Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood—4.35
The new dungeon isn’t quite heaven on high.
Back in 2016, Final Fantasy XIV released its first ‘Deep Dungeon’, The Palace of the Dead. Featuring 200 randomized floors full of traps, curses, and beasts for your party of four adventurers to challenge itself against, you never quite knew what you’d come up against. Patch 4.35 brings a new Deep Dungeon, Heaven-on-High, with new twists and a beautiful east Asian design aesthetic—albeit this time across just 100 floors.
After being thoroughly impressed by The Palace of the Dead, I went into this patch expecting similar tales of near-death and derring-do—being bundled together with three other people of the exact same class, but still managing to scrape through by the skin of our teeth despite limited resources. It’s an incredibly hard act to follow: Heaven-on-High follows the same format, so the element of surprise is gone. Nevertheless, I wanted to see if it was capable of recapturing that magic.
Set in a mysterious tower that dominates the Ruby Sea (and that’s been inspiring fan theories about its purpose for the past year), Heavenon-High gets off to a low-key start. Someone has accidentally found an entrance, and they want you, the famous Warrior of Light, to investigate it. In my first foray I end up matching with two fellow healers and a Dark Knight tank, making for an unbalanced party. That’s part of the appeal and challenge—with any combination of classes able to enter, you’ll have to find ways to get around your weaknesses. You can enter with a fixed group if you want to be more balanced, but there’s no surprise in that. Our band might be slow to deal any damage, but we’re very healthy.
The interiors are gorgeous, full of painted screen doors and tatami mats that make for a great place to explore—even if it’s full of horrifying monsters and traps that can wipe our party if we’re not careful. Luckily, there are also dozens of treasure chests that contain Pomanders: Items that can buff you or even grant bewitching powers such as petrification, which will cause any enemy to die with one hit. The Pomanders and traps are slightly different than the ones found in Palace of the Dead, so there’s some fun in figuring them all out, but they’re not different enough to change any strategies. Staying close together, but not too close so you don’t all get hit by the same traps, is the order of the day.
So far so familiar, but seven floors in we hit our first surprise—instead of a series of small, interconnecting rooms, we’re presented with one vast space to feel our way around tile by tile. It makes for a great change of pace as it requires more meticulous planning, but it’s a shame there’s not more of that kind of variety.
The story of Heaven-on-High takes place across the first 30 floors, with a few minor cutscenes every ten floors pointing to some kind of mysterious overlord. After dispatching the floor 30 boss disappointingly quickly, I finally get to the last piece of the tale, and find myself woefully underwhelmed. FFXIV’s storytelling is genuinely some of the best in the MMO genre, as well as in the Final Fantasy series… except for here. There’s no big reveal. It just kind of peters out into nothing, like a fart on a windy day. All of that build-up and mystery goes nowhere. It’s a real shame, as the building itself is hugely impressive. This lavish space full of magical traps and monsters deserves better, especially when you compare it to Palace’s riveting tale of love, manipulation and loss.
You can fight on to floor 100, but there’s no more story, although it is a welcome way to push yourself and hopefully score some rare loot. I’m disappointed that Heaven-on-High didn’t meet my expectations, but how can it when the Deep Dungeon’s surprises have all been seen before? I also need to concede that I’m being harsh—the concept of overcoming ever-changing challenges is still fantastic even if it’s not new, and I’m still finding myself rerunning it despite the disappointing story. I may not be blown away it, but for now it’s a great way to keep me occupied until the next major patch.
There’s no big reveal. It just kind of peters out into nothing