Finished the Heavensward main story quest today. WOW.
I was pleased that the team went all-out and gave us a full-on Final Fantasy finale. The final dungeon, the Aetherochemical Research Facility, gradually gets weirder and weirder as you progress through it, until you eventually reach what is clearly The Final Boss Room, in which you’re set upon by not one but two Ascians, the dark-robed ne’er-do-wells whose evil machinations have been behind most of the Bad Things happening in Eorzea throughout the Final Fantasy XIV narrative.
Delightfully, this battle against the Ascians even does the typical Final Fantasy thing of unfolding across multiple forms, with the “merged” form of the two Ascians creating “Ascian Prime” and battering you with some of the most spectacular attacks in the entire game. Lest you thought that Final Fantasy XIV would lose some of the series’ trademark spectacle owing to the fact that its multiplayer nature makes cinematic camera angles and lengthy spell sequences impractical, this confrontation very much dispels that notion.
That’s not the end, though. The battle against Ascian Prime — the conclusion of which finally sees recurring villain Lahabrea apparently dealt with once and for all — is followed up by an eight-player Trial in the research facility’s Singularity Reactor, in which you face off against Ishgard’s Archibishop, Heavensward’s main villain.
This being Final Fantasy, however, you don’t just fight a doddering old man with an obscene amount of hit points. No; shortly before your battle with him, he draws upon the power of the Eyes of Nidhogg to channel the spirit of Ishgard’s legendary king Thorden — he who, with his knights twelve, originally laid Nidhogg low and took the great wyrm’s eyes — and become a Primal incarnation of the ancient king. Naturally, this involves him growing to approximately ten storeys in height in the process, and his bodyguards, the twelve knights of the Heaven’s Ward (do you see what they did there) undergo similar transformations prior to your final battle against the whole sorry lot of them.
The actual battle against Thorden and the knights is amazing. Final Fantasy veterans will doubtless recognise this setup as an excuse to bring in the notorious summon “Knights of the Round”, and indeed the final boss battle is effectively you fighting Knights of the Round, complete with ridiculously overblown attack animations — including, at one point, the reactor in which you’re fighting seemingly floating up into space, then your entire screen shattering to bring you back to reality. (This animation is pretty much a direct reference to Knights of the Round’s appearance in Final Fantasy VII, whose attack animation “Ultimate End” was the most powerful ability you could equip your characters with in the whole game.)
It’s a fitting end for Heavensward’s story, which has overall been a great addition to the ranks of Final Fantasy narratives throughout history. And it leaves some nice open teaser threads at the end ready for future content patches and the continuation of the story — most notably the character Estinien’s possession by the spirit of Nidhogg, the latter of whom is understandably pissed off at the world for numerous reasons, not least of which being the fact that he had his eyes scooped out, and some thousand years later, was killed by some young upstart claiming to represent the spirit of the planet itself.
Anyway. It was good stuff, and sets the scene nicely for the launch of the new raid dungeon Alexander, which must be due pretty soon now. (Indeed, the ending cutscene shows Alexander rising out of the water in the Dravanian Hinterlands, though it is as yet impossible to enter the great iron giant.)
I’m glad I beat the story (and the two “post-ending” dungeons Neverreap and The Fractal Continuum, both of which are a lot of fun — and pleasingly challenging) and am looking forward to seeing what’s next. In the meantime, I have an official full-on review of the expansion to write for Gamespot, so watch out for that soon.