Shadowbringers took the world by storm four months ago by creating arguably the best expansion we’ve seen for an MMO. It told a gripping tale that will no doubt be considered one of the best stories since the golden age of Final Fantasy. While Square Enix has been releasing smaller updates here and there, such as the first set of raids a couple months ago, everyone has been eagerly awaiting to see what’s next. Well, last week we saw 5.1 Vows of Virtue, Deeds of Cruelty hit and it has made some significant changes and addition to the formula, not to mention comes with the first alliance raid from the collaboration with game director Yoko Taro featuring NieR: Automata’s world and characters. We took a deep dive into the areas that have been improved and what has been added, seeing how they stack up to the Shadowbringers, and our impressions are positive, although not without our concerns for the future.
There’s no better place to start than with the new main story quests. There have been ten new quests added, and it starts off strong with a good amount of voiced dialogue. It continues with the plot of The Warrior of Light/Dark’s entourage trying to find a way to get back to The Source and it circles them back to individuals you probably had already forgotten about. More than anything, though, this delves deeper into Chai-Nuzz’s character, making him even more loveable as he tries to become a leader. This isn’t solely based in The First, but instead does go back to The Source as we get a peek at what happened in Garlemald with Zenos, Gaius and Estinien, although it’s a little disappointing this portion isn’t voiced. I suppose it’s somewhat reasonable considering casting Michael McElhatton ensures that he won’t always be available for voiceovers, but it stands out when the lead up is spoken and then the exciting incident is not. Regardless, the story is short and is more setting the ground for what’s to come more than anything else. It does its job, with the conclusion being a huge cliffhanger that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.
Along with the extended story, a new dungeon, The Grand Cosmos, is unlocked early on. This is a gorgeous locale that takes us through a mystical mansion and its garden as magic broomsticks and painting come to life. The biggest appeal of this iLevel 430 dungeon is its visuals as it’s more of Eulmore’s beautiful and luscious aesthetic that makes you wonder where this place was hiding all this time. I adore the mechanics of the bosses, with the first encounter have a surprisingly difficult gimmick to grasp at first. The second boss is less impressive as it’s simply trying to avoid spawning adds, but the final fight more than makes up for it as it requires you to burn down the entire room to avoid excessive damage. The Grand Cosmos also drops iLevel 445 gear and I enjoy its style. Mind you, I fully expected something posh considering the setting looks high class, but the tribal art style is fashionable, too. Overall, it may not be up to the high bar Amaurot set, but it is on the higher grade of dungeons from Shadowbringers.
Now that we’ve gotten the main story portion of the article out of the way, let’s talk about the real attraction to 5.1: The NieR Raid. This has been promised for some time, and while it seemed like a strange fit, that worry was somewhat pushed aside after finishing Shadowbringers. Unfortunately, Square Enix took a slightly different approach than we had thought, as we fully expected it to tie into the more advanced city of Amaurot. Instead, it’s about the rather charming Dwarves (Lalafell) and how they dug themselves into an area populated with robots and ancient technology. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a roof on this place, so you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to spot, whereas somewhere like the Amaurot was already hidden. Regardless, there’s about as much story as we’ve come to expect from an Alliance Raid (which is a surprising amount), and a challenging rush of bosses.
If there’s one aspect I wish these raids had more of, it’s smaller battles; instead we’re treated to one trash mob throughout the lengthy 60-minute long raid that’s not all that remarkable. Fortunately, the bosses are another case as the four (plus one mini-boss situated right in the middle) are the highlight of the entire update. The first fight is your typical one-enemy-with-an-overabundance-of-mechanics encounter, while the second is nothing short of astonishing. It separates all three parties onto their own platforms where they get have their own mechanics, not to mention various others that are rotating as the fight progresses. It’s an exhausting fight that can be difficult to help other parties if in trouble. The mini-boss is a short, but surprisingly challenging, although more of a nod to a fight in Automata than anything — although I suppose that is most of this Alliance Raid regardless. The third is a recognizable enemy that, unlike NieR: Automata, you do not have a ship to fight with. Instead, you’re going full force against this giant, and it’s a strategically entertaining bout that I hope to see more of.
Lastly, there’s the final boss who’s a familiar face to NieR: Automata players. This is actually a significantly easier battle in comparison to the last two, but involves some engaging mechanics, such as dodging hellfire and taking down two explosive tanks. It’s a great way to end the first Alliance Raid, that’s for sure. The story is also comical, which isn’t necessarily expected from a NieR collaboration, and the rewards are more than worth it. They include three coffers with 2B glamour, along with two possible Pod minions. That’s among the fashionable gear that drops after each boss, all of which are situated at iLevel 460. Square Enix promised an epic NieR collaboration and they didn’t disappoint, as The Copied Factory is an absolute treat that needs to be gobbled up. Here’s hoping the next two will live up to expectations now that they’ve set the bar so high.
Admittedly, I’m not someone who actively participates in new Extreme and Savage content. I’ve done it in the past, and even dug deep into Titania, but it can be overwhelming at times, not to mention a little toxic when you get the wrong party. Hades Extreme seems like a good balance of not that difficult but very DPS reliant. This is a long fight, but not in a good way. It generally takes around 12-13 minutes but is padded out by numerous transitions and even a lengthy cutscene when going into the fourth (yes there are four) phase. There’s one portion of the fight that’s also not recoverable if one of the tanks goes down and the final phase is heavily dependent on healers. It also has one intimidating section that throws six or so different debuffs on characters, but manageable if everyone knows what they’re doing. More than anything, though, DPS seem to have it rough as their placement and having to pump out attacks is key to completing this fight as there’s roughly five DPS checks and enrages. In addition, this extreme fight also drops two totems, making the grind for weapons, and the eventual mount which will be added to the store, far more bearable. While I was never a huge fan of standard Hades, its extreme version is improved. Granted, it’s still not my favorite, but it will keep you on your toes with the various mechanics.
The newly-added pixie beast tribe is a welcome addition that kicks off the standard three-set group throughout the course of post-Shadowbringers. It comes with a story about rogue pixies cursing children with nightmares and even unlocks a new area that visually illustrates the stages you will need to unlock befriending these beings — not to mention it’s vibrant and full of color. Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems I had with beast tribes in the past is the gradual decline in mission structure. A Realm Reborn beast tribes had lengthy endeavors, while Heavensward at least had environments that required a little more time to trek, with a couple of tasks to complete. Stormblood unfortunately saw missions that could be completed in one quick go around, and this continues forward with the pixies. They become mindless and far too easy that they are not at all rewarding. You’re making progress for progress-sake with no consequence. Granted, we are still on the early parts of the questline, but what we’ve seen so far, each day can take less than five minutes to complete as we’re ordered to investigate a spot and kill one enemy, or collect a couple of items. I still would love to see fail-states where we’re rewarded half reputation, or even negative reputation based on what you do, and it seemed perfectly for the mischievous pixies, but it seems like Square Enix is going in a far different direction. When you have a reputation to uphold, you should have the option to uphold it, not just it going up no matter what. That’s not to mention you can quickly max out the Beast Tribe.
By far the biggest change to anything in 5.1 is the crafting. This component hasn’t been completely reworked as it still somewhat resembles what it was of old, but instead it’s far more consolidated and less messy. Prior, every crafting class had a handful of unique actions that could be shared between jobs, but you had to know exactly who had what. It was a big headache that I personally learned back during the release of Heavensward and haven’t thought about it since after up each class was set up. To anyone coming in, it must have been confusing. Now every job has essentially all the same actions as the other, and there are far fewer redundancies that simply do the exact same thing but at a higher or lower chance of success. It feels like 50%, if not more, of the actions have been removed, including key ones such as Steady Hand and most of the Specialist skills. This is for the better as it’s far easier and more approachable to get into crafting, while the end game itself still remains challenging to create high-quality items. We also received a crafting recipe tree and raw material list that better illustrate what items are required, along with how many are needed. I do wish there was a better way to find which gathering spots these materials come from as you need to bring up yet another menu for that, but one step at a time.
Not a whole lot has been changed from gathering, although it feels a lot easier. For starters, whenever you switch to a gatherer set, you will instantly activate the sneak skill, which no longer turns you invisible like a Ninja and forces you to walk, but instead puts a rotating halo effect around you. By far the biggest and best addition, though, is the ability to auto-gather. Before this update, you had to continuously select an item from the list, but now all you have to do is check the box and away you go, making gathering far less tedious. With that said, I do wish there was the option to cancel auto-gathering, as it’s easy to forget you have it on, and when you want to use an action such as Brunt Force, you’ll be out of luck.
PvP: Maybe it’s because 5.1 just hit and there are more people playing, but the removal of the 24-player Frontlines doesn’t seem to have affected the queue times as we were able to quickly get into 72-player matches. With that said, I’m torn on the new icon notifications on your map. On one hand, it’s easier to understand so newer players know something’s going down, but something like Shatter it takes the fun out of the randomness of anticipating what’s going to pop.
New Game+: It’s simply replaying main missions from the expansions so there’s not a whole lot to comment on this outside of the UI looking nice. It is separated into parts, though, meaning you can’t just start at any point in the story.
New Gear: I found half of the new PVP gear (which was selected from a contest) looks a little plain on female characters, with fending, casting and healer sets looking fantastic all around. The arms are nice, but the core body piece feels lacking. The face pieces are at least cool, even though I feel like they need to be closer to your character’s face. It really gives off a Metal Gear Rising vibe overall. As for Grand Cosmos gear, it’s tribal with what looks like wolf pelts being used as the core design. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, even though I wish the head pieces would have an alternate visor mode that would go down over their face. Finally, the new pieces of Hades gear are OK. It has the look of Hades’ giant lollipop purple staff, but with their own little twist. Of everything, Machinist and Summoner’s weapon are the only ones that stood out to me, although they do lightly glow purple, so it’s still appealing.
Eureka: I’m a big fan of Eureka, so much so that I spend more time in the instances than I do outside. There have been a couple of changes to Eureka and I’m a bit mixed on it. Don’t get me wrong, one of the biggest issues with Eureka post-Shadowbringers was spawning Notorious Monsters, as there are only a handful of people willing to dedicate upwards of two hours for just one, but at the same time it’s almost laughable how easy it has become. The added Echo grants 150% extra stats, such as attack and HP, making most encounters feel like nothing. It turned Eureka into a far easier, but at the same approachable area. It does allow more players to come in and get to the end game, so that’s important, but those already at the end game might feel a little letdown. Thankfully, Baldesion Arsenal hasn’t been touched, and hopefully it won’t be.
Vows of Virtue, Deed of Cruelty introduces huge improvements to crafting and adds the much talked about NieR: Automata Alliance Raid to great success, and that’s on top of extending the exciting story of Shadowbringers by having an exciting outlook on what’s occurring in the Garlean Empire. We also received the visually-impressive new dungeon and the mechanically-heavy extreme trial. With that said, there are a couple things that worry me, such as the dumbing down of the Beast Tribes to be lackluster dailies that feel like chores rather than intelligently-designed missions, and while I didn’t go into full detail about it, the new custom deliveries are also too easy to level up. It more amounts to the daily and weekly content being far less impressive as they’ll give players no resistance and feel like they’re there just to be there. Regardless, even with these disappointing aspects, patch 5.1 has done a lot of good for Final Fantasy XIV as a whole, and with the Ishgard Restoration project and Blue Mage enhancements coming up shortly, there should be enough here for players to keep playing until the next major update.