Shadowbringers has the best opening of any Final Fantasy XIV expansion. In fact, it's up there with the best expansions in MMORPG history, drumming up a level of excitement and execution that feels very much like Wrath of the Lich King did when it released a decade ago. There's a certain gravity to the story, now, that hearkens back to the kind of sweeping, world-changing battles that have long been a staple of the fantasy genre but are often difficult to execute in things as delicate as MMORPGs.
For those unfamiliar with the context surrounding the new expansion, Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers is the game's third expansion, and follows storyline threads that have been laid down since A Realm Reborn, the reboot of the franchise that salvaged a rocky launch. The expansion adds two new jobs in the iconic Gunbreaker and Dancer professions, and also includes a race in the Viera that have become extremely popular, especially after the Final Fantasy XII remaster performed so well on the Nintendo Switch. Sweeping changes have been made to the way every class plays, with many of them receiving overhauls in their raid rotations and in fundamental skill sets, which has given Shadowbringers the feel of a brand new world in many different ways.
While those changes need to be experienced over the course of the expansion's ten additional player levels, though, the initial feel of Shadowbringers is something that's more tangible from the start. There are a few contributing factors to the way Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers establishes itself as having one of the best openings in MMORPG history, and here's a quick run-down of why that is.
The Stakes in Shadowbringers Are High From The Start
It takes pretty much no time to establish that the world in Shadowbringers is one that is being torn apart. Players meet a callback to the friendly traveler who begins their journey in the base game before he is quickly devoured by a monster, leaving only his ring behind.
That's just setting the tone, too - Shadowbringers is dark. Really dark. It begins with a gruesome fate for the first friendly face the Hero of Darkness sees and rapidly approaches tragedies on a grander scale, establishing that it's not just the player's own lives they're trying to protect, but the entire populations of two different worlds. Some expansions can be plodding in their start, gradually easing players into new realms before ramping up what's in play by the end of the leveling campaign. In Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers, every mission feels dreadfully important, helping to massage away the usual fetch quest fatigue.
Shadowbringers Rewards Long-Time Players Constantly
Another thing about MMORPG expansions that can be a little off-putting is that they're usually designed with an influx of new players in mind. While long-time fans will certainly be present, new expansions are flashy, fun, and often come coupled with deals on previous expansions as well, meaning players who've been gone for years - or those who have never played at all - are more likely to give it another shot. That can result in some questing and storyline recaps that are slow and unnecessary for those who've stuck with the game.
Shadowbringers does a wonderful job of bleeding those recaps into a new story, often coupling them with callbacks to specific moments that are well-known in the Final Fantasy XIV community. That, alongside the fact that the first few campaigns in the expansion center around expanding the player's relationship with the main characters of the story and reuniting them, makes it an appealing jaunt down memory lane that will also serve to push the narrative forward. It's a deft hand at storytelling that makes Shadowbringers so compelling in its opening hours.
Shadowbringers' Early Quests Are Varied Enough They're Not Boring
Before fans get too excited - yes, there are still plenty of fetch quests. The thing is, Shadowbringers tends to sprinkle those ones into side quests that aren't super important, and also puts them in areas where another side quest that's more interesting will also take place. It's been rare that the only thing in our quest log early on is retrieving x amount of bird wings without also needing to track down a missing person, do something silly, and also uncover another mystery about a world over-run by the Light.
Final Fantasy XIV has taken some criticism for its quests and the way they can often feel bizarrely out of character for someone who calls themselves the Warrior of Light - or Warrior of Darkness, as is the case in this expansion. Those are still present, too, sending the player character all over to salute at people, doubt their motives, or concoct strange potions for eccentric scientists. The tonal shift is more important here than it's felt in the past, though, because the main story is so brooding and contemplative about what it means to be "good" that the breaks are welcome. After watching how some early favorites in the new expansion meet unfortunate fates, players will be all too glad that they've got to kill three mushroom guys and then help an aspiring artist learn how to paint better.
Overall, Shadowbringers early moments are some of the franchise's best. That's to say nothing of the environment itself, which is breath-taking and changes as the player progresses through the story, and the music, which is seriously incredible. Topping Stormblood won't be easy - and we've yet to see how the story plays out, as Stormblood got better and better as time went on - but it's possible for Shadowbringers, which has already established its first ten or fifteen hours as some of the best available in the MMORPG genre.