Last year, in the lead-up to World of Warcraft’s Battle for Azeroth expansion, Horde leader Sylvanas Windrunner went a bit more evil than usual. She set the world tree ablaze, destroying the night elf capital of Teldrassil and murdering countless innocents in the process. It was one of the most horrific events in the online role-playing game’s history. It’s also a delightful papercraft creation in the upcoming <a rel="nofollow" data-amazonasin="194568366X" data-amazonsubtag="[t|link[p|1838287009[a|194568366X[au|5724686334600252479[b|kotaku[lt|text" onclick="window.ga('send', 'event', 'Commerce', 'kotaku – World of Warcraft's Greatest Tragedies Look So Much Cuter In A Pop-Up Book‘, ‘194568366X’);window.ga(‘unique.send’, ‘event’, ‘Commerce’, ‘kotaku – World of Warcraft's Greatest Tragedies Look So Much Cuter In A Pop-Up Book‘, ‘194568366X’);” data-amazontag=”kotakuamzn-20″ href=”https://www.amazon.com/World-Warcraft-Pop-Up-Book/dp/194568366X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=world+of+warcraft+pop-up+book&qid=1568994581&sr=8-1&tag=kotakuamzn-20&ascsubtag=8f9cc87c5444531780a87d2cc290baf0d6d97fa9″>World of Warcraft Pop-Up Book. You can almost smell the roasting night elves.
History, be it real-world history or fantasy MMO history, is full of terror and death and tragedy, but learning about history doesn’t have to be. The pop-up book, one of papercraft’s finest creations, can add depth, whimsy, and fun to even the most heartrending events.
The next major event in the Horde and Alliance war following the burning of Teldrassil was the Battle for Lordaeron. In the heat of the confrontation, Sylvanas ordered the ruins of the ancient Alliance capital that served as the capstone to the undead Undercity to be bombarded with blight, rendering it completely inhospitable for even the living dead. The World of Warcraft Pop-Up book lets children of all ages experience the ruins from a safe distance, preserving history and health at the same time.
As a special bonus, the book includes a fold-out depicting what Stormwind looks like when you’re drunk.
Hopefully next they make the World of Warcraft Classic Pop-Up Book, which is the same thing only with scissors so you can cut out the new bits.
World of WarcraftClassic is allowing tons of dedicated and longtime fans to relive the early days of their favorite game. For someone like me who never had any experience with World of Warcraft, it’s a different sort of time capsule. It’s strange to be a total newbie to one of the biggest games in history, but there’s also joy to be had in not knowing what to do or where to go next.
I know almost nothing about World of Warcraft. I know the Alliance and the Horde, I know that Tempest Keep was merely a setback, I know Jaina’s done some questionable things recently, and I know “you no take candle.” My knowledge of Warcraft is secondhand. I picked up fragments from things like Hearthstone and that one time I saw the World of Warcraft movie with my girlfriend. WoW Classic is totally alien to me. Ever since my curiosity got the better of me and I started playing two days ago, I’ve bumbled about as a fresh-faced priestess and found myself happily overwhelmed by the game’s scale and design.
MMOs aren’t new to me. I’m an avid Final Fantasy XIV player. I played Star Wars Galaxies, Guild Wars 2, The Old Republic, Lord of the Rings Online, and more. When I dropped into Azeroth, I had some fundamentals to work on: learning the leveling process, how to get new spells, walking the path to the infamous town village of Goldshire. All of it has been a fascinating peek at a world I’ve never known. There have been surprises—I have never in my life seen a Tauren before, so that was a shock—but they’ve been a lot of fun. And while it feels strange as a games journalist to admit my lack of Warcraft knowledge, I’m content to wander from quest to quest and observe the game’s bustling community.
Last night, I found a green quality bow while slaying a murloc on a quest. Not the highest-quality weapon and also not anything I could use as Priestess. I could have sold it and made a little more money for buying new spells, but instead, I asked in General chat if anyone wanted it. Someone messaged me asking to see the item. I linked it in chat. He passed.
“I hope it goes to a worthy hunter,” the stranger said.
My reply came quickly: “I figure why sell it if I can help someone out.”
“That the spirit of Classic,” they offered in turn. I’m not making this up; that’s just how nice this stranger was.
I’m level 10 right now, and although I don’t plan to power level, I’ll eventually get to 60 even if I only play one or two nights a week here or there. It’ll be a long, relaxing journey. I’m not going to raid in a hardcore fashion; I won’t have multiple characters; and I’m not gonna role play, even though I found a weary traveler on the road last night and struck up a quick chat. Instead, I’ll amble through Classic and finally get a chance to see what the fuss was about all those years ago.
World of Warcraft Classic is teeming with life. Traders shout out their wares, offering much-needed magical items and equipment at reasonable prices. Adventurers form parties for protection against dangerous low-level foes. Earlier today a stranger came up to my mage and asked if I could conjure him water. I can’t remember the last time a random player asked me for anything in World of Warcraft. It’s nice to feel needed again.
Blizzard’s spent the past decade and change stripping away the need for players to directly interact with each other in the non-classic version of World of Warcraft. The difficulty of the game’s core questing content has been significantly reduced from where it was at launch, making it easy for players of all skill levels to chew through content quickly by their lonesome. Features like the dungeon finder, which automatically forms parties of random players for multiplayer content, made dungeon crawling much more efficient but impersonal at the same time. Unless I decided to start raiding or engaging in hardcore player-versus-player content, there’s just no reason for me to rely on other people in modern World of Warcraft.
Oh god do I need other people in World of Warcraft Classic. Old-school Azeroth is not friendly to solo players at all. I’ve died a dozen or more times in Westfall, the level 10-20 zone outside of Stormwind, trying to play a 2004 online role-playing game as a player accustomed to life in 2019. There are enemies everywhere, wandering the landscape and packed into crowded camps. They hit hard and are hard to kill. Taking on an even-leveled creature eats most of my mage’s mana, forcing me to rest between every kill. Taking on two even-leveled creatures is risky. I’ve had to use my mage’s Sheep spell, temporarily turning an enemy into a harmless critter, for the first time in years. Taking on three or more even-leveled creatures is suicide.
I’d died four times at the murloc camp off the coast of Westfall, trying to take on too many of the fishman monsters at once, before a random player invited me to join their group. We gleefully stomped those aquatic bastards, rolling up and down the coastline casting spells and swinging swords. Players would join and leave our ramshackle party. Our roving band of murloc murderers was the first taste I had of real camaraderie in World of Warcraft in a long time.
It’s not just the danger that brings World of Warcraft Classic players together. The difficult quests, tougher creatures, and lack of fast travel options mean players are spending a lot more time in a single leveling zone. In modern WoW I can tear through the quests in the Elwynn Forest starting area in a couple of hours, riding gryphons back and forth to Stormwind City for supplies and driving my heirloom mount between quest objectives. There is no gryphon in Elwynn Forest in WoW Classic. There’s no such thing as an heirloom mount. There is a whole lot of walking and a whole lot of killing two dozen creatures to collect four or five quest items. I spent a day and a half in Elwynn Forest in WoW Classic, just questing and talking, getting to know other players through the area chat, because they were right there with me.
Many of those players are still with me in Westfall. I’ll join a party to take down some Defias bandits, and there’s the one guy who keeps making inappropriate comments in chat, trying to rile the role-players on our role-playing server. Oh, and the priest is the nice woman who offered to sell me a wand for 20 silver only to realize she didn’t have all the materials she needed to craft it. It’s just not possible to speed through even the lowest level content, so we’re all stuck with each other. I love it.
The start-up economy doesn’t hurt community relations either. There are no veteran crafters churning out items and dumping them in the auction house. Instead of going to the market for crafted goods, players are asking crafters to meet up and make them things in trade chat. One item in huge demand is loot-carrying bags, crafted by tailors. My mage is a tailor and I’ve made many a bag for wandering adventurers over the past couple of days. Those players will remember me. I will remember them. It’s how MMO friendships start.
During WoW Classic’s early demo days I called the game “the hell we asked for.” Compared to modern World of Warcraft, with all of its conveniences and shortcuts, yeah, it is hellish. But it’s also filled with like-minded players willing to band together to see it through. It reminds me of the neighborhoods I lived in growing up in the pre-internet age when I knew my neighbors’ names and everyone was willing to help each other out. It’s an amazing feeling.
The WoW Classic servers are crowded right now, but that crowding will die down as struggling players filter back to the main game. Eventually all that will be left are the people who embrace the game’s community spirit, banding together to make old-school Azeroth a friendly, more survivable sort of place. I’ll be there.
Overcrowded starting areas, login queues in the tens of thousands, rampant lag, server disconnects—oh yeah, I am feeling that old school MMO vibe in World of Warcraft Classic.
In the video below (mind the hot mic, it’s been a while) I take my first steps 15 years back in time. My gnome rogue, Gerbil, entered the Coldridge Valley starting zone within minutes of the WoW Classic servers going live, along with every other dwarven and gnomish character on the Faerlina server.
The zone’s initial quest, requiring characters to collect meat from wolves, made it a very bad day to be a wolf. It wasn’t a great day to be a rogue either. Every time I got near a wolf, some spellcaster’s bolt or hunter’s arrow would hit it. Since this is vanilla WoW, rolled back to the early days, taking credit for killing a creature means hitting it first, and that’s it. No communal kills.
Eventually, the wholesale wolf slaughter subsided and I was able to progress. Keen on working together to overcome the initial crowding, players started forming lines for creatures and monsters required to finish quests. The neat little queues were like tiny communities. People jumping ahead were shunned. People getting in line were welcomed with open arms. It was kind of beautiful.
There are plus sides to every character on a server being in the same zone at the same time. I chose skinning and leatherworking as my professions. The dwarf and gnome starting areas are filled to the brim with skinnable creatures. Wolves, bears, cats, boars, and even yetis, their abandoned corpses in tidy piles, waiting for me to come along and strip them of their gruesome fruit.
In three hours I made it to level eight on my rogue. On a regular, up-to-date World of Warcraft server, I would be raiding already. OK, not raiding, but at least going through some level 16 dungeons. Anyway, once I hit level eight I logged out for a snack.
Bad move. World of Warcraft Classic differs from regular MMORPG launches in that everyone who already plays World of Warcraft gained access as soon as the servers went live. There was no ramp up to the massive queues. They were immediate. It doesn’t help that the server I picked, player-versus-player realm Faerlina, is apparently a popular streamer server.
Determined to play, I hopped over to one of the newer servers Blizzard opened last night to deal with overflow, PVP role-playing server Deviate Delight, whose name is destined to make it a popular destination for “adult” role-players. I rolled a human mage and set off on a grand adventure.
For those who can’t watch the video, it ends with a server disconnect and me going to bed.
The World of Warcraft Classic server rush should subside quickly. Right now it’s a fascinating new/old thing that’s garnering a lot of attention, but old school WoW is hard, and it’s certainly not going to be for everyone.
Games are full of deadly enemies from zombies to dragons, but most share one enemy in common: gravity. Pits, ledges, canyons, moving platforms. No matter what setting players are in, there’s always some reason to jump. Some games even offer tricky obstacle courses. These jump puzzles are both joyous and frustrating. They are unsung juggernauts of fun and fury, and I love them.
Final Fantasy XIV’s latest event, the Moonfire Faire, is live from now until August 26. Among its various challenges is a massive obstacle course and jumping puzzle. It’s a chance to test your coordination and dexterity. Jumping puzzles have a long lineage in MMORPGs as a side activity away from combat or crafting. Guild Wars dots the landscape with hidden paths to cross, and Star Wars: the Old Republic hides stat-boosting holocrons reachable only through complicated leaps and bounds.
Jumping itself is one of gaming’s most common actions. Players have been jumping for decades, and jumping puzzles are the logical conclusion of a pastime that gave us Pitfall, Super Mario, and an entire platforming genre. Part of the appeal is a chance to feel a sense of “embodiment,” a deep feeling of being in your character’s body.
Embodiment is sometimes a contentious topic in game design, since there’s a lot of different ways to make players feel like they’re really inhabiting someone else. For some games like Red Dead Redemption 2, the solution is to take things slow. Lumberous animations take every single frame possible to express actions in their entirety. Arthur Morgen doesn’t just jump: he bends down, plants his knees, arches his back, and lifts up before coming back down with a hard landing. That’s not how you want someone to control or move in a jumping puzzle. You want Mario, not molasses.
In the case of Final Fantasy XIV, the key to a sense of embodiment is giving players just enough control over their body. That means being able to turn fast in the air with the spin of a mouse or control the arc of their jump ever so slightly as they fall. Giving extra control allows players to feel like mistakes are their own, even if they can’t do something as dramatic as change the full direction of their jump once in the air.
That last part is important and key to what makes jumping puzzles so enjoyable. There is a sense that there are rules to the world, and that players can come to understand them. Gravity, speed. Learning how to run at just the right speed to get extra distance, or knowing that it’s best to leap to the next platform at an angle, in case the arc of a jump is too long, imparts a sense of knowledge. Finding little hacks and techniques allows players to experience growth and improvement beyond simply leveling up. It also allows for differences between each player that are visible in multiplayer games. Oh, that’s the guy who can handle corner jumps. There’s the person who takes one step back on each platform. Everyone has their own tricks.
Public jumping puzzles have the veneer of competition, as it’s hard not to compare your progress to other players’. What’s more exciting is how much progress and failure start to feel communal. There’s excitement to be found both when someone finally catches up to folks at the top, or when the whole group witnesses a spectacular failure. Competition falls away and is replaced with a sense of shared struggle, even if you laugh out loud when someone tumbles from the highest point and swears profusely in chat.
The joy of jumping puzzles is both in finding control over your character and camaraderie with other players. They dance the line between a race and a collaboration, sticking to one of gaming’s longest-standing mechanics and using it to great effect. Sure, you might get the same excitement in a match of PUBG or a high-stakes Grand Theft Auto race, but there’s something romantic about how much you can get out of something as small as jumping.
On a large computer monitor or television set hooked to an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, DC Comics’ eight-year-old, free-to-play massively multiplayer online superhero role-playing game looks pretty rough. On a lesser-powered console like the Switch with its smallish handheld display, DC Universe Online is a perfect portable MMO.
DC Universe never was a looker. Released in 2011 on PC and PlayStation 3, the online game has always sported a generic comic book design reminiscent of the DC comic books I remember reading as a young teen. Not a lot of personality, but the powers and costumes are cool. Over the past eight years, Sony Online Entertainment and then Daybreak Games have released a bunch of new powers, costume bits, and story content for DC Universe Online, but the core game has stayed the same. Now the game is out for the Nintendo Switch and it’s exactly as I remember it, only smaller and more convenient.
The story remains the same. Brainiac is on the verge of conquering the Earth. In a last-ditch attempt to save the planet, Lex Luthor from the future travels to the past (technically the present) to release “exobytes” into the atmosphere. Exobytes are super-powers which are stored as data. They transform normal humans into superhumans on contact. Players take on the role of these new supers, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Or fighting for evil. That’s always a choice.
The coolest aspect of the Switch version of DC Universe Online is that it gets its own dedicated server. Crossplay between platforms is nice, but a dedicated Switch server means everybody playing the game on Nintendo’s console starts at level one. Payers familiar with how the game plays on other platforms will have a leg up on newcomers, but for the first week or so, everybody will be busy chasing thugs and leveling up.
It also means there are plenty of free character names available for players to apply to their superhero or villain creations. The game begins with players creating a hero or villain, selecting their powers, weapons, appearance, and creating a costume from an available selection of parts. Players can create a completely original hero, or start with a costume inspired by iconic DC characters.
Character creation is one of the places DC Universe Online’s free-to-play nature is felt most acutely. There are 15 different power sets in the game. Only six of these—nature, sorcery, mental, ice, fire, and gadgets—are available for free. In order to unlock more, like Green Lantern-style light powers, players must purchase downloadable content packs in the in-game store. The same goes for creating heroes with powers inspired by any actual DC heroes. Some heroes’ powers, like those belonging to Superman and Wonder Woman, are available for free. Others, like Livewire or Black Lightning’s powers, must be purchased.
In order to create my dream character, I had to purchase the quantum power set and the skimming movement type via microtransactions. There is also an option to purchase a membership to the game, which provides instant access to all available DLC packs plus marketplace discounts, the ability to form a league, unlimited in-game currency, and more. For now, I am happy with the stuff I bought to bring my quantum brawler, Entanglement, to fruition.
Once inside the game, DC Universe Online is very handheld-friendly. It’s an action role-playing game. X and Y buttons perform light and heavy attacks. There are eight spots for powers and items on the game’s hot bar, activated by a combination of shoulder and face buttons. The B button jumps and activates a hero or villain’s travel power, allowing them to jump, fly, run, or float through Metropolis or Gotham City.
It’s a very structured MMO. Players take on a series of story-based missions which generally culminate in a dungeon of some sort. Entanglement had to battle Scarecrow’s cronies on the streets of Gotham, as well as help doctors treat patients affected by his fear gas. Eventually, she uncovered Scarecrow’s underground lair, rescuing Batwoman and serving quantum-powered justice to the deranged villain.
That caper complete, Entanglement headed back to the Gotham Police Department, where Batwoman gave her a hot tip about Bane, setting the next series of missions in motion. Eventually, Entanglement will have to group with other players and maybe get a nickname so I don’t have to type out her full name every time. But there’s plenty of solo content in DC Universe Online to keep me occupied until I’m ready for a team-up.
I wasn’t sure I’d even get this far into DC Universe Online for the Switch, having played a large chunk of this content of different platforms years in the past. But there’s something neat about playing the MMO on a small, portable screen. The graphics don’t feel quite as dated when I’m laying back in bed staring at a 720p display. I also was easily able to take the game with me earlier today when I was at my doctor’s office receiving an infusion of antibiotics. (I imagined it was superhero serum. I am a giant dork.)
If you can wade through the mess of microtransactions (maybe avoid the in-game shop), there’s plenty of fun to be had in DC Universe Online. Pretending to be a superhero or villain is one of my favorite things to do, and this is a fine, free way to do it.
There are many ways to play through Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion. I am playing as a goggle-wearing Viera Dancer, dancing and damaging my way toward the finish line. I can’t cover all of the job class changes, role-based questlines, and side content before my review drops. But other FFXIV players can certainly tell me all about them.
Viera Dancer Clan Destine is in the home stretch, barreling toward the grand finale of Shadowbringers that Heather Alexandra praised highly last week. I’ve taken to utilizing the game’s glamor system to reset my appearance after every new piece of visible equipment I collect, so Clan looks the same in every cutscene. That’s how wrapped up I am in the tale of the First and the battle against the light.
I would like to shout out the group that ran me through the game’s level 79 Trial last night. As I mentioned in my post about the game’s Trust System, which allows players to run dungeons with NPCs, I get nervous grouping with humans for new content. I worry I will screw up, or tempers will flare and everyone will be tense. Last night’s party, which formed on Goblin 50 minutes before the servers went down, was filled with nothing but pleasant folks encouraging each other to do their best. No one had been through the Trial, an intense two-stage battle against one of the expansion’s most sinister figures. We wiped twice on the second half of the long battle. Each time we discussed what we’d done wrong, sharing words of encouragement. Each time we got a little further. When we finally killed the boss, I wanted to hug everyone in our party. The community that’s flocked around Final Fantasy XIV remains the top of the MMO-playing crop.
With each new story beat comes a surge of anticipation, mixed with dread that the tale will be told and I’ll have to wait for content updates for more. The end of Clan the Dancer’s journey won’t be the end of my Shadowbringers journey, however. I have plans for the moment when the credits roll.
For one, I need to check out the Machinist. I spent most of my time using the ranged damage class when it came out in Final Fantasy XIV’s first expansion, Heavensward. My original character, Back Clawtooth, is still sitting in Ishgard with a rifle on his back, waiting for me to return and take control. He’s going to be waiting for a while, possibly forever, as in order to fully experience the sweeping changes to the Machinist job that were made in Shadowbringers, I’m just going to have Clan grab the quest and start from level 30. Sorry, Back.
I want to play with crafting and gathering a little bit, see how those are going. There are a lot of things to gather and build, so I’ll probably just focus on one of each. Suggestions are welcome.
Other than all of that playing, I’ll also be talking to other players. I am interested to see how healing and tanking jobs look after the changes to those mechanics. I’ve heard from a few Bards that their job has lost much of its utility, with a lot of it going to the Dancer class instead. I’ve got a 60 Bard that I could level up, but time is not on my side, so I’d love to hear from players.
Ultimately, my review is going to be based on my experience, but Final Fantasy XIV is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, and other players are part of that experience. If I have to play with a bunch of unhappy Bards (as opposed to the Spoony ones), that’s part of the experience.
So feel free to share your Shadowbringers woes with me in the comments. Tag your FFXIV-playing friends. Sit down and have a chat with your parents about how to heal or mitigate damage, and return here with your findings.
It’s not just Heather. It’s Heather and the countless other players who’ve managed to get ahead of me since Shadowbringers’ launch. It’s the people in my Free Company who hint at the cool things I haven’t seen yet (looking at you, Syg). It’s the people running by me in-game who are level 80 to my level 78. It’s folks on Twitter who respond to my screenshot tweets with posts like, “Oh neat, you’re getting near the end,” Brant.
I don’t hate these people. I could never hate them. We’re all playing and enjoying the same game. They’re just playing it faster than I am. And that should stop, somehow. I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Maybe progression servers where no one can play more than two hours a day? That seems reasonable.
I don’t get jealous when others progress faster than I do through single-player games. Hell, I never finished The Last Of Us, and I’ve never once felt like throwing heavy things at people who have. But when I am surrounded by living, breathing evidence of my personal lag, I get testy. It looks like my little World of Warcraft gnome is running through Mechagon Island having the time of her life, but behind the keyboard, I am loudly cursing at people who’ve gotten new mounts and equipment before I have.
All that these poor people are guilty of is having more free time than I do. Maybe I should be happy that I have such a full life that I don’t have as much time to dedicate to a massively multiplayer online game. That seems healthier than combining curse words with body parts that don’t go together, calling players that can’t hear me things like “shit elbow” and “fuck neck”.
Ultimately, my anger and frustration is with myself, and it eventually subsides. In a week, I’ll have finished Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers’ story, and I’ll stop wishing serious internet and/or power outages on my friends and co-workers. Love you, Heather.
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.
Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers launched in early access this morning, and as it is with every FFXIV expansion, players are of two minds. Half are flooding into the expansion’s new area, The First, eager to begin their journey as the Warrior of Darkness. I’m with the other half, a rolling horde of Gunblades and Dancers, rapidly levelling the expansion’s two new job roles before tackling the new lands.
After a couple of years as a Miqo’te (kitty person) Red Mage, my character, Clan Destine, is reborn once more. My first stop after launching Final Fantasy XIV this expansion morning was the city of Limsa Lominsa, the starting point for the quest to become a Dancer. Unable to handle the pressure and responsibility of tanking as a Gunblade, I opted to stick with my specialty—causing damage from afar. The Dancer is a job that mixes buffing party members with ranged combat using circular, Xena-esque throwing blades. Becoming a Dancer is as simple as watching a cutscene and saying yes to a revealing gold and maroon dress.
Along with two new jobs, Shadowbringers adds two new playable races to Final Fantasy XIV, the rabbit-like Viera and the powerful lion-like Hrothgar. Both races are gender-locked, meaning Viera can only be female and Hrothgar can only be male. This bothers me, but I spent the $10 in the Square Enix online store for a potion to change my race, and it would be a pity for it to go to waste.
Behold, my new bunny Dancer. Note the she isn’t wearing the hat she was before I changed her race. That’s because the two new races don’t have headgear modeled for them yet. Every other race in the game can wear whatever on their head, but it was too complicated to do all that for a pair of rabbit ears. That’s ridiculous. I mean, they could have at least made the hat for the new job fit, right? Bah.
Rather than starting over at level one, like some of the other classes, Dancer and Gunblades start at level 60. Unlocking a whole new job at such a high level is daunting. When playing a job from level one, players slowly unlock new abilities. New skills unlock gradually, giving players a much greater sense of how everything comes together than, say, dumping more than 20 fresh skills into a group of hotbars and letting them have at it.
From what I have figured out through playing a couple hours and running through a short tutorial battle, Dancer combat has two phases. First there’s the actual dancing. That starts by hitting the “Standard Step” skill. There are (initially) four additional dance skills that activate at random once the Standard Step is pressed. This mid-steps amplify the effects of the dance. The “Standard Finish” ability ends the dance, doing damage to the player’s enemies and a 60-second damage-increasing buff to the player and their chosen partner. A partner is a party member designated as the recipient of the Dancer’s buffs using a skill called “Closed Position.”
In between dances, which each have a 30-second cooldown, the Dancer uses combat skills to do damage from afar. There is a chain of combat skills for single opponents and one for groups of mobs. It seems pretty clear cut, but I might be missing some nuance. There are some utility skills I’ve not used yet, like a group shield and group buff, and there’s a nifty dash the Dancer can do to maneuver out of danger quickly. I need to get some more dungeon time in, but for now I’m cautiously pleased with my leaping lapin.
As I said, Dancers start at 60. The new story content for the expansion starts at level 70, leading players to the new level cap of 80. That means in order to enjoy the new content as one of the two new jobs, players have to grind 10 levels. The best way to do that looks like this.
Some of the fastest experience point gain in Final Fantasy XIV, outside of running random dungeons, is participating in FATEs (Full Active Time Events). These are special events that pop up across adventuring zones at regular intervals, requiring large groups of players to complete and rewarding large amounts of experience points. Players can form parties and travel from one FATE to the next.
In situations when a substantial fraction of the game’s player base finds themselves at level 60 needing to make to level 70 as fast as possible, the organized chaos is gorgeous. Enemies spawn in massive waves only to be rapidly wiped out in a hail of special effects. Pulling the camera back a bit reveals it’s not quite as hectic as it seems.
But where is the fun in that? Look how beautiful this mess gets.
That’s where I am as I embark on my Shadowbringers adventure. Or that’s where I was before I disconnected and tried to get back on and started getting lobby connection errors. I managed to make it halfway to level 62 in my rolling mob of Dancers and Gunblades. I’m sure it’ll still be there when I get back on.