At the end of May, Square Enix flew me out to see what was to come with Final Fantasy XIV‘s newest expansion, Shadowbringers. I had been away from the game for a while at that point, but the changes coming with the expansion had me chomping at the bit to jump back into the game. Shadowbringers promised some heavy class changes, balancing, and, of course, a brand new storyline. I left that preview show with high expectations, and the official launch has still impressed me.
New Questline Raises The Stakes
Something of a hot topic in the community is the Main Scenario Quests (MSQ), and it remains so for good reason. You find yourself in a parallel world caught in perpetual daylight, and one of your many goals is to help bring night back to this world. The true strength of this narrative comes from how it leaves subtle hints along the way, with them ultimately becoming revelations as you progress. The final string of quests hooks you, keeping you going until the end, leaving you validated in so many ways.
The stakes keep getting higher as you go along, but the game makes sure to pace itself well so that you never get desensitized or overloaded. Absorbing the narrative is imperative, and the development team did a fantastic job of catering that imperative in this storyline. Really, no MMO I have played has made me care this much about the world it conveys. To put weight behind that statement, I spent eleven years off-and-on in World of Warcraft.
I think one thing that made this expansion so powerful comes from the villains themselves. Unlike most RPG antagonists, these baddies were given the benefit of the doubt. Their intentions and motivations came to light often, delivering a justification rarely afforded to even some games’ main characters. Even though you don’t necessarily agree, the narrative makes you relate to their perspectives. I will not soon forget them.
A Few Narrative Hiccups Along The Way
Equally so, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. Not all minor arcs keep the same level of intrigue. Some ask you to fulfil a series of fetch quests or random tasks to help the locals. These contribute to world-building well, but they leave a bit of a lull in the core storyline.
The other point I wish to say holds far more weight than the above point. At a specific point in the MSQ storyline, you must complete a series of quests called Role Quests. This line has to be finished before moving forward with the MSQ. Granted, if you undertake these role-specific quests as they pop up, you will feel very little setback.
However, I got so caught up in the narrative that I skipped as much extra stuff as I could to keep going. So, I found myself having to backtrack six full quests before moving into the final act. To be fair, the payoff benefited me to no end (no spoilers, I promise), but the requirement put me off a bit. Granted, not everyone will experience my issue, but one aspect of this requirement brings me to another factor to consider.
In order to complete the final Role Quest, you must reach level 80. The MSQ you stop at requires level 79. So, you need to see a level 80 quest finished before continuing a level 79 quest. This choice makes good narrative sense, but the level logistics behind it leave me a bit cold.
Either way, this setback is minor. I saw myself reaching level 80 rather quickly by focusing on MSQ, daily roulette dungeons, and making sure I defeated Fates whenever I came across them. Progress feels great all around.
Pros And Cons Of Gameplay Balance
The quality of content excels in Shadowbringers. Each zone has its own distinct look and feel to it, even if they look a bit inspired by previous FFXIV maps. Every aspect of this world bleeds the phrase “passion project.” Subtleties lay in wait for those eager to know more, but you don’t necessarily need to dig deep to get something special out of Shadowbringers.
With all online-based games, the early days will always have issues. Servers show minor signs of congestion, and new features require balancing. A few times, a DDoS attack hit the servers, and they sat offline briefly. After an hour, the servers came back online. When logging in, I often saw a queue. However, except for after the anomalous DDoS attack, the queues never surpassed 50 players. I generally got into the game 30 seconds after hitting the login button.
Another minor hiccup came when I first zoned into an area or dungeon. My first couple of attacks felt delayed by a second or so before normalizing. This issue never got in the way of progress, and it will likely not be much of an issue later on. This simply stands as something that occurs when servers feel the weight of high population. Either way, the FFXIV servers manage to maintain themselves very well despite the heavy player count.
Final Fantasy XIV Remains In Good Hands
Some classes saw significant changes for the better, but some still need a little work. One good example of the latter comes with the Astrologian, a healer class. Astro used to be one of the better healers, but now Astro stands as one of the worst. I spent almost all of my time as the new tank class, Gunbreaker, so I only know about other classes from what I have seen scrolling through my link shell chat.
Regardless, I say with complete confidence that FFXIV is in the best hands. I know this game is a passion project to the team from how the final product plays. I also know for a fact that this passion lives and breathes through the game’s executive producer, Naoki Yoshida. Sure, I spent only a little time with him at the press event, but his every word conveyed that FFXIV stands as one of the most important things to him. Any hangup with Shadowbringers will see proper and fair adjustments. I believe this with every fiber of my being, all because of the 45 minutes I spent with Yoshi-P in San Francisco last May. Well, that and the quality of the finished product, of course.
Shadowbringers Ups The Ante For Expansion Expectations
Shadowbringers brings to the table something that all other MMOs can only dream of: a fulfilling narrative experience that accompanies quality gameplay content. A few things get in the way of a good time, but those issues will undoubtedly see themselves remedied before too long. This expansion brings a great deal of content and integrity to an already-established game. In my review of A Realm Reborn, I said that Final Fantasy XIV is completely worth the price of admission. Almost six years later, I can say the exact same thing.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.
I’d like to thank our very own Ben Shillabeer-Hall for assisting me through my review coverage. His vast knowledge of the game helped me catch up on lore, keep me informed in boss fights, and ultimately guided me toward being a better player. Cheers, fam!