Running through a brand-new dungeon in an online game with random strangers is nerve-wracking. I worry I will screw up and get us all killed. I fret about doing enough damage. I get grouped with jerks who know the run by heart and expect everyone else to as well. Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion Iets me run through new dungeons with non-player characters from the game’s story instead of other players, and I couldn’t be happier.
Shadowbringers is structured most Final Fantasy XIV content. The massively multiplayer game is filled with hours of questing that you can play solo leads to a group dungeon or trial, which must be completed with other players.
Once the dungeon or trial is overcome, it’s back to solo stuff. It’s a solid formula that keeps the focus on the player character as the game’s hero, joined by other players as companions in times of dire need. If one has friends in the game, these brief activities can be a lot of fun. But far more often I find myself using the duty finder, which groups random players together.
The Trust System, introduced in last week’s expansion, gives players tackling Shadowbringers’ dungeons a new option. Rather than grouping with others, players can tackle new dungeons with a group of computer-controlled story characters.
These characters, mostly heroes who’ve fought alongside the player in cutscenes since the game launched in 2013, finally take active roles as party members. As each new dungeon opens these heroes loiter outside, waiting for the player to approach them and form a party.
Young elf Alphinaud heals the party while his twin sister Alisaie helps my Dancer character do damage. Series bad-arse Thancred, recently switched to the expansion’s new Gunbreaker class, keeps monsters’ attention focused on himself as the party’s tank. Different characters become available as party members as the story progresses, each with their own role to play.
I’ve played through three of the expansion’s dungeons with my computer-controlled companions, and I’ve had a blast. Each character plays their roles perfectly. Monsters rarely take their attention away from the tank. Healers keep me alive, quickly resurrecting fallen comrades. Trash mobs—lesser-powered enemies the group encounters between boss battles—go down easy.
In boss battles the Trust System almost feels like cheating, as the computer-controlled characters know how to avoid special attacks better than real players would.
There are downsides to running dungeons with non-player characters. They don’t take the risks regular players do, taking each encounter as it comes rather than gathering multiple groups of creatures together and nuking them all at once.
That makes runs slower, which isn’t great for players concerned about keeping up their experience points per hour. If the player dies during a Trust System dungeon it’s considered a wipe, sending the whole group back to the entrance and resetting the fatal encounter.
The positives, however, greatly outweigh the negatives.
Story characters will make comments during dungeon runs, adding an extra layer to the game’s narrative.
I can stop and go to the bathroom any time I want.
I don’t have to shout “I’M IN A DUNGEON” when my children call for me from the other room.
I never have to wait in a queue. For the healers and tanks in the audience, the queue is a place damage dealers wait while a party forms.
Not a single story character has called me “slow and stupid” or started a vote to kick me from the group for making a mistake.
Trust dungeons are an excellent way to practice dungeons before playing with real people, skipping the awkward “first time here” phase.
This is the most comfortable and relaxed I’ve been playing through a massively multiplayer online game’s new content. I’m sitting at the entrance to the expansion’s fourth dungeon as I type this, and I feel no trepidation or dread. I’m excited to work my way through another group adventure with my best in-game friends.
I’ll still play with other people. My Free Company (guild) is full of very nice players who I love doing runs with when the chance arises. Weirdly, the developers at Square made the odd decision to make all of the Trust System characters de-level to 71 once the player hits the level 80 cap, forcing players to run through older dungeons with them repeatedly in order to power them back up.
There’s a chance I’ll hit 80 and decide the effort is just not worth it. But for now my computer-controlled friends and I are getting it done, one duty at a time.