Final Fantasy XIV cannot really be considered as anything less than a success. With over 14 million active players at last count, and active communities thriving around the game – whether it be through art, cosplay, or at the popular Fan Fest events – the game is nothing if not huge. Something that Square Enix are leaning into with the most recent expansion – Shadowbringers.
I’d like to stress before I start that this is a review-in-progress of the expansion. Owing to the sheer amount of content in the expansion, with Square Enix once again living up to their promise of it being the length of a “full length adventure game”, I’ve only reached level 75. This is despite a considerable amount of time plugged into it, but I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts.
This review will avoid the majority of spoilers though, so there’s that.
Shadowbringers takes the Warrior of Light to the First, one of the reflections of the Source (where the story has been set until now). The First has been consumed by the Flood, caused by a overwhelming surge of Light, destroying almost the entire world. This has only left the region of Norvrandt, with the remainder of life within the handful of areas that were spared the blight.
The impression I already have, even at just a little less than what I presume to be halfway through the scenario, is that the writers of Final Fantasy XIV have a clear sense of direction with their narrative. This direction has brought us to a notably bleak chapter in the story, with some of the most emotionally harsh and fittingly dark subject matter the game has ever dealt with.
The only problem with the story is that some players might struggle with the reliance Shadowbringers has on knowledge of the earlier story points, especially that of the 4.x parts of previous expansion Stormblood. This shouldn’t be seen as too much of a deal breaker however, as the writers do a decent job of explaining the more egregious outlying points of the story until now.
Final Fantasy XIV has changed a lot of its gameplay with the launch of Shadowbringers, with all Jobs having refinements that serve to unify the roles so that each Job within a certain role operates similarly, as well as making each Job far more accessible for newer players and much less stressful for existing players – especially with some of the more, complex Jobs.
Into this framework, the new tank and DPS, Gunbreaker and Dancer respectively, fit as if they have always been there. Coupled with a liberal sprinkling of quality of life tweaks, such as AOE markers now being far more clear and obvious, it isn’t too much of a stretch to call the gameplay of Shadowbringers the best the game has ever been. The proof is in the playing, and I cannot stop.
Visually too, this is the best that Final Fantasy XIV has ever looked, which can be seen across the board in the game. All of the new areas are absolutely breaktaking, despite their unfortunate affliction of drowning in light. Lakeland, the Crystarium, and Il Mheg are vivid bursts of bright colour, and the desolation of Kholusia is clearly visible from your first steps into it.
Admittedly, I’ve only completed two dungeons and a single trial, but the enemy design across the board has seriously stepped up here – no mean feat considering the calibre before this. Also, even as this early point, it’s clear that Ayumi Namae has really settled into her role designing the various gear for the game because just by level 73, I had already seen some incredible looking gear.
Then there’s the sound, my word the sound. Masayoshi Soken is at his absolute best here, pulling out some of the most epically defiant and distressingly sombre work yet. It’s this nailing of tone that really sets Shadowbringers apart, especially in Kholusia with the score leaving the player feeling the despair of those outside Eulmore keenly before you’ve even spoken to an NPC.
This all being said, I’m only so far through the expansion. But already the story, gameplay, visuals, and sound have completely blown me away, and I have no reason to believe that this won’t continue right through to the end. In fact, taking time away from the First to write this means I am eager to return and I’m getting right back to it, and I’ll check back in with a full review at a later date. See you soon, Warriors of Darkness.