwinter: Strongholds photo
An in-depth look at all the new stuff
On August 11, Perfect World will be releasing the latest expansion to their Dungeons & Dragons-based MMO Neverwinter, Strongholds. With its action-based combat, fantastic locations, and relatively simple mechanics, N...

World of Warcraft photo
World of Warcraft

The World of Warcraft is getting a little bigger soon


More at gamescom
Jul 29
// Brett Makedonski
Blizzard has a new expansion planned for World of Warcraft, but it's holding its cards close to its chest. But, not that close! The developer's at least willing to admit that a reveal is imminent via a little tease. Whatever ...
Dragon Quest X photo
Dragon Quest X

Dragon Quest X now coming to Nintendo NX, PS4 (Update)


Wait, what?
Jul 28
// Kyle MacGregor
[Update: Speaking to IGN, Square Enix backpedaled, saying NX is only "under consideration."] In addition to revealing Dragon Quest XI, Square Enix just announced a pair of new platforms for its predecessor. Dragon Quest ...
Neverwinter: Strongholds photo
Neverwinter: Strongholds

Neverwinter: Strongholds coming August 11 - Come see the trailer


Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! L-L-L-LIVE!
Jul 24
// Joe Parlock
I’m excited for the newest Neverwinter expansion, Strongholds. Guilds have never really been all that important in Neverwinter, with most players blasting through the solo content and then going into the admittedly pay...
PSO2 in English photo
PSO2 in English

Phantasy Star Online 2 available in English with no modding (Update)


But there are some drawbacks
Jul 22
// Jed Whitaker
[Update: The IP block has since been brought back for some reason. Bummer.] Phantasy Star Online 2 has been out since 2012 in Asia but never made the jump to English-speaking countries officially until now, sort of....
Rustic photo
Rustic

Rust soft launches female avatars, 'you never had a choice'


Admins first, then organic dispersal
Jul 17
// Steven Hansen
Back when I was telling you about how Rust automatically generates penis size based on Steam ID, a footnote to that article was that female player models were on their way to the survival sandbox, too. Well, this momentous ad...
Dragomon Hunter photo
Dragomon Hunter

Dragomon Hunter puts Hatsune Miku in Monster Hunter


That name is art in its purest form
Jul 16
// Joe Parlock
Monster Hunter’s pretty big at the moment, isn’t it? With its unforgiving combat and fantastic enemy designs making it hugely popular, it’s no wonder other developers have been wanting in on some of the suc...
Elder Scrolls photo
Elder Scrolls

Elder Scrolls Online's Imperial City is DLC, costs roughly $20


2,500 Crowns
Jul 15
// Chris Carter
Elder Scrolls Online is still chugging along with its free-to-subscribe model on PC and consoles, and now you can get a look at the Imperial City pack, which is set to arrive on August 31 for PC, and September 15 on PS4 and ...
RaiderZ shutting down photo
RaiderZ shutting down

Perfect World is closing RaiderZ next month


It doesn't have a developer
Jul 13
// Jordan Devore
Come August, there will be one less monster-hunting game for PC. "Over the past weeks, RaiderZ has seen a few different instances where the game has had issues with the server," said Perfect World Entertainment in a blog pos...
Slay Momma, slay photo
Slay Momma, slay

Watch Dragon's Dogma Online beta gameplay right now!


Free-to-play, free-to-slay
Jul 11
// Jed Whitaker
The free-to-play Dragon's Dogma Online beta is now out in Japan on PS3, PS4, and PC for the lucky few who were selected to test it. Sadly the game hasn't been announced for other regions, but never say never. For the time being, feast your eyes on what you're missing out on.
Online game talk photo
Online game talk

Do you go out of your way to help people in online games?


Why or why not
Jul 11
// Chris Carter
As a general rule, I play online games by myself if at all possible. In Final Fantasy XIV, the game I've been playing most lately due to the release of the recent Heavensward expansion, I politely declined most groups to...
Trove photo
Trove

Trove, a Minecraft-like MMO, is out today from Trion Worlds


I think kids will dig this
Jul 09
// Chris Carter
I know it's tough to see "MMO" and "Minecraft clone" and not roll your eyes, but bear with me here. Trion World's free-to-play Trove is out today, and I gave it a spin this morning to see what it could do -- p...
League of Legends photo
League of Legends

'Online harassment is not an impossible problem,' says Riot


Online abuse drops to two percent
Jul 09
// Vikki Blake
"How do you introduce governance into a society that didn't have one before?" That's the question posed by - and to - League of Legends developer Riot, as it grapples with unacceptable behaviour and online toxicity.  Acc...

Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward's Alexander makes raids much more accessible

Jul 07 // Chris Carter
Endgame raids have seemingly undergone a few changes since we last left the Binding Coil of Bahamut in Realm Reborn. For starters, you can use the duty finder to enter Alexander immediately after completing the roughly 10 minute attunement quest -- the only thing you need is Item Level 170 or above, and the main story completed. Square Enix noted that they wanted the base raid to be more accessible (with a tougher challenge coming later for static groups), and I think they succeeded with that goal. There are four wings in all so far (more will be added at a later date like Coil), and the first three can easily be completed with a pick-up-group, so long as everyone is on their toes. The first fight features two mechs which need to be kept apart by the two tanks, the second battle is similar to Turn 4 of the first Coil (lots of adds, but with a fun mech-suit twist for one DPS), the third features a really cool shape-shifting water elemental, and the fourth is against a giant structure that almost feels like a confrontation with Alexander himself. I like all of them in their own way, though the fourth is easily comparable to an EX fight, and will give pick-up-groups more trouble. Loot is handled differently as well, as every fight drops "tokens" that you can use to acquire Item Level 190 gear in Idyllshire. The accessories only need one token, but the left side armor pieces will need at least two, if not four. As of today, I won two rolls for the head piece token, granting me a piece of headgear -- I have two more "lockouts" that I need to complete for the rest of the week, at which point I can't earn any other gear in Alexander. Theoretically you can get three pieces this week, with one accessory token, one waist token, and two hand tokens (some tokens share loot tables, and the body and legs take four each). [embed]295523:59398:0[/embed] It's not a perfect solution, but I really prefer it to the old system. Previously, I was raiding in Coil with my old static, and we'd find that we'd frequently get doubles of unneeded gear, leading to some of our group not getting any pieces and falling behind by sheer luck. This is typical of the MMO endgame routine, but in recent years, many developers have implemented tokens to combat this -- it's nice to see Square Enix adopt it, just in time for the new Master Loot system to make raid lead's lives easier. The actual design of the dungeons themselves are brilliant, filled with steam pouring from pipes, metallic slides, and tons of personality throughout. It's a nice departure from the overused Allegan theme of Coil, and overall, I'm liking it a bit more. I also really like the soundtrack, as it gets me sufficiently pumped to take on the new encounters.  I'm happy with Heavensward's Alexander raid debut, and Savage mode is set to arrive in two weeks from today, which will bring about the aforementioned tougher fights, more akin to what a typical static group would expect.
Square Enix photo
I braved all four current floors today
Today marks the release of the Alexander raid in Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, a pretty monumental day for hardcore players. We've all been tirelessly working on our sets, ensuring that we make our way up to a respectable I...

Final Fantasy XIV photo
Final Fantasy XIV

Square stops Final Fantasy XIV Mac sales after dev team's 'mistakes'


Offering refunds
Jul 06
// Steven Hansen
As we noted last week, the Mac port of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is plagued with issues. This doesn't seem uncommon these days, but remember that Naoki Yoshida built A Realm Reborn back up from Final Fantasy XIV's ini...
FFXIV photo
FFXIV

I'm pumped to raid in Final Fantasy XIV's Alexander


Mechanical playground
Jul 06
// Chris Carter
The Alexander raid, the second real raid set to debut in Final Fantasy XIV after The Binding Coil of Bahamut, is on track for tomorrow. In the meantime you can check out this new trailer to get an idea of what to expect...
Runescape photo
Runescape

14 years later, Runescape has its first raids added


gib party hat pl0x
Jul 06
// Joe Parlock
Runescape is getting raids. Let that sink in for a second. A game released in 2001 and was in its prime in 2007 is only getting its first raids fourteen years later. When I saw this news, I thought it had to be horrifically ...
Neverwinter photo
Neverwinter

The Xbox One version of Neverwinter is now only one expansion behind


Rise of Tiamat has just launched
Jul 02
// Joe Parlock
While the PC version of the pretty dang good MMO Neverwinter is waiting for news about its newest expansion, the Xbox One port unfortunately is playing catchup. Perfect World have announced that Rise of Tiamat, the fifth modu...
Devilian photo
Devilian

Trion announces it's publishing F2P MMO Devilian


Like a less confusing Path of Exile?
Jul 01
// Joe Parlock
That thing you just saw was the trailer to Trion’s newest MMO, Bluehole Ginno Games’ Devilian. I forgive you if you still don’t know what the game is, because that trailer explains exactly fuck all about it...
EVE Online photo
EVE Online

EVE Online at its lowest playercount since 2008


Space is getting a little bit smaller
Jun 29
// Joe Parlock
Everyone’s favourite spreadsheet simulator EVE Online might not be everyone’s favourite anymore, according to graphs made by EVE player Jestertrek. The graphs show that the amount of people concurrently playing t...
FFXIV photo
FFXIV

Final Fantasy XIV's Mac port isn't great


Moogles prefer the Surface over the iPad
Jun 29
// Joe Parlock
Players of Final Fantasy XIV are reporting major performance issues in the recently released Mac client. Low framerates, hanging launchers, and graphical errors are all being seen. On the official forums, and reddit, many pla...

Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

Jun 26 // Chris Carter
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month)Released: June 19, 2015 (Early Access), June 23, 2015 The "40 hours" of questing claim by Square Enix for the main story (levels 50-60) is accurate, but there's a caveat. You'll have to do a combination of sidequests, daily hunt marks (which can be done solo), and dungeons to push through some gaps, particularly in the middle levels. A few portions can be off-putting sometimes in terms of pacing, especially since the sidequests aren't nearly as good as the main story questline. Having said that, there wasn't any point, even the aforementioned lows, where I stopped having fun. There's just so much to do at this juncture of Final Fantasy XIV. I would frequently stop to do world hunts, which respawn every few hours or so in each area. They're even more fun now once you've unlocked flight for that particular zone, and all of the old hunts still exist too, albeit with smaller rewards for kills. You could hunt all day if you wanted to. I'd visit my new apartment in my friend's beachfront property villa in the Mist, and see what was going on with their new workshop -- a feature that lets you build Free Company (guild) airships in Heavensward, which go on expeditions for more items, similar to Retainer quests. Although I don't tend to craft in any MMO I play, I hung out with a group of crafters and chatted for hours about the new crafter meta and theories for some testing, which are insanely deep. For those who aren't aware, each crafting and gathering class has its own miniature storyline, and crafters in particular now have a even more complicated method of creating new high quality items. Crafting was always like a puzzle, allowing players to learn the best rotations for creating the best items, but now, there's an "endgame" of sorts for the profession, featuring a separate system of crafting in guilds to help build airships, and more complicated patterns that will fetch big gains on the auction house. Flying makes gathering nodes more fun, which is a big improvement on the 2.0 system -- and more nuanced with new gathering abilities. I also took a break and started a Dark Knight, Astrologian, and Machinist, which are all new jobs in Heavensward. Although there's a debate going on regarding the latter's low damage output, I've grouped and played all of them, and each brings something unique to the table. The Dark Knight is really fun to tank with, as he can drop his "Grit" stance (having it on lets you take less damage) on occasion, which unlocks a whole host of damage-dealing abilities. [embed]294750:59242:0[/embed] As a general rule you always want to be doing your core job and tanking with Grit, but when you need that extra push, the Dark Knight is ready and willing, and feels far more engaging than the existing Warrior. The Astrologian sacrifices a bit of firepower (compared to the White Mage and Scholar) but makes up for it with a variety of different healing tricks, and the Machinist is one of the most complicated DPS classes in the game. They are all worthwhile additions, and each role (tank, healer, ranged DPS) fits perfectly in the current meta. By the time I was done with the story and hit level 60, I had played far more than 40 hours. While there are some predictable plot points and far too much Final Fantasy grandstanding, I have to say I enjoyed it as a whole. I really dig the dragon theme that permeates throughout the expansion (they commit to it), and I was satisfied with the conclusion, especially the final boss, which Final Fantasy fans will love. The epilogue also does its job of sufficiently teasing all of the upcoming free content updates, so I'm pumped to see where this goes. The dungeons are all par for the course, which again, is a theme with this expansion. Every dungeon, including the three level 60 ones at the end, have the same linear design that is crafted to prevent you from speedrunning them. Gone are the labyrinthine paths of some low-level dungeons, as well as the tricks of the trade of the vanilla endgame areas; the structure is basically the same every time. Thankfully, the boss fights are spectacular, and nearly every zone features an encounter that has something I've never seen before. Without spoiling it, my favorite dungeon has a fight where a bird flies up into the air, and causes the entire battlefield to fill with fog, forcing you to find his shadow before he comes back down. Another hilariously tasks players with picking up totems and placing them in certain areas to prevent a boss from casting a ritual that ties his health to them. Every fight is intuitive so you won't be scratching your head going "how does this work?" but you will have to actually try. It's a good balance, even if I wish some of the dungeons were a bit more open. The two Primals (Ravana and Bismarck) are worthy additions to the game, and both have EX (extreme) versions that will test your might at level 60. Ravana is an awesome fight that I refer to as "the ninja bug," and it basically feels like how Titan should have been, with a circular arena that you can fall off of. Bismarck on the other hand is like nothing else in Final Fantasy XIV, featuring the titular whale flying right next to a floating rock that the party is standing on. Players will have to hook him with harpoons (you can shout "call me Ishmael" while doing it) and whale on the whale's weak point temporarily. I feel like Ravana is faster-paced and more fun, but again, Bismarck is unique. Currently the endgame consists of gathering law tomes (obtained by high-level dungeons and hunts), buying item level i170 gear, and upgrading them to i180 by way of items from seals. Bismarck EX will net you i175 weapons, and Ravana earns you i190. You have two weeks to fully upgrade your left and right-side gear to face the first part of the Alexander raid, who will debut at that time (with the tougher "Savage" difficulty unlocking two weeks after that). Said raids will be even better thanks to the new loot systems, which can give a raid leader more control over who gets what (finally). With everything there is to do in the game though, it doesn't feel like a grind to get to that point. Did I mention Heavensward was beautiful? I'm pretty sure I have often, but I'll do it again just to drive the point home. It looks fantastic, from the snowy landscape of Ishgard to the Souls-esque Dravanian Hinterlands, complete with lush plains and hellish mountains filled with fiery depths. I would often stop just to admire the scenery, which is even easier thanks to flying mounts. Every time I visit an old content area I long for the chance to use a flying mount, but alas, it's only available in new zones. Specifically regarding the PS4 version, it's starting to feel the sting of the more open areas a bit, particularly when it comes to longer load times (which can be a pain while zoning in for hunts) and some slowdown. I should mention that said slowdown never becomes unplayable, even with 50 other players slashing away at the same world hunt target. It can just get a bit sluggish is all. My view is partially colored by the fact that the new Direct X 11 version on PC looks gorgeous and runs smoothly. Down the line you have new storylines to look forward to, as well as the aforementioned Alexander raid, more 24-player casual raids (which aren't currently in yet), a new PVP map, and a new multi-part relic weapon quest that will debut next month for all jobs. None of this was factored into this review, but it's something to be aware of -- based on its past track record, Square Enix will continue to evolve the game and make it better. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is more A Realm Reborn, which is a fine thing to strive for in my book. Whether you're the type of player who enjoys crafting, endgame content, or role-playing, there's so much to do here for people of all skill levels it's insane. While I fizzled out a bit after completing the main story in 2.5, Heavensward has rekindled my flame. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Heavensward review photo
Par for the heavens
When our story began last week, I was a level 53 Paladin, soldiering through the new content for Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward. I stand before you now as a level 60, having played everything that's currently available. My opinion on the expansion hasn't changed much, which is a good thing.


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