Trusts are simultaneously one of the most important and most invisible features of Shadowbringers on a whole. A whole lot of work goes into making sure that Trusts are available and work for every single dungeon all the way through the expansion, and yet it’s very possible for a lot of people to go through the expansion never once making use of them. There’s no penalty for never doing so. So they’re a whole lot of development work for something that is in every sense entirely optional.Final Fantasy XIV as a whole is the fact that the developers will spend a whole lot of time and effort working on features that are totally optional, that you can have huge chunks of content just for people crafting or gathering or playing a unique solo-focused job that can do a little bit of everything. So let’s take a look at Trusts as a whole, with a particular eye toward what works and what doesn’t before we head into the next expansion.
First of all, one of the things that works about Trusts is ironically one of the most frequently raised complaints about Trusts: They’re not very good at the game. They don’t AoE, the healers focus on healing and buffing without adding DPS, the tanks pull slowly, and so forth. This is, on one level, a bad thing. A human player knows how to do better at all of this stuff, and anyone playing at a competent skill level will quickly find the trust companions to be the weakest link in any group.
But… that’s kind of the point. That’s what should be happening. None of this will prevent you from clearing a dungeon reliably with Trusts; rather, it makes other players a notably superior choice to having a full party of Trusts. There’s still plenty of reasons to go along with Trusts, either for queue times, the dialogue between your companions, or possibly because you’re not actually very good and Trusts will do a competent job even if you make mistakes. If you’re undergeared or self-conscious, going with Trusts can actually be a great way to learn the dungeon and the mechanics.
As we’re already talking about what works with the system, there’s a lot of stuff that works without qualifiers like the aforementioned. For example, the added dialogue and the general sense of working with these NPCs you’re encountering through the story is perfect. Nothing vital is communicated via Trust dialogue, but you learn more about the characters and the dungeon along the way, and it adds an extra element when you’re re-running the dungeons yet again.
More to the point, the whole thing turns into a leveling minigame at the end, and quite frankly that’s just a worthy inclusion in the overall design. I really like that players are given not just an opportunity but a reason to go back through and do the dungeons again with Trust companions, and I leveled mine along with leveling up through slightly slower dungeon runs. It was a neat experience and let me learn more about the characters along the way.
Also, you know, Trusts do provide a great tutorial for players who aren’t familiar with the dungeons, since the NPCs do know the mechanics. And they’re a great addition for players who might want to clear a dungeon without relying on other people for whatever reason. Having more options for different playstyles is a good thing, and if you want to progress the story solo and only worry about grouping with others at the top level, this is a tool to let you do just that.
Herein lies one of the weaknesses, though: Trusts are only available for dungeons, not for trials. Now, you can argue that Trusts aren’t there to let you clear everything available at endgame, and that’s defensible. One of the points I’ve made before is that FFXIV intends for you to group up and signals that early on; it’s not a failing but an early notation that the game begins as it means to continue. But if you’re going to let people bypass grouping for dungeons along the MSQ, the trials then form a new and more mechanically dense roadblock.
It’s even sillier when you consider that none of the Shadowbringers trials that you face in the MSQ requires any sort of tank swap, so the problem of only having one tank isn’t really the problem you might think.
The narrative hoops do also merit a mention, though. While a lot of words have been spilled about Estinien being added to the Trust lineup in Endwalker, part of the reason for that is as simple as not having a story reason for Ryne to be around in the next expansion, and that swap keeps the overall number of roles the same as it was in Shadowbringers. It requires some work to ensure that you always have the “right” companions available to do a dungeon, and if you have some characters you don’t like overmuch sometimes you might be forced to take them along.
There’s also the simple fact that Trust leveling is… well, kind of silly. It doesn’t have a whole lot of draw beside an achievement and some costumes, which makes it the sort of thing that once you’ve cleared it you have a reward for content you no longer want to do.
Are Trusts a good thing, yes? Absolutely. They offer another way to play through the game for players of various stripes and another way to engage with content. If anything, their biggest problem is simply that they’re only useful in a very narrow band of content when other options would make sense and would help further extend that particular playstyle. I’m not sure if retrofitting older dungeons to make use of them would work, but it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.
If anything, what I’m hoping for Endwalker is a chance to do a little more with them. I realize that’s a touch unlikely, but the more use we can get out of Trust companions and the more motivation players have to experience content with them, the better the overall experience will be. That’s not to say that the system needs a major overhaul; it’s working pretty darn well now, after all! But a few tweaks and improvements would help make the experience really sing.
Oh, and give us more than one reliable tank, will you? Yes, I know, G’raha is an all-rounder and that technically means having two, but everyone else has more limited roles. Either let more characters moonlight in unusual roles or give us more options for taking hits. Why shouldn’t we let Estinien get hit in the face? Give me one good reason. He and Thancred certainly both deserve it.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, I want to talk about the utter lack of any sort of public testing for FFXIV and how I’m increasingly happy about that fact.