Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review

Ah, here we go again, stepping once more into the land of Eorzea. Thing is, it’s a little bit different now – we’re off to the land of eternal light, the First. Can we save this land from the blight of light, or will we fail? It’s time for Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers.

Shadowbringers is Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, and it brings us from the Source to the First. Before I continue any further, I would like to warn you that this review will contain some minor-major spoilers throughout.

At the end of Stormblood we were left a bit confused as to what the heck was going on, and Shadowbringers picks up soon after that. It’s not long before we find ourselves brought to this new land to once more save the day, not as the Warrior of Light, but as the Warrior of Darkness. You will visit Norvrandt – the only remaining area of the First to not be swallowed by the Flood of Light.

Shadowbringers continues Final Fantasy XIV’s masterful storytelling. While I felt it started off a bit slow, by the end I was hooked and wanting to find out more and more. With each new area you visit, you’ll be introduced to the locals who are simply trying to survive in what has become a harsh land. And of course this means they’ll have you doing fetch quests to gain their trust.

Ah, fetch quests. How I tire of thee. While I get that we aren’t well “known” around here, it does get a bit tiring to have to run around doing errands. Now, mind you, it’s not A Realm Reborn levels of fetch quests. I don’t think we can ever get close to that again. It did feel a bit excessive at times.

The biggest issue I had with the pace, however, was the predictability of the pace. After finishing an area, you would always return back and do the same thing. There’s always a dungeon at the odd levels. There’s always two trial fights to do while you level.

Shadowbringers brings to the forefront that a comfortable pace of dungeon spread has been found, and is in use for the third (of three) expansions. I would have loved to have seen it mixed up somewhat – maybe have a dungeon two levels in a row! Maybe throw in a third trial fight during the leveling process, or perhaps cut it down! In some places, it almost felt like there were moments of “oh shoot, we need to put out a dungeon for this level” and it got shoved in suddenly.

Stepping away from the pacing, let’s talk about the actual dungeons and trials themselves. They are fantastic, with some minor exceptions, namely in the level 79 dungeon. Stepping pretty deep into SPOILER TERRITORY here (because it is a later dungeon), let’s talk about a mechanic that’s in place for 2/3rds of that dungeon – white territory. White territory with the same orange marks for AoE effects. White territory that makes said effects impossible to see. I was not a happy camper doing it for the story, and I wasn’t a happy camper the couple times I did it while I leveled my Dancer up. The thing is, they have markers that aren’t orange, as well as markers that display up off the ground, and neither of these are in use there.

Slightly more visible in screenshot form, in the heat of battle these are nigh-impossible to make out.

New to the game is the Trust system. Available with the Level 71 dungeon, you can use this system in place of going into the dungeon with actual people. The system is available for every single storyline dungeon (sorry, you’ve still got to go with people for the trials), and is actually pretty well done. Well, right up until you beat it and you find out the twist – you now need to level up your Trust party members to 80, and they definitely don’t level at the same pace as you. I did a single run to test it out and they gained 2.5 million experience. This means, to get to the next dungeon, you’re looking at at least 12 runs. Oh, and you only get the experience for those you took along, and there are more than 3 available to choose from. Ah yes, mass grinding… Will I ever take them to 80? Maybe if they give more appealing rewards. As it stands, the rewards for all this grinding simply aren’t worth it, but I guess it gives me something to do if I just want to do a run and either don’t want to deal with people, or don’t want to deal with DPS queues. The Trust AI though? It’s quite good, and is actually a good tool to teach you how to dodge mechanics in bosses.

Another new grinding mechanic added is the Shared FATEs system. An update to the old FATE system, and one that’s only available in the new areas, you can now unlock vendor products based on the number of FATEs you have done in (and received the highest rank in) a single area. Seems great and easy to do, up until the point where the majority of players have completed it. Then I see them still going stagnant, and being tough for a single person to do. Now, I did already do some interesting solos with my Astrologian, but I don’t see them going nearly as well for a non-healer. Even now, I already see FATEs just sitting and timing out with no one doing them. Once the instanced areas are over perhaps it won’t happen quite as often, but only time will tell.

Sidequests received a semi-big update this time around – their experience, and difficulty, now scales to your level. Well, unless the quest asks you to kill static enemies on the map, then you’ll need to pull out a higher level class to kill those (looking at you, level 79 enemies I was trying to do with a level 71). The experience earned is approximately half of what you receive from a Main Story Quest of comparable level. Unfortunately, they still didn’t urge me along enough to actually go do them, outside of getting my Aether Currents for flying, since I’d rather just do FATEs while I queue.

Stepping away from the traditional job quests, Shadowbringers opted to go for Role Quests. These are split into four categories – Tank, Healer, Physical DPS, and Magical DPS. You will meet an NPC native to the First, and go out to take care of one of the biggest threats to the world. I did the Physical DPS and Healer ones and both left me a bit disappointed in the end, though I’ve also been told they were the weakest ones. There are still job quests to be done, or more specifically job quest – you get a singular quest at level 80, and again both of the ones I did (Astrologian and Dancer) were… disappointing, moreso the AST quest than the DNC one. The job quest for AST felt like it was phoned in, like they realized they had to include something and rushed it, and even the DNC one did in a way.

This expansion introduced two new jobs – Gunbreaker and Dancer – and two new races – Hrothgar and Viera. These races are the first gender-locked races we have seen since the relaunch, and yeah, it is a bit disappointing that we’re back to this. On top of that, they don’t get the full line of headwear, and they don’t even get the full line of hair styles. Considering hair styles are one thing you can actually buy, that is definitely frustrating. Oh well, I’m quite content with my Au Ra. Switched in Heavensward and have never looked back!

As far the two new jobs I haven’t had enough time to mess around with Gunbreaker, but from what I’ve seen it does function quite well for tanking. Dancer, however, I have messed around with (and is the reason this review got so delayed, oops). Dancer is, simply put, fun. It flows extremely well, and is FFXIV’s first real “support” class (sorry Bard, you’re more DPS). That said, DNC feels a bit overpowered at lower levels, with your Standard Step doing a ton of damage even in Sastasha, and it’s usable every 30 or so seconds.

Shadowbringers brought about a huge combat change – the removal of TP. Now, ever job has a base 10,000 MP, although for your physical DPS this has just resulted in “well, everything is free now!”, allowing you to spam things like AoEs. For the mages, this has resulted in a much more reliant on Lucid Dreaming rotation, something I keep forgetting every time I go work on my Red Mage.

Along with the removal of TP, every job saw the usual skill adjustments to cut down on hot bar usage. For some jobs this was minor – such as RDM – and for others it was quite major – such as AST. They also made adjustments to functions of some skills, and also made changes to how shields from healers work. I don’t have any experience with Scholar this expansion (I haven’t touched the job since ARR), but with working on AST I ended up having to go back to Diurnal Sect simply because the shields from Nocturnal were not enough due to them getting nerfed down. They also removed Protect, and man I could tell because I could just see the tanks taking more damage…

One of the more low-key changes that I actually quite enjoy is the updates to retainers. You now get an overview of them, instead of simply the Venture status and how many items are being sold. The major thing here is you get a nice, quick glance as to how much gil you have, as well as all the same Venture and items being sold information.

Some of the music this time around didn’t feel quite as catchy, although it is still fantastic as usual. I am reminded, however, that most of the tracks I love usually come in the later patches, and not just the base expansion.

Shadowbringers continues to push Final Fantasy XIV forward as one of the best MMOs on the market. While it does have it’s issues – some of the grind systems are definitely very grind, but you come to expect that in MMOs – it’s a great place for those who have been gone a while to return to. If you’re new to the game, it’ll be quite some time before you make it to the expansion, but it’s worth the wait. Hopefully they address some of the issues I’ve mentioned in visibility in future patches.

Shadowbringers receives a heavy recommendation from me if you’re looking to return to the game, and as mentioned, something to greatly look forward to if you’re new.

I received a review copy of the PS4 version from Square Enix, and purchased a PC version of the expansion for myself. The review if heavily based on my experiences on PC, with some minor usage thus-far on PS4.

Let’s talk patch 5.01!

So as many of you may know, patch 5.01 is out now, which adds in Shadowbringers’ first raid tier. Thanks to getting distracted leveling Dancer, this review took until now to actually get out. While for spoiler purposes I won’t go into too many details, but let’s talk about it at least a little!

Shadowbringers’ raid tiers are named Eden, and are designed with thanks to Tetsuya Nomura. The music here is absolutely to die for (I was fangirling quite hard when I first started it), and the boss designs are top notch. While I did clear out the first two first try, the second two definitely took some more attempts. Savage is going to be quite… interesting to say the least.

Overall, I’m very much looking forward to where they go with the storyline for this one, and as for the 24-man raids?

…Become as gods…

Yeah, can’t wait for those.