It has been just over a month since Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, Shadowbringers, launched. In that time I’ve leveled three jobs to the new level cap of 80 (Gunbreaker, Red Mage & Machinist), I’ve finished their respective role (Tank, Healer, Magical DPS, Physical DPS) quest-lines, I’ve ran the new Eden raid, I’ve cleared Titania (which is one of the two new Extreme Trials), and I’ve done a ridiculous amount of side-quests and dungeon runs. The wealth of new content is overwhelming at first glance. Despite how great this expansion is, I wouldn’t say Shadowbringers is my favorite expansion for FFXIV (as it is right now, we’ll see what comes with future patches), but it’s still vastly superior to other MMO’s out there and is a must buy for fans of FFXIV.
The story of Shadowbringers deals with some very mature themes. In the world of Norvrandt, the battle between light and dark was ultimately won by the light. You would think this would be cause for celebration, but the light prevailing has in fact been a victory that is strife with misery. The light now has created monsters and devours everything in its path. Without the balance, the world has fallen into chaos. This is where you, the Warrior of Light, comes into play. The Exarch, a character shrouded in secrecy, has summoned you to this world that’s on the brink of destruction and needs your help. You must become the Warrior of Darkness, and bring darkness back to the world (there are no day and night cycles until you complete the dungeon in a certain area to bring back darkness, which I thought was a very cool feature). It’s an interesting way to tell a story. We’re accustomed to light equals good, but here the creatures of the light called Sin Eaters are anything but good. It’s refreshing and presents an original story to the player which I feel is always welcomed. At times it reminded me of The Hunger Games. In Eulmore, a floating city in Kholusia where the rich live out their days being waited on by the poor. If the servant does not perform as intended, the owner will literally throw them off the edge into the water far below. This abuse extends to bodily harm as a form of pleasing the Sin Eaters so as to avoid conflict. The world’s going to shit so you may as well give a little piece of yourself to live out the rest of your days being pampered right? The way in which people transform into Sin Eaters is horrifying and this plays into a lot of the characters motivations throughout the various quests. Most of the people that you’re trying to help in the game have seen their loved ones turn into mindless Sin Eaters right in front of them. It’s a fate worse than death and fuels a ton of emotion into the story.
The only issue I had is that it shares some comparisons to Stormblood’s story. You’ve even got got an enemy that is too powerful to fight at first (much like Zenos) and through the main story you’ll fight this character numerous times. It felt too much like the battles with Zenos, and was pretty predictable.
In terms of the new areas you’ll be exploring, they all look fantastic and this expansion has one of the best soundtracks. There’s only one zone I hate listening to, and that’s The Rak’tika Greatwood. You’ll have the high pitched “LA HEE” stuck in your brain for the rest of time, even after death. The world of Norvrandt is something we’re unfamiliar with. While we have been to some fantastic looking areas during our time in FFXIV, this new world we explore is something straight out of a fairy tale. Il Mehg is an area full of lush fields covered in flowers and dilapidated concrete structures inhabited by fairies with scottish accents. Dungeon design is varied and there are some really amazing looking enemies that you’ll be going up against (the last dungeon in particular is phenomenal in terms of enemy design).
What’s also new with this expansion? We’ve got two new races, Viera (the bunnies from FFXII) & Hrothgar (the cat people from FFX), and we’ve got two new jobs to play as. Gunbreaker (Tank) & Dancer (Ranged DPS). I haven’t played much of Dancer and while it seems like a cool job to play, Gunbreaker is the first class I leveled to 80. The new tank is modeled after Squall from FFVIII & Lightning from FFXIII and has some great AOE capabilities, a six step weapon skill combo, and can even cast a shield on themselves or any other party members for some added protection. Some of their most powerful attacks come from their gunpowder gauge. When you’ve finished the two step AOE combo or the three step enmity combo, you gain a cartridge (you can hold up to two cartridges). With a cartridge, you can pull off an explosive AOE or a single target attack. It’s a lot of fun to play and easily my favorite tank out of the bunch.
What comes after the main story is a little less exciting. It’s exactly what we’ve seen before. It’s not to say what comes after isn’t fun the first time you do it, but the volume of content is lacking. After the story, you’re introduced to two new dungeons, two extreme trials and, as of two weeks ago, the new Eden “raid”, which consists of four boss fights. It’s all quality stuff and the Eden raid is tied to Final Fantasy VIII (my favorite if you’ve been following this site for awhile) but I’ve done everything the game is offering except one extreme trial. The Savage version of the raid was just recently released so I could pour my energy into that, but it’s just harder versions of the current Eden raid. There’s a Nier themed 24-man raid coming in the future, but in the meantime that means finishing my weekly raid rewards in a day and then farming these extreme trials and possibly dipping my toes into Eden Savage. Even with all that’s available, it feels pretty stale. I just wish there were other things along the lines of World of Warcraft’s world quests. I always found them interesting and they give you a reason to explore each of the new zones thoroughly. As the game sits right now, I could just sit in the hub all day and que up for stuff to progress. It’s not exactly fun. Give me an excuse to go out into the world and explore every nook and cranny.
My other issue with this expansion is pacing. I ran into the same problem with Heavensward & Stormblood and still nothing has changed. The story always seems to get interesting and then you hit a level wall. The 2nd dungeon Dohn Mheg requires level 73, but when I reached that part in the main story I was only about a quarter of the way into 72. It really kills the urgency and momentum of the story when you have to go and grind some dungeons to be able to continue on. The story starts to get very interesting with some great revelations and lore bombs that fans of the series will eat right up. After the intense build up to the climax, you’re tasked with building a giant elevator. This means you, yes you, the Warrior of Darkness, has to go count wood at a lumber mill. Seriously, you have to count wood from each pile and then make sure you have the right amount. Some wood might be damaged, some rotten. It had me laughing out loud for all the wrong reasons. Why am I not hurtling towards the final battle right now? Why the hell am I counting wood? I’ve got a goddamn job to do saving the world, I don’t have time for this. I’m sure it’s all there just to prolong the experience but my god it felt ridiculous and I hope that this type of padding never shows up again.
Despite those minor grievances, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is still light years ahead of the competition in terms of story and presentation. This is easily one of the best stories in any Final Fantasy game, but I think Yoshi P and his team need to focus on providing more ways to interact with the game world. The game seems to be getting a bit too comfortable with providing a fantastic story and not much in the form of endgame content (like World Dailies or something other than the roulettes). Also, please, for the love of god, no more quests involving counting wood. – NVJ
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is now available on PS4 & PC