Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has been the talk of the MMO world since it’s launch six years ago and is still considered one of the best in the MMORPG genre. While Stormblood was good in its own right, it didn’t capture the same strengths that lent itself to its predecessor in Heavensward. The team over at Square Enix, lead by the talent Nokai “Yoshi-P” Yoshida, have been hard at work crafting the next expansion: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers.
Fix the Past to Help The Future
In Shadowbringers the task is to save the first rendition of the planet that players will come to know as “The Source,” which is the “Warrior of Light’s” planet of Hydaelyn. The journey begins at the Source where players must find a way to free their fellow Scions of the Seventh Dawn, who’ve been rendered unconscious. A mysterious voice calls to the Warrior of Light, and our hero is found traveling through a rift landing in the First. Thus begins his adventures anew in this unfamiliar world.
Areas in Norvrandt are similar, albeit completely different versions of other nations from Eorzea. For example, the Source locations “Mor Dana” is known as Lakeland in this Norvrandt. Not only are these areas completely overhauled, they’re also visually stunning. There are countless times I stopped playing just the enjoy the scenery around me. With so many great new areas, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite, but I’d have to say my favorite of the six areas would be Il Mheg.
Shadowbringers also boasts brand new cities, one of them being The Crystarium, which has an interesting backstory to it. The other, Eulmore, should remind you of a certain city-state in Eorzea. Combined, these areas make the world feel full and alive.
Now Hiring – New Jobs
With a new expansion comes brand new jobs. A first in the history of Final Fantasy is a brand-new title, Gunbreaker, which is a Tank that wields the ever-popular Gunblade. Mechanically, the Gunbreaker is a different beast compared to other jobs in the Tank role. Boasting more power than the Paladin / Warrior / Dark Knight, The Gunbreaker does so without needing any MP. In fact, there isn’t a move the Gunbreaker has that uses MP. Instead certain skills require the use of cartridges, only two of which can be held at a time. The Gunbreaker’s DPS attacks are unrelenting, but a lot of damage is taken in the process. In addition, the class has great utility by providing shielding buffs and a regen effect.
The Dancer is ranged-melee DPS, which provides the best support of any job in the game. As the name suggests, the class can weave dances in between attacks. Significant damage AND stat buffs can be had if the Dancer chooses you as a “Dance Partner,” and it also does some nifty AOE attacks. It’s imperative to keep your Esprit gauge high and dance in each rotation because the buffs are pretty good for all party members. With the ability to provide a speed and damage boost while also maintaining a powerful defensive ability, Dancers provides a lot of utility overall.
Both jobs are a lot of fun and you’ll definitely want to give them a shot. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the lack of a healer in this expansion. While both are great additions, a new healer role would have been a wonderful addition. With a new tank and another new DPS, the dungeon finder queue times are now agonizingly long for both Tanks and DPS. My hope is that with time, that will dissipate, but with DPS queues already being so long, this doesn’t really help. Luckily there is a system in place to help with the queues times.
Also new to the game are two races which you’ll be familiar with: Viera and Hrothgar. The much requested all-female Viera has finally come to Final Fantasy XIV, while the all-male Hrothgar have been added for balance. You may be wondering what is a “Hrothgar” and why you don’t remember them. Well, in the world of the First, they are known as Ronso! Though it would have been nice to see male and female versions of both races. For Final Fantasy lore reasons, they were chosen to be separate.
Battle Has Changed
Changes to the battle system attempt to make a better experience. First the team removed “TP” from the battle system. If you’re new, TP are “Tactical Points” needed to use weaponskills in game. The system was used in Final Fantasy XI as well but very differently from A Realm Reborn. With this removal, all weapon skills are free to use making a more streamlined battle system. In my experience, it has made dealing with multiple enemies a breeze because you can use skills as much as you’d like without the need of a cool down.
There have also been changes to most jobs to make them more cohesive. Healers can now cast level 1 heal spells quicker and are more focused on healing and support than dealing damage. They can still deal damage but at a much slower rate.
FATES (Full Active Time Events) have seen some changes as well. In Shadowbringers they are known as “Shared-FATES” and now give Gemstones to trade for various items. One of which will grant you faster riding speed for your mounts. Speaking of which, EVERY mount in the game can now fly. No, you still cannot fly in 2.0 areas. I know, it’s a shame. Side quests now sync to your level (Level 70 minimum) and based on your level at the time of completion, they give appropriate experience.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
The main goal of Shadowbringers is to end to the evil that’s probing the world; in this case, Light. Usually viewed as a positive energy, light occurs 24/7 and brings evil monsters to the land in this instance. Your job as the new “Warrior of Darkness” is to defeat Lightwardens from ruining the lands of the First. This provides plenty of dungeons, trials, exploring and fighting.
In total, there are eight dungeons and five instanced trials. All of the dungeons are really fast-paced and frantic, especially those that follow the story quests. As usual, you can play with fellow players or you can play with NPCs, known as the “Trust System”, in dungeons. For each dungeon, instead of waiting in the queue for other players, you can now play with the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. Each Scion has a unique ability, like Alphinaud with the “Academician” role (similar to a Scholar) or Alisaie as a Red Mage.
If you’re looking to level up but don’t want to wait in a long queue, you’re at an advantage with the Trust System since it allows you to jump in right away. There is a catch, however. You’ll only be able to use the Trust for Shadowbringers dungeons, not in trials. While boasting impressive AI, Trusts are still slower than partying with other players. Though not surprising, I still hope in the future we can use the system for 2.0 – 4.0 dungeons as well.
Upon completion of the story, you can use the Trust for all dungeons in Shadowbringers and you can use any character available in the Trust. In order to do so, however, you must level the characters to fight in later dungeons. Once you’re done with the MSQ, they all reset to level 71. Leveling them does take time since their base EXP starts at a paltry 13 million.
The story should take 40-50 hours to get through the main scenario, and this one rivals Heavensward’s story in almost every way. There are multiple post-game trials including Extreme Trials. The upcoming patches will include High-end Raids such as Eden and the next Alliance Raid. The Alliance Raid will be very interesting as it’s based on the Nier Automata series. This marks the second time another game series will be featured.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is without a doubt one of the best Final Fantasy XVI expansions to date. There were no launch hiccups outside of a DDoS attack, and you can’t blame Square for that. The launch was so incredibly smooth that logging into the servers at 5:00am ET wasn’t even a hassle. Shadowbringers is a joy from start to finish and music from Masayoshi Soken is on point, as always, including some absolute bangers to soft, moody, brooding melodies.
If you’re on the fence about playing Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers, it’s time to join the heroes of Hydaelyn because it’s the best MMORPG going today.
Gameplay: 9.5 out of 10
With a series of improvements, more focused jobs and plenty new to explore, there’s no limit to the fun. Job changes are a worthy investments whether you continue using jobs you love or starting a new one. The new jobs are fast and over-the-top fun and The FATE overhaul system brings new life to a system that really needed some changes. Despite all the changes, the core game is still the same Final Fantasy XIV you’ve come to expect.
Graphics: 8.5 out of 10
While there’s a lot of changes, there’s also a lot that stayed the same, including the visuals. One of the major changes was implementing a frame rate cap of 90FPS. However, the latest patch removed the 90FPS cap and it’s now back to pre-Shadowbringer’s default. While there’s no major graphic features added, the game still looks as gorgeous as it ever did. There are still some instances where too much on the screen will make some object disappear, but this is a rare occurrence.
Learning Curve: 9.0 out of 10
Final Fantasy XIV is an MMORPG, and if you’re familiar with Guild Wars 2, Elder Scroll’s Online, or World of Warcraft, you’ll feel right at home here. If you’re new to the genre, this is an easy pick up and play MMO with a lot user friendly features throughout. The addition of Shadowbringers doesn’t change that and in fact is more casual-friendly than ever before.
Sound: 10 out of 10
The sound team continues to impress. The music is very engaging and the atmosphere and sounds effects, such as slashing and casting magic, are still fun to hear. Square Enix, Masayoshi Soken, and his team should be proud of their ability to create such atmospheric sounds time after time.
Overall: 9.5 out of 10
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is without question the best Final Fantasy XIV expansion yet. The gripping story gave me quite a few gut punches. Shadowbringers is fun, fast, and fluid, largely due to the latest changes made to the battle system. If you’re looking for a brand new MMO or just want to get back into Final Fantasy XIV after a long hiatus, now’s the time to do so as this edition is wonderfully done.
- Amazing adventure and story that can be solo’d, but it’s best to be played with others
- Masterful music and atmosphere
- Fast and fluid gameplay
- Awesome end-game content
- Lacking additional healer to mitigate queue times
- Female / Male only races are a disappointment
- No improvement on visuals
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers review code / early access was provided by Square Enix.Related: Final Fantasy XIV, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers, MMORPG, Review, Square Enix