The popularity of Final Fantasy XIV has soared to new heights in recent months. Following a successful Fan Fest event, in addition to the mass exodus of streaming personalities, the game is everywhere. However, there are two common sayings most new players will hear during their early adventures. First and foremost, A Realm Reborn is the slowest and weakest part of the experience. And secondly, Shadowbringers is the most incredible part so far.
But why exactly do players place the most recent expansion on such a high pedestal? It’s held with such reverence that its existence in the endgame almost eclipses the previous two, well-regarded, expansions. For many, it’s the expansion that makes the game a must-play. What makes Shadowbringers the best expansion? This article will break down its winning qualities without spoiling the experience.
Even in the earliest stages of a new player’s journey through Eorzea, the game’s focus on story becomes very apparent. While the signature gameplay loop of a typical MMORPG is certainly there, the game is driven by its narrative. Everything is unlocked through story progression, all of which closely involves the player character. Unlike many other MMO games, Final Fantasy XIV works hard to keep the player integral to the story. While still somewhat limited by the silent protagonist trope, they aren’t simply a bystander. You are more than just a weapon that the actually important characters wield. The Warrior of Light forms their own friendships and rivalries, and they have a unique place in the lore.
What makes Shadowbringers the best expansion is the way in which the protagonist’s role is made even more prominent. The expansion explores the true identity of the player character and introduces unique stakes. For the first time, a narrative consequence is introduced that threatens the life of your character. Even so, the lives of others are at risk if you fail to rise to the challenge. It paints the player as a selfless hero willing to sacrifice themselves if needs be.
During the expansion, the player forms new, wholly unique relationships with a variety of characters. While many characters in the game interact with NPCs such as Alphinaud more often than you, Shadowbringers strikes a balance. Some characters will interact solely with the player, or at least show more interest in them. Eventually, the story culminates in many shocking reveals about the player character that ties into the lore. Without spoiling the outcome, it makes it abundantly clear that the Warrior of Light is no random adventurer.
We Stand Together – Shadowbringers’ Allies
Of course, even if the Warrior of Light takes centre stage, their companions are still close at hand. During the early stages of the game, the player will encounter a number of life-long allies. The number of reoccurring characters in the game is staggering, but some remain closer than others. It would be a spoiler to say who your primary allies are in Shadowbringers. As such, it’s just important to know that the expansion continues the stories of your allies too. Furthermore, it isolates your group in a unique experience that requires them to rely on each other more than ever.
Previous expansions often saw your allies regularly split apart, with some receiving more focus than others. However, the events of Shadowbringers require them to regularly travel together. This is represented in the story as well as the gameplay. While there is an initial period of being scattered at first, the group quickly comes together. For the first time, the group of characters actually feels like a party from a traditional RPG. Each of them has moments to shine in the story, both heartfelt and epic. Yet, they also play a part in the gameplay with the introduction of the trust system. Essentially, players can run the story dungeon content with their NPC allies, allowing them to avoid ques.
What makes Shadowbringers the best expansion is the tangible growth it gives each character. While not the first-time characters have had a wardrobe change, this time its tied to job progression. Your allies not only adopt new clothing but also entirely new jobs. Their new roles also often tie into their character development as displays of how their goals have changed.
Remember Us – Shadowbringers’ Villains
While it’s unfair to say the previous villains were poor, they certainly pale compared to the leading antagonists of Shadowbringers. ARR provided forces of nature in the form of primals, in addition to your standard evil empire. Heavensward provided a complex dragon vs mankind war, in addition to religious corruption. It certainly provided more emotional impacts during its stories, carried by an almost Shakespearean conflict. Stormblood was somewhat more standard with its rebels vs the empire story. While it included standouts with emotionally rich backstories, others were perhaps too sadistically simplistic.
The events of Shadowbringers work to bring past villains into the spotlight, but they are explored much more deeply. The expansion ensures that their motivations are truly understood. Their reasons for challenging you tug at the heartstrings, as it’s revealed they are not so maniacally evil. The chaos they cause is not without reason, and it will leave the player very conflicted about facing them.
Another attribute that makes Shadowbringers the best expansion is the length of time dedicated to the villains. While previous expansion often banishes them to the background and “meanwhile” cutscenes, this time they are regularly present. Often dropping in to have personal conversations with the protagonist, you truly get to know them. Compared to previous villains, they feel more like actual characters than antagonistic forces. From their motivations to their emotions, Square Enix made some truly unforgettable villains throughout the expansion.
A Place Worth Fighting For
The details of Shadowbringer’s setting are difficult to describe without spoiling some crucial plot points. While remaining vague, the setting was quite isolated from the lands the player had previously explored. Unable to rely on many of the allies previously made, the new setting had to compensate with a new cast. As such, the expansion had quite the challenge ahead of it, keeping the player just as invested with strangers. Thankfully, the newly met NPCs were just as rich in story and characterization as their Eorzean counterparts.
However, its distance from the original setting does not make it narratively separate. The story makes the events in the new location essential to the player’s home. There is also a concrete goal that is established very early on that is visually indicated by the environment. The satisfaction of being able to alter the maps following your heroics is hard to understate. What’s more, the NPCs encountered in each of the new zones have integral parts to play in the final battles.
What makes Shadowbringers the best expansion is its success in making the player feel an attachment to a foreign land. It would have been so easy for the new setting to come and go without leaving a lasting impact. Yet, we witness a harsh place transform into something beautiful. It sees unwelcoming strangers turn into a new family. This new place becomes so difficult to leave, yet its distance from Eorzea makes it a requirement. It forces the player to remember it bittersweetly, as while the protagonist can technically return, its story is concluded.
The Perfect Recipe
Final Fantasy XIV is a rich experience that will hook players at various points. While the early game is often touted as slow, it’s not too long before it starts a winning streak. Yet, it feels that while each expansion has its own strengths, the latest rises above the rest. What makes Shadowbringers the best expansion is its near-perfect recipe. A Realm Reborn introduced your allies, Heavensward had a great story, and Stormblood had some wonderfully rich settings. Yet only the latest was able to successfully provide all those qualities, and present them even better than before. Learning from the previous expansions’ successes, it set an exciting precedent going forward into Endwalker.