“Shadowbringers” is such a goth identify, to the purpose that I wouldn’t be shocked when you entered Final Fantasy XIV’s newest enlargement anticipating to see, oh, broody anime antiheroes operating a supply service for vampires. But it’s a lot greater than that.
It’s a story that reminds us that the world’s magnificence will depend on a stability of sunshine and darkish relatively than a surfeit of 1 or the opposite, and that starry nights boast as a lot majesty as sunny afternoons. It’s an oddly well timed story that riffs off modern considerations about ignorant politics within the context of a sickened world, and its cutscenes command extra curiosity than many collection on tv. It’s not solely one of the best Final Fantasy XIV enlargement to date (no less than by way of its launch state), however its story hits with such a pressure that there’s not any query that Square Enix’s MMORPG warrants inclusion in discussions of one of the best Final Fantasy video games of all time.
That’s a giant assertion, I do know, and I’m unhappy that I can’t focus on the story in nice element with out giving an excessive amount of away. So let’s suffice it to say that this can be a story about the way you and FFXIV’s ordinary solid of NPC tremendous mates—the Scions of the Seventh Dawn—get whisked away to a dying world that’s in peril not from an eternity of darkness, however relatively from an all-consuming supply of sunshine. The gentle is dangerous, in different phrases, which is sort of the tradition shock for a band of fighters that includes somebody referred to as the “Warrior of Light.” So insidious is that this gentle, actually, that it’s whittled down the world to a single inhabitable continent, and the individuals who dwell inside have gone generations with out seeing the glory of an evening sky.
Remarkably, although, it’s nonetheless a world that appears and looks like your previous stomping grounds of Eorzea, proper right down to acquainted races, kinds of costume, and the truth that these “aliens” have zero hassle understanding what you’re saying. It’s not with out its surprises, although, similar to a race of hulking cat males referred to as the Hrothgar and bunny-eared ladies generally known as the Viera, each of whom are actually out there as playable races. There are even dwarves!
And the wonders prolong past individuals. To the south, a tsunami of frozen “light” looms over the horizon like dried icing, and much to the north, you’ll discover a fairy kingdom the place the natives make life hell for guests extra out of mischief than malice. To the west, a metropolis of wealthy individuals who deviancy themselves away in a form of Masque of the Red Death whereas they look ahead to the sunshine to complete its job. It’s a planet that’s all however taken the top of the world for a given.
And but life persists. People defy the inevitable destiny by making an attempt to proceed dwelling regular lives, and there’s quite a bit to admire about that persistence. There’s quite a bit to admire about just about every little thing. The writing right here from Natsuko Ishikawa endows the Scions of the Seventh Dawn with a depth they’ve not often had earlier than, and within the custom of so many different nice tales, even the villains warrant sympathy. Even when their goals aren’t palatable, they’re no less than comprehensible. When the ultimate battle comes eventually following an unforgettable closing act, the aftermath leaves an aftertaste of tragedy.
The primary themes tread acquainted floor, however there may be hope, love, and a way of humanity right here that’s seldom present in an MMO. I care about these characters. (There’s additionally a recurring dangerous man who’s means too good at kicking ass, however he has good strains and a great outfit, so I’ll give him a move.) Eventually the story goes in instructions I barely would have dreamed of once I first set foot on this new world, leading to a payoff that’s higher than every other second of the sport to date. Much of the depth of this second owes its energy to the attractive rating by Masayoshi Soken, which enriches the expertise of Shadowbringers at each flip.
Trust, when you should
Beyond all that, although, Final Fantasy XIV retains a lot of the core design of earlier expansions. It nonetheless locations loads of emphasis on FATEs—the semi-random, dynamic occasions that pop up throughout the panorama—and it nonetheless requires you to enterprise into dungeons and the occasional eight-man raid as a part of the leveling course of. But Shadowbringers introduces a key change within the type of the brand new (and completely optionally available) “Trust” system, which helps you to take alongside three NPCs from the principle storyline in dungeons relatively than having to take care of human gamers you match with by the Duty Finder.
I don’t suppose it’s an completely obligatory characteristic, although, contemplating that FFXIV’s neighborhood isn’t anyplace close to as poisonous as what you’ll discover in another MMORPGs. Trust dungeons additionally don’t award as a lot XP as their counterparts with actual individuals, and I discovered that negated their usefulness after I repeatedly discovered myself not having sufficient XP to stage and unlock the following batch of important story quests. For that matter, they’re quite a bit slower than dungeon runs with actual individuals.
Trust dungeons are, nonetheless, a improbable technique to study the mechanics of dungeons and their boss fights with out strain when you’re fearful about fouling up within the firm of actual individuals in your first go to. The NPCs stand in the fitting spots once they’re imagined to, which makes for straightforward runs—as long as you do your half. If you die, you’ll must restart from earlier than a boss battle, even when your merry band of NPCs is doing wonderful. As a bonus, Square Enix included in-character strains for every of your celebration members, so taking alongside buddies like Alphinaud or Y’shtola feels such as you’re getting a tiny additional dose of story. They’re additionally a great way to get into dungeons rapidly with out having to attend out the customarily prolonged Duty Finder queues for damage-dealing courses, though happily such queues not often final for greater than 5 minutes this early into the enlargement.
Still different adjustments await, similar to the flexibility to decide on which zone you need to begin leveling in as soon as the principle story rolls into movement, and the enemies will sync to your stage. World of Warcraft began doing this with Legion, and The Elder Scrolls Online basically extends this sort of design to your entire sport. It’s a welcome break from the dogged linearity of Final Fantasy XIV’s story as we’ve recognized it till now, and it’s all of the extra exceptional and the story’s coherence and impression don’t undergo consequently. There’s a nonetheless loads of killing and twitching, however Square Enix neatly mixes it up by sprinkling quests with a number of dialogue choices that often have slight results on a quest’s final result. At different factors, you’ll have to search for objects by an interface that turns your subject of view right into a Hidden Object sport.
Along with the brand new races, Square Enix additionally launched two new “jobs,” the flowery identify Final Fantasy XIV makes use of for its fight courses (which, in stark distinction to most MMORPGs, can all be discovered by the identical character). The Gunbreaker is a tank who wields a sword that doubles as a gun—that’s how you understand you’re positively enjoying a Final Fantasy sport—whereas the Dancer frolics throughout the battlefield with slicing chakrams of dying whereas vaulting and pirouetting.
They’re each well-designed and pack highly effective punches, and the Dancer even comes with party-wide buffs to switch people who had been stripped from Bards. More than that, they’re enjoyable. That’s a giant deal, contemplating how plodding lots of FFXIV’s courses felt at launch. You’ll must have a Disciple of War or Disciple of Magic class leveled to 60 to play both one, however from there you may stage your Gunbreaker or Dancer to Shadowbringers’ new stage cap of 80.
So right here’s a catch. For all its strengths, Final Fantasy XIV stays one of the vital conventional mainstream MMORPGs, which on this case means you must stage by six years’ value of story content material earlier than you may hop into Shadowbringers. And it’s not like World of Warcraft in which you can leap into the enlargement content material as quickly as you attain the suitable stage for the content material—as a substitute, you must expertise the whole important story quest, and that features a part of the story that dropped in post-expansion content material patches. If you stage and play by the story the “right” means, you’re an enormous time dedication of effectively over 100 hours.
Fortunately, Square Enix allows you to work round this by shopping for boosts by its Mog Station site for every enlargement’s story in an effort to meet up with Shadowbringers. They value extra relying on how late within the story you need to begin. For A Realm Reborn, you’ll solely must pay $11, however you’ll must pay $18 and $25 to get previous Heavensward and Stormblood respectively. These don’t stage your character, although, so that you’ll additionally pay $25 to stage up any of the sport’s fight courses to stage 70, which is the extent when Shadowbringers’ story begins. Put it this manner: If you’re a brand new participant and also you need to leap into Shadowbringers instantly, you’ll must pay $50 on prime of the $40 you’ll pay for Shadowbringers itself. But I’d advocate not skipping Heavensward and Stormblood so that you’ll get to know the characters in Shadowbringers higher.
Bring it on
But there isn’t any doubt in my thoughts that Shadowbringers is a narrative value experiencing. The high quality of FFXIV’s story has been enhancing for years—and it was by no means dangerous, solely gradual—however this looks like a terrific leap ahead. I’d even go as far as to say that it looks like a wholly new Final Fantasy sport, had been it not for the various skillful callbacks to occasions within the story that occurred years in the past. So many MMORPGs have enlargement tales that stand effectively on their very own, however every new enlargement of Final Fantasy XIV looks like a brand new chapter in a a lot bigger story—and the sense of place is the higher for it. Shadowbringers is an achievement.
With this launch, Final Fantasy XIV towers to date over its modern rivals that it drowns them in its shadow, and that’s a exceptional achievement for a sport that was initially plagued with so many troubles that it needed to be remade. I don’t say this flippantly. In phrases of story, the distinction between Final Fantasy XIV and its rivals is just like the distinction between night time and day.