My history with Final Fantasy XIV is a little bit more complex than I would like to admit. In fact, I would say it is probably more complex than the stories of most of the Final Fantasy games themselves. Despite having nearly 400 days subscribed to the game, I have not played it much at all until Shadowbringers was set to be released. A friend of mine made me a deal that if he were to buy the expansion for me, I would need to level from level 1-to-80 and play end game content with him and our friends. Even though it took six years, 3 expansions, and 400 days, Final Fantasy XIV has its hooks in me, and I could not be happier.
Over the course of the last month and a half, I have leveled up several classes to 80, including Scholar (Scholar mains represent), Summoner, and Red Mage. I feel like I have finally put in enough time to this game to say that I believe Final Fantasy XIV is currently the best MMORPG on the market. Everything that this game has set out to do it not only accomplishes, but surpasses my wildest expectations. By the end of Shadowbringers, it is clear that Final Fantasy XIV has blown past the competition and, ironically, the future for the game is looking bright. In fact, if I were to view Shadowbringers as a standalone game, I would be comfortable saying that it might end up being my Game of the Year for 2019. In short, if you are not playing Final Fantasy XIV already, you need to start immediately.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4
Release Date: July 2nd, 2019
The gameplay of Final Fantasy XIV has not changed that much for this expansion, however, there have been two new classes introduced into the game – Dancer and Gunbreaker.
The Dancer is a ranged physical damage class that, while it may be somewhat lacking in individual DPS currently, it makes up for it with fantastic utility. The Gunbreaker is a gunblade wielding tank that plays more like a DPS class with more sustainability than your average tank.
Both of these new classes have been well received by the community and have already quickly found a place in the mold of the game. Both of theses new classes start at level 60, meaning that you will not have to level long to get to the new level cap at 80.
With the release of a new MMO expansion there comes new changes and balancing that comes to classes available. Some classes are better, others might be worse, patches and balancing will come with time.
But overall, it feels as though, with only two exceptions I can think of, all the classes are in good place balance wise. This is always a problem that I have in MMO’s because I often fight myself picking a particular class, dedicating a massive amount of time to it, only to find out that it is just out-performed by other classes in that same role.
Luckily, that appears to not be the case and even the classes that are lacking a bit now have already been addressed by the developers and are receiving fixes soon.
There are also two new playable races to choose from, the Viera from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance as an all-female race, and the Hrothgar from Final Fantasy X are in as their all-male counterparts. Both new races appear to be popular with the playerbase but I am unsure if that may just be because they are the hot new thing.
Their animations and styles are nicely detailed but not perfect. Both races have a lot of issues with helmets being compatible with their models, meaning they are automatically hidden, but hopefully with time and patches this will be addressed.
Another issue is that the Hrothgar’s customization is relatively limited compared to other races. Still, they are both great new additions to the game and fit into the world nicely.
But perhaps most important to the success of a new expansion is content, and Shadowbringers is filled to the brim with it. Currently in Shadowbringers there are 8 new dungeons, 3 new trials, and 4 new raids to play through, and that’s just the beginning.
As time goes on, more and more content will be added in patches to ensure that players always have something to strive for. Shadowbringers has some of the coolest dungeons in the game’s history thus far.
My two favorites are Holminster’s Switch and Mt. Gulg, each showing off the wide variety in design for the expansion. Holminster’s Switch has you leading a band of adventurers into a village to fight off the monsters that have launched a full-scale attack against it.
Every dungeon feels important, unique, and most importantly, fun. Something that makes all this new content special is the fact everything is tied to the story being told, and let me just say, the story of Shadowbringers is top notch.
Just like a singleplayer Final Fantasy, one of the most appealing aspects of XIV has been the ever evolving story. Shadowbringers continues to carry that torch with a story that made me feel a full range of emotion during its run.
I felt anger, fear, disgust, sadness, love, appreciation, I ran the entire gambit by the time the credits rolled. The choice to make Final Fantasy XIV a narrative MMO was the right call in the end, and Shadowbringers pushes the envelope for story.
One thing that is for certain, the story of Shadowbringers is dark, sometimes surprisingly so. When you take into consideration the MMO’s entire story, we have experienced genocide, war, battles for independence, and even the use of chemical weapons.
It is hard to imagine that Final Fantasy XIV could get any darker than it was, but they writers have managed to craft a narrative where the stakes felt real at all times.
The story begins with the post-patch for Stormblood, the Empire has launched a full-scale invasion of the Eorzean Alliance territory. Unfortunately, at the same time a mysterious ailment has begun to affect your party and one by one they are falling into mysterious comas.
The last to fall is you, the Warrior of Light. However, as it turns out, you are not in a coma, instead your souls have been divorced from your body and transported to a new world, the first world, which is simply referred to as, “The First”.
Almost immediately upon your arrival, you realize that something is not right, as the entire world seems to be engulfed in a blinding light known as “The Flood”.
You may remember a small sidequest back during the post-patch of Heavensward, the first expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, you encounter five mysterious enemies who refer to themselves as “The Warriors of Darkness” the counter to your own “Warrior of Light.”
They are led by a human warrior named “Ardbert” who sacrificed his life to save his world, which had become unbalanced due to the destruction of the Darkness. The First is the world that he came from, and the Flood is the manifestation of that imbalance.
The Flood is set to engulf the entirety of the First, destroying it and returning to the source. In short, it is the First’s apocalypse that is currently taking place, and the Flood fills the sky, a constant reminder of everyone’s looming mortality.
It does not take long for the stakes to be made clear as, almost immediately the first person you encounter in the First is killed. Soon you run into the Crystal Exarch, a powerful but mysterious being that has pulled you and your companions from your world into the First in order to work together to stop the Flood.
As it turns out the apocalypse on the First will not only affect that world, but all other worlds as well. So, in a way, you are actually stopping like 14 apocalypses for the price of one.
You are going to be very busy this expansion. In order to push back the Light, you and your friends must take on the same mantles as Ardbert and his companions did and become the new Warriors of Darkness.
What makes matters even worse is that with the coming of the Flood, horrible creatures have emerged and began to devour the souls and aether of all living creatures, turn them into horrible monstrous husks as well. These creatures are called Sin Eaters, beings made of pure Light Aether and are set on the destruction of the First.
Sin Eaters are both awesome and scary at the same time, they have made me uneasy in almost every cutscene I have seen them in. Two of these cutscenes in particular made me sick to my stomach, helped to steel my resolve in order to lead that charge to bring about their destruction.
This does not even touch on the b or c subplots that play out in the background of the game as well. Each of which will be played out as new content for Shadowbringers releases over time. There is already so much to unpack in Shadowbringers and the fact that it has only just started is amazing.
There is no timegated content, no required reputation grinding, nothing feels like it is wasted, which is a feat in its own right. The story, setting, and characters of Shadowbringers are great, and I can not wait to see what happens next.
Graphically speaking Final Fantasy XIV has always been one of the best, if not the best looking MMORPG. Despite the fact that it is available on consoles, it never allowed itself to be held back by those limitations, and if it was held back, it pushed against that barrier as hard as it possibly could.
While some of the older models from A Realm Reborn may look a little dated by today’s standards, the new models are amazing. The new races and equipment look great and the new zones awesome as well.
But what really blew me away were the new monsters that you encounter in Shadowbringers. The Sin Eaters are terrifying and awesome at the same time, pure white, emotionless monsters that genuinely scared me several times when I saw them.
While the graphics are impressive in Final Fantasy XIV, what has always stuck out even more so was the soundtrack. The music in Shadowbringers follows the tradition of being some of the best, consistent music in a video game, especially an MMORPG.
There is not a single bad track in Shadowbringers (La-hee!) and it has gotten me to purchase the OST just to listen to it when I am not playing the game.
Even the voice acting feels like it continues to build and improve upon itself as well. The voice actors truly grown into their roles, making them more believable, relatable, and lovable.
Having voice acted cutscenes has always been a strong point for the story of Final Fantasy XIV, but it truly feels like Shadowbringers is a step above the previous expansions.
It has been a long time since I have played a game and walked away with universal praise for it. Shadowbringers is, without a doubt, a game changer for the MMO genre. I do not feel like I would be exaggerating if I said that if others do not follow in their footsteps, they will be left behind.
Everything from the presentation to the sound design, from new classes to new races, is so close to perfect that any criticisms I have are nitpicks in comparison to the love and adoration I have for this game, and this expansion.
The Shadowbringers experience has only just begun and I can not wait to see what Yoshi-P and Square Enix have in store for us in the future. Now if you will excuse me, Eorzea needs me.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.