The latest expansion for Square Enix’s acclaimed massively multiplayer (MMO) game is here, and I’ve been playing it now for a couple of weeks. Being an MMO, there’s a lot to see and do, which makes summarising the value of such an offering with a simple number between 1 and 10 quite the challenge.
Rather than - quite literally - jumping to a conclusion, I thought I’d do one of those in-vogue articles where I talk about my experiences but stop short of defining it with a digit (or two - oooer) until I’ve had enough time to really understand all that it brings to the table.
The basics: Shadowbringers is FFXIV’s third expansion - following on from 2017's Stormblood. Those familiar with MMO expansions will see all the usual trappings – a new level cap, new dungeons, new raids, and new quests. Shadowbringers also brings new classes (somewhat rarer in an MMO expansion), new races, and the end of support for 32 bit operating systems on computers (if you’re a console gamer you can gloss over that last bit).
The publisher was kind enough to furnish me with copies of the game on both PC and PS4, and I’ve been regularly switching between the two to get a feel for what the differences are. In general, not a lot; I play on a PS4 Pro, so the experience on a normal console might be different, but the experiences really do seem very similar.
My PC (a recent purchase) gets stellar framerates but otherwise I’ve been very impressed by the visual fidelity on the relatively more pedestrian console. It looks really nice and is ridiculously customisable, regardless of whether you’re using a mouse & keyboard (my preference) or the default controller interface (which is also extremely good). About the only “negative” in this regard is that you can’t share your preferred HUD arrangement / hotkeys / etc between PC and PS4 versions of the game. Not a big deal, though, as setting things up the way you want is easy enough that having to do it twice is hardly a chore.
In addition to the marquee, “back of the box” features listed earlier, there are numerous small changes that result in a sum larger than its parts for regular players. As a person who tends to play on American servers during times that Americans are sleeping, one of my favourite new features is the ability to complete quest dungeons with a team of NPCs. If you can’t face the queue or just hate people (!), it’s nice to have the ability to still see the game’s multiplayer content - a key vehicle for story in FFXIV.
Speaking of story - the narrative so far has been fantastic. I really liked the original story, although admitting that now seems somewhat embarrassing; the developers have really been cranking up expectations in this regard and the new tale - which I won’t spoil - is a real treat. That being said, the in-game cutscenes (of which there are MANY) are torturous to endure. Extremely lame animation and ultra-awkward pauses are just two of the many issues this game engine is plagued with. It’s been an issue since the beginning, of course, but as someone who dips in at the launch of an expansion and then drifts away over time, it’s always a harsh reminder of just how bad this system is each time I re-sub and fire up the game again. Why they insist on using it so often when it’s so bad is beyond me - there are other options, people!
Quests so far have been the usual mix of “oooh, cool story progression” and “oh - the hero of many tales needs to kill some boars? Gotcha.” Some funny stuff and some clever use of instancing tech have helped keep the interest up and I’ve yet to allow myself to just skip through things to get XP faster, which is probably a good sign?
All in all, I’m definitely enjoying myself. I’ve long thought of FFXIV as a (if not the) leader in the MMO space and the early signs of Shadowbringers point only to improving this status. There’s just so much to do, and doing it is just the right mix of fun and dopamine-hits that MMO fans look for. As I said at the beginning, it’s too early to score this one yet, but I can already tell it’s highly likely to end up with a number at the top end of the bracket.
If you’ve been hesitating, there’s no obvious reason to keep doing so, and if you’ve been playing, let me know and we can go adventuring together!