Final Fantasy XIV’s Stormblood expansion occupies an unfortunate place in the game’s history, wedged between Heavensward, which really kickstarted FFXIV’s story of redemption, and Shadowbringers, widely regarded as one of the best Final Fantasy stories ever told. While Stormblood may have gone down as the “worst” expansion, it’s still filled with grand ideas and ambitions, and in one specific area, it even soars above every other expansion.
Final Fantasy XIV’s world-building has never felt more vibrant than in Stormblood, and its grounded tale of war, oppression, and fighting for freedom gives the expansion a style all its own. Considering the expansion is currently free-to-play until May 8, as long as you have a subscription, there’s never been a better time to jump in.
Stormblood drastically increased the scope of FFXIV’s world, moving events from the familiar lands of Eorzea to wildly different shores, including the Japan-inspired castle city of Kugane, the Mongolia-like Azim Steppe, and the subjugated land of Doma. These locations were a drastic aesthetic change for FFXIV, but they also came with nearly a dozen rich new cultures to explore.
Stormblood’s narrative is all about fighting back against the Garlean Empire, loosening its stranglehold on the far-eastern lands to weaken the overall machine. Because of that narrative crux, Stormblood is deliberately slow-paced, especially in the first half. The expansion takes liberal time to introduce you to the various people of the East, immersing you in the culture to understand their plight and reason for fighting.
The streets of Kugane are plastered in color and extravagance, and a lot of the side quests there have you diving into the inner workings of the vibrant trading hub. You get a sense of the city’s underworld as well, and how the Empire has learned to take advantage of it due to Kugane being a neutral state. Each step of Stormblood’s adventure yields similarly complex locations to explore, from the warring tribes of the Steppe to the desolate smattering of villages in Doma, led to ruin by the iron grip of the empire.
The other part of Stormblood’s world-building lies in the actual Dungeons and Trials, as this is where FFXIV really started to double down on the visual details. The dungeon Bardem’s Mettle is themed as a “trial” for warriors, and it remains one of the most mechanically interesting experiences in the entire game with the visuals to back it up.
Later on, the storming of Doma Castle feels fittingly epic, as the castle is filled with hidden walls and traps that not only serve a mechanical purpose but help narratively flesh out the Ninja and Samurai-inspired location. Post-launch patches would only double down on this idea with the utterly unforgettable Ghimlyt Dark, a dungeon that feels like one massive battle and gives nearly every main character some role to play.
While Stormblood, as a whole, may not reach the same heights as the other expansions in terms of main narrative and gameplay, it’s still a journey well worth taking. As someone that’s been with FFXIV since 1.0, I can confidently say that Stormblood has provided some of my most cherished experiences in the game, from the tragic fate of Yotsuyu to the absolute joy of finally seeing the Doman Enclave reconstructed after sinking in dozens of hours.
The heights of the other FFXIV expansions are often so lofty that Stormblood gets overlooked, and that’s a real shame. Its story, while slow and plodding, dives into the heart of the very themes that have come to define FFXIV, like finding your purpose in a world where the odds are stacked against you and what it takes to persevere in spite of that.
Don’t let the moniker of being the “worst” expansion stop you from taking this unforgettable journey, because ultimately, it’s really just the fourth best.