Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers preview – stunning visuals and fun combat

Even a total novice can enjoy playing the Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers expansion...

It’s a little bit daunting, turning up to a preview event for a huge new expansion to a game when you’ve never played the original title. That’s exactly what happened when Den Of Geek popped along to the Barbican in May to spend a few hours with Shadowbringers, the major new addition to Final Fantasy XIV.

This massively-multiplayer online offering in the Final Fantasy universe was initially released in 2013, so it’s not like we haven’t had time to play it. There were no suitable excuses to be made, then, besides a general confession that MMORPG games aren’t this writer’s usual bag. But why not give it a go, we thought, and have a try at Shadowbringers to see if its a good place for novices to jump in? Would someone who’d never played Final Fantasy XIV, but was intrigued after seeing Tom Holland in the Shadowbringers trailer, find something to enjoy in the expansion?

Truth be told, as the event kicked off, we felt like a kid in class who didn’t bother to show up until the last day of term. An extensive introductory presentation was given, including lengthy video footage of new characters and attacks, and all of it went straight over our head. Panic began to set in, along with a general fear that we wouldn’t be able to write a meaningful article afterwards. But, thankfully, we needn’t have worried. Once the presentations were over, we sat down and started playing, and all our worries slipped away…

As for story and setting, the Shadowbringers expansion takes place a sizeable new area called the First Star, which essentially serves as an alternate dimension to the main realm of Final Fantasy XIV. Because of this change in location, it doesn’t feel like you’re jumping into a world where everyone else has already spent years of their lives exploring the landscape and learning the tricks. Your goal in the game is to explore the First Star and serve as a Warrior Of Darkness; the world is drowning in light, and it’s your job to restore darkness.

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The first thing that stands out about Shadowbringers is just how bright and colourful its world is. After spawning in a glistening castle, you can run out into a luscious wilderness that is covered in stunning pink flora and populated by eye-catching fauna. Don’t get too close to the creatures, though, unless you’re spoiling for a fight – they might look fetching, even cute in some cases, but they’re definitely built for combat.

Speaking of fighting, there are heaps of options at your disposal, but the controls are winningly simple to pick up. We played with a PS4 controller, and in the controller-friendly control scheme, there’s a handy guide that comes up on the screen whenever you’re battling: it’s an outline of a controller with an image on every button that represents its attack. This guide reminds you of which buttons manage which moves and how much charge they all have left. Even if you’ve literally never played a game like this, it’s always clear which buttons will allow you to dish out damage and tackle your beastly opponents. You might find that you don’t win every single fight you enter, especially while you try and figure out which of your attacks are most powerful, but that just means there’s a nice element of challenge mixed in with the fun.

That challenge increases when you delve into a dungeon, and we had the privilege of playing through a really fun one with a visual style that draws to mind the wackiness of Alice In Wonderland. This is where we really started to get to grips with the controls, with multiple areas stuffed with enemies providing the perfect testing ground. The range of attacks is stunning to behold, and there’s a nice sense of achievement that comes with chaining attacks together and clearing the area of enemies. And if you’re not a fan of teaming with online randomers to take on dungeons, fear not: Shadowbringers has a ‘trust system’ that will spawn friendly NPCs to aid your cause if you’d rather tackle the dungeons as a solo player. If you’re a novice too, we’d recommend trying this system out, especially when you’re just getting started.

After beating the boss of the dungeon in a fun, shape-shifting battle, it was time to head back out to the main open world. We learned that you can summon a flying creature at any point if you fancy getting a bird’s eye view of proceedings. Doing this allows you to see even more corners of this beautifully rendered world, which we understand is something of an upgrade compared to the initial graphical offering of Final Fantasy XIV. As well as this new world, there are also new jobs and new races, so seasoned players will have plentiful fresh content to try out as well.

Whether you’re an old hand at Final Fantasy XIV or a total newbie, Shadowbringers promises a wide and wonderful world and some nice challenging battles. Even if you just fancy having a wander around, you’ll have an enjoyable time – the screen is constantly filled with gorgeous visuals, and there’s a sense that any screenshot taken from Shadowbringers would make a lovely desktop background. And we mean that as a compliment.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is out now for PS4, PC and Mac.