It’s ridiculous. Every time I log in to work my way through Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, I find more things to gush over. Rather than spam my Twitter followers with GIFs and references to Shadowbringers, I’m using the third leg of my journey towards a full review to get all the goodness thus far out of my system.
Having converted to the new Dancer job, which I love, and changing my character from a cat person to a bunny-like Viera, the new player race that’s slowly growing on me, I’ve spent the past week diving deep into the continuing story of Final Fantasy XIV. Shadowbringers takes the player’s level 70 hero and transports them to a whole new world where they’ve got ten more levels of heroism to do. I’m currently at level 77 out of 80, having performed many heroic feats such as defeating massive beasts and finding a nice pair of goggles for my character to wear.
While I will do my best to avoid spoiling major plot points, there will be images and events in this log that could spoil elements of Shadowbringers’ story. Here is a warning so I don’t feel too bad about it.
Spoiler warning received? Excellent. Here are the good things so far.
Final Fantasy XIV is very good at storytelling. Maybe not the first 20 levels or so, while the player is being introduced to basic information like Eorzean geography and who the bad guys are. It takes time for the full story to unfurl, for lovable characters to be loved and hateable characters to be despised. But once a player starts approaching level 50, the game’s original level cap, they’re fully committed to their role as the game world’s greatest hero, the Warrior of Light. By the time they’ve caught up to where Shadowbringers begins, the level 70 hero has saved the world multiple times and freed two countries from the grip of the evil Garlean Empire.
Then, just as players are beginning to learn of the connections between the Garleans and an ancient race of chaos bringers called Ascians, who’ve been plaguing characters since the game’s 2013 launch, the Warrior of Light is transported to a different world with a whole new set of problems. Called The First, it’s a planet that’s on the brink of being engulfed by the power of light. With all but a few landmasses wiped out of existence by a surging flood of light, the regions that remain haven’t seen the night sky in over a century. Mindless creatures called sin eaters roam the land, driven by a ravenous hunger for the ether within living bodies. This is what happens when the balance between light and dark tips dangerously in light’s favor.
It’s an outstanding stage for a Final Fantasy adventure. Players travel The First’s different regions to restore the balance by taking out massive boss Sin Eaters called Lightwardens. Were a normal person to kill a Lightwarden, they would take on the light and become one themselves, but the player’s character possesses the ability to absorb and contain the light. When a player kills a Lightwarden, it stays dead, and the day/night cycle is restored. Hooray!
As awesome as those massive battles are, they aren’t the best part of the story. There are plenty of dramatic story beats, narrative twists and turns that will certainly catch seasoned players off-guard, but it’s not those either. It’s learning about the little people living in The First’s remote towns and villages. How they’ve dealt with never-ending light. Where they find comfort and succor in the face of their world’s impending doom. How they react when the light goes off and, for the first time in their lives, they gaze upon the sunless sea of the night sky.
I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it. Best move on, so I can go back to finishing up the story.
The Horror And Sadness
How do I explain the moments of heart-breaking sorrow and stomach-dropping feelings of terror and disgust evoked by Shadowbringers’ story without mentioning specific events? This expansion does not shy away from endearing players to a person, place or thing and then stripping it away in the blink of an eye. Nor does it flinch at taking an already dystopian society and dialing the suffering and injustice up to “oh god, I think I’m going to be sick.”
(Hello from Final Fantasy XIV’s version of Rapture/Columbia)
Hrm, I think I just did.
Old Friends, New Looks
Over the past six years of Final Fantasy XIV, players have made many non-player character friends. Particularly members of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, a group of powerful heroes to which the player has belonged since very early in the game’s initial story. Fortunately for players, the entity responsible for their being transported to The First was a lousy shot and managed to bring over a good number of Scions before bagging the Warrior of Light. And since time conveniently runs differently between the player’s homeworld and The First, the Scions have been wandering about the new world for upwards of three years. The most important implication here is that each of the NPCs gets a makeover.
It’s nice to see old characters in new clothes. Sometimes very nice. For example, here is the quixotic elven sage Urangier before Shadowbriingers.
And here is Urangier as he appears in Shadowbringers, having switch job class to Astrologer and become everyone’s elven daddy.
This entire section was mainly an excuse to drool over Urangier’s makeover. It’s a very good thing.
Final Fantasy XIV looks good. It’s always looked good, and it continues to look good. But there’s something about the art direction in Shadowbringers that feels a step above older content. Take the GIF that tops this post, for example.
The framing, the textures—it’s such a wonderful moment, I had to grab it and save it. In the game, it’s just a few seconds of incidental animation during a much longer cutscene, but it stole my breath.
Here are a few more of my favorite images, presented without context.
Imagine riding along in your favorite online game, grooving to the orchestral soundtrack. You cross the line into a brand new area, and hear this.
The song is called “Civilizations,” and it is everything. The chanting, the vocalizing, the woodwinds, and the beat come together into something magical. The expansion’s soundtrack is filled with music that stops me in my tracks whenever I hear it. “Civilizations” is just one example.
And This Other Song
This is another example. It’s the new battle music. This plays when players fight random creatures wandering the lands of The First.
That’s metal guitar and some operatic singing. That’s music to kill by.
The Strip Club
This one’s for the role-players in the audience. Atop the tower town of Eulmore, there is an establishment called the Beehive, where the upper crust go to enjoy the fine art of pole dancing.
It’s not as classy as some of the game’s player-run brothels, perhaps, but it has a certain purple charm. It’s sure to be a go-to location for roleplay of a more risque nature. Or maybe that’s just me.
Things I’ve Already Covered
Some things about the Shadowbringers expansion are so good they got their own posts. These include:
I’ve not found a lot to complain about in Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion. The new races, rabbity Viera and lion-like Hrothgar, feel a bit tacked on, which I’ve covered. Login queues are in effect, but not particularly obnoxious. On my home server of Goblin I’ve normally got between 20 and 40 players waiting to log in ahead of me, and the wait is only a couple minutes. Oh, the new Gunbreaker job class has led to a lot of people dressing up as Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, standing around and trying to look cool with their fancy gunblades. That’s bad, right?
Look, I still have three levels and a chunk of story to work through before I reach the end of the expansion’s initial content. Surely I’ll find more to not like by then. Wish me luck.