Playing an MMO is a significant timesink, and after six years of updates and expansions, Final Fantasy 14 is an intimidating prospect for anyone trying to get started. Before reviewing Shadowbringers, the third and latest expansion pack for FFXIV, I had dabbled with the game, but never could commit. Now that the game has swollen to hundreds of hours of quests and activities to accomplish, you’d think that it’d be unapproachable, but Square Enix has done much to make returning, and new players feel at home.
Unlike most MMOs, you can progress through Final Fantasy 14 as if it were a single-player game and be none the worse for the wear. For the features and activities that require you to interact with others, matchmaking is robust, and many guilds will welcome you, even if you’re not much of a team player. As such, you can progress through FFXIV at your own pace, whether by yourself or with friends and makes the game feel a lot less imposing than it would otherwise. With Shadowbringers, there are new features that make going solo an even more attractive proposition, and the expansion’s story is a great place to start if you’re new to the game and just want to experience the latest content.
I’m writing this review from the perspective of someone who hasn’t played a ton of Final Fantasy 14. Because of this, I’m concentrating on how Shadowbringers will appeal to newcomers. More experienced players will obviously have a different take on the new expansion, but with interest in the game surging, I want to make sure newcomers know what they’re getting into.
Final Fantasy 14 Shadowbringers Review | Becoming the darkness
In Final Fantasy 14, there are two forces, light and darkness. There are plenty of agents of both sides, but the conflict distills down to that simple concept. Light and darkness combat each other for supremacy throughout the plot of FFXIV, but in Shadowbringers things get flipped on their head.
To this point, the game has taken place on a world called Hydaelyn. Things were pretty clear cut. You’re the Warrior of Light, and you stomp out darkness. Well, there’s a mirror of Hydaelyn called The First, and in this world, it’s the primordial and brilliant light that threatens to wipe out the planet. If you don’t stop it, the light threatens to spill out onto Hydaelyn and destroy all life. So, to push the light back, you have to become a Warrior of Darkness.
In Shadowbringers, you’ll have to examine everything you thought you knew about the way things work in the FFXIV universe. You’ll also get to see some satisfying character arcs that have been brewing for multiple expansions and learn the ways The First is similar to Hydaelyn and how it’s very different.
Because Shadowbringers introduces a lot of complexity into the dichotomy of light and darkness, it’s a good jumping-off point for new players. Though, if you skip right to Shadowbringers you’ll miss a lot, the game does an excellent job of giving you the essentials of what you need to know in the moment. However, there are many references to past content that will pass you by, which can dampen the experience.
Final Fantasy 14 Shadowbringers Review | Don’t get too far ahead of yourself
Even though you’re the Warrior of Light, and thus a pretty big deal in the scheme of things, FFXIV is a vast game, and it’s by far the most massive Final Fantasy game in terms of scale. If you jump in without completing previous content by using a Tales of Adventure item to jump to level 70 and skip forward to Shadowbringers you’ll have no clue what’s going on if you didn’t spend at least a bit of time completing the initial quests. As I said above, the game does a good job of cluing you in on the basics, but the first ten hours or so of FFXIV walks you through the myriad of gameplay systems in the game and gets you used to combat, your job, the leveling system and more.
Square Enix helpfully provided a couple of Tales of Adventures, so I didn’t have to play through 200 hours of game to review Shadowbringers. However, in using them, I feel like I missed out on a large part of the game. For one, the Tales of Adventure for the story skip really just skips the bare minimum of the story (which is still a ton). So, there’s a ton of little threads all around Hydaelyn that still await your attention. However, many of them lack context. You’ll find side stories all around that reference events that you skipped, and though you can hop right into the expansion’s story, you’ll find yourself at a loss when traveling through the areas introduced in the past.
The Tales of Adventure: Warrior allowed me to jump right to level 70, but the result was I just had a reasonably powerful character with decent equipment that I didn’t know how to use. Especially if you’ve spent no real-time with the game, you’ll be overwhelmed when you have two or three hot bars of abilities and no clue as to what they do or how best to use them.
I highly recommend that if you’re a first-time player and just want to skip to Shadowbringers content, at least play the first ten hours or so of the game. This will give you a decent handle on how to fight and get you invested enough in the lore that you can pick up on things a lot easier when you start the latest quests.
Final Fantasy 14 Shadowbringers Review | A better quality of life
With Shadowbringers comes a host of improvements and new features. Everything has had a bit of tweaking for the better, and this makes playing the game in general just a bit easier. In particular, the new Trust system makes things a lot more engaging for those who want to keep their game solo.
The Trust system allows you to join up with NPCs to take on dungeons. If you do so, you’ll get to hang out with them, get some cool flavor text, and not deal with the stress of having to work with real people as part of a team.
The Trust system also goes far in helping new or returning players acclimate. It’s great practice for playing with human companions and lets you get a handle on the best strategies for a job without you having to worry too much about your performance.
Two new jobs also join the roster in Shadowbringers. The Gunbreaker is a tank which uses gunblades to aggro enemies and keep them off your party. Gunbreakers take a bit of finesse, as does any role that concentrates on building aggro while still staying alive, so if you’re looking for a DPS class you might want to check out the Dancer. The Dancer looks to dish out damage while pulling off “steps” that can buff you and your party. It does a good job of crossing over DPS and Support roles since you can heal and protect party members in between striking your foes.
Final Fantasy 14 Shadowbringers Review | Bring it on
Final Fantasy 14 is one of the richest entries in the storied franchise, but suffers from lack of accessibility. You can skip ahead to the Shadowbringers content, but you miss a lot by doing so. The expansion’s story is a good jumping-off point, but there are so many references to previous material that you’ll lose a lot by not playing it. If you start from the beginning with the intent of making it to Shadowbringers’s endgame, you risk getting burnt out because you have six years of content standing in your way.
I hope that Square Enix finds a way to give players the best of both worlds. An abridged telling of the story up to Shadowbringers when you use a Tales of Adventure would go a long way towards smoothing the process. As of right now, I can’t recommend Shadowbringers as a direct starting point for Final Fantasy 14. Instead, play through the base content a bit and get a feel for it. You’ll thank yourself later.