While previous Final Fantasy XIV expansions struggled with broad concepts in corruption, religion, and imperialism, the path you take in Shadowbringers is a personal matter. The central conceit is the struggle between good and evil, and between the double notions of Light and Dark, however, at its core is a story about a protagonist who has become adrift and has to accept their identity alongside old companions against the backdrop of a dying world. This is our Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review.
This refers back to the kind of character treatment the non-MMO Final Fantasy games have been proud of for decades, but even with the ordinary subject matter, the journey here clearly feels forward-looking. The question for many fans was whether the lifespan of the game would last after Stormblood. When you throw the credits at Shadowbringers, it will be hard to imagine a world where the answer is something other than a resounding “yes.”
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Classic Mac OS
- Developer: Square Enix
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Genres: MMORPG
- Release Date: July 2, 2019
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review: Gameplay
Shadowbringers depends on a revelation. The searches between Stormblood and the new content do a great job by laying a narrative foundation full of politics between the factions, intrigues, and shadowy figures pulling strings with hidden consequences. However, as the new expansion opens, that particular viper’s nest is turned upside down using a forced journey through time and space. What begins as a quest to save your friends takes a life-changing turn; you’re thrown into the heart of a fight between light and dark that lies at the heart of the hero mythos the game has built around your character since A Realm Reborn.
As the Warrior of Light, you’ll be thrown into Norvrandt’s realm without mercy: a world plagued by the element you’ve chivalrously defended throughout your life. Like any former hero facing the unknown, your primary task is to find clarity and a way to save your friends at home from eternal slumber. It soon becomes clear that your impressive deeds in Eorzea mean almost nothing here. No one knows about your previous achievements, there is an evident mistrust of the locals, and your usual non-verbal charm gets you nowhere.
The kicker is that every mention of the Light will make your public enemy number one; it rages through the country, leaving death and destruction behind. You are unharmed and virtually stranded in an unfamiliar world where your values and beliefs can kill you. With the rocky start of the story, Shadowbringers takes a decidedly uncomfortable approach by doing the narrative of taking those shoes off your feet and getting someone to hit you with them. The solution it provides in its opening minutes is simple: put everything you know aside and become the Warrior of Darkness.
In practice, this is more challenging than it sounds. Norvrandt is home to all kinds of dangers, and the most treacherous are not those who come at you with sharp teeth and sharper claws. There is a seething undercurrent of wrongdoing that pervades everything, no matter how beautiful the lush forests and vast open fields of this realm may be.
These feelings are palpable in the design of the new locations and dungeons of Shadowbringers: the dissolute Eulmore where the rich are deliberately ignorant of the suffering of others, the deceptively dangerous alder and fantasy of Il Mheg and the apocalyptic wastelands of long devastated areas by light, to name but a few. Each new environment is somehow violently twisted, whether by the presence of monstrous enemies or the cruel ways the inhabitants have chosen to make a living.
. It is a merit of the game’s development team that the dungeons are much more than just a means to keep you busy or to give you the experience to move on to the next big thing in the world. They function as little bags of insight into the decaying state of Norvrandt, complete with harrowing bosses and crumbling ruins. These dungeons watch you racing through castles fighting seraphs and diving into pixie empires and making desperate pacts to secure your future.
And it’s all set on an operatic soundtrack that relies heavily on dramatic strings and modern vocal frills, creating a perfect atmosphere to underline the urgency of your character’s mission. Each new encounter of this fashion brings the Warrior of Darkness closer to their goal of restoring balance to the world. Whether it’s sending a sword through the heart of a friend now twisted by Light or unraveling the origins and primary motivations for this conflict.
Dungeons have always been part of the requirements of the main story in Final Fantasy XIV, however, here they feel just as crucial to your enjoyment and understanding of the story as the new quests. Quests place you directly in the shoes of these characters, and playing as they do is both a welcome change of pace and an opportunity for newer players to deepen their understanding of the lore of the game. That said, not all quests are made equal, and some confusing mechanical decisions can be frustrating.
For example, the end of the expansion requires a player to complete a mission of maximum level before picking up the purpose of a lower level to proceed to the grand final. In other cases, optional missions that share a common thread can sometimes be scattered across different locations on a map and are not indicated other than unrelated. This can give you the feeling that you have to plod through all the worldly messages hoping to find a diamond.
Thankfully, these cases are rare; like its predecessor, Shadowbringers brings several humanizing stories to life through his side missions and manages to make you take care of the daily lives of new characters who initially have nothing but contempt for what you stand for. But it’s not just about taking advantage of common factors. The expansion introduces plenty of unknown pleasures to get your teeth into – the Trust system is perhaps the most crucial accessibility addition Final Fantasy XIV has seen since its rebirth.
It allows players to take a fully formed company of NPCs from the main story missions into dungeons, eliminating the need to wait in line for 20 minutes as you try to go through matchmaking. This is the perfect solution for players who don’t want to play with strangers and ensures that no one is cut off from the progress of the story just because they may have to wait an excessive amount of time to find the party they need.
These NPCs come from a pool of the familiar faces of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn and some notable new acquaintances, so their use in the Trust system is a pleasant nod to the value the Shadowbringers story attaches to friendship and cohesion in the face of adversity. As for the new classes and races aside, servers are currently packed with Viera and Hrothgar avatars ready to conquer the world. While the new racing models look as spectacular as you’d expect, the Gunbreaker and Dancer classes are still a relatively unknown fact that players in this early phase of Shadowbringers’ life cycle puzzles.
Gunbreaker has a significant impact as a high-impact track, suitable for an off-tank role that trades in axes and quantities for something less traditional. Dancer’s primary focus, apart from looking enchanting in combat, is to provide buffs for party members, and it seems to be trying to fulfill the DPS role previously taken by Bards, who have now removed their party-wide buffs. Gunbreaker currently feels a little too much like it was initially meant to be a DPS class. It does ridiculous damage and manages to hold its own against people like Black Mage and Samurai.
This seems a bit at odds with the tanking philosophy embedded in the other role options, where the thematic focus on survivability and protection is much clearer. Healers, in particular, will have to get used to controlling cooldowns around Superbolide, one of the vital Gunbreaker skills that reduce their HP to 1 and prevent further fatal damage. Playing as a tank that uses weapons is new, but challenging to master, as it requires a riskier approach to putting your life on the line for your group members, and it also needs those who party with you to be familiar with your new tricks.
Dancer, despite all his beauty, is currently missing some fire in the damage department. You need to manage two class-specific positions – Technical Step and Standard Step – each with its own set of moves to master. You also have access to Closed Position, which allows you to choose a dance partner to take advantage of your buffs and skills. If you perform correctly, the dancer’s DPS, in general, will improve, and the key to doing damage is through graceful movement combinations that ultimately allow you to unleash AOE attacks on unsuspecting enemies.
Dancer’s strength shines through in prolonged encounters where their deadly chakram cuts to enemies and dice, giving them the chance to use skills from both positions for a significant payout. That said, setting up these ballistic massacres takes time; without enough breathing room to perform a routine, the dancer may feel a little frumpy than flamenco, especially in most of the legacy content of the game were breathing on something as good as a deadly blow.
Both classes have their own identity, although the streamlining of the other courses has clouded the water a little compared to the existing routes that enjoy the same individualism. In the past, you had to pick up scavenger hunts specifically for your chosen course to learn new skills. Now Shadowbringers has replaced them with roller-dragging tours for DPS, tanks, and healers, and these are mainly there to provide experience and advance the overall story rather than to improve existing affinity with your character’s chosen profession.
Although some searches were more involved than others, it seems a waste to get rid of them altogether. Role actions have also been further simplified during our Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review, with changes in tanking and healing, especially taking away some bloating, but also making them more homogenous. While this makes it easier for newcomers to pluck and play, it feels like it is at the expense of the unique class identities that previous extensions have so carefully cultivated.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review: Conclusion
Some of the changes in the player experience still cause a little inconvenience during these teething troubles, but Shadowbringers pleads for itself as the most captivating expansion of the game. It’s not just the enormous scale and power of narrative weaving in years of old knowledge without degrading the experience for new players, or the perfectly designed boss battles full of dramatic music and thematic accents. It’s also the implementation of the Trust system and the chance to feel the impact of the Warrior of Light’s decisions in recent expansions by exploring the stories of your companions.
For a story that starts with a focus on your character’s motivations and doubts, it tells a story that is ultimately the biggest and best that Final Fantasy XIV has ever provided. Equal parts redemption, revenge, brutality, and brutal Elezen, Shadowbringers promises a lot when you take your step into Norvrandt and delivers a truly spectacular ending, even if it stumbles a bit along the way.
That’s it for our Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review.
While previous Final Fantasy XIV expansions struggled with broad concepts in corruption, religion, and imperialism, the path you take in Shadowbringers is a personal matter.