Spoilers in here I guess. Stormblood is 4 years old… does that matter?
The challenge with any series is that any individual story within still requires a start and an end. The Lord of the Rings isn’t as much a trilogy as it is one story, and with different beats. The movies did a rather admirable job finding the strong points here, but it did differ from the books. Back to the Future one has a clear ending, though it leaves the door open. Back to the Future 2 exists almost solely as a direct set up for the 3rd one. Books are often written with trilogies in mind, and while that act structure is more refined now, that wasn’t always the case. Ender’s Game, Foundation series, even Hunger Games have weird pacing issues as you move through them.
Stormblood has a similar challenge, as the primary plot is the restoration of Doma vs Garlemald, yet also sandwiched in the middle of the larger Hydaelyn arc. The start of 4.0 is a mess, where you fight one big war for no reason (characters make a point of this), unlock Kugane, then travel across the map get into the real story (Hien). Once that part starts, then every single stage of the MSQ is focused on gaining allies for a very large final battle against Zenos. You do end up fighting Zenos and wining. Not only winning, but in the uncharacteristic trend of FF games, he actually dies in front of you. Characters can catch meteors on the forehead and walk away in this game… death is a rather rare event so it tends to be a big deal when it does occur. I don’t think Zenos was a particularly interesting character; he has 1 dimension, and barely any logic in that, but he is certainly set up as being extremely powerful. Anyhow, Stormblood ends with you reclaiming the land, Hein the lord of multiple races, and Zenos dead. It is, after Kugane at least, relatively clean.
The + content starts off as a post-war scenario, which few games ever talk about. When you spend a generation at war, what happens when it all ends, who picks up the pieces? 4.1 is about the politics of leading a newly restored country, and all the characters are pretty much from ARR. Cool to see the Bull get his place though. Oh, and you find a bajillion gil in a lost city (???)
4.2 deals with rebuilding Doma an the miraculous return of Gotetsu (+1). Something is wrong with my map because I can’t see Doma unless I’m on that specific map, and the teleport has to be manually selected. It does still have a relevant mechanic where you can sell stuff for up to 2x vendor value, up to 40k per week.
4.3 is the full-fledged return of Yotsuyu, through her insane half-brother Asahi. This one lands pretty well because there was a lot of setup in the story behind Yotsuyu all along Stormblood proper. She feels like an anti-villain in a lot of respects, where you can empathize with her rage. There are not many such examples of empathetic villains in FF14. It also has some interesting twists here, where Garlemald seems to be playing 3D chess, while Doma is just shooting arrows. If it wasn’t for you being a superhero, then this whole thing falls to pieces. This one does a strong job of closing out the final loose thread (Yotsuyu) that was put up in the closing scene of Stormblood, but it does Gosetsu something dirty having him just abandon everything and walk into the sunset as a monk.
4.4 is the attempt to build a peaceful relationship with Garlemald (insane this) and one of the coolest dungeons in the game, The Burn. I don’t think it’s a complete chapter though, as 4.5 is the flipside where you negotiate with Garlemald’s leader – Emperor Varis. The parley scene is pure exposition, and you can partly understand Garlemald’s larger motivations. The dungeon here is oddly placed at least in terms of context. 4.6 is just a battle against 1 person, which doesn’t land.
See, Zenos is both dead and possessed by an Ascian. The end result is that he remains physically powerful, now has access to magic, AND suddenly has some sort of strategic sense. Building a god from a corpse, not so much fun. He wasn’t a good primary villain for Stormblood… all the other characters were more interesting with more nuance. If he really wanted to ‘fight the good fight’, it isn’t by oppressing farmers.
Stormblood isn’t a bad storyline compared to other games, and the + content is all logically bound to what preceded it. But the story beats are just off because the story invests so much into Zenos and Yotsuyu. If you ignore the villains and the world building around Doma + Kugane, that part works pretty good. Plus, it has ninja turtles. But the start of it all feels really off, and there’s no real ending because Zenos is still ‘alive’. The lead up to 5.0 (Shadowbringers) feels like a sharp left turn, given that Garlemald is in the process of declaring war on the rest of the world and all the Scions are ‘teleported’ to another place. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that Stormblood lacks a consistent tone.
It seems weird to talk about Final Fantasy storylines not being logical when we’re talking about fireballs, summons, pirates, ninja turtles and a whole bunch of odd bits. I’m not expecting Nebula-level writing either. It just feels like this entire expansion could have done without Zenos at all, and it would have been much more cohesive.