Let’s look back at the sixth year of Final Fantasy XIV since its relaunch, shall we? Six times we’ve had a Rising celebration to commemorate the game’s return from the ashes, and there’s a lot to talk about over the past year. Except there totally isn’t and it doesn’t matter because quite frankly the reception of Shadowbringers functionally renders the majority of the past year completely irrelevant in terms of how people received things.
The year in review
Here, let me start with this footage of Tonya Harding’s 1991 performance at the figure skating championships. Go ahead and watch that performance, it’s five minutes long. Actually, you should probably go ahead and watch I, Tonya because it’s a fantastic movie, but that’s a fair bit longer and you don’t need all of that for context. What you need is just to realize that every single time that woman went into the air, there was the very real chance that she would come down and stumble… and that would be the end of her performance, full stop.
She might have gotten up again, sure, but going up for the triple Axel jump was a real risk. She was the first American woman to successfully perform one. The list of women who have done those successfully still sits at 10 as of 2019. The point here is that flubbing that jump would have been bad.
The run-up to Shadowbringers felt like the FFXIV team preparing to do a triple Axel at full speed without having warmed up. And we were all holding our breath.
It’s not that the last two patches of Stormblood were bad or anything, but Shadowbringers had one hell of a lift going into it. It needed to be better than Stormblood, yes, but it also kept setting the bar higher. First, we weren’t being told where we were going. Then we were shown Viera without any men, a rumble of the controversy that was coming when we found out that they were indeed gender-locked. Then we found out we were getting a new tank but no new healer. Then we found out we were heading to the First, and then we saw all of the changes coming to existing jobs like tanks and healers.
All of this felt like it could have gone so badly. And then it didn’t.
That’s not to say nothing that happened with Shadowbringers didn’t still bring controversy. The changes to healers were indeed something that’s still being debated, the gender-locked races are still brought up as a bad choice (including by me, I’ll note), and there are still disagreements over some of the pre-patch elements like Blue Mage. It’s just that Shadowbringers on a whole is good enough that those elements were additions to the conversation, not the entire conversation. A sideline, not the focus.
So, yeah. Shadowbringers was tricky to pull off. It could have gone so wrong. It went right, though, and to a certain extent all of our collective fawning comes down to letting out a breath of relief. (Not hardly all or even most of it, mind you. Just some.)
The year to come
We’re going to start getting patch 5.1 hype soon. That’s just the cycle. We’ll find out about YoRHa, about the next dungeon, and perhaps most importantly about where the story intends to go from here. There are a lot of potential angles for exploration, and nothing that’s pulling too strongly just yet; it doesn’t feel like we quite have the political dramas that kept Stormblood going, but I tend to doubt that we’ll not be heading right back into matters of sorting out the First.
Since 5.1 is almost certainly in October, that places 5.2 in late January/early February and 5.3 in June, which lines up nicely with when we can expect things like the next fan festival and so forth. There’s a lot of life left in this game yet, without a doubt, and I’m curious to see where the story can go, especially since our zones are pretty decidedly limited and there are pretty hard boundaries on the world at the moment.
Not that we couldn’t be surprised by a new zone, of course. It definitely feels like there’s a question of where we can go now, and since we know of no plans for Eureka-like content with the next patch, it feels at least faintly plausible… but we’ll just have to wait and see. 5.1 will give us a much clearer sense of the game’s next year, especially when 5.0 was such a resounding success.
What the next year needs
Honestly, Shadowbringers raised the bar for the game’s future content. It’s all going to be judged on the basis of how well it does or doesn’t live up to this expansion, and that’s a tall order at the best of times. It becomes a little taller when the luster starts to fade from the new content, as we all begin to look to the next year and a half with a question of what we’re going to be doing now that the impact has landed.
We currently don’t have a sense of the next series of trial bosses, the new Deep Dungeon, how we’re handling Relic-style weapons, where the plot is going… lots of things, in other words. And while the expansion’s base content was good enough to push that from immediate thoughts, I feel like September kind of needs to establish what the next set of goals are and where we’re going.
This is especially true with the discussions about no sequel in development right now for FFXIV. The wording of that is somewhat more ambiguous in German; it could mean “we’re not working on another MMO” or “we’re not working on a direct sequel to this game,” and without having been in the room it’s hard to be sure. Heck, Yoshida loves to gently nudge at meanings anyhow, so if there’s a way for him to gently troll the community with a response, he will.
I also feel like we could use more experimental stuff. At the end of the day, the reason that Shadowbringers worked so well was that it actually played it pretty conventional; for all the hiccups it has, it did manage to basically stick to exactly the stuff that the team has consistently proved that it has on lock. Expanding the content for Blue Mage definitely helps broaden the experimental side (and let’s be clear, I wouldn’t be surprised if the panel at PAX West includes a nod to more of what comes next for Blue Mage), but I’m curious to see what the next year holds in general for our content within the game. There are lots of blanks, and once we start learning more I think we’ll all feel more assured that the future looks better than ever.
That’s the hard part with landing a good jump, after all; you still have to do something afterwards.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, let’s look at the game’s current healing state and ask whether or not the goals of changing things for healers really hit the intended mark, now that we’ve got some time with the expansion.