The best there’s ever been for Final Fantasy XIV.
What They Say:
Shadowbringers marks a bold new beginning, taking players beyond the world of Hydaelyn™ for the first time as they journey to the First and the realm of Norvrandt. The Warrior of Light must become the Warrior of Darkness to restore night and save the world from the apocalypse the Flood of Light promises.
Final Fantasy XIV has one of the most fascinating tales in video game history as it has evolved from a game that few wanted to play to be reborn as one that many were interested in, and has since become even better as time went on. All of this has culminated in the release of only its third expansion: Shadowbringers.
Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers is the single greatest piece of content all around for the entire MMO, taking the best parts of every previous section (A Realm Reborn, Heavensward, and Stormblood) and cramming it into one full-length RPG that excels on every front: the new job classes, races, story, characters, areas, and more.
At the forefront of this third expansion are the new races and job classes. Gripes about the gender-locked nature of the bunny girl Viera and lion boy Hrothgar races aside, these two races contain some of the highest detail and remain the most significant addition to the character customization options since the release of the game.
In addition, the Gunbreaker and Dancer job classes are instant favorites for me. Both take the gameplay of their respective roles in new and bold directions that offer something for everyone. Players who like a challenge can check out the Gunbreaker that offers numerous choices for how to progressive your combos and abilities in battle.
On the other hand, the Dancer job class has a somewhat steep learning curve initially that once figured out, quickly becomes a frenetic set rotation that is exciting in execution despite its focus on RNG. I’m still not a huge fan of the percentage nature of several of the Dancer abilities but there is something fantastic about being able to partner up and give significant buffs to your teammates.
Beyond the races and jobs, the other biggest change is the new story that takes players to the world of the First. A shard world that was split off from the Source, which is home to all of the content to date, the First offers a tonally and visually different experience from what we’ve seen thus far.
My biggest concern about Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers was that the areas would feel too samey since they are direct counterparts of the continent of Eorzea from the Source. Places like the hub city of Crystarium and its surrounding region of Lakeland directly correlate to the Mor Dhona area that veteran players know well.
Thankfully, almost all of the six areas that you’ll visit are massive departures from their Source versions, enough so that you might not realize that places like Il Mheg are located where Ishgard is in the Source. That is with the exception of Kholusia that, while home to the phenomenally surprising city of Eulmore, does feel too similar to Limsa Lominsa and La Noscea.
But that doesn’t take away from the other excellent five regions that I dare not spoil. From the luscious purple landscapes of Lakeland to the whimsical and colorful Il Mheg, this is the most varied set of regions to date; a staunch contrast to the less than stellar areas of Stormblood previously.
It also helps that the launch experience has been a blessing compared to previous content launches in the game’s history. Previously, there were insane moments like the Raubahn instance situation and lengthy wait times that have been all but alleviated this time around. I did experience bits of lag at launch but not so much that I didn’t get to blast through the story.
The story itself is the crowning jewel of what hooked me in the lore of Final Fantasy XIV almost six years ago. The move to the world of the First was the shot in the arm that the MMORPG needed after the much maligned and mediocre (but still important) storyline that was Stormblood.
Right from the very first quest, Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers sets the stage for what’s to come with a spectacular opening that doesn’t stop being fantastic for quite some time. The opening cutscene, in particular, gave me chills and put a smile on my face as I watched it.
Moments like these were sprinkled throughout the lengthy campaign as it had mostly good pacing. Previous expansions have had those despised moments where you have to jump a level or two and it can feel like forever trying to do that. Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers opts for more gradual and consistent pacing this time around.
Fairly early on, I already had the general idea of how things would go, what I would do, and when the next level grind would be. For the most part, just doing the main story quests, there is a level gap almost every level through the expansion but I actually preferred it this way to the massive jumps.
I would end that level’s main story quests at around half or two-thirds of the way to the next level and it only took a few duty roulettes and side quests, and I’d be ready for the next chunk of story content. This is in large part due to the key quality of life changes to the game like making nearly every side quest in this expansion scale to your current level for rewards and challenge.
The characters introduced and spotlighted in Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers are also my new favorites. Characters like the Crystal Exarch and others that I won’t spoil are phenomenal additions to the cast that showcase just how strong the writing in Final Fantasy XIV has gotten over the years.
There are plenty of twists and turns with the characters and plot points that make me wonder where everything is going next. What could have been a cute side adventure that has no real effect on the main story of the heroes versus the Garlean Empire and Ascians actually shakes the very core of everything we know.
Of course, the fantastic characters, story, and new additions would be nothing if playing through the content wasn’t fun. Thankfully, I’m happy to reveal that the content like dungeons and trials are worthy additions to the massive game. In terms of difficulty, the dungeons are about the same level as Stormblood so they are still a bit on the easy side.
That’s even when you play using the wonderful new Trust system that allows you to play through the main dungeons with your NPC companions. It takes longer to do but is a safe and secure way to learn each dungeon’s new mechanics before grinding with others online.
It is unfortunate, though, that you aren’t able to do the trials using the Trust system as that would have been great, too. As for the trials themselves, they mostly feel easier than Stormblood’s trials, especially the final one. This was a little disappointing as I still have flashbacks about the many runs trying to complete Shinryu at launch but they are passable at least.
Thankfully, though, they are overshadowed by one new dungeon in particular that I won’t say anything except that it’s my favorite and easily the best dungeon that Square Enix has done all around. The same can be said for the terrific soundtrack that contains some of my favorite tunes to date.
I normally take my time with each new expansion but Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers is so amazing that I found myself rushing through everything to see what’s next. Immediately after beating the story, I started leveling my other classes like the Dancer to the max level as well as doing crafting, which are activities I have always saved for months later in the past.
For the most part, existing classes have been improved like the valuable changes to Machinist but there are some unfortunate changes that I still don’t like. Healers, for one, are more challenging than ever to play unnecessarily. For Scholar, in particular, Eos and Selene feel completely useless as their heals seem weaker and pointless.
Before, I can rely on my pet to help heal while I do other things but such isn’t the case anymore. In addition, the Summoner is worse off as well, especially for solo play, with the removal of Titan as a tank pet. It does feel sad to move away from jobs that have stuck with me since the beginning so here’s hoping that Square Enix reverts back or buffs to make up the difference soon.
Beyond some poor job class changes, Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers offers the best of everything to date. The content is the most engaging and visually impressive, offering dungeons and trials that are unlike anything you’ve seen before. The main story is the cream of the crop, bringing back the Heavensward-level of writing and characters, and even surpassing it by a long shot.
In addition, the newcomers to the game like the Viera and Hrothgar races, and the Dancer and Gunbreaker jobs are welcome additions that offer something for everyone. If you are a diehard Final Fantasy XIV player, a lapsed player, a new player, or not a player at all, you need to play Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers as it makes a strong step towards Final Fantasy XIV becoming the best MMORPG ever made.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Age Rating: Teen
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Platform: PS4, PC, Mac (reviewed on PS4 and PC)
This review was done with review copies provided by the publisher. We are grateful for their continued support.