Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

released on Jul 02, 2019

SHADOWBRINGERS is the third expansion for FFXIV. The expansion takes players to the First, one of thirteen reflections of the Source that is being consumed by a Flood of Light. The main region visited is known as Norvrandt, which is roughly analogous to the Source's Eorzea, and is the only region in the world that has not yet succumbed to the Flood of Light.

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The rains have ceased, and we have been graced with another beautiful day. But you are not here to see it.

The MSQ is pretty great, though I feel it's too slow paced at times without much satisfying reason for it. Plus some of the patch MSQs had lulls. In general while the world is very very well fleshed out I didn't find it particularly impressive in terms of the characters or plotlines unique to those areas. The Scions got a considerable boost as characters here too and it's pretty impressive jow they were redeemed. But man the high high points were awesome, ESPECIALLY the last leg of 5.0 and the poignant themes relating to heroism, loss, etc. (but mostly the first one I'd say), as well as some fantastic original characters in Emet-Selch, Exarch, Elidibus and perhaps others I'm forgetting.
Holy shit the side content though that's fucking fantastic. Eden and YoRHa were the most fun I've had in a game this year, and Werlyt as well as Eden had great stories.
In general the trials and dungeons in ShB MSQ were also the best the game has had till now and very fun to play. The music is also awesome, maybe my favourite.

The review is split into 3 parts, gameplay, side content, and main story. The main story segment will contain heavy spoilers, but you can read the review up to then with no spoilers (the start of the segment will be marked)
The Gameplay Segment
Shadowbringers introduces 2 new jobs, Dancer and Gunbreaker.
Dancer is really great, one of my top 3 jobs. Unfortunately, it’s very similar to Bard which is my top 1 job so I’m not planning to keep playing it into Endwalker.
Gunbreaker is… okay? Idk I only leveled it to 60 and then I got bored because I already play 2 other tanks and it seemed less interesting than those, but it wasn’t like actively bad or anything.
The older jobs I play (Paladin, Dark Knight, White Mage, Dragoon, Bard, Red Mage) mostly didn’t change much between level 70 and 80, which is okay because they were in a pretty good spot at the end of StB already.
I feel like the duties got a bit worse tbh. StB duties were really good and while few of the (non-solo) duties here were bad, there are also very few that I’d get excited about getting in a roulette, pretty much just the 5.3 trial and some of the optional content (more on that later).
The solo duties are a bit of a mixed back. You have some really good ones but also some really bad ones. The roleplay system that was introduced back in 4.3 is getting utilized a lot more and while I understand that it’s tricky to dumb a job down enough to be instantly understandable by someone not familiar with it while not being too boring I still feel like a lot of those duties were just brainless button mashing for 5 minutes.
The Side Content Segment
The first time I heard about FFXIV was actually in the context of the Nier Alliance Raids so I was very excited to get to them and I can’t say I was disappointed! The second and third one are really fun (the first one is just okay) and the story is cool.
The trial series is also is also fun and the story of it is actually really good. After so much complaining about how the side content is fun but doesn’t offer much narratively in the earlier expansions, I’m glad to see that has changed in ShB.
The narrative is also strong in the normal raid series. Unfortunately, it’s not that interesting gameplay wise. There’s a few that are cool but other than that the raids are pretty forgettable.
I understand why they mostly removed job quests in favour of role quests but at the same time I do miss job quests. The role quests are mostly pretty decent, only the tank one is a bit disappointing (but I mean it is about a Paladin so what did I expect).
The capstone job quests or whatever they’re called mostly fall into 2 categories. Good and the ones where they though they would do more job quests after this one. It’s very frustrating to realize you just spent 10 minutes watching the prologue of a story that will probably never exist.
The Story Segment (Spoilers start here)
The villain is an ancient being, existing on a timescale incomprehensible to mortals. They were wronged many, many lifetimes ago and all of their villainous actions are justified to them because of this. You probably won’t agree with them, but you’ll understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Sorry, no idea why I just started talking about Nidhogg.
People love to talk about Emet-Selch and he is pretty great but tbh I don’t really get the hype.
He also never really felt like the main villain of the expansion to me. Sure, he orchestrated the entire pre-patch story, but he didn’t act as an antagonist until level 79. Up until then, the antagonists are Vauthry and Ran’jit.
Vauthry could have been interesting. His philosophy of embracing hedonism in the face of annihilation was interesting imo. Sadly, the game wasn’t really interested in exploring that. I’m also really conflicted about his design. But even Vauthry isn’t the one you’ll be interacting with for most of the game.
Ran'jit sucks as an antagonist.
Your first two fight against Zenos are really difficult and then eventually he uses a move to instantly defeat you and then you spend the entire expansion hoping you can get your revenge on him.
Your first fight against Ran’jit is really easy until he uses a move to instantly defeat you which left me with a feeling of “Wow that was cheap. Who even is this guy?”
That question would never get answered. The narrative never even attempts to explain why some random dude is your equal or even your superior in combat and I couldn’t tell you why he’s even working for Vauthry. I think there’s some stuff about his relationship with Ryne somewhere in the game, but it was way too little to work in any capacity.
When he came back after his fake out death (which I guess was also Y’shtola’s fake out death, great scene everyone) I wasn’t surprised or shocked or anything you might want a player to feel in a moment like this. I was just frustrated.
But Shadowbringers had one more villain (technically two more but I won’t talk about Fandaniel here as I don’t know much about him yet). Elidibus.
Elidibus is cool. I think 5.3 was my favourite part of the expansion (but the X.3 patches are usually the best part for reasons I’ll get into later). Him turning into the Warrior of Light was massive fanservice and I loved it.
But enough villain talk, what’s the actual plot like?
It’s fine. It suffers a lot from being set in an entirely unfamiliar setting. I spent the first half of the expansion thinking “Why should I care about any of this if I’m going to leave soon anyway”.
And many new areas mean many introductory quests. It’s difficult to keep up narrative tension when you constantly have to pause the ongoing plot to do some busywork for the local population. I think the reason the patch stories are generally regarded as being the best part of each expansion is that they don’t have to bother with any of this because you already know the areas. The X.1 patch wraps up the minor lose ends from the main expansion, the X.2 patch sets up the X.3 patch, and the X.3 patch gets to really shine.
Shadowbringers also makes the unusual narrative choice to focus more on societies than on characters. It doesn’t really have main NPCs, at least not to the degree that HW and StB had, it explores a bunch of interesting societies instead. I personally prefer character-driven stories (and considering the reputation of IV as the “first game with a proper story” I think most Final Fantasy fans would agree here) but it was still nice.
The only thing that didn’t really work for me was the attempt at the classic JRPG “Everyone you helped coming together to help you with your final battle” because it was a bunch of groups of people coming together instead (it also wasn’t before the final battle but you get what I mean). Sure, each of these groups had one or two NPCs representing them, but I never saw these NPCs as their own characters, only as the NPC representing that group.
Also 5.4 and 5.5 were really good at getting me excited for Endwalker.

The segment with the obligatory mention about the music being good
The music is good.
People praise Shadowbringers a lot, especially on this website (It even was the highest rated game for a while) so I had pretty high expectations going in. I can’t say they were quite met but it was still a very fun experience.

The most fun expansion hands down

Story is incredible with lots of mid tier filler inbetween. Very good high points.