"There's a little something for everyone in patch 5.1."
The first story patch after a new FFXIV expansion is usually a quieter affair than the events that preceded it. Things can't stay at eleven forever, of course; after climactic events in the expansion proper, the story needs a little time to recover before ramping up to another epic showdown later in the patch cycle. On the surface, this is true for patch 5.1 as it has been true for previous .1 patches, but there are events happening behind the scenes in this particular patch that appear to be setting the stage for quite the grand conflict in the months to come.
The crux of 5.1's story is about finding a way to get the souls of the Scions stranded on the First back to their bodies on the Source. Our heroes enlist the aid of a reluctant yet knowledgeable source on the matter, but finding a solution will still take time, which gives them the opportunity to check in on some parts of Norvrandt that were left in a rather precarious position at the end of 5.0. Meanwhile, on the Source, there have been some very interesting developments in Garlemald, and it's really anyone's guess how things will turn out at this point. There are some heartwarming moments, the capitalization of some character development from the initial mega-patch, and some healthy intrigue, but at the end of the day, this is all essentially setup for a secondary climax that will likely hit in patch 5.3 if past precedent is any indication. Having said that, I can't wait to see how things develop from here, particularly with respect to a few mysterious figures that appear at the end of 5.1's story quests.
I should mention that 5.1 adds a new story dungeon, The Grand Cosmos, which can be run with trusts if you so choose. It's a cute romp through an enchanted palace where you fight portraits come to life and magicked shrubbery. The boss fights are all relatively simple affairs, with one or two interesting mechanics, and the dungeon as a whole doesn't really overstay its welcome. Overall, it's a decent addition, but it is a little tame and ultimately forgettable.
In addition to the main story, there are a host of other new diversions. The most hotly anticipated of these is definitely the beginning of the NieR 24-man raid series, penned by Yoko Taro himself and Automata producer Yosuke Saito. The introduction to this raid series is actually quite brief: you uncover a hidden machine factory alongside two mischievous tinkerers and the mysterious android 2P and have to fight through waves of hostile robots to find the one controlling them. There's a little bit of exploration and lore gathering to be had, but by the end, it feels like you've barely scratched the surface of whatever is going on with these machines. I imagine, however, that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that the next leg of the story will be a deeper dive, though I freely admit that I'm likely missing some hints and references since I haven't played NieR: Automata myself.
The raid itself is a lot of fun, with some bosses and mechanics fans will definitely recognize from Automata making prominent appearances. NieR's beautiful music is front and center, of course, and there's a wonderful mix of "Weight of the World" that includes the classic progression from Final Fantasy's own "Prelude" as well. I've actually been replaying it a lot over the past few weeks, not necessarily just for loot drops but because I genuinely enjoy running it, despite the usual 24-man shenanigans.
Those looking for a battle challenge of the 8-man variety can check out the "new" trial, Hades Extreme. As is tradition, this is a harder version of the final trial from patch 5.0. In the past, these upgraded final bosses have generally been the hardest extreme trials from their respective patch cycles, but Hades EX feels appreciably easier. Of course, it still has plenty of mechanics, and your mileage may vary with regard to how well you and the parties you join can execute them, but this fight is absolutely not the Shinryu EX of Shadowbringers, even if that's how Yoshida and his team have described it. The fight is long, however, and Square Enix has been kind enough to grant players two totems for each clear, which should make purchasing the item level 465 weapons (and later in the patch cycle, the mount) a bit easier. And if you're looking for a real challenge, patch 5.11 introduced the latest ultimate fight: The Epic of Alexander. Personally, I'm just fine with savage raids and extreme primals, but it can be fun to watch people learn the ultimate fights and push for world-first clears.
Outside of instanced content, patch 5.1 introduces Shadowbringers' first beast tribe: pixies. Like most other beast tribe content, the pixie quests are for battle classes and send you around performing random tasks until you rank up the little winged tricksters' respect for you. The storyline this time around involves restoring Lyhe Mheg, a land populated by the dreams of mortals which the pixies use as a kind of playground. As you rank up with the pixies and unlock more of the gates used to seed the land with dreams, the playground expands and becomes ever more fantastical. And the best part is you can run around this bright, magical, sweet-filled amusement park to your heart's content. I do wish you could interact with more of the equipment, but Lyhe Mheg is easily one of the most engaging home bases for a beast tribe in the game.
Lest you think that everything in patch 5.1 is for battle classes, there are also a host of changes and improvements for crafters and gatherers. The former in particular have received a substantial rework that removes a fair amount of skill bloat and buffs or modifies remaining skills to compensate. Cross-class skills have been worked into every crafter's main kit, and experience gains from things like Grand Company turn ins and levequests have been greatly buffed. In short, crafting is simpler, less confusing, and you can level faster via fewer crafts, all of which should be good news for new crafters. Outside of changes to the classes themselves, patch 5.1 provides some much appreciated quality of life additions. My favorite is definitely the new recipe tree and raw materials log, which show you all the sub crafts and materials required for a particular item. Adjustments have also been made to quick synthesis which makes it faster and more reliable for mass crafting.
Gatherers have seen some improvements too, though not quite on the same level as crafters. The biggest changes are the addition of a quick gathering mode for when you're after just one kind of material, going into sneak mode automatically upon changing to a gathering class, and the removal of the unknown and out-of-reach statuses. All of these changes make gathering considerably less tedious, and the boost to experience point gains will make leveling easier as well.
As someone who is in the process of leveling her crafters and gatherers, all of these changes are incredibly welcome. Reworking skills and adding in quality-of-life tools makes the whole process less frustrating, and boosting experience gains makes the prospect of leveling 11 classes a little less intimidating. Those who have ignored or put off crafting and gathering may just have a little more incentive to check it out now, especially with the simple but experience-rich first leg of the Ishgardian Restoration being added in patch 5.11.
There's one more major thing to talk about in patch 5.1, and that's the long-awaited New Game+ mode. Fans have been asking for a way to replay old story content for years now, and Square Enix has finally delivered. New Game+ is accessed through the main menu once you've logged into the game. At present, only main story quests from the expansions are accessible, though A Realm Reborn will presumably be added once Square Enix unveils the rework of that content in patch 5.3, and side quests are also coming in a future update. For each expansion, content has been split up into multiple parts. You can choose any part to start with when switching to New Game+ mode, but that's as granular as you can get when it comes to quest selection. If there is a particular quest or story beat you want to replay and it's in the middle or at the end of one of these New Game+ chunks, you have to play through all the content before it. Once you have selected where to begin, a single save file stores your progress automatically and you can proceed through quests (which do not grant any rewards) at your leisure. There are some things you won't be able to do while in New Game+ mode, such as accessing the market board or retainers, so when you need to return to the present, you can simply suspend your save and resume things at another time.
I usually cite FFXIV's story as a primary reason for why I love the game so much. Having the option to go back and relive some of it without the hassle or time commitment of leveling an alt is huge
. I do wish that you had more than one save file, though, and it would be nice if the descriptions for the different starting points were a bit more specific about what quests they contain. But I find it hard to take much issue with the system when it's something I've wanted dearly since as far back as Heavensward's release in 2015. I look forward to using this system to check out the ARR adjustments next year, and of course, to relive the utter insanity of the Hildibrand quests when they are eventually added down the road.
As with every major patch, there are a wealth of fixes and little adjustments in 5.1. For example, all battle classes have been tweaked, especially Ninja and Summoner. New housing wards are available, as well as new furnishings, items, and equipment. And for those looking for something a little more social, 5.1 adds fellowships, a kind of odd combination of linkshells and message boards. Like the former, a fellowship can be formed around any kind of activity or interest that its members share. Want to share your love of minions with like-minded collectors? Build a fellowship and minion lovers will come! However, unlike linkshells and free companies, there's no text chat in a fellowship. Instead, members communicate via notices, message board comments, and polls. It's an interesting addition to the in-game social tools, but I'll be brutally honest, it's one I don't see myself using very much.
There's a little something for everyone in patch 5.1. A little bit of tantalizing main story intrigue? Check. New 24-man raid and extreme trial? Double check. Building a sweet-filled playland fueled by the dreams of mortals? I didn't know I needed that until now, so check. The crafting and gathering changes are by and large pretty great, New Game+ is finally here, and there are plenty of fixes and quality of life additions, even if some of them strike me as a little odd. All in all, this is a pretty good start to the post-Shadowbringers patch series, and of course, there's plenty more to come.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.