The Future of ‘FFXIV’: Shadowbringers and Beyond

Michael "Ethys" Asher
Games PC Gaming
Games PC Gaming Final Fantasy PlayStation

The explosive reactions and electric anticipation of the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival Europe crowd to the latest announcements and details of the upcoming expansion: Shadowbringers is hard to describe.

The attendees were a little more sober than they were in Las Vegas last November and the new shots from the expanded trailer weren’t quite as loaded as they were for Stormblood. But just a few lines from fan-favourite characters Y’shtola and Urianger sent a jolt through La Grande Hall De La Villete that still hasn’t dissipated.

But shameless FFXIV fandom aside, there’s a lot to be objectively excited about — and it’s not just Shadowbringers. Let’s take a look at where Square Enix is taking the adventure, through the new expansion and beyond.

FFXIV Fan Festival Paris 2019
Each FFXIV Fan Festival brings the atmosphere of a convention, party, public holiday and rock concert all blended up with tequila and fireworks

Feel free to scroll through the whole list, but if there’s something you’re particularly interested in, the below links will take you straight there.


The Fourteen Formula

Streaming the game several times a week, we have seen a recent trend of players jumping ship from World of Warcraft and tentatively poking their head around the door of our proverbial Eorzean office (also known as Twitch chat), wanting to hear more about the perks of being the Warrior of Light.

It has been a long time since our last expedition into Azeroth so we can hardly speak to the validity of the impulse; whether or not the WoW ship is actually sinking remains to be seen — but the facts are arbitrary to the feelings of the disgruntled veteran player.

When asked what brings them to the shores of Eorzea, these weary travelers invariably describe inconsistency, unreliability, and broken promises. It’s not so much that they’ve become bored of a stagnating formula — WoW has certainly been evolving. It’s just evident that they can smell a tepid complacency from Activision Blizzard and feel that recent changes are out of touch with their wants and needs as individual players.

The timing for a new FFXIV expansion announcement is fortuitous indeed.

Urianger Augurelt elf professor
Middle-English speaking badass elf-professor Urianger Augurelt is taking a break from sabotaging eternal beings of darkness and saving worlds in parallel dimensions to play cards in a firestorm and he has never looked so fabulous

Since the announcement of Shadowbringers, we have all been wondering what kind of new and formula-breaking content it will bring. So although there’s a lot to be excited about, we should remember that the formulaic nature of the content — and the patch schedule — has actually been a cornerstone for the player-developer relationship since A Realm Reborn. The fundamental components of the FFXIV experience since 2013 have remained unchanged and the community has only grown and thrived.

The progression of the story chapter by chapter, the “expert” mode dungeons, Hard and Extreme trials, the occasional PvP detour, sprawling 24-player alliance raids, and hardcore eight-player raids are delivered like clockwork with gradually more and more polish each expansion.

The only surprises in these integral pieces of content come from the aesthetic, story vehicle, and particular mechanics. The community relishes these small surprises but also trusts that Naoki Yoshida and his team will not throw out or undermine the core of the formula — they will continue to refine and perfect it.

FFXIV Shadowbringers Nier Automata Yorha Dark Apocalypse raid
The announcement that the entire alliance raid series for Shadowbringers will be a Nier: Automata homage was a huge surprise to attendees at the EU Fan Fest in Paris

Nier-ly Unbelievable, YoRHa Serious?

The surprise for one particular story vehicle revealed in Paris was not so small. For Stormblood, Yoshida decided to bring onboard a special guest developer — Yasumi Matsuno — for the alliance raid series, Return to Ivalice.

The reinterpretation of the mythos from FFXII and Final Fantasy Tactics was compelling and well executed. It was also not out of character for FFXIV to borrow from the story elements of previous titles in the franchise. Yoshida wanted to continue the guest developer trend for Shadowbringers, but this time it’s a little more… radical.

YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse will reimagine elements from Nier: Automata into the world of Hydaelyn with Yosuke Saito and the eccentric Yoko Taro on board. We’ve suspected a Nier crossover to be in the works for a while, but the dedication of an entire expansion’s Alliance raid series is almost beyond imagining. Fans of the Nier franchise that currently play FFXIV are hyperventilating. All other 2B enthusiasts are probably despairing the 100+ hours of FFXIV gating them from this content.

The fateful night for this project’s conception apparently involved no small amount of alcohol. We know from Yoshida’s anecdotes that this has always been an essential part of the creative process for previous collaborations.

No doubt many of us can relate. Unfortunately, we’ll know nothing of the upcoming Savage raid series before the Japanese Fan Festival (other than that it is relatively “very Final Fantasy”), but we have plenty to digest for now with Dark Apocalypse.

Yoko Taro sits with Yoshida
Yoko Taro concurs that Yoshida may well have lost his mind...

It’s no secret that we’re obsessed with the lore of FFXIV: we’re personally just a little apprehensive about this intrusion and the thought of a major part of Hydaelyn’s history becoming a twisted derivative of Yoko Taro’s previous indulgences. But we feel confident that the actual raid instances — and the fights themselves — will once again reliably deliver everything and more we have come to expect from the alliance raid content.

This reliability and consistency of the core experience allows Yoshida and team the confidence and freedom firstly to radicalise the vehicles of the content (like Dark Apocalypse) and secondly to work on more experimental systems on the side. Sometimes these experiments succeed (Deep Dungeon, Eureka, Blue Mage); sometimes they demonstrably fail (Diadem, Lords of Verminion).

More often than not, the lessons of the latter have facilitated the success of the former. Having built an incredibly sturdy foundation, Yoshida and team can confidently explore their experimental impulse. Looking back over Stormblood, it’s been paying off.

Heavensward’s experiments have been folded into Stormblood’s faithful formula, allowing for still more experiments moving forward. So there are tentative plans for a new Deep Dungeon as well as expanded exploration content and very concrete plans for another Ultimate (post-Savage) raid in Shadowbringers. We think we can expect at least the same standard as we saw for these types of content in Stormblood.

FFXIV Blue Mage Shadowbringers
The “Limited Job” Blue Mage breathes new life into old content and sets an exciting precedent for special challenge modifiers in Shadowbringers content

Not So Limited

The Blue Mage (BLU) has been the game’s most recent experiment, introduced with the latest patch 4.5. In classic Final Fantasy style, BLU progresses by learning abilities from monsters out in the world. When the ability is seen and the mob subsequently defeated, there is a random chance for the BLU to acquire the spell in question. More powerful (and ridiculous) abilities come with lower chances to successfully learn.

Limited to level 50 (the current cap for all other jobs is 70) and subsequently to the endgame content of A Realm Reborn, there is no problem in allowing the BLU to literally one-shot old dungeon bosses with abilities like Doom, Self-Destruct, and Final Sting; abilities that would break the game if they could be used in more current content.

For ARR veterans, it’s concurrently hilarious and gratifying. Even in fights where these abilities will not work — such as against the ARR Primals — the BLU can acquire an arsenal of crowd-control spells which throw the established strategies for these fights right out the window.

In Titan Extreme, players traditionally have to pay close attention to the pattern in which bombs drop to avoid an abrupt wipe. BLU, on the other hand, can cast Ram’s Voice to freeze the bombs and prevent them from exploding at all; we gleefully ignore the mechanic and continue slapping Titan with our sardines (both figuratively and literally).

FFXIV Blue Mage Titan Mountain Buster
Our BLU using Titan’s own Mountain Buster ability against him!

The endgame of BLU involves a series of trials — The Masked Carnivale — that actually encourages this application of creative strategy. For weekly rewards, we can re-challenge particular fights with certain modifiers such as only using spells of a certain element or for succeeding without ever healing or sprinting. The rewards are not going to put Rowena out of business, but the sense of accomplishment earned from completing these challenges is real.

We took the opportunity in Paris to ask Yoshida whether this kind of system would ever be expanded into other content (such as dungeons and raids) and he said he has some ideas. We can hope that Shadowbringers may deliver challenge modifiers into the game more broadly across dungeons and raids.

BLU itself will receive a level cap increase to 60 at some point during the Shadowbringers patch cycle, with new abilities and opportunities to break the Heavensward endgame content.

FFXIV Gunbreaker
Gunbreaker is the FFVIII fanservice we deserve.

The Gunbreaker

Although we probably won’t see another Limited Job until the latter patches of Shadowbringers, the Paris keynote revealed this as the first of “multiple” (read: two) new jobs coming in 5.0.

Yoshida opened the keynote with a spectacular entrance dressed in the Gunbreaker artifact armour, crafted by community-favourite cosplayer Chezah. It was a little less subtle than his usual tactic of surreptitiously teasing upcoming jobs through his choice of t-shirt.

FFXIV Naoki Yoshida addresses the audience dressed as a Gunbreaker
Naoki Yoshida, World First Gunbreaker!

Gunbreaker will be the fourth Tank introduced into the game (the first since Heavensward), melee-based, delivering slashing damage attacks that can be augmented with magicked ammunition. It seems that this resource will be used both to buff damaging attacks and to perform defensive abilities. The aspiring Gunbreaker will no doubt have to work out how best to prioritise the application of this resource in order to perform optimally at endgame.

Aesthetically, it is far more of a tribute to Final Fantasy VIII’s style of gunblade than any we have seen in FFXIV so far and with FFVIII’s twentieth anniversary this year, it seems like an appropriate homage.

FFXIV Gunbreaker in action
The Gunbreaker will augment physical attacks and defensive skills with magicked ammunition.

Gunbreaker is planned to start at level 60 and be available to unlock in Gridania for any player that has reached level 60 and purchased Shadowbringers.

We should expect the second and final Shadowbringers job to be revealed at the next Fan Fest in Japan, March 23. What will it be? Personally, our gil is still firmly on Dancer for healer.

Fran Service

The loudest crowd reaction for the entire weekend was reserved for the long-expected announcement of the seventh (and probably final) playable race: Viera. The second-loudest reaction came from the revelation that each Viera hairstyle could be applied with or without bangs for extra customisation.

What can we say? Glamour is the true endgame.

FFXIV Viera race
Okay, but where are the boy bunnies?

The sultry bunny-gals of Ivalice appeared in some tentative concept art for the race that was scrapped in favour of the Au Ra introduced back in Heavensward; players have not stopped begging ever since. The archetypical Viera — Fran — made her XIV debut in the final chapter of Return to Ivalice in patch 4.5 and the announcement has seemed since that moment a foregone conclusion.

But there is some controversy over the quiet and unceremonious exclusion of any renders or mentions of a playable male Viera. We know that they exist in the lore (as a small and excluded minority) and those of us who paid attention during Saturday’s art panel will have noticed a single concept sketch for a male child…

FFXIV Viera concept art
Oh… there he is (bottom left).

The fans are inconsolably salty, but when asked to comment on the apparent gender-locking, Yoshida casually mused that there is still the Japanese Fan Festival to come. Either Yoshida is planning to literally bunny-hop onto stage for the Japan keynote or else we have a surprise eighth male-only race in the pipeline.

 

Another standard for each expansion has been the inclusion of new “beast tribes” — non-human NPC races such as the Moogles and Sahagin. They add flavour to the new zones and minor contributions to the main story; sprawling sidequests for each beast tribe are scattered throughout the expansion cycle to deliver some world-building stories and vanity rewards, like mounts.

FFXIV Shadowbringers press conference with Yoshida-san
Yoshida-san approaches the press conference with a level of patience we don’t always deserve...

The first beast tribe announced for Shadowbringers are the Pixies, diminutive and mischievous creatures highly proficient in the arcane arts. They honestly look and sound like an alternate concept design for the Sylphs, but given an entire Fae language has been developed for them, the Pixies should be a compelling study for fellow loremongers.

FFXIV Pixies race Il Mheg
The Pixies of Il Mheg

With almost every new beast tribe comes a new Primal and a corresponding extreme-mode trial at endgame. This time around it’s the enchanting Fae regent, Titania. The Pixies will be found in the new zone of refreshingly high-fantasy mysticism, Il Mheg.

FFXIV Pixies goddess Titania
The deiform fae regent, Titania

This is the third Shadowbringers zone to be revealed. The first two were teased in Vegas — the Rak’tika Greatwood, home to the Nu mou and most likely a tribe of Viera; and Amh Aerang, the evident site of the battle between the Warrior of Darkness and Kuribu in the cinematic trailer.

New Gameplay Systems

Although we won’t be able to rapidly switch jobs mid-combat like our CG-counterpart, Yoshida has confirmed that some noteworthy combat adjustments will be coming in Shadowbringers.

Skill bloat is a concern; some skills and abilities for each job will be scrapped and others adjusted to compensate. We will also see the consolidation of the TP and MP resources into a single secondary resource — MP. Very few jobs really use both so the perceived redundancy makes sense. Lore-wise, they’re essentially the same thing already.

FFXIV Shadowbringers will raise level cap from 70 to 80
Unsurprisingly, the new expansion will also include an increase to the current level cap.

For anything more specific on job and combat changes, we’ll have to wait for the official Shadowbringers media tour closer to launch.

NA Data Centre Consolidation

Another kind of consolidation will come a little before 5.0. In response to the increased traffic that contributed to the early-access pains of Stormblood, new data centres are being built — one each for the EU and NA regions.

At the same time, the worlds currently distributed between two will be split across three (in the case of NA) so that the population will ideally balance between them. Free transfers will be provided to affected players that wish to jump worlds in order to continue playing with friends that might otherwise be split up.

A “world visit” system will also be implemented so that players can travel freely back and forth to any world within their data centre. It’s a bandaid for an archaic server infrastructure, but we daresay it’s a welcome one.

FFXIV NA Data Centre consolidation chart
The planned consolidation of the NA Data Centres

Veterans of FFXI are probably familiar with the Trust system. In essence, it’s a solo option for content that would usually require a party; the players are replaced by “Trust” NPCs.

Some genre purists are concerned that the social aspect of the game’s content should not be easily circumvented, but Trust NPCS will only be available for dungeons that gate progression through the Shadowbringers storyline. They are not being considered for any other content.

For players that only wish to experience the central story of XIV each patch, we’re sure this will be a welcome option. Personally, we’ve have had enough experience with previous attempts to bring an AI party into dungeons (Squadrons)… We think we’ll take our chances with human parties.

FFXIV Squadrons trust system
We’ve done Squadrons, we don’t “trust” you guys at all.

FFXIV New Game+

Another new system that will appeal to solo players (and lore nerds like us) is the ambitious inclusion of New Game+. Players will be able to repeat old Main Story and Job Story chapters, scaled up to their current level.

There have been a number of singleplayer story instances that people have wanted to replay without having to level a whole new character; the only way to review cutscenes currently is through the Unending Journey system and it’s frankly scattered, fragmented, incomplete, and unwieldy. NG+ seems like a creative solution that will further increase the longevity of older content.

For crafters and gatherers that have long been craving some kind of endgame content (other than making buckets of gil), in 5.0 we will be finally begin to join in the reconstruction process of the Holy See of Ishgard, still suffering the scars from the events of Heavensward and the thousand-year Dragonsong War.

Naturally, this will include an unfolding story that will involve many of our favourite Ishgardian characters that have more recently fallen out of the spotlight. More specific details for the Ishgard Restoration will be delivered in a future Live Letter.

FFXIV Shadowbringers Ishgard Restoration graphic
Players are hoping that the Ishgard Restoration will eventually lead to an opening of player housing plots in the frigid gothic city...

There are a few more pieces of content in the pipeline between now and Shadowbringers worth mentioning. The notoriously grindy exploratory series Eureka will conclude with one final chapter and zone — Hydatos — which Yoshida toured for us during Sunday’s Letter from the Producer Live.

The map itself is impressive, and the grind will be familiar and ubiquitous with Pyros (the previous Eureka zone) except for an expansion of available Logograms and Logos actions. But more interesting is what comes next…

New Dungeon Challenges

After uncovering the mystery of the Isle of Val and the conclusion of the Eureka saga; FFXIV’s first attempt at a massive and highly difficult public dungeon instance — The Baldesion Arsenal — will become available.

Absolute Virtue towers over players
Absolute Virtue, the terror of Al’Taieu in FFXI, is just one of the horrors waiting within the Baldesion Arsenal...

A total of 56 players in each instance will sprawl across the dungeon filled with traps and relentless bosses including Absolute Virtue (whom XI players know well to fear). The potentially hundreds of hours required to complete Eureka Anemos, Pagos, Pyros, and Hydatos is not the only gate for the dungeon — apparently it will only be available at certain times of day and require rare items (presumably acquired in Hydatos) just to enter.

Most terrifying of all, no resurrection magics will work inside the instance. Every player that dies will risk leveling down, irreparably weakening the party and if you wipe once, that’s it. We don’t yet know what the rewards will be for this masochistic endeavour — let’s hope they’re compelling enough to make the commitment worthwhile.

Hidden Gorge will introduce new features and battle mechanics unique to the map
A new frenetic and approachable PVP map should help make the wait for Shadowbringers easier to take.

Hydatos and the Baldesion Arsenal will both be available from patch 4.55 on February 12, alongside a new map for MOBA-inspired pvp mode Rival Wings — Hidden Gorge.

Regal Rewards

If you’re more interested in the free chicken, the long-awaited FFXV crossover is finally arriving in April — we’ll be road-tripping with Noctis across Eorzea and ultimately helping him fight Garuda here. Yes the Regalia is a mount reward, yes it can carry 4 players, and heck yes it flies.

For new and returning players hoping to prepare for Shadowbringers in the coming months (or just get their hands on that sweet Regalia mount), a starter edition for XIV is being offered for free for all Twitch Prime members, including the base game and a free 30 day sub… if you’re not a Prime member yet, it’s definitely the cheapest way to get into Eorzea beyond the level 30 free trial.

If you’re looking to get into XIV but unsure of where to use that free Prime sub, we could think of a channel…

The collectors’ edition for Shadowbringers is also now available for preorder and it includes some seriously sweet goodies. All preorders of Shadowbringers — collectors’ or otherwise — will include a gremlin minion that may or may not hurl incessant abuse and an aetheryte earring that will boost all exp gained up to level 60.

The itemised contents for the Shadowbringers collectors’ edition… A digital-only version will be available for the in-game content.

Shadowbringers launches of July 2, with early access available for all preorders starting on June 28. The Stormblood story will conclude with “A Requiem for Heroes: Part 2” next month.

Michael "Ethys" Asher
Streamer, occasional YouTuber and freelance lore fanatic. I'm holding up your dungeon run analysing that carving on the wall.
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