After years of slowly trickled out story tidbits since Stormblood released back in 2017, the next chapter of the excellent Final Fantasy XIV storyline, Shadowbringers, has finally launched for all players today.
I’m roughly 66%, maybe a little bit closer to 75% through the main story quest for Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, and in addition to grinding out the story, I’ve dabbled with features such as the new jobs, Gunbreaker & Dancer, the trust system and more.
Although I still have a good amount of content to work through, barring some kind of narrative disaster in the last stretch of the story, I can confidently say at this point that Shadowbringers is the Final Fantasy XIV development team’s most polished expansion so far, across all areas that matter most to fans of FFXIV.
Note: This review-in-progress is spoiler free assuming that you at least have the most general of knowledge of Shadowbringers that have been revealed in official trailers and announcements from Square Enix prior to the expansion’s release.
The basic structure will be extremely familiar to Final Fantasy XIV players at this point. You’ll work through a massive story that will stretch you across six new areas.
Along the way you’ll experience new trials, dungeons, side quests, meet new characters, and gather aether currents so you can eventually fly around.
What sets Shadowbringers apart from the excellent Stormblood expansion is that this experience is just better. The areas are far more varied and beautiful looking.
The dungeons follow suit; they tie into the story well and have unique mechanics such as a platforming section in one of the dungeons where your party will need to walk a “tight rope” in order to reach the boss.
The most surprising improvement though is in the main story quest’s narrative.
It’s not bold to say that Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers has a great plot, as anyone that has been following the MMORPG over the years knows that the story in FFXIV is beyond just being MMORPG-good, it’s better than a majority of numbered Final Fantasy games at this point.
No, it’s shocking that the narrative team has found a way to outdo themselves and top their efforts from both Heavensward and Stormblood.
The Shadowbringers plot manages to simultaneously be an extremely compelling, complex, and impactful for hardcore fans of the FFXIV overarching narrative; but at surface level is also fairly easy to follow and understand for newcomers or those that decided to finally start paying closer attention to the story.
Stormblood’s plot was great, but also pretty straightforward. There wasn’t a ton of unknowns, or anything at stake other than how the Eorzean Alliance and their far east allies’ plan to break free from the Garleans would coalesce.
Shadowbringers, on the other hand, feels like it has multiple A-plots going on.
It adds more details and advances the story that was taking place before Shadowbringers, it introduces a whole new critically important plot in The First, and at the same time is also revealing new information that has huge implications on the future beyond the initial Shadowbringers storyline.
The story raises as many questions as it does answers in the most intriguing and “oh snap” way possible.
There are so many juicy mysteries and plot threads going on in Shadowbringers that I wish I could go on about, but I’m keeping this review in progress spoiler free because bringing up any of them will detract from experiencing them on your own.
Suffice to say, anyone that was looking forward to the advancement of the main story quest over anything else with Shadowbringers will not only have their expectations met, but blown away.
Again things, I guess, could go south between now and the end of the story as I’m not done yet, but considering how incredible the ride has been so far and also Final Fantasy XIV’s excellent track record, I find it hard to believe that will be the case.
Aside from the story, Shadowbringers has shaken up the gameplay in significant and positive ways as well. The addition of the new jobs, in this case, Dancer & Gunbreaker, are always exciting.
While it’s too early to call whether or not they are balanced properly for end game content, they are both at least well-designed jobs that stand out and are fun to play.
While it was awesome to get three jobs in Heavensward, the difference in quality is noticeable.
Dark Knight, Astrologian, and Machinist – the three Heavensward jobs – since their release have gone through significant design changes, that at launch, felt lackluster, and in the case of DRK and AST, felt too similar to other existing jobs at that time.
Stormblood, and now Shadowbringers, which only added two new jobs each, does not suffer from those same problems. Dancer especially is probably the most ambitious and unique playing job that the dev team has added since A Realm Reborn started everything over.
Producer Naoki Yoshida and his team finally threw down the gauntlet, and have bravely adjusted every job to be more fun to play, balanced during end game scenarios, and to be more in line with player fantasies about the job.
More time is needed to get a sense of the breadth of these changes, but I do appreciate the notion of just going for it and making changes that are needed even if they initially seem shocking to players, such as the removal the Protect spell which is iconic, but in FFXIV was just something you pressed once in a while and would just take up hotbar space after that.
Speaking just from my experience so far, the Summoner job overhaul is incredible. I spend way less time spamming Ruin and DoT spells over and over again, and spend more time micromanaging my pets and performing flashy attacks imbued with the power of iconic Final Fantasy summons like Bahamut and Phoenix, which is the way it should be.
I hope that those that are playing through also feel as I do about their main job.
The last thing I’ll mention before I leave the rest of my thoughts for our final scored review which will be out likely next Tuesday is the Trust system. A borrowed idea from Final Fantasy XI, the trust system substitutes NPCs for live-players for dungeon runs going forward.
Not only does this improve the quality of life for all players by affording them an instant way to play Shadowbringer’s dungeons without waiting for a queue (read: DPS jobs), but it also acts as a stress-free way for shy or newer players to learn to play the game.
Rightfully so, playing with NPCs gives less EXP than if you were playing as intended: with live players (it is a MMORPG after all). However, NPCs don’t yell at you, and they will perfectly perform all the mechanics for each boss fight.
So if you wanted to play with a job you’re still not confident about, are low on time and can’t wait for a queue, or just want to see how the mechanics of a dungeon’s bosses work in live combat before jumping into a queue to play with others, you can do that now and it’s a really neat feature.
I’ll stop here for now. Needless to say, I’m extremely impressed with the quality of Shadowbringers. And, as an added bonus, as far as we can tell, there have been minimal service interruptions and with the addition of the cross-world visit, much more manageable player queues. Hurrah!
Look out for our scored review next week after we’ve completed the main story quest and test driving the rest of the expansion’s new additions.