Final Fantasy XIV – Shadowbringers Dancer in the Dark
Final Fantasy XIV expansions grappled with broad-brush concepts in corruption, religion, and imperialism, the path you tread in Shadowbringers is a distinctly personal affair. The central conceit is the battle between good and evil, and between the dual concepts of Light and Dark, but at its core is a story about a protagonist who’s been left adrift and has to come to terms with their identity alongside long-time companions against the backdrop of a dying world. This harkens back to the sort of character treatment that the non-MMO Final Fantasy games have prided themselves on for decades, but even with the familiar subject matter, the journey here feels distinctly forward-looking. The question for a lot of fans was whether the longevity of the game post-Stormblood would last.
Shadowbringers hinges on a revelation. The quests between Stormblood and the new content do a great job of laying down a narrative foundation rife with inter-faction politics, intrigue, and shadowy figures pulling strings with hidden consequences. As the new expansion opens, however, that particular nest of vipers is upended by way of a forced jaunt through time and space. What starts as a quest to save your friends takes a life-altering turn; you’re thrown into the heart of a conflict between Light and Dark that strikes at the core of the hero mythos that the game has built around your character since A Realm Reborn. The kicker is that any mention of the Light will make you public enemy number one; it’s rampaging through the land and leaving death and destruction in its wake. You’re unmoored and as good as stranded in an unfamiliar world where your values and beliefs could get you killed. Starting a new MMORPG expansion can often feel like slipping into a pair of worn shoes that have stood the test of time; there’s a certain sense of security afforded to you because of your established Chosen One status. With the story’s rocky start, Shadowbringers takes a decidedly discomforting approach by doing the narrative equivalent of taking those shoes off your feet and getting someone to beat you with them. The solution it offers in its opening minutes is simple: Set aside everything you know and become the Warrior of Darkness.
The dungeons and trials are an excellent way for Shadowbringers to hammer those points home, and to deal with important narrative beats. It’s a credit to the game’s development team that the dungeons are much more than just a means to keep you occupied or to give you enough experience to move on to the next big thing in the world. They function like little pockets of insight into the decayed state of Norvrandt, complete with harrowing bosses and crumbling ruins. These dungeons see you racing through castles fighting seraphim and diving into fae realms making desperate pacts to secure your future. And it all plays out to a distinctly operatic soundtrack that leans heavily into dramatic strings and modern vocal frills, creating a perfect atmosphere to underscore the urgency of your character’s mission. Every new encounter of this fashion drives the Warrior of Darkness closer to their goal of restoring balance to the world, whether it’s driving a sword through the heart of a friend now-twisted by Light or unearthing the origins and primal motivations for this conflict. Dungeons have always been a part of the main story’s requirements in Final Fantasy XIV, but here they feel just as crucial to your enjoyment and understanding of the tale as the new quests do. On the matter of the new classes and races aside, servers are currently teeming with Viera and Hrothgar avatars ready to take on the world. While the new race models look as spectacular in motion as one would expect, the Gunbreaker and Dancer classes are still a relative unknown that players are puzzling out at this early stage in Shadowbringers’ life cycle. Gunbreaker packs a hell of a punch as a high-damage job, suited for an off-tank role that trades in axes and greatswords for something a little less traditional. Dancer’s primary focus other than looking absolutely enchanting in combat is to provide buffs for party members, and it appears to be trying to fill the utility ranged DPS role previously occupied by Bards who have now had their party-wide buffs removed.
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