Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers (not) in review

Why we're skipping the traditional review tour

    
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Kershadow

All right, prepare the fireworks and explosions; I’m going to dazzle you all with an astonishing hot take. Ready for it? Final Fantasy XIV’s third expansion, Shadowbringers, is… very good!

You’re shocked, I’m sure. After more than two years with the expansion, countless breathy thinkpieces in mainstream gaming culture realizing that this game is good and saying as much, my own first impressions of the expansion being good, and so on, this no doubt comes as an enormous shock to the system. Feel free to insert your own video of Fry from Futurama stating that he is shocked, shocked! Well, not that shocked.

But I’m not writing this solely for the humor of having a whole column in which I post a take that could best be described as “frigid.” It’s not going to surprise anyone that Shadowbringers is a good expansion, but traditionally in the lead-up to a new expansion I do a series of columns talking about the ending expansion in review. So why not for this particular expansion, which is currently ranked as possibly the best one the game has ever had? The answer, to be frank, is threefold.

Here we are, looking out.

Time delays and uncertainty

Are you tired of reading about the fact that COVID-19 has screwed up everything? So am I! But being tired of hearing about it doesn’t mean that it’s not still true, and the fact that Endwalker was delayed a grand total of four months from its “expected” release date is kind of important. Obviously, the date was never officially announced, but the community would have told you back in early 2020 that the expansion would be coming out in July 2021, and now it’s not hitting until November.

This is not stunning considering how much communication we had about these delays. When a patch had to be delayed longer than expected, Yoshi-P let us know about it, apologized profusely, and explained the reasons behind it. And it was also the only such delay in the pipeline; the game kept things humming along on a reliable schedule subsequently. I have little doubt that we’ll get similar communication and explanations regarding any future patch delays and the like. So an existing two-month delay plus another two months for the expansion gives us a four-month delay, and that all makes sense. It’s not a problem or a failing of the developers.

It does, however, mean that more than usual, I was waiting to see when we would be getting the next expansion. While I could predict the Shadowbringers release pretty reliably ahead of the Stormblood release, this was not the case now. As such, there was simply less time to prepare for the release date announcement and plan an entire set of columns because we didn’t know exactly when we’d be getting the expansion or how much time to allot for it. That sort of thing has a ripple effect on a weekly column, as you can probably imagine. (If you can’t imagine it, well… just take my word for it.)

Darkness!

Less to highlight separately

This one feels like a two-part issue. On the one hand, I changed how I handled my usual patch columns for this expansion, splitting them into one column about the story and one column about the content. This felt like a good shift that allowed more space for everything to breathe, and I stand by it. But it also meant that the reactions to major story arcs as the were ongoing took place more organically, rather than being a case where I fit in a few lines about the story and then had to write up a whole reaction to it many months later upon detailed rumination.

And let’s be honest, my reactions to the stories here have not changed all that much since they happened. The NieR crossover still suffers from a complete non-sequitor of an ending that doesn’t pretend to tie things up or explain anything adequately. The Weapon story is still a bit lacking in how it presents Gaius trying to redeem himself. Bozja is still good but a bit abrupt. You get the idea.

Beyond that, however, this expansion also felt organic in a way that prior expansions really didn’t. In the most technical sense, no, you don’t need to do the Eden series to wrap up and see the MSQ conclusion, but the two are intimately tied together, and the fate of Norvrandt as a whole is woven through both sides of the conflict. The Weapons tie back into Bozja, which ties into the deteriorating situation in Garlemald, which is explored in the MSQ. All of these pieces feel like refracting components of the main conflict, rather than existing in arbitrary bubbles where you have a totally different problem being sorted in a compartmentalized portion of the game world.

I suspect that things will be a bit more compartmentalized in Endwalker just from what we already know about the alliance raid and normal raid series; it’s not a given, but it definitely seems to be the case. But for this expansion, very little felt like it was genuinely separated and thus it’s more resistant to analysis as a collection of pieces instead of as a whole.

It's neverending.

I just didn’t want to

Yeah, technically this could have been the only reason, but it wasn’t actually the only reason. Just one of them.

One of the things about doing a weekly column is that you learn that some things work and some things don’t. For a while, I was trying to do a community roundup in my weekly column once per month, before I found that it just was not a great format and dropped it. These columns are an ongoing experiment of format and content, and sometimes certain ideas don’t work as well as I think they would.

Or, you know, they wind up feeling like filler columns.

At the end of the day, I didn’t feel like doing the whole week-by-week recounting of Shadowbringers for a lot of reasons, but part of it was just deciding that I didn’t like the format and didn’t feel like it actually contributed much to overall discussions about the expansion’s highlights and low points. I feel like I’ve been able to do more interesting columns along the way without it, and while that has meant some weeks have involved having a bit less immediately spring to mind, I don’t feel bad about the ultimate decision to leave it to one side.

Maybe you feel otherwise, and hey, that’s great! Feedback on this sort of thing is welcome, and that’s one of the reasons we have a comment section. Personally, I don’t miss it, but maybe Endwalker will feel more suited to it. Heck, maybe everyone really missed it and just hadn’t realized it wasn’t happening until now. But I felt like taking the time to explain why I didn’t do it this time as we get closer and closer to having a new expansion to chew on for another couple of years.

So, as mentioned, feedback is welcome in the comments down below or by mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, a lot of people said they really did want to see a piece about the tooltip leaks, so I’m going there. Expect a bit of cussin’.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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Vincent Clark

I don’t think there is anything I can add about Shadowbringers that hasn’t already been said. It set the bar pretty high. On to Endwalker!

Jokerchyld
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Jokerchyld

*cries in just started Heavensward*

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Danny Smith

It was the most fun i’ve had with final fantasy since FFX.

In bloody july 2001.

i dont know what else to say.

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IronSalamander8 .

As someone who used to play games heavily for story, going back to Ultima I-VI on my Commdore 64 (simple as they were), to not caring much about it in most MMOs and other games I enjoy (part of why I do love Doom 2016 but not as much as Dusk, the original Doom, and Heretic is that the story portions got in the way of actually playing the game), and then here comes FF14 and makes me actually care again!

I’ll avoid spoilers, but so many NPCs in this expansion felt important to me, felt as real as an NPC in a video game can, and I genuinely cared about them. That’s rare as even in SWTOR with the companion story system, I was;”Shut up and make this stuff I need to level up my biochem”. Sure some of it was overdone or seemed a bit too convenient, but the dev team deserves a lot of credit for how the story went and how it made me feel genuine emotion from sorrow to rage.

We’re about to do the 2nd post ShB dungeon soon, hoping tonight or tomorrow, as the story advances slowly between the stuff we play together; it took me about 3 hours to get from that 1st one to unlock the 2nd, although with a couple of detours to open up other ‘blue’ quests. That’s a lot of cutscenes and story!

We should be ready for Endwalker, but if not, won’t be too far behind. FF14 does do some things that I’m not a fan of so always get why some don’t enjoy it, but it’s up there for me, flaws and all. It’s so rare that my largely jaded dupa cares about story and characters anymore, but FF14 certainly does it, and ShB did it very well, even with a few problems along the way.