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Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers: The Kotaku Review

Shadowbringers, the latest expansion to Final Fantasy XIV, released two months ago, and I cannot begin to fathom the amount of time I have spent in the worlds of Eorzea and Norvrandt. Shadowbringers is one of Final Fantasy’s finest stories, buoyed by powerful music and sweeping gameplay changes that make job classes sleek and enjoyable. If you’re gonna expand a massive role-playing game, this is how you do it.

Final Fantasy XIV is a slow burn, having had one of the strangest redemption arcs in recent memory. Initially released in 2010, it was met with disastrous response as clumsy and slow systems failed to grab player attention. It was a ponderous beast in the vein of its predecessor Final Fantasy XI, which released eight years prior into a very different ecosystem. After World of Warcraft’s release in 2004, the pace of online role-playing games moved to something faster. Final Fantasy XIV couldn’t keep up and so, under the direction of former Dragon Quest team member Naoki Yoshida, Final Fantasy XIV was rebranded into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Even that took time to find itself, slowly establishing an identity through its first two expansions, Heavensward and Stormblood. With the release of Shadowbringers, that growth is arguably complete. This is one of the most well-made, confident, and enjoyable Final Fantasy experiences that can be had today.

Shadowbringers takes players away from the world they’ve previously known, Eorzea. The player character is pulled into a parallel world called Norvrandt. Also called the First, Norvrandt is one of the many “reflections” of Eorzea. It takes familiar features and remixes them into a more mystical and fantastic form. Ravaged by a cataclysmic “Flood of Light” nearly a century ago, it is a world of perpetual day where creatures called Sin Eaters wander the land to feast upon the populace. The player is drawn to this world by a mysterious ally in order to slay the Sin Eaters and, in solving the plight of Norvrandt, prevent a cosmological catastrophe that threatens the multiverse. Doing so sends them on a quest to reassemble their scattered allies and face powerful beings called Lightwardens. All the while, a scheming villain accompanies them, providing insight into a grand and tragic history, the revelation of which shatters all previous beliefs about how the world of Final Fantasy XIV worked.

Thanks to the supervision and writing of scenario lead Natsuko Ishikawa, Shadowbringers is one of the most enthralling Final Fantasy stories written. Within its sweeping framework, Shadowbringers manages to tackle themes of parenthood, death, apocalypse, and more. Shadowbringers is a concept of a world after the end. Scattered pockets of civilization fight to restore life to normal. Meanwhile, the decadent city of Eulmore employs a caste system that rigidly holds on to wealth and plutocracy. It is a nation of hoarders locked behind guarded walls, led by a petulant child of a man. And while Shadowbringers stumbles with Eulmore, veering into unflattering commentaries about fat bodies as an all-too-reductive shorthand for greed, its baseline social critique remains evocative. Even after the end, the wealthy will seek to continue their comfort. Or consider the late-game revelation of a time before known history where a utopian republic of mages once ruled, crafting marvels with a powerful creation magic until the day that a strange natural force warped their creative impulses into an uncontrollable deluge of beasts and fire. In these moments, Shadowbringers’ story rises to capture very real and powerful sentiments.

From time to time, Shadowbringers’ story loses track of itself. For example, wading through the dull relationships of a mining town or spending multiple hours constructing a massive golem were painful. This padding is the narrative’s one significant flaw. The story takes place over the course of the 70-80 level range and offers a variety of dungeons and boss fights. These high-quality challenges help offset the moments where the narrative comes to a screeching halt, making it far easier to push through to the game’s spectacular finale. In those final moments, I watched strangers pause in the middle of awe-inspiring dungeons and felt my heart race as we faced the final boss before anyone knew what the fight mechanics were.

The expansion brings new systems and job classes that enrich the experience. Chief among these is the Trust System, which allows players to enter story dungeons alongside computer-controlled companions instead of other players. Your companions have unique dialogue and behaviors that bring charm to encounters, and their availability throughout the main campaign means that even solo players are able to engage with content more easily. The system falls apart in the post-game, resetting your companions’ levels and forcing you to grind out dungeons in order to power them up, but for the duration of the main story, it does exactly what it sets out to do.

The Trust System comes alongside sweeping changes to job classes that removed skills and reworked how many classes function for simplicity’s sake. The overly complex Summoner class, whose attack “rotation” took minutes to summon their most powerful minions, can bring out the big guns faster and now summon a powerful Phoenix to light foes ablaze. The White Mage, whose unique “lilly gauge” previously did little more than allow them to cast spells faster, can now be used for powerful healing and attack spells. As a result, many classes are more enjoyable to play and easier for new players to learn.

It’s not all good news, though. In removing complexity, there’s been some loss of job identity. In particular, tank classes—defensive roles focused on absorbing damage from enemies—lack some of what made each unique. The Astrologian class, whose magical cards once gave a variety of effects, now use them exclusively to increase their team’s attack power. Shadowbringers’ changes have made things easier to understand and play, but not without some sacrifices.

Breathing additional life into the play experience are the expansion’s two exclusive job classes: the Dancer and the Gunbreaker. Dancers are damage dealers who can also buff their allies with a variety of defense- and attack-boosting spells. It is a complicated class whose nuances take some time to master. Attacks trigger random “procs” that allow Dancers to execute attack combos. These combos, in turn, have a chance to grant a resource that can be spent on additional attacks. All the while, it is possible to dance and trigger a sort of rhythm game where hitting the right buttons increases the potency of your buffs. The Dancer brings a welcome complexity to Final Fantasy XIV, even if it sometimes feels at odds with Shadowbringers’ beginner-friendly mindset. It is dynamic, asking players to pay close attention, but its randomness holds it back from time to time.

Gunbreakers are a tank class. Wielding iconic gunblades, they have a furious playstyle that revolves around lengthy combo sequences. At lower levels, Gunbreakers feel woefully inadequate. They do not have the powerful healing spells of their Paladin peers or the exciting defensive mechanics of gritty Dark Knight comrades in arms. As they level, gaining access to more attacks, the class start to find itself. Playing as a Gunbreaker is a fun and aggressive process later on, but the aggression comes at a cost. This class cannot hold ground for too long, relying on healers. In spite of this, Gunbreaker is consistently exciting to play. Like Dancer, its flaws add more charm than difficulty.

Shadowbringers’ endgame content is limited at the moment, but what exists ranks among some of the most interesting encounters you can have. The expansion introduces the Eden raid tier. With four fights currently available, a team of eight players can face off against tough enemies for the highest-quality loot. The monsters are designed by Final Fantasy veteran Tetsuya Nomura, taking inspiration from Final Fantasy VIII’s various summons while also offering hardcore remixes of old Final Fantasy XIV bosses. The Eden raid fights have a playful sense of difficulty, enough to challenge skilled players and dazzle with spellbinding attacks. In addition to these raids, the dubiously named “savage” variants of story bosses bring never-before-seen mechanics and culminate in a terrific challenge that only the most organized groups will pass. Their luster has worn as the weeks have passed, but Eden started strong and will continue to grow with new fights. A larger, 24-player series of raids influenced by Nier: Automata and created in cooperation with director Yoko Taro will be arriving within the next month.

Under all of this—the story, the revamped gameplay, the difficult endgame challenges—is Shadowbringers’ secret weapon: its music. Composer Masayoshi Soken’s pieces have always run the gamut from traditional fantasy marches to intense industrial rock. Grand battles against ice gods started with powerful piano laments before breaking into pop rock. Muted battle marches exploded into operatic triumph. Shadowbringers continues this tradition but ups the ante considerably. Soken’s score is a lightning strike, bold and beautiful throughout. Releasing yesterday on iTunes, the soundtrack surpassed artists like Lana Del Rey on the popularity charts. There’s good reason for this; Soken has come into his own to stand proudly besides series composers like Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu. Shadowbringers’ highest highs and dramatic lows would not be the same without Soken’s powerful scores.

Shadowbringers is a fantastic experience by any metric. That it triumphs within the complicated frame of an online RPG feels almost miraculous. I spent weeks of my life immersed in Eorzea before Shadowbringers and gladly continued after its launch. I have made fantastic friends and formed connections with some of the most important people I’ve known. I’ve embarked on countless adventures, learned the intricacies of numerous jobs. I found a community, a world of vibrancy that brought renewed color to my life. Shadowbringers’ story is triumphant, the artistry inspiring. There are rough patches—pacing woes and overzealous changes to beloved jobs—but Shadowbringers rises above those stumblings. It cements Final Fantasy XIV’s place within the series alongside cherished titles like Final Fantasy VII, and it marks the absolute redemption of an initially troubled game.

Source: Kotaku.com

The soundtrack to Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is now live for digital download on iTunes.

The soundtrack to Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is now live for digital download on iTunes. Masayoshi Soken’s score offers some of this year’s most powerful moments, and it well worth grabbing if you’re a fan of Final Fantasy XIV or good music in general.

Source: Kotaku.com

Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers Log Four: Everything And Everyone Else

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.

Source: Kotaku.com

I Can’t Deal With People Getting Ahead Of Me In MMOs

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

Earlier today, my Kotaku coworker Heather Alexandra posted what I am sure was an amazing and insightful look at the end of Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion. An ending that I’m still a level and a half and a whole bunch of quests away from experiencing. I am so damn jealous.

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.

Source: Kotaku.com

The End of Final Fantasy XIV’s ‘Shadowbringers’ Expansion Is The Emotional Spectacle I’ve Been Waiting For

It’s hard for any story to end well, and even harder when it’s set in the constantly changing world of an MMORPG. Lengthy questlines that require years’ worth of player investment are hard to sell. Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, ‘Shadowbringers,’ makes it work with an emotionally charged climax that helps create one of the franchise’s hardest-hitting finales.

As my co-worker Mike Fahey regales Kotaku readers with his travels through ‘Shadowbringers,’ I’ve managed to play through the story and have been eagerly awaiting the chance to talk about its conclusion. Many Final Fantasy games have memorable endings, from the distant time skip at the end of Final Fantasy VII to the bittersweet conclusion of Final Fantasy X’s romance. Final Fantasy XIV has always been an odd duck within the series. Its story starts slow and takes time to get going, carefully setting up the world of Eorzea and its intricate politics. It’s only in the expansions that Final Fantasy XIV has really found its narrative chops, building on the initial framework to tell stories of warring nations and scheming gods. It’s been a long, slow burn, and ‘Shadowbringers’ is where everything explodes.

Final Fantasy XIV’s story has involved a massive conflict between dragons and snowy theocratic nations, as well as an ongoing war between the good guys and the evil Garlean Empire. But over the course of many expansions, it’s become clear that these have all been caused by the plot of scheming, god-like beings called the Ascians. In ‘Shadowbringers,’ the player character travels to an alternate world besieged by monsters called Sin Eaters. It’s all part of an Ascian plot to cause destruction in one realm and have it snowball out to consume the rest of the universe.

For a while, the plot follows a standard role-playing game structure. You travel the world to hunt down “Lightwardens,” powerful Sin Eaters responsible for upsetting the world’s balance. You travel from location to location with your party of brave heroes, righting wrongs and defeating nasty bosses. What helps make things interesting is how you are accompanied by one of the Ascians, the snarky villain Emet-Selch. He brings a dynamic to your group of adventurers that’s both adversarial and genuinely playful. At the end of the game, after a few additional plot twists, he reveals why he and the other Ascians are causing so much destruction. They are the survivors of a long-dead civilization called Amaurot who sacrificed most of their population to birth a god in the hopes of saving their world. Eventually, fearful of this god, other survivors summoned a different god. They fought and fractured the lone world into multiple worlds. Emet-Selch and his allies want to revive all of the innocents lost in this struggle.

Emet-Selch conjures a recreated version of Amaurot. The final dungeon of ‘Shadowbringers’ (at least until patches inevitably add more) is set in an illusory version of Amaurot’s final days when horrible monsters and falling stars destroyed the world. It is sincerely one of the most powerful and visually lush experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game, particularly after playing countless hours of Final Fantasy XIV and getting invested. Warped beasts chase citizens through the smoldering streets as Emet-Selch’s voice rings out to recall the end of his people. This is underscored by Masayoshi Soken’s score, which remixes a sullen piano tune from the overworld and turns it into an orchestral piece with pounding drums and crescendoing strings. You can watch the whole thing as I play through on my White Mage in the video above. There’s a small moment we pause, because a first-timer had stopped to admire the area and express their awe in chat. That happens a lot when you run through this dungeon.

The first time I played, I found myself overwhelmed by how all of these pieces came together. The moment felt both like a triumphant dash toward a dangerous rival and a terrible lament for a doomed people. I played through with other people, and we kept pausing between tricky bosses to express our awe in chat as we moved deeper and deeper into the burning city and eventually up into the starry heavens themselves. Below us, the entire planet glowed with fire and death. I can’t think of a moment like it in all the years I’ve been playing games with others.

Watching Final Fantasy XIV bring everything together is one of those moments. Final Fantasy XIV often slips into cliche territory, But watching Amaurot burn was different. It was heartbreaking. I came to understand Emet-Selch’s anguish. When the final battle followed—where multiple players are summoned to face Emet-Selch’s true form—it was a damn good boss fight but also sad in its own right. I never felt for Sephiroth or Kefka or Seymour. I did care about Emet-Selch. That’s impressive, and discovering a moment like this in a game I’ve been playing for so long was heartening.

It’s easy to get cynical about video games, especially if you have to play them more for work than for personal enjoyment. Every now and then, you have a moment that reminds you Why You Do This Shit. The ‘Shadowbringers’ ending was one of those moments: a mixture of joy and sadness, empathy and disgust. It came paired with challenging encounters and memorable reaction from other players. I needed this shit. It was like exhaling after holding in a large breath. I won’t soon forget it, and I’m grateful for it.

Source: Kotaku.com

Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers Log Three: All Pros, No Cons

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.

The Story

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.

The Visuals

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.

So good.

This Song

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.

via Mekkah Dee  

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.

via The Foodie Geek

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.

Source: Kotaku.com

I Could Watch Final Fantasy XIV’s New Big-Headed Cactaurs Trying To Pose All Day

With their distinctive cactus appearance and signature pose, Cactaurs are one of Final Fantasy’s most iconic creatures. The top-heavy Gigantender, introduced in Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, is doing the best it can to live up to that legacy, bless its giant plant heart.

Cactaur are called Sabotenders in Final Fantasy XIV, using the Japanese name to differentiate them from the endless parade of cactus-shaped creatures and summons that have appeared since the creatures debuted in Final Fantasy VI. Garden (rock garden, I suppose) variety Sabotenders are a common sight on the MMO’s continent of Eorzea. Gigantenders are native to the Shadowbringers’ expansion’s land of The First and are adorable enough that I just want to sit in The Fields of Amber and watch them nearly topple all day long.

I spent an hour grabbing the perfect animated GIF of the large, awkward creatures in their natural habitat. I initially misjudged the distance between the Gigantender and my character due to unfamiliarity with the first-person camera. I was too close, and a battle commenced.

Battle did afford me a close-up look at the creatures.

But I could have done without the heartbreakingly-cute squeaks and squeals the Gigantenders make when they die.

These big cactus boys don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of my Xena-style Dancer weapons. We should preserve them and their kind, so they may flourish and perhaps, one day, perfect that Cactaur pose.

Except for this giant red one. It’s a Maliktender, which only spawns every four to six hours and rewards players with a bunch of goodies. That one has to die. The rest get very careful hugs.

Source: Kotaku.com

Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers Log One: There’s A Dancer In My Bunny

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.

Source: Kotaku.com

Juggling World Of Warcraft And Final Fantasy XIV Isn’t Easy

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

One minute I’m a gnome warlock, delving deep into the naga-infested ocean of World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. The next I’m a red mage with cat ears and a tail, trying to remember my spell rotation in Final Fantasy XIV before the Shadowbringers expansion comes out. There’s brand-new content in both of my favorite massively multiplayer online role-playing games, and I’m having trouble keeping up.

I’ve been playing MMORPG games since the days of Ultima Online, but normally one at a time. I can juggle non-MMO games all day long. I’m currently playing a retro platforming shooter on the Switch (Gunlord-X), a monster truck racer on the Xbox One (Monster Jam Steel Titans), and a tactical fighting game (Samurai Shodown) on the PlayStation 4. There’s no danger of me mixing up those three.

MMORPGs are a different story. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for nearly 15 years and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn since its relaunch in 2013. Both games take place in unique fantasy settings. Both feature rich storylines I’ve become heavily invested in over the years. In both games I am part of an expansive community. I’ve got friends on servers and friends in guilds. I wish I could play World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV more.

Except for right now. Right now, World of Warcraft just released the Rise of Azshara expansion, adding two massive new zones full of quests, gear, and adventure. Meanwhile, in Final Fantasy XIV, the Shadowbringers expansion launches in early access on Friday, and I’ve got a couple of dungeons to complete before I’ve caught up with the game’s story, which I have to complete before I can enjoy the expansion’s new high-level content.

I am hopping back and forth between two very different characters on two structurally similar but mechanically unique games, and I am getting dizzy. Here are some of the fun things I’ve screwed up in the process of playing both.

  • After a few months away, I’ve finally remembered the button sequence I use to efficiently perform my Final Fantasy XIV red mage’s spell rotation…in World of Warcraft, where it is far from how I play my warlock. I have died several times.
Red mage or dead warlock? Your choice!
  • I keep forgetting to summon my demon in Final Fantasy XIV. I have no demon in Final Fantasy XIV.
  • Did you know that red mages in Final Fantasy XIV often handle rezzing duties in multiplayer trials against powerful boss creatures? I forgot, and I got yelled at last night, and it was completely my fault.
  • I keep trying to message linkshell members from Final Fantasy XIV in World of Warcraft and WoW guildies in FFXIV.

It’s not always like this. During less busy times, when the lulls between new content grow long, I can slip between the two with ease. But now, standing at the crossroads between brand new Azeroth stuff and becoming Final Fantasy XIV’s Warrior of Darkness, I kind of just want to curl up and wait until the traffic is clear. I won’t, as it is my duty to collect and report on that sweet MMORPG booty. Just forgive me if I mix up my verstone and corruption spells.

Source: Kotaku.com

Preparing For Final Fantasy XIV’s Upcoming Expansion Has Killed Me

Final Fantasy XIV’s next expansion, Shadowbringers, is available for early access next Friday. In the short time left from now to then, I’ve been furiously sprinting to level characters and blaze through story content so that I can have everything perfectly in place for the launch. It’s a process that’s pushed me to my limits, as I grind jobs and characters into tip-top condition.

For some players, getting ready for an expansion is easy. If they only have one character, for example, they can just play through the story until they’re at the end. From there, they level gear or jobs however they want and hop into the new content when it launches. My situation is a little different. I play on a server known for roleplaying, which means that there’s just as much in-character improvisational acting as high-end boss battles. Instead of having one character with which I do everything, I have a stable of characters to use for storytelling purposes, all of whom have their own jobs and gear.

Alts aren’t uncommon in online games, but Final Fantasy XIV makes it easy to stick to one character if you want. Except I don’t want that. I want a kind conjurer to help heal folks, I want a snooty Dragoon to bump into folks on the street, I need villains for multi-event storylines. But this also means that getting ready for an expansion is tricky. The last week or so has been a mad, tiring rush to level classes. I think it might be killing me.

The biggest tasks have been completing the story quest for so many characters and getting their main jobs to the maximum level. Some of this process has been interesting, since it’s pushed me into job roles that I’d largely ignored until now. Leveling Dark Knight was fun; going from healing to tanking was an anxious but exciting experience. But leveling Dragoon, which involved powering up my second Samurai? That’s more like work. It means sitting the hell down and playing dungeon after dungeon. It means running through quests I’ve seen multiple times over, unlocking locations I’ve already been to on other characters, and praying that I get good loot along the way. (Unlike many people on my server, I’m not some type of bajillionaire who can just buy gear.)

Leveling can be a tiresome process, particularly since the wait times for dungeons are long for damage dealing classes. If you’re playing a tank or healer? That’ll actually go well, because you’re never going to be waiting more than five minutes, except if you’re picky about the content you’re playing. But if you’re playing as a DPS character? Grab a book or do something else while you wait. There’s a solution for this, a piece of content where you queue up in an instant. But this particular piece of content also involves one of the most mind-numbing ways to level up: Palace of the Dead and Heaven on High. These are two semi-random dungeons with multiple floors that run with whatever teammates are available. Completing floors is relatively quick at 10-20 minutes per run and the payoff of experience points is good. It’s also repetitive, simple, and exhausting.

In leveling my final classes, I’ve run through a truly unknowable number of Heaven of High floors. I queue up, hop in, fight the same monsters and the same boss, hop out, reset, and do it again. In the last 48 hours alone, I venture that I’ve done at least 80 runs. At first, it was a great escape from all the hectic online chatter after E3. Now? My body is sore and I think I’m dying. Like, I mean that. I think I’m getting sick. I woke up with a terrible headache and completely sapped energy, and while I’m sure most of that is just germs from subway poles and my own bad luck, I also might have pushed myself to the breaking point. I started leveling my second Samurai from level 50 on Saturday. I reached just shy of the max level of 70 last night, stopping only as I felt sickness start to ravage my senses.

My only break from this process was the hard work of covering E3, and a quick turnaround of a review for the fabulous Cadence of Hyrule. For better or worse, most of my characters are ready for Shadowbringers, with multiple jobs finished and most within spitting distance of finishing the story. I still need to finish up a few things, but I’ve basically done it. (I still need to finish up a long roleplaying plot in the next few days.) Yet, as I sit in bed today, head throbbing and hearing various Final Fantasy musical cues dance through the back of my mind, I ask: was my suffering worth it? I have no idea, but I guess we’ll find out once Shadowbringers launches.

Source: Kotaku.com