There’s a certain inherent difficulty with reviewing some games. Sometimes it’s because you’re not super familiar with the intricacies of the genre, maybe there’s an assumed skill level, or you’re haven’t played previous games in the series. It goes the other way too; the closer you get to a series, the more time you spend with it, the harder it gets to review. You have to really separate out your biases, your own vagrant fanboyism and consider people who haven’t touched it. This is where I am.

Shadowbringers is the third expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, still an MMO that I never hear talked about outside of the realms of “Oh I keep meaning to try that,” despite hitting its peak subscriber base in the weeks preceding this expansion. Generally speaking, if you’re into it you are into it. If not, then you’re either thinking about playing it one day, or the concept of a subscription based MMO completely turns you off. If you are on the edge of diving in, let me say this now. Shadowbringers has just come out, and you should now DIVE IN.

From top to tail, the expansion is thick with quality. It’s dripping with juicy lore and the story is amazing, the music will blow you away. I’d argue it’s Soken’s best work in the game. The areas are truly gorgeous with the exceptions of a niggling issue of some older textures in the game. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if long term, this either became the gold standard for MMO expansions, or at the very least for Final Fantasy stories. I was absolutely engrossed all the way through, and for a story that’s a good 40-odd hours long (when you include dungeons) that’s no easy task.

It’s not all great news though. I’m not going to get into the minutiae of job changes or anything like that, but I will say if you’re a newcomer to this game then there is a big, big wall. If you want to play with your friends but don’t want to skip all the other expansions (you shouldn’t, they’re very good mostly) then expect to be putting in a few hundred hours at least. That’s skipping side content too. With new expansions, they’ve tweaked the gear grind, levelling and difficulty for those previous quests, but there is still a lot to get through. If you skip it, you’re missing a tonne of story that’s actually quite important, and impactful for the current expansion too, as it’s all one continuous story going through.

I actually had a good laugh when the story for Shadowbringers was announced, due to how ridiculous it sounded. As the Warrior of Light, and in the middle of some really large plot points back on your home world (the Source), you leave it all be and head off the First, which is a world on the brink of collapse due to an imbalance of light. Light doesn’t necessarily mean “good”, as Bayonetta has taught us. When you get to the First you see how truly bad things are. Most people are holed up in one of two towns, the world is extremely dangerous due to Sin Eaters, who roam the world generally causing trouble. They also haven’t seen the night sky in a hundred years. Things are bad, and it’s your job to fix them.

This is where something that has been lacking from FFXIV comes in, and that’s world building. Finally, I actually got a sense that things were as bad as they loosely describe them as. Crops aren’t growing well, people can’t move around freely, they’re without hope and the people who are upper class literally are drinking, eating and enjoying luxuries until the world ends. It honestly does feel like the end of the world, in a way that never really resonated with me in previous expansions.

There is a lot of content too, for the cost of entry. Just getting to the end of the main scenario isn’t the end of the road, there’s still extreme primals, crafting, gathering, getting those fun combat classes to the new level cap of 80, and more story, savage tier raids and 24 man NieR raids to come. The subscription might turn some people off, especially after having to buy the game, but there is a lot here. One thing I could say is that their content cycle is very predictable though; every 3 months is a major content patch: the odd patch will bring 24 man raids, the even-numbered patch will bring savage 8 man raids. There’s also an on/off cycle of bringing either one or two new dungeons.

Square Enix have made huge leaps in the character department, finally. I’ve always been fond of the characters of the universe, but some of them never really struck a chord with me (looking at you, Leveilleur twins). Now, people’s motivations, their reactions are much clearer. I have a much larger compassion for their plights, I can actually resonate with the struggles they are having. A couple of times I even had a little lip tremble before a single manly tear threatened to spill from my eye. Sometimes my wife even laughed at me when I audibly hollered at something awesome that happened.

It’s hard reviewing MMOs, and expansions in particular. I could talk about the new areas, the changes to jobs, the 2 new races (bunny girls and lion boys), or the two new jobs (gunbreaker [tank] and Dancer [Ranged DPS]). To me though, none of these are selling points. The biggest selling point is the story, the people, the areas. You know what? They’re all top notch. Even if you play this like a single player game, where you buy the base game and only play for one month to do the story every 2 years for expansions, that’s fine; but you do need to play this game.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers was provided as a digital code for review purposes. The main scenario was completed prior to review, as well as both extreme primals and all crafters/gatherers to 80. I play a LOT of FFXIV. A LOT.