Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is finally here! After jumping in at early access we’ve gone through what the initial offerings of the expansion are and are ready to give it our review!

We have five reviewers, and four categories. Let’s see what we thought of Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers!

Our guest reviewer for Patch 5.0 is our friend and content creator, Avalonstar.


The following review does not contain spoilers.

Story

Fusionx: Simply put, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is the pinnacle of FFXIV story telling. The story of this expansion does so many things right and it’s because it’s a story in an MMO that it succeeds. Shadowbringers almost feels like an Avengers level event in that it does an incredible job of telling its own story while also showing us where we’ve been and how that has impacted the trajectory of the story. I found some of the sights the game gives you during the Main Scenario to be simply breathtaking. For the few story elements that I found to be predictable, the game would return with something completely unexpected.
With this expansion, Square Enix has removed the normal Job Quest lines that typically follow a player as they reach they new level cap. This time however, they’ve been replaced with Role Quests and then a single Job Quest at level 80. The Role Quest I finished was simply “alright” and the Dragoon Job Quest I did felt, and looked, rushed. It feels like Square Enix cut corners with these, which is an incredible shame after how great the Main Scenario was.

4/5

Xenedra: It’s hard to sum up everything that needs to be said about this expansion’s MSQ, but to put it plainly: it’s amazing. I’ve always been a big fan of alternate reality stories, so this story was right up my alley even before I got my hands on it. Seeing a reflection of our Source world was all I could have hoped for. I’ll hop right on that Emet-Selch fan train as well. Final Fantasy has a tradition of challenging the players’ perceptions of good versus evil and this plot line does not fail to deliver. I can’t wait to see where this all goes! It’s also made it fun to go back and see where we’ve been. Foreshadowing is the best.

5/5

Aldianaux: Stormblood ended not with a bang, but a whimper, as we said in our last patch review. All is forgiven now. From the first quest, through the post MSQ dungeons, Shadowbringers delivers. It hits every emotion, from the manic pixie dream that is Il Mheg to the somber tones of the final zone. I want to gush about each and every moment but that would spoil the fun. Come prepared for the best story Final Fantasy has offered in at least 15 years, maybe 20.

5/5

Brin: While the story benefits from years of stories before this one, it capitalizes on those years and its characters to such perfection that it stands out as perhaps one of the greatest Final Fantasy stories to date. The story of Shadowbringers stands on par with that of a single player Final Fantasy so much so that it raises the bar for future numbered titles in the series.

5/5

Avalonstar: Unfortunately at the time of this writing, I haven’t finished the MSQ. That said, it is abundantly clear that the story team have mastered the craft of telling a Final Fantasy-grade story in an MMORPG. While I’ve loved every expansion’s story in their own ways so far, the quality of the storytelling in Shadowbringers has been epic. I’m finding myself unable to properly handle the roller coaster of emotions that we’re constantly being put through and I feel that the step into the more cinematic is the right direction for this game. I honestly can’t wait to finish the MSQ.

5/5

Main Scenario Total: 24/25

Audio

Fusionx: With the MSQ rising so far above its predecessor, it’s hard to imagine that the accompanying audio would also rise to that same level. Masayoshi Soken and his sound team have done just that, making the Shadowbringers soundtrack something I can’t wait to get my hands on. (In fact, I’ve been grinding FATEs specifically to get Orchestrion Rolls, which I’m listening to as I prepare this review). I’ve spent so much time turning off battle music and effects just so I can listen to the BGM in the new zones. Soken-san continues to amaze with incredible new scores and new boss themes.
That having been said, one of the biggest things that stood out to me during my playthrough of the MSQ was the lack of a voiceover during the opening cinematic for the fight against Titania. Others in my party were also caught off guard asking “… was there no audio or was it just me?” While a minor thing, it stood out like a sore thumb among the otherwise amazing audio.

4/5

Xenedra: I really liked the songs from The Rak’Tika Greatwood and one of the post MSQ dungeons, The Twinning. However, I was less than thrilled with the Titania theme, and for me, most everything else felt like generic MMO music. That’s not to say I think it’s bad, not at all, but if I’m comparing the thrill that I got from the MSQ with the excitement elicited by the themes from this expansion over all, they don’t quite reach that wow factor level. I’ll admit this could be entirely because I’m used to high quality audio from FFXIV, though.

3/5

Aldianaux: I can’t stop listening to so many of these tracks. Even the post MSQ dungeon themes are instant classics. Masayoshi Soken has really shown a tremendous range of musical styles. The absolutely amazing quality of the voice acting should also not be overlooked. I felt the emotion from each character throughout the expansion in a way that has only been shown in brief highlights before. I can’t wait to hear what the raids have in store for us. Please… Please be voiced!

5/5

Brin: The sound design, music, and voice acting seems out of this world, which is a fitting theme for the expansion itself. The characters come to life and feel that they are able to be more expressive than any previous expansion, and the music grabbed me right from the start and has yet to let me go.

5/5

Avalonstar: This category deserves 5 points simply because they mananged to fix the issue of audio source switching without having to restart the game. That said, you can tell that Soken and his team had fun with this expansion. While it doesn’t take much for me to rain praise on a team that has consistently amazed me with their work patch after patch, I’m finding myself loving tracks that I historically wouldn’t. However, while it wasn’t enough to subtract a point, the space between loops of the live-recorded songs is way too long and consistently kicks me out of the moment after realizing the silence is there.

5/5

Audio Total: 22/25

Battle (Job changes, Dungeons, Trials)

Fusionx: With so many Jobs to choose from in Final Fantasy XIV, it’s almost impossible to be a master at all of them. However, with that being said, the time that I’ve spent with Dragoon and Machinist has been great. While almost busier in some regards, the jobs feel like they flow so much better now. I really have the sense that the developers took the Jobs and “cut out the BS”. To me, things feel so much smoother across the board.
Mechanics in Dungeons and Trials offer a few new things, but are mostly an evolution of what we’ve already seen in Final Fantasy XIV, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

5/5

Xenedra: If you’ve talked to me ever, then you’ll know that I’ve been waiting for Dancer ever since we saw Lyse in the Stormblood teaser. What I’ve played hasn’t left me disappointed. This job is seriously fun, though I hope it gets some adjustments because I’m so tired of my dance partner buff falling off. On the flip side, I’m a little sad about Bard. I genuinely like the DPS changes, they make sense and feel ok, but I play a Ranged DPS because up until now, they’ve been the support classes. Battle Voice alone is simply not enough for me. I miss having Refresh (and I know my Healers also miss me having it).
The removal of TP was a fun choice. By the end of Stormblood it was hardly in use anyway except for when spamming AoE actions. I will say it almost makes AoE seem too easy. Now you can rain pain down from the skies non-stop. In the case of Bard, you even have two new AoE ability options and an amazing Quick Nock proc to Bloodletter/Rain of Death. It’s so efficient that it makes me kind of wonder why they took TP away! (Just kidding, don’t yell at me!)
The other job I’ve spent some time with is Astrologian. While I don’t hate these card changes, I do feel very wary. I like the concept a lot actually, but in quick reaction situations, it seems like the choices you have to make take just the tiniest bit more thought. That’s time you need to get out of an AoE, or pop a cure on someone. It may be one of those, “you’ll get used to it,” situations, though. I hate that you can’t get seals from buffing outside of combat. Both you and the person you’re buffing have to be in combat. It’s a rough ride in wave FATEs. I understand why they set it up this way, but that doesn’t mean I like it! I definitely feel like their promise of, “Healers are going to heal more,” was accurate as well, though so far only in the case of dungeon trash pulls. I am one of those kids who likes big pulls, though,

4/5

Aldianaux: Some Jobs are completely new beasts and others received some quality of life changes and cool extra features. I am over the moon about most of the DPS job changes, particularly on Machinist, which the developers really hit the mark on (third time’s a charm!). My chosen main Job, Summoner, feels like I need the dexterity and actions per minute speed of a Starcraft player- I like that. However, pets don’t feel fluid and responsive. Hopefully we’ll see some adjustments, because we aren’t quite there yet.

4/5

Brin: If you’ve been keeping up with all the battle content up to this point, there aren’t many new mechanics to be worried about. However, that hasn’t slowed down the game in its design and execution. The First is a world populated with a beautiful rich landscape and provides the perfect pallet for the level designers to surprise and delight us with amazing detail and execution.

5/5

Avalonstar: Somehow the simplification of the battle system made all of our jobs more active? I’m no expert in battle design, but I was surprised that I felt more active as a dark knight than when I had to trigger Dark Arts every other action. The AoE combos are refreshing and empowering. Tank privilege is now earned through skill rather than just the mere fact that you’re a Tank. The changes to the FATE system make the system rewarding again. I’m wanting to play dungeons over and over again with different Trust compositions to see what the different interactions are. There’s just a lot there and I’m not even done with the expansion yet.

5/5

Battle Total: 23/25

Other (Quality of Life)

Fusionx: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers has had the smoothest launch of any MMO I’ve ever seen. The game had one hiccup during early access from a DDoS attack and… that was it!
The amount of polish that we’ve seen in other aspects of this expansion also shine through with some great quality of life (QoL) adjustments. The Retainer screen now shows an abundance of information compared to its previous iteration. The ability to turn in multiple items for Crystarium Deliveries is incredibly welcome, and it’s great to see it help push leveling along for Crafters and Gatherers.
The Trust system is a great change for those that want to avoid queues or practice their Jobs and it makes me wish we had it for older dungeons.
And while technically a part of the audio category for this review… I just have to say that it’s great to finally be able to change our sound output device without the game client crashing. It’s something that was long overdue.

5/5

Xenedra: It feels like the development team is finally to the point where they have time to tweak the little things. They’re starting to give us fun little extras that we didn’t know we wanted. For example: the new dialogue choice box. It makes our interactions during cutscenes seem more seamless somehow. I also appreciate the reorganization of the Retainer menu. The improved display for crafting is nice, too- no more busting out the calculator while you craft.
The big one, I thought, was just how smooth this launch was. I can’t claim to have played every MMO ever to know for sure that this was the best one in history, but it’s by and large the best that I’ve ever experienced. I waited in a queue at early access launch for maybe 10 minutes and then didn’t have to wait again until the actual launch- and I play on that over-stuffed server Balmung! There was one crash! One! There also weren’t any bottle-necked areas that halted progression of the MSQ. Big kudos to Square Enix. They really learned from the issues of Stormblood.

4/5

Aldianux: We’re now three expansions in, and with each one, the development team has tried to address our most annoying problems. Of course we got more Glamour Dresser space, Cross World Linkshells and UI changes. But, the standouts for me are; Retainers being visible at the same time, adding elevation markers for quests, and quest gear doled out in those awesome coffers that are specific to your current Job. However, I do wish there was more changes on the battle side. I feel there is still so much they could do to help ease the learning curve via UI features.

4/5

Brin: Some of the changes we’ve been wanting for a long time have finally made their way into the game, and some things are so subtle you didn’t know you wanted them in the first place. Yet, the game feels brand new, and if the previous expansion is any indication of what is to come, the future, and potential of QoL adjustments for Shadowbringers is really exciting.

5/5

Avalonstar: From large things such as the new Retainer and Crafting interfaces, to small things like not interrupting your coveted cutscenes with “[X] has left the party” pop-ups, Shadowbringers is a tour-de-force of quality of life improvements. It really feels like that the 14-person UI team has begun to have fun with what they can do with the interface which is extremely refreshing knowing how much technical debt they’ve been burred under since the launch of A Realm Reborn.

5/5

Other Total: 23/25

Patch 5.0 Total: 92/100


You can listen to our full review on Aetheryte Radio Episode 133.