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First impressions: Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers is beautiful, horrifying, and a crowning achievement

Guilty or innocent?
Guilty or innocent?

It was clear to me how particular Shadowbringers was going to be once I noticed some of the successfully horrifying scenes I’ve witnessed in an MMO in the course of the preliminary essential state of affairs quests.

I hadn’t gone to Amh Araeng for that, in fact. I had my selection of locales and simply determined to go there first. And the quests had accomplished an excellent job of building the bleakness and the desperation of the setting, placing me within the mindset of the story and already conjuring a number of cross-references that sprang to thoughts. It was shaping as much as be, properly, one other Remaining Fantasy XIV enlargement.

Then… I completed up that zone and received a scene that was so pointedly disturbing and unhappy and proof of how you are able to do horror successfully in a setting the place it all the time seems to be such as you’re standing outdoors in a transparent area at excessive midday, and I noticed that this was going to be a high-water mark even for a recreation that has regularly impressed in each scope and sheer high quality. Having made it right through the story at this level, I can say that sure, it undoubtedly lived as much as that preliminary promise after which some.

Let’s take a step again. Shadowbringers was a little bit of a shock when Sq. revealed its setting through the third and remaining fan pageant for the sport in Tokyo; as an alternative of bringing us to a different area of the sport’s world, it was set to convey us to a different shard of this world, the First. It’s lengthy been recognized that Hydaelyn (the planet) was cut up into 13 shards plus the Supply some 10,000 years earlier than the sport begins, however the different shards have lengthy been the area of overarching cosmology. This time, gamers are being despatched to the First to cope with the disaster afflicting this mirror of the world, the place ghastly mild is overtaking every thing on the planet.

Should you’re questioning how that’s related or considering of different expansions during which you head off into one other world, the excellent news is that the query of “why is that this an enormous deal” is answered principally instantly in a satisfying and clear style. You’re not making an attempt to unravel the issues of the First simply to spin your wheels; the story makes it very clear that what you do right here has fast and far-reaching implications as a result of what occurs on the shards impacts the Supply in a really materials trend.

This is their least disturbing moment.

What follows is a narrative that’s… properly, “expansive” doesn’t cowl it. The story bears the heavy workload of introducing you to a world that’s just like the acquainted whereas additionally being totally different and supplying you with lifelike stakes with out feeling overwhelming. It’s a troublesome balancing act to handle, and it pulls it off virtually completely.

It isn’t fairly good. There’s numerous stuff I need to see higher defined. However the stumbles are extra about elements the place the plot does drag just a little bit or the momentary progress feels a bit wonky, and just about as quickly as I hit a type of, the sport instantly discovered one thing else superb or a brand new horrifying picture to fill the thoughts.

Why do I maintain saying “horrifying”? As a result of this enlargement is the horror enlargement. The story that’s being advised is scary, and the imagery related to it’s appropriately creepy. Sure, every little thing is bathed in perpetual mild, nevertheless it’s not even daylight, simply an countless scintillating sea of synthetic illumination. It provides to the sense of dread, of a world that’s coming aside on the seams when you desperately attempt to pull issues again collectively.

And the precise story itself is… wow. It’s full of emotion from prime to backside, taking the time to actually go deep into the psychology of each single main character. By the top of the enlargement you’ll have a nuanced understanding of Alphinaud, Alisaie, Y’shtola, Urianger, Thancred, Minfilia, the Crystal Exarch, and even Emet-Selch; even the extra minor characters get nuance and rationalization and payoff.

Greater than that, although, the tales really feel real. Sure, they’re informed by means of the lens of a fantasy story, however they create a strong exploration of ideas, like a father elevating a daughter he can’t assist however resent after dropping his spouse, or a younger lady coping with the restrictions of what she will do to make things better on the earth round her, or a person making an attempt to stay as much as the legacy of his hero with out with the ability to admit it. It’s shifting. It’s difficult. It provides you some critical emotions about characters you’ve been acquainted with for years now.

It’s ok that I’m almost 800 phrases into this primary impressions piece, and all that I’ve talked about has been the story. For an MMO. That ought to inform you one thing, particularly because the recreation encourages you to tackle the sport’s dungeons a minimum of as soon as with these characters to get a few of their non-compulsory aspect dialogue and watch them work together. However you don’t should; you possibly can run each dungeon in regular group content material, which is what I did and continues to be my most popular strategy.

The tide breaks.

A part of the rationale for that, is that in some methods there’s much less to speak about on the mechanical aspect, however not in a nasty method. Sure, a number of the moment-to-moment gameplay goes to be very acquainted to veterans. Hunts nonetheless work kind of like they did in Stormblood, and also you unlock them at an identical cadence. Go and clear quests, FATEs pop up and you are able to do that, and so forth. The “content material” aspect of the sport has lengthy been a cultured and coherent expertise with a transparent image of what it’s making an attempt to perform.

That leaves us to debate the positive particulars, just like the precise zones and dungeons and such, and right here, nicely, there’s some stuff that’s arduous to speak about just because even mentioning elements of the final zone would pose big spoilers. Nevertheless, the sport undoubtedly continues to reside as much as the excessive requirements set by Stormblood’s content material after which surpass those self same requirements.

Dungeon bosses have mechanics that may be understood on the fly but in addition require care in play and mix in fascinating methods. The final boss of the primary dungeon, for instance, includes a rotating part whereby gamers are anticipated to not simply maintain shifting however trip their paths. The third dungeon has a boss with a column-dodging mechanic that masquerades as a hiding mechanic. Heck, there’s a boss that has time-delayed AoE mechanics that might be fascinating and sophisticated if that was the one factor happening within the battle.

Equally, every of the trials is exclusive, is partaking, and includes new parts of play. Removed from being the just about perfunctory fights of the prior expansions, every of those is a climax to an ongoing story that makes you need to step in and put these bosses to the sword… and sure, in lots of instances these fights are bookended by some genuinely horrific imagery. That’s an entire theme happening right here.

In the meantime, the precise job play mechanics have been refined and improved throughout the board. There’s some healer grumbling, centering largely round the truth that Astrologian has seen its card system reworked extensively and Scholar has misplaced most of its DPS instruments to deliver it extra consistent with the common healer kits. That is undoubtedly a change, and it does imply that you simply’re anticipated to heal a bit extra closely, however the recreation additionally facilitates this, quite than anticipating you to face round ready for a purpose to heal when nothing is occurring. Truly enjoying Scholar in a celebration feels extra enjoyable, and it permits White Mage to truly really feel distinct with its injury choices.

And if there’s some draw back for healers, it’s all upside elsewhere. Paladin now actually looks like a holy spellcaster with a whole lot of social gathering help choices (however, paradoxically, a number of of these help choices are just for celebration members). Darkish Knight will get to maintain its administration of MP central whereas having a smoother playstyle. Ninja leans into its pseudo-spellcaster fashion, Dragoon leans in on lengthy combos and positional play, and the brand new Machinist will get loads of machines to mess around with.

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The brand new jobs, equally, broaden what the general lineup seems to be like. Dancer provides probably the most support-based job into the sport’s general rotation whereas nonetheless being a strong ranged injury supplier; it additionally makes one other celebration member simply plain higher, so that you get that additional advantage from having it in your get together. Gunbreaker, in the meantime, is a tank that feels kinetic in a method that the majority others don’t, having clearly inherited a few of Darkish Knight’s beforehand frenzied mechanics in a brand new style to make a job that’s all the time doing one thing. They’re enjoyable to play and satisfying, and just about anybody who had been ready for both one will probably be glad.

And it’s overwhelming simply how a lot stuff there’s right here. The brand new zones really feel each beautiful and absolutely realized. The brand new quest sync function for all the recreation’s sidequests encourage you to participate in further content material at your personal tempo, understanding it’s all the time there that will help you degree with out being tied to doing it inside a restricted degree window. I’ve not even touched on the brand new supply mechanics for crafters and gatherers that takes the place of what had beforehand been class quests.

Failings? There are a number of. Should you most popular probably the most complicated random administration of Astrologian earlier than or being inexperienced DPS as Scholar, you’ll really feel just a little perturbed. There’s a couple of factors when the story does lag just a little bit, and there’s the straightforward actuality that there’s a good bit of catching as much as do earlier than you get to Shadowbringers as a brand new participant.

However all of those are actually minor failings. The enlargement isn’t good as a result of nothing is, however should you begin making an attempt to pry away the small flaws, you understand how nicely all the expertise is put collectively. Even the issues really feel much less like “they dropped the ball right here” and extra like “one thing needed to give; this was probably the most affordable half.”

Briefly? Shadowbringers is a triumph. It’s superb. I had anticipated it to be no less than good as a result of each different enlargement has been, however it feels so a lot better than even that. When the most important flaw that you could actually level to is that it’ll take you some time to succeed in this level for those who begin enjoying now, that’s unbelievable on an entire.

Now, in the event you’ll excuse me, I’ve acquired some… every part to do in Norvrandt. The place do I get some extra Voeburt lore right here…

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense quantity of data and studying, however a lot of it has been misplaced to the individuals of Eorzea. That doesn’t cease Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Ultimate Fantasy XIV every week in Knowledge of Nym, internet hosting guides, dialogue, and opinions with out a lot as a hint of rancor.