Yesterday I played through the first chapter of the expansion, culminating with a first dungeon, so there’s things to share about it.
First of all, my initiate fears got mitigated at the very start. Due to a different time flow, we are able to spend all the time we need in Norvrandt without worrying that Empire would raze our homeworld to the ground in our absense, presumably arriving in the same-ish moment where we left. Phew, we can focus on local problems which are also our world problems.
The local conflict was presented in all its scale and dire, and it’s no small one. Trips to “Limsa” and “Thanalan” were most educating, and, as always, presented the danger both through personal involvement, old and new character arcs and the bigger picture – using charts and maps when needed.
The Evil Light is evil, and outright scary. It was not that prominent in poor Kholusia/hedonistic Eulmore where I traveled first, but the razed desert part of thw world hits like a hammer – the sight of a destroyed country, the still wave of crystalized Light scraping the clouds, the practices of euthanasia and the body horror of turning into a Light abomination is a no-nonsense impression of what mess and danger we deal with.
Long story short, it was exciting, very motivating, and so far the stakes, the story, how the world(s) works and everything else is perfectly clear and invites to push on!
Graphics and Visuals
A-ha, this is when the game finally received the environment it deserves. Like I said, every next expansion was an improvement from the previous one, but in Shadowbringers I can finally enjoy the textures without cringe and finally feel quite immersed, not feeling myself among theatrical sets and props.
I was talking to some minor NPC in a ragged village when I suddenly glanced at a stone foundation of a village house and was surprised not to see the customary right angles! That’s right, tiers of stones were shaped as tiers of stones. Walking in the ruins of a desert town was an eye treat, but what struck me most was the dungeon – a farmland among the woods. It’s earth and skies from, say, Gridania, or even Stormblood’s examples: this was a rich forest, totally believable and scaled to characters. And I won’t even mention Eulmore and Crystarium.
The difference is really, really striking – almost as much as outdated TBC textures in WoW compared to WoD zones. Well, now I can finally live in peace with the game in this aspect.
What also helped was the eternal “daylight” (for plot reasons). Finishing a dungeon, you “unlock” the rightful night – at least, for a part of the world, and this immediately brought my concern back: would it be as dark and blend the grey characters into terrain as before? From what I figured in cutscene, it does, but it’s yet to be evaluated.
Not much to say here, it fits the environment and zones. My favorite so far is Lakeland theme, and Ahm Araeng is a cool piece of ambient. I did NOT like the depressing theme of Kholusia, and the current battle theme – when a mosquito or a prarie dog or smth attacks you – got old too fast, I’ll need to visit sound settings to see if this could be switched off. I aggro my share of mobs on the way, and distortion guitars breaking in every 20 seconds really break the immersement.
Feeling quite on par in the open world, mobs eat away some of my health, but no big trouble. I’m getting quest gear that’s way below my own from Stormblood, reached level 74 for the 70-71 content, so I’m pretty good.
Aether currents so far don’t cause me trouble. So far, they’re not that ridiculously hidden as they were in Stormblood, but I haven’t seen them all, so it’s early to say yet. This far, the experience reminds Heavensward, as you unlock them during MSQ without detours and bother, which is good.
Oh, and the dungeon. The new option is to do them SOLO, along with a group of story NPCs, with a roster which can be customized. The idea itself was not new to me – 5 years ago I briefly revisited Allods Online, and you could walk through the older leveling dungeons with a generic group of NPCs filling the missing roles. In Allods, it was not done well. You barely needed to sneeze in enemy’s direction, and trash packs and bosses died in mere seconds – you did not even manage to execute a round of your rotation, NPCs did it all for you.
In FFXIV, I’d say it’s done a lot better. The dungeon poses a challenge, requires skill and tactics execution. NPCs do it clever, they’re tanking and healing perfectly, but what this mode lacks is DPS. I’m perfectly comfortable with my dragoon’s rotation, there’s no room for personal improvement so far – combos, positioning, cooldowns and what not – so it’s NPCs to blame for the slogging pace :)
Normally, a dungeon takes about 15 minutes – this time it took me 35-40. I died once – on the second round of circle smashing at the last boss, assuming I could plant another blow before moving, and it’s an immediate wipe, they won’t finish the boss for you or rez you :) Trying again did not bother me, but the general pace did.
So, I think I should stick mostly to playing with people from now on. Yet this solo mode has its advantages – like exploring the dungeon at your own pace, really trying your best cause of the low damage from “party members”, and of course, doing the story content with story characters, so I won’t dismiss it altogether. Now I know what it is, and if I have time and mood to get more immersed, it’s a legit option.
Well, what can I say? It’s great so far in many aspects, and definitely another leap from the older content. I can’t help but to compare it to Warlords of Draenor experience: the alternate version of places we knew before, the really intense and driving story which more and more resembles movie/series/solo game titles rather than MMO, and graphics which got a very palpable steroids shot. But of course, it’s nowhere close to WoW, don’t get me wrong: both games are now very distinctly shaped into totally different entities, albeit both being labeled as “mmorpg”, and provide a totally different experience.