Shadowbringers Approaches – How an Expansion Launches in Final Fantasy XIV

The hype cycle of Final Fantasy XIV compared to World of Warcraft is so weirdly different, I’m not sure where to start.

Right now, as I write this introduction, we are 45 days away from the third expansion to FFXIV, Shadowbringers, and for as much information as we do have, there is much more we don’t know. We know zone names and a general sense of what the zones look like, we know the names and roles of the new jobs, we know the new races (contentiousness and all), and we know that some job tweaks are coming. However, we haven’t seen anything of the zones other than the media presentations, job changes have not yet been provided and likely won’t be fully detailed until the next producer letter live, and we only know of the general name and theme of the 8 and 24 player raids and one of the primals we’ll be fighting through the story.

As someone who plays WoW primarily, this is a bit of a baffling state of affairs, although not new for FFXIV. The game (as I have written before) plays its cards close to the chest, and it is often a waiting game for the x.0 major patch notes to see the full, actual details of the job changes and the myriad other tuning changes that are made. In the same time-frame for WoW, the x.0 patch would already be out, we’d have already seen all the content via the beta/PTR, an expansion launch event would be underway, and we’d already be discussing how well some of the changes were done while speculating about what comes next.

The thing that is funny is that while this makes me nervous somewhat as a WoW player, the game often does a better job at shipping in a balanced-enough state, and has a bit of a delay before the first raid content opens which allows for the team to make necessary gameplay adjustments prior to the raid. Stormblood had few issues with balance, and this was even after drastic re-tuning of many classes with the addition of the job gauges!

The other side of this is that excitement for the expansion is a fair amount higher than it would be for a WoW expansion at this point in time. WoW expansions are exciting events, but we often now what is forthcoming and so there isn’t any sense of surprise or wonder. FFXIV captures this strongly by keeping everything under wraps, making it so that those early moments of gameplay are new, unexpected, and surprising. While this can sometimes be bad (the Raubahn Extreme meme from Stormblood launch comes to mind), it often is good, as the story beats are fresh and unknown.

However, there is a desire for more. While I think that Final Fantasy XIV does manage its launches better overall, I think the community for that game would want something of a middle ground between the “nothing is seen by the public in-game until the expansion is out” philosophy and the WoW “no stone left unturned, play it all” mentality. Keep the story under wraps, sure – but maybe let us try the job changes?

I do think that not knowing how the game will play adds to the excitement a little bit, but for a good example of how that can backfire, look at BfA – Azerite systems were kept pretty close to the vest by Blizzard with the testing on beta being somewhat minimal, and while that version was not well received, we were told it would be better on live, which it, well…was not. FFXIV runs a similar risk with Shadowbringers, as it seems at least somewhat likely that we will see some degree of ability pruning or streamlining with the expansion. Resource systems are changing with the removal of TP (used primarily for physical abilities), which, for some classes, results in no change, and for others, will result in massive changes. Job balance will be strained to a greater degree than Stormblood, as a new tank job in Gunbreaker will be introduced alongside the ranged-DPS Dancer.

Overall, though? I am actually really excited for what happens over the next 45 days between now and Shadowbringers Early Access launch. There’s a media tour this week, a live letter next week which is expected to show the job actions (we’ll get to see animations and some details of the new stuff!) and should also introduce the tuning and streamlining changes being made, and then it is a steady build of hype until 6/28 when the 5.0 patch hits and people start making their way through the content at launch. And for as much as I have slowly been reacquainting myself with WoW…that is going to halt once Shadowbringers comes out!

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