Final Fantasy XIV is a massively multiplayer online role playing game that originally released back in September of 2010. However, due to a lot of extreme issues that made the game nearly unplayable, it took the combined efforts of director/producer Naoki Yoshida, his development team and the community of devoted fans to bring the game back from the brink of destruction and become what would be called Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This “revamped” version would launch in August 2013.
Shadowbringers is, officially, the third expansion pack, but is the fifth game in the Final Fantasy XIV series. Dubbed “The 5.0 Series” by the dev team and the playerbase, this new expansion brings with it the release of two new races (Hrothgar and Viera), two new playable jobs (Gunbreaker and Dancer) and sends players to a new world beyond their own; a world that is trapped in a perpetual state of daylight.
When Shadowbringers was first announced at the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival in Las Vegas, I could hardly wait to see what the new expansion would have in store. The opening CGI cutscene held such promise, and the information that surfaced at the following Fan Fests and Media Tours only served to fuel the fires of anticipation and anxious joy. But like with all things, a small voice of worry was ever present in the back of my head: “Could the third expansion really live up to the expectations I had?”
The answer is: Yes. Yes it could. Shadowbringers is, by far, one of the best expansion packs I have played in a long, long time, and probably one of the best games I will play all year. So much of this expansion felt like an homage to old-school Final Fantasy games, overwhelming me with a sense of nostalgia while providing an entirely new and unique storyline and gameplay experience that I cannot get enough of. Shadowbringers is Final Fantasy XIV at its absolute best.
While nothing has changed to the core gameplay mechanics, it still feels as though new life has been breathed into the game. FATEs were updated with a growth and reward system to encourage players to participate in them regularly, keeping zones somewhat full of people even after they have completed the MSQ. Jobs that had been a bit messy in Stormblood have basically been reset to a clean slate for possible adjustments in future patches. The new Trial dungeons are all fascinating and filled with interesting boss mechanics to keep you on your toes. I was deeply impressed by just how much new content was made available at launch, and knowing that more content will be made available in the coming weeks in the form of the new Eden Raid, my impression of amazement at this package of stuff to do only deepened.
While there is so, so much to talk about, for the sake of the length of this article, I am only going to focus on a few things, such as the the newly implemented Trust system. This fascinating system has taken the idea of running four-man dungeons, but rather than queuing up with three other players, you instead choose from a list of NPCs you unlock throughout the Main Scenario Questline. Each NPC comes with their own role, such as a Tank, Healer, Melee DPS and Magical Ranged DPS, and players can swap NPCs around to suit their needs before the start of each dungeon. This element gives Shadowbringers an almost single-player RPG experience, with NPCs having their own personalities and play styles, said NPCs making comments and conversing about the dungeon and doing mechanics almost as well as any real player. It is also a massive improvement from the somewhat testy waters of the Adventurer Squadrons released back in Stormblood, and the A.I. for the Trust system is far more sturdy and reliable. (Though your experience may vary depending on who you choose, some NPCs may purposefully stand in AoEs.)
The Trust system also offers players the chance to experience dungeons and learn mechanics at their own pace, and provides an even further immersive experience for players going through the Main Story and looking for that little extra kick of fluff. That isn’t to say it replaces player-runned dungeons entirely, it absolutely doesn’t, but it is an alternative for players who just want to enjoy the story or are looking to experiment and try out new party roles they’ve otherwise never done. I do indeed hope they keep this system in the game for future expansions to come, it’s both helpful and hilariously fun, and I would love to see who else gets added to the system and how many NPCs we’ll be able to take with us into the fray.
For the Job system updates, I unfortunately cannot go into extensive detail about those, as I have only managed to level Dragoon and Dancer thus far, but what I have experienced with Dragoon has been incredible, and it might be the best the Job has ever been. The rotation flows a bit more naturally with Heavy Thrust being merged with Disembowel, the Jumps got some helpful adjustments with Spineshatter Dive no longer stunning and Jump being upgraded to the faster High Jump at level 74, and Dragoons get a relatively nice AoE rotation that makes hitting tons of FATE mobs extremely satisfying.
The Dragon Gauge also got a much needed update and isn’t as stressful to manage like its Stormblood iteration. The Gauge only requires two eye charges instead of three to unlock Nastrond, and the Gauge timer empties slower overall and fills to 20 seconds automatically when Nastrond is used. And as someone who has sorrowfully watched as my Gauge emptied during those extended boss phase transition, this change is a godsend.
Overall I absolutely love the changes to Dragoon. I feel like it’s far closer to what the dev team may have envisioned for the Job initially, because it’s definitely more Dragoon-feeling to me. It’s still the slow heavy-hitter it’s always been, but the overall playstyle feels far less clunky and is a lot more smooth and polished, and certainly way more Jumpy!
As for Dancer, I haven’t gotten it to end-game quite yet — I’m only just nearing level 70 since I’ve prioritized the MSQ and hitting level 80 on my main Job. But what little I’ve experienced thus far has been really enjoyable! Flinging around chakrams and peacock feathers while weaving in some awesome dance moves is really fun, and the ability to pick a Dance Partner to support in combat is one of my favorite things about the Job. By using Closed Position on another player –or Chocobo if you’re without a party– you will choose that individual as your Dance Partner, allowing for your damage increase buff to be shared with your partner, as well as any other self-applying spells like healing, regardless of where they are on the battlefield!
While the Dancer may seem like a support Job, they are still able to do a lot of damage in their own right. They have a plethora of AoEs and have two basic attacks that both have a 50% chance of activating two more attacks, which in turn have a 50% chance of filling the Dancer’s Fan Gauge with feathers, which grants the use of Fan Dance abilities. Each feather in the Gauge represents how many times a Fan Dance ability can be used (there is no timer on the gauge), and when you’re out of feathers, the Fan Dances can no longer be used and prompts you to start the rotation again. It sounds a bit confusing, but once you start playing the class, it gradually starts to make a bit more sense.
The Step ability is where all the dancing comes in for the Dancer, and is an entertaining Job quirk that makes Dancer so much fun to play. Entering Step, your attack buttons are automatically shifted to dance moves, which only end upon using the Finish move that replaced Step. Performing the dance correctly based on your gauge–or on the proc’d buttons–will grant you the mentioned above damage increase buff that is shared with your partner. And it does an AoE burst damage! This allows Dancer to be in the middle of an attack combination, then switch into dance-mode, then back to combat. It’s kind’ve thrilling, and I’m looking forward to unlocking more abilities and seeing how well the Job plays, and dances, at level 80.
In Shadowbringers, players are introduced to a new world beyond their own known as The First. And goodness does this expansion do a superb job at making the player character feel like a fish out of water for the first couple of zones, with NPCs questioning why the player doesn’t understand certain terminologies or why they ask so many questions about things that are common knowledge for the people of the First. The lore, music, characters, architecture, monsters, language and story all seamlessly weave together to create an entirely new realm that has an attention to detail that left me in awe for a majority of my adventure there.
The zones on The First are absolutely breathtaking and capture the mood and theme of the story perfectly. From the flowery fae-glittering fields of Il Mheg to the desert wastelands of Amh Araeng, these zones are massive in size and offer a plethora of things to do, from a sea of sidequests to sightseeing locations that will have you scratching your head trying to figure out how to reach it without flying.
And the music. Yes the music. Like many others, I have had the pleasure of listening to Masayoshi Soken’s musical growth over the years in Final Fantasy XIV, and the soundtrack for Shadowbringers is beyond incredible! Each song becomes more and more unique and amazing as the player progresses through the story, with some of the tunes even having the chance of getting stuck in your head for days on end(La HEE!). There are a lot more vocals used this time too, adding another level of emotional impact in cutscenes or giving you something to jam out to when you aggro a random overworld monster.
As for the story, I won’t go into any in-depth detail to avoid giving any spoilers –as I feel the story needs to be experienced to give the full effect– but what I will say though is that it’s good. It’s really, really good. One of the best I’ve experienced in an MMO. Shadowbringers brought that strong, intense plotline we’ve all come to expect from a Final Fantasy game, with hateable villains, lovable heroes and all the grey-area characters one could ask for. So rarely these days do stories in video games make me cry for side NPCs in only a handful of quests, and fuel me with a drive to do everything in my power to save them from the clutches of their sufferings. Shadowbringers doesn’t fail to deliver an emotionally packed story that is ready to slug you in the gut with feels at a moment’s notice.
The Main Scenario Questline also focused on one area of the story this time around, keeping most of the player’s attention on The First rather than splitting the story in half like they had in Stormblood (e.g: Switching between Ala Mhigo and Doma). Plot points were not immediately resolved either; the MSQ would purposefully drop massive story hooks and well-placed plot twists to keep you fully invested, but taking care as to not solve the issue in a cutscene right after, which was a little bit of a struggle the game had in some parts of Heavensward (the Nanamo plot).
And everything is connected. So often MMOs forget the happenings of the expansions before, leaving zones and cherished characters to fade away with the passage of time to focus on the shiny and new. Final Fantasy XIV differentiates from a lot of other MMOs in this regard, making you feel as though everything you do matters. Storybeats and plot threads that had been introduced in A Realm Reborn begin to take shape and plot-specific abilities you’ve learned and the attachments you’ve forged with NPCs impact and remain with you even in Shadowbringers, provoking even a stronger emotional response from the story. This continuation of lore and story growth is a feat that I have repeatedly praised the FFXIV dev team for in the past, and will likely continue to do so in the future.
I absolutely love this expansion. Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers is probably one of the best Final Fantasy games I have played in a while, and certainly one of the best expansions I have played in years. There is just so much fun stuff to do and the story is so engaging and gripping that I had found myself split between leveling Dancer and doing the Main Scenario Questline for days, and it took me forever to get anywhere because I wanted to do it all! And to know that this is just the beginning, and that there is still more content coming in a matter of weeks only serves to excite me more, and I cannot wait to see what else is in store for us Warriors of Darkness.
Final Fantasy XIV is available now for PC and PlayStation 4.