When I rejoined FF14, I was in the middle of 3.1, the first content piece after Heavensward. It’s been about 5 weeks now and I just completed the 5.0 MSQ, with just over 50 quests left to do in order to be prepared for Endwalker. Well… prepared isn’t the right word, perhaps ‘able to take on the first quest’. There is plenty of stuff to do once at 80. This post is instead going to reflect on the MSQ proper, less the stuff around it – so some spoilers here (not the 5.x stuff yet).
The biggest benefit for Shadowbringers (ShB) is that it follows Stormblood (StB), as the former took a tangent to the main story villains and meandered for a long time. ShB goes right back to start of ARR, with the Source and the 13 split shards from the initial sundering. You end up on the First, after it has been swept by the light (this makes sense once you complete Heavensward’s extra MSQ). In short, it focuses on the Scions (good guys), Ascians (bad guys), why the world is the way it is, and what’s at stake.
FF14 has a habit of applying nuance to the world and less the characters. Bad guys are just bad, but the people on their team may be good. There are a few characters that have some backstory to try and explain their actions (Yotsuyu is a really good example), yet most just undergo a heel/hero swap (Fandaniel, Nero, Gaius). ShB does the same thing here for nearly everyone – except the Ascian villain. Emet-Selch provides a ton of backstory to the Ascians, how Zodiark came to be, and the loss of his world. It’s extremely similar to Zanarkand in FFX. You know from the start he’s a bad guy, but you’re also hanging on his every word. When you finally reach Amaurot, there’s a lot of sympathy for what came before.
Tangent. Remember Man of Steel? Where Zod is convinced that to restore Krypton he has to kill everyone on Earth? That was dumb, because there was no empathy for Krypton that was – all we ever saw was war. It had as much weight as if he wanted to put a shopping mall. The good news is that ShB learned that lesson well, and you can have some appreciation for what was lost way back when. Now, why stuff went wrong is certainly something Endwalker is going to address.
The general pacing of the story is an improvement as well, where you start in the main hub, and then branch out to restore areas in line with the larger story arc. You gradually restore the Scions, uncover more of the history of the First, and get access to some rather interesting locales. The pyramid zone and work with the Talos are memorable enough. The Tempest seems a bit of a bolt-on near the end (though the ride to get there is damn cool). It feels like they forgot that they needed an underwater level and just plopped it here (which makes sense, since the Light doesn’t reach the sea floor)
Eulmore is the heart of this expansion, not because of it’s location, but because of what it represents. If the end of the world is guaranteed, you’re going to have people simply accept it and try to go out with a bang (see Snowpiercer for a great example). The apathy and desperation of this city is really something to see… it bleeds into everything. Ran’jit is the perfect example of this… someone who spent years fighting only to suffer loss after loss, and he’s just plain broken. When that larger arc ends, it feels like the expansion is capped.
But it’s not, and then you reach Amaurot. I won’t spoil this part too much, but it has a dungeon that feels like a WoW raid in terms of visuals. If this is where Endwalker goes in terms of storyline/visuals, that would make me very happy.
Another tangent, when it comes to villains. The best FF villains are those you interact with, not just speeches but actual action and consequence. Kefka is memorable because he’s just always around the corner (plus he actually wins if you think about it). Sephiroth the same. Who’s the villain in FF12 again? I’m picking on FF here, but it applies to all video games (and most movies). You need that interaction to see more than a 2 dimensional character. ARR had Gaius, Heavensward didn’t really do this part well, Stormblood’s main villain you saw twice, and finally in Shadowbringers, Emet-Selch is practically in your party.
While it’s not the best FF story, it certainly feels the strongest of all the FF14 stories told so far, or perhaps the one that returns most to the series roots.