Updated thoughts on the design of Final Fantasy XIV in regards to its living world and quests. Spoilers for Shadowbringers are fundamental to this.
So, between the last post and now, there’s been a lot going on – COVID, medical trip, work, working on design of our own project with my wife – but also, I finished Shadowbringers (5.0, at least) and can update these articles for it.
Credit where credit is due – ShB’s work on having a living and breathing world brought me to actual tears. I will be going over major spoilers for Shadowbringers over this article, so if you care, please do not read further. I’m still going to try and not go over major emotional beats in detail, so if you think just general plot direction spoilers are fine, this hopefully won’t ruin your experience.
… Was this enough space?
Okay we should be far enough down now to start talking about the state of the game world. The main plot of Shadowbringers resolves around being brought to the world of Norvrandt, which, unlike the Source, is flooded in light aether. This aether has many effects, such as corrupting people into “Sin Eaters” that attack and corrupt others, but also that it drives away the night sky. Sin Eaters are all locally governed by an extremely powerful eater, one per region called a Light Warden, who has command over that region.
As you’d probably expect based on my prior article and that I’m excitedly updating for this one, Sin Eaters are not average enemies on the world map, similar to previous expansions, so there are no feelings of “wait why are these still here?” – they don’t even populate most FATEs, though I’m sure there’s one or two I’m not remembering. The fear of them is everywhere, and they show up in a number of side quests in small degrees, but the average enemies are fauna, cultists, and abandoned work machina. The world feels real – the fauna is typically either pests or usable as livestock or beasts that help people get around or… It’s possible to see how people survive in the world.
As you defeat Light Wardens, the night sky (and weather!) return to individual areas of the game.
Light Wardens are tricky, though – whoever defeats one tends to become the next one, as their concentrated aether seeks out the closest target. The main character, the Warrior of Light, has the blessing of Hydaelyn and can actually contain the aether. Or.. so you are led to believe.
Once you defeat the final Warden, it becomes too much and the Warrior of Light finally begins to corrupt into a Sin Eater themself. Very, very slowly converting, but the night sky vanishes from the world once more and plunges everyone into eternal light. It hurts, and you ache for the world along with the characters who suddenly had the thing they had been dreaming of for ages ripped away from them. It feels so good to clear the storyline, to bring that catharsis back to everyone (who also figure out that you’re the one doing it along the way) and give the world a well deserved rest.
This is brilliant – it is implemented player by player, showing different people in the same zones different weather systems and times of day. It’s low impact to develop and execute but does the thing it is intended to do well, carrying a lot of emotional weight, without requiring players to be split up into separately instanced areas based on their progression in the story.
The expansion isn’t fully perfect about sin eaters being limited to storyline encounters – High level elite marks are powerful eaters, which does feel like a flavor miss, but they weren’t fully exterminated with the main character’s actions. They tend to summon smaller eaters towards them during their fights, which take large numbers of level capped characters to make them fall. There’s still plenty of Sin Eaters hiding out in “the wastes” to replenish their numbers, but it feels a bit odd.
Overall? The feeling of playing through Shadowbringers is incredible, and there’s an undeniable sense of “I am helping this world” that permeates through the story and side quests with the addition of some other new mechanics such as Shared FATEs. I imagine the translation of this was a bit rough, but the basic idea is that by clearing FATEs in an area, you bring stability, which opens up trade and peace for the people of that area. It’s a neat system, and the rewards take over for Grand Company seals that wouldn’t have made any flavor sense while in the world of the First.
Quest design also continues the habits set up in prior expansions. I’ll give two notable comments, though, in that having a series of quests for roles and a similar series for small groups of crafter/gatherer jobs feels like a lot of fun. I’m not sure that individual job content for 10 levels would have felt nearly as impactful as the ties to the role of each job in a small section of the story, since it tries to tie into the motivation and not the minutiae of a class (which all has different history, if they even exist on the First).
Beast quests seem to be incredibly fun so far, and also fill in more backstory, but I don’t think anything about them has fundamentally changed (yet, she says, tempting another update to this subject). I’m looking forward to further progression through them and the crafting questlines. That’s my goal for the next little bit of my mandated bed rest, so if there’s anything to be said, I’ll be happy to report on it again.