Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers (PC)

11 mins read

Review by Matt C.

By now, there’s a certain comfortable rhythm to Final Fantasy XIV’s expansions. You know what to expect: a new arc of the game’s ever-expanding story, six new zones, a couple of new jobs, a new dungeon every other level and two more “expert” ones at the new level cap, a new series of 8-person raids two weeks after launch, a new alliance raid after three months… but it’s a formula that works, and Shadowbringers is the latest proof of that.

This time around, players are promptly summoned to a new world that exists as a sort of alternate dimension of the world Hydaelyn that the players will be familiar with. The short version: at the dawn of Hydaelyn’s history, a fight between gods resulted in 13 “reflections” being created. Shadowbringers takes place in the first of these (appropriately called “The First”).

But The First isn’t just a clone of the original Hydaelyn (“The Source”) where Lalafells are called Dwarfs and they greet each other with hearty “Lali-ho!”; it’s a reflection that, thanks to an imbalance of the elements, has been almost entirely consumed by the power of Light. It turns out, what most in The Source assume is a force of inherent good—hence the whole “Warrior of Light” thing—can be just as destructive as Darkness or any other element. There’s only one region left in The First that hasn’t been entirely destroyed, and here the survivors live in constant fear of Light-imbued “Sin Eaters” that feed on the life energy of the living.

Crystal Exarch

It’s classic Final Fantasy stuff that neatly sets up an adventure across the six different zones that make up the Norvrandt region, hunting down the Sin Eaters’ alpha dogs, helping out the locals with whatever troubles them, and slowly piecing together the story of The First’s collapse—and the threat the Light poses not just to The First, but to The Source as well. There’s nothing especially groundbreaking here, but it’s the same edge-of-your-seat ride we’ve come to expect from Final Fantasy XIV, carried along by deft writing and fantastic performances from the cast.

But the real star of Shadowbringers is Norvrandt itself, which brings a set of new zones to Final Fantasy XIV that aren’t like anything else in the game. Each one is a reflection of an area of the original Hydaelyn (and, by extension, a riff on the staple RPG environments like deserts and forests), but they each have their own unique flavour. Though The First came to life as a reflection of The Source, thousands of years have allowed it to deviate and form its own identity and history, which you can feel wherever you go.

The trees of Rak’tika Greatwood dwarf even those of the Black Shroud, and the density of aether has caused them to grow in strange, fascinating ways over the centuries. On top of that, it’s home to an assortment of ancient ruins that call to mind those of South America, and Shadowbringers doesn’t miss the chance to take you on an Indiana Jones-inspired adventure through them. Or take Amh Araeng, a desert region characterised by its frontier towns and rusty old railway tracks—relics of a mining trade that’s long since dried up. This particular desert also sits on the literal edge of the world: beyond the cliffs that mark its borders is an endless sea of Light. So it goes for each new zone in Shadowbringers.

Dohn Mheg

The other star of Shadowbringers is the new Dancer job. It’s categorised as a damage dealer, and can deal impressive damage in its own right, but it’s really a sort of damage/support hybrid that excels at buffing whichever party member the Dancer chooses as their dance partner. The dance partner doesn’t have to do anything other than they normally would—all the dancing is left to the Dancer—but they get to enjoy the benefits of some of the Dancer’s cooldowns and a constant 5% damage increase. This naturally makes other damage jobs the best dance partners, and a good partnership can see a party dishing out huge damage.

As for the dancing itself, it’s done through a simple but nifty system: using a skill called Step Dance lets you start your dance, and changes your four standard weapon skills into dance steps. On their own, these steps don’t do anything other than look nice, but performing the right steps in the right order (as indicated by a special, Dancer-specific UI element) lets you then do a powerful finishing move that damages all nearby enemies and buffs you and your dance partner. In between these dances, you’re slugging your enemies from afar with your chakram weapons, and a handful of standard weapon skills that ditch the usual 1-2-3 combo for attack strings that change depending on whether different follow-up skills trigger. There’s a certain rhythm to any damage dealer’s attack rotation, but the Dancer’s feels more dynamic and, well, dance-like.

The other new job, Gunbreaker, is somewhat less impressive. Despite wielding a gunblade and sporting a handful of moves based on Squall’s limit breaks from Final Fantasy VIII, the Gunbreaker doesn’t offer anything that really makes it stand out from the other tank jobs. Its unique mechanic is designed around charging up special bullets that can then be spent on additional attacks, but they function more or less like any other resource-limited attacks that a few other jobs have—you fill the gauge while using your regular abilities, then you spend the gauge on one or two special moves, then you do it again. A gunblade class could have opened up so many interesting opportunities, but instead it just feels like a copy-paste of any other tank, just with new animations.


Part of this, admittedly, also comes down to the decision to simplify all the tank jobs as part of Shadowbringers release. I can appreciate the intent behind making the game’s least popular role more approachable, but the way that Square Enix has approached it is to basically just homogenise all the tanks. All four tank roles are now working with basic tool sets that are functionally identical, and the only things left that distinguish them are abilities that are either very situational or can only be used infrequently.

Other jobs have fared better in Shadowbringers’ shake up of the battle system. Machinist, in particular, has been almost completely redesigned to be less complicated and more effective; before, it required a lot of micromanagement of ammunition stocks and put out damage that was inconsistent and generally not that impressive. That’s all been streamlined now, along with the addition of a suite of new gadgets that make the job feel more like a machinist than a gunner, with the end result being a class that’s much more effective and fun to play. Other jobs have seen smaller tweaks to remove or rework redundant abilities, and just clean up some of the action bar clutter that’s built up over the last few expansions.

Indeed, Shadowbringers is full of little quality of life improvements like that. A new crafting interface makes it easier to keep track of the progress of your crafting; the Glamor Dresser now holds up to 400 items instead 200; you now get an alert when you’re near a hunt mark; all mounts can now fly; you can bring NPCs to select dungeons if you don’t feel like grouping with other players; the list goes on. Such things are expected whenever the game gets a major update like this, but that doesn’t make them any less welcome.

FFXIV Titania

Which is a good summary of Shadowbringers as a whole, really. Square Enix has made it clear over the last six years that it’s not looking to reinvent the wheel with its expansions. You know you’re going to get a hefty new story to play through, a handful of gorgeous new zones, a couple of new jobs, and some new dungeons and trials. The new expansion doesn’t mess with that, but between its twist of the Light versus Dark story, the delightful Dancer job, and the most stunning locations Final Fantasy XIV has seen, Shadowbringers is a shining example of why that formula works.

– Matt C.

This is the bio under which all legacy articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

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