By William Haderlie / August 8th, 2019
|Title||Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers|
|Release Date||July 2nd, 2019|
|Genre||Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game|
|Platform||PC, PlayStation 4|
|Age Rating||ESRB – T for Teen|
I have been playing Final Fantasy XIV off and on (mostly on) since the public beta for 1.0. I want that to be the first thing you read in the review, because it is important for perspective. I fell off during the 1.0 era because it just was not very fun to play, but came back with A Realm Reborn and never really left for more than a few months to take a break. As such, this review will be mostly from the perspective of someone that would mostly be considered a hardcore player. You are not going to get much perspective on what it is like to jump into the game fresh with this expansion, but there are several places on the internet to find that view. In fact, there is practically a cottage industry that has been formed around the perspective of World of Warcraft refugees switching over to Final Fantasy XIV in the past year. Another part of my perspective to put out there is that, while single player games are my favorite and that is especially true for the Final Fantasy series, I was a veteran of MMORPGs even before Final Fantasy XIV. I didn’t really like Final Fantasy XI much, but my first really active MMORPG was Star Wars Galaxies, and I also played a little of Ultima Online and Everquest. There has actually been very few MMORPGs that I haven’t at least touched a little. That being said, few have really stuck, and overall (especially with the new expansion) Final Fantasy XIV is probably my favorite of the whole genre. The largest reason for that is quite simple; story. And that has never been more true than it is now with Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers.
I have never taken the time to write a review for any MMORPG or expansion, mostly because it is such a monumental task. Games in this genre are not just built to appeal to a certain crowd, they are built to be basically a way of life for that crowd. Ostensibly there is enough to do for you to not grow bored enough to just quit playing it. Granted, a lot of that heavy work is done by the ability to interact with your friends, but even in that environment stale content would have people fleeing. But the downside to the multiplayer and community aspect has always been that developers were just able to focus on flashy gear and busy work, and mostly let the communities make a lot of their own fun. Character building, world building, lore, story, and many of the features common to single player RPGs have often taken a back seat in these games. Some games have done a better job of integrating those aspects; Star Wars: The Old Republic has some really great characters, World of Warcraft has some great lore, and Tera integrates possibly the best fighting system. With Heavensward, the second half of Stormblood, and especially now with Shadowbringers, Final Fantasy XIV has set a new standard for storytelling in MMORPGs. In fact, I would say that this is probably my 4th favorite story in any Final Fantasy game after only Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy XII, and Final Fantasy Tactics.
To describe what makes the story so amazing would be nigh impossible in a small review, even if I was able to engage full spoilers. However, it is worth having some overview so people know what they are getting into. Basically, during a calamity the world of the Source, which is where you reside, was split into 13 different mirror worlds. They are each based on the Source, but have their own differences, much like alternate dimensions. Since that major split, there have been a few calamities on those shard worlds that have also impacted the Source itself. One of the most major and most recent was an Umbral Light calamity which befell the world called the First. During the Heavensward expansion of Final Fantasy XIV, we got the first hints of what was happening on the First when a group of adventurers named the Warriors of Darkness invaded our world and tried to take out the Warrior of Light (ostensibly your character in Final Fantasy XIV). Between Heavensward and Stormblood, tragedy befell the Scions (the group you are a part of who protect the whole world without falling under the sway of any particular country) and your leader Minfilia was absorbed by the Crystal of Light named Hydaelyn. She was tasked with becoming the voice of Hydaelyn and the Oracle of Light. The Warriors of Darkness thought that by taking out the Warrior of Light, they could prevent the Flood of Light from engulfing their world. The Oracle of Light informed them that this was not the case, but promised to join them on the First and aid them in trying to prevent the end of their world. That is the last you heard from either the Warriors of Darkness and the Oracle of Light for quite a while as war with the Garlean Empire loomed on the horizon and you helped two regions gain their independence from the Empire. Unfortunately, right as war seemed all but inevitable, all your Scion friends started falling into the deepest of comas, as if their very souls were sucked out of their body. And a voice that no one else could hear kept calling on the Warrior of Light to heed his call.
That is the barest hint of story that leads into Shadowbringers, but if you are a player who is thinking of jumping into this game, it is important to know that you should never skip story scenes. Either just let people wait, or go to the Inn and view any scene that you missed. Not only is the story in this game good, but they know it’s good, and so they always build on previous events. Nothing is ever forgotten, even if some events are more important than others. The Warrior of Light does finally succumb to the call from the First but brings their body with them and transports fully, instead of just transporting their soul over. A device found near the Crystal Tower (the location featured in the 24man raid series from A Realm Reborn) found by the Scions helped you finally get a complete connection with the Crystal Exarch and allowed you to teleport over to the First with your body. However, once you arrive you discover that not only is the whole world covered in an oppressive light, but time also works differently in the First. The most recent Scions that were pulled across the worlds were only gone for a few weeks in your world, but 6 months had passed for that person. But when it comes to the first pulled over, it has been a couple years. And while it seemed like so long ago since you faced the Warriors of Darkness, it certainly wasn’t the 100 years that have passed in this new world. It turns out that group and the Oracle of Light were able to have some success on not letting the Flood completely obliterate the world, however only Norvrandt, a small subcontinent, has survived. And even then, in the last 100 years they have been continually oppressed by the light and are slowly being converted into Sin Eaters one by one. Sin Eaters are minions of Umbral Light that have the ability to create new ones, either by destroying any living creature or by imparting their own light into that being after death. It seems like the entire First has only had a stay of execution, but it is on a slow march to oblivion.
While it is mostly new people you are surrounded by initially (although the Exarch seems to know you), there is a very important person that greets you when you first arrive on the First. The leader of the Warriors of Darkness (although in this world they are called the Warriors of Light, as an insult) shows up as something of a ghost or projection in your inn room during what passes for night in this light stricken world. He expresses shock that you are here in his world but is even more shocked when you respond to his comments. It turns out that he was left in this state specifically by the Oracle of Light. He wanted to join her and his friends in pushing back the Flood, but turned him into a projection and told him that he had another duty to fulfill. And in the 100 intervening years, no one has been able to see or hear him until you. Obviously that thread takes a long time, practically the entire release content, until it is finally resolved why he was left behind. But in the meantime, you also meet up with the latest avatar of the Oracle of Light. It turns out that ever since she came to this world and helped to hold back the Flood, new versions of Minfilia have been born and spend their lives trying to keep the world and its people safe until she dies anew in tragedy.
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