Even After a Few Hours, Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Had Us Hooked

It’s amazing how much of a runaway success Final Fantasy XIV has become. The game that nearly brought Square Enix to their knees is thriving like no one would have suspected, with currently more than sixteen million registered users around the globe. This is largely due to Naoki Yoshida and his team’s dedication to continuous support, not only releasing updates and events what seems like on a monthly basis, but somehow fitting in major expansions every two years. The first was Heavensward, which to this day is my personal favorite expansion of any game, elevating Final Fantasy XIV into much more than a simple MMO. Two years ago was Stormblood, which while still very good, wasn’t as impressive as its predecessor due to the drastic shift in tone and inability to take risks, such as truly killing off characters. Regardless, it still was able to produce some of the best post-game content you can find in the entire campaign, even hearkening back to games such as the original Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy XII.

The third major expansion for Final Fantasy XIV is Shadowbringers, which hopes to introduce a shift from the warfront of the Garlean Empire to a direr situation. We are transported to The First’s world (one of the thirteen parallel worlds) where Light is engulfing everything. It’s a compelling plot that takes us away from the waring nations in Hydaelyn and more into a fantastical setting. With its release in just around a month’s time, we were able to get some hands-on time with a build of the expansion to check out not only some of the new areas, but the various changes. This includes the balancing act Square Enix has been working on with the existing jobs, the introduction of a new tank and DPS and a brand new level 73 dungeon.

It needs to be states these impressions are based on an in-development build of Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers and the content in the final version is subject to change.

The first thing to talk about is the new jobs: Gunbreaker and Dancer. We got some extensive time with these two jobs are have come away with some initial mixed opinions. I’m not exactly someone who gravitates towards tanking in any situation (I will if I have to), but I enjoyed my time with Gunbreaker. It’s stylish, referential to Final Fantasy VIII (with skills such as Rough Divide) and feels very much like a DPS job thanks to the high number of combos available, which are aided by the Powder Gauge. But that might be the problem. If there’s one thing I couldn’t get over with Gunbreaker is how vanilla it is compared to the other tank jobs. While most of the tanks have had a number of abilities removed, they still have a number of skills that give them a unique aspect. Paladin has stuns, far more party favors and a slight emphasis on MP. Warrior is all about soaking damage while nullifying special effects and even has the ability to support the player with barriers. Dark Knight is now more of a DPS, as well, although at least he has the ability to clone himself into a dark shadow. All Gunbreaker really has is the standard damage mitigation skills, along with potentially stronger attacks. On one hand, it’s a good bridge for players who are too intimidated in leading a group of players, but on the other hand it’s a simple combo tank. Now mind you, I still had a lot of fun playing as the job, but as a tank, it seems the least useful to a party.

Fortunately, if you’re looking for something unique, you may have found it with Dancer. The long-suspected job is just as you may suspect it functions: you dance to a rhythm and you will not only damage enemies, but buff your party in the process. There are a couple “Steps” you can perform, each of which have different effects on the surrounding. Since Bard has been slightly nerfed with the songs no longer giving any crit buffs, the Dancer will most likely become a necessity in some party compositions. I do kind of wish this was a little more like Ninja, though, being able to either mess up your dance steps or perform different actions based on your routine. Instead, each dance has a set pattern you are instructed to perform, and once you start, you pretty much have to go through with it as it transforms a number of your attacks into key steps. At least the steps do seem to be randomized, so you shouldn’t get the same pattern over and over again. As much as the job has various combos that do damage, it will primarily be sought after as a support class, with buffs that reduce damage taken, increase damage given, increase crit rate and direct hit rate and even has HP recovery skills. Really the only thing it’s missing is resurrecting the dead, but we already have enough jobs sporting that skillset. Regardless, Dancer seems like an entertaining class to play and most likely will be in every party for a few months after Shadowbringers releases.

As for the other classes, there have been a handful of changes, but two jobs really standout: Machinist and Dark Knight.

Major Changes

Machinist: If there’s one job that seems to get a bad rap, it’s this gunslinger. I personally greatly enjoyed how the job felt from the get go, even being my preferred DPS class to play as, but I understand why some might dislike it. Square Enix has stated that Machinist has been reworked to essentially be a whole new job, and the results are pretty accurate. You’ll still be shooting enemies from a far and throwing out a little mechanical buddy, but there have been a lot of changes. For starters, Heartbreak, Reload, Quick Reload, Blank, Rapid Fire, Bishop Autoturret and Gauss Barrel are all gone. That’s right, the least attractive attachment is gone! I am a little disappointed with Rapid fire being removed as it greatly improved the enjoyment of the job, and Bishop Autoturret did have its uses in dungeons, but some of the adjustments make up for it. There are three heat gauge attacks, Tactician is now a Machinist skill that reduces damage to a party by 10%, the flashy Gurren Lagann Drill attack hits hard and finally Automaton Queen replaces Rook Autoturret at level 80. Easily the biggest change is the summons, as they now have a dedicated Battery Gauge which restricts their access on the field to up to 15 seconds (20 seconds for Automaton Queen). This is a little disappointing as the Autoturret was a big part of Machinist’s appeal, but at least Automaton Queen is a heavy hitter and the gauge does increase at a fairly steady rate (unlike the previous heat gauge). Additionally, as someone who uses a controller, I’m happy to report that a lot of the skills have been consolidated, so I was able to fit all the essential abilities on a single hotbar. In the end, I enjoyed Machinist before, but the changes are intriguing; I want to give it more time, but just from the short time I had with it I could tell it was far more accessible.

Dark Knight: The most ragged on Tank has received a fairly sizable round of changes. Starting things off, Spinning Slash, Blood Price, Dark Passenger, Dark Arts and Sole Survivor have all been removed. That’s an incredible number of unique abilities that somewhat made Dark Knight unique. I suppose this is Square Enix’s efforts in making all Tanks be accessible in any situation, but at the same time it does feel like they have far fewer defining traits now. Each of the Tanks also receive an AOE combo, and Dark Knight also comes with a brand new single target attack, both of which utilize the newly-revamped Darkside system. Outside of that, the defensive stance Grit (like the other tanks) has moved from level 30 to level 10, Soul Eater no longer converts damage into HP, Blood Weapon is completely different and just restores MP upon successful skill hits, Delrium requires the use of Bloodspiller or Quietus to restore MP, and The Blackest Night no longer restores MP. That is a lot of changes to say the least. Unfortunately, just as I stated, these changes also make Dark Knight less interesting, but at least the high level skills give the job some flair. While he gets an AOE, line of sight and single target attack, along with a magic damage resistance buff to the party, Living Shadow allows you to summon a second version of yourself to do extra damage. It’s something Dark Knight needed; I just wish it didn’t have to come at the expense of the other skills and effects.

Mild Changes

Paladin: Keeping on with the Tank movement, Paladin is the job I normally lean towards when leading a party through a dungeon or raid, and with Shadowbringers, there have been a decent number of changes – but far from the level of Dark Knight. Savage Blade, Flash, Shield Swipe, Shield Oath, Tempered Will and Bulwark have been axed. Really, the only skills I’m sad to see go is Bulwark as the 60% block rate very much came in handy. Outside of that, there have been a couple of shifts in abilities and when they unlock, along with a number of adjustments to effects. Total Eclipse now stars at level 6 instead of 46, Iron Will (the new Shield Oath) is at level 10, Spirits Within is down to level 30 instead of 45 and will restore MP, Sheltron goes down to level 35 but MP is no longer restored, and Cover now takes the full brunt of the damage instead of 80% of it, and requires 50 Oath. The new high level skills include a standard AOE, a single target attack that restores MP, a rush/leap attack (finally!) and a huge hitting AOEblast while under Requiescat. It still feels like Paladin, just with one less important skill to pop.

Warrior: Completing the cycle, we have Warrior. Butcher’s Block, Unchained and Deliverance have all been removed. The latter two pretty much became useless now that there really aren’t any attack penalties to Defiance anymore, and the one attack won’t be missed. So really Warrior stays pretty much the same with only a couple of changes to existing abilities. For example, Thrill of Battle adds increased healing effects by 20%, Inner Beast and Steel Cyclone no longer have additional effects, Raw Intuition changed from blocking frontal damage while getting crited in the back to simply increasing damage resistance and Upheaval is just pure attack damage now. As for the next high level skills, there’s a buff that heals yourself and another, and while under this effect, it will modify Fell Cleave and Decimate to stronger attacks. Warrior probably got the best modifications of the tanks.

Astrologian: There hasn’t been TOO many alterations with Astrologian, but it just made the cut of Medium Changes because of the skills it lost. Namely Time Dilation, Royal Road, Empty Road and Spread have all been thrown in the trash. It has become a slightly easier healing job to play as, even though it still is probably the more challenging of the three. Outside of that, Divination has been added to great joy as it buffs a party’s damage output, and redraw has three stacks, which can come in handy looking for the right card. As for the high level skills, Combust and Malefic both get upgraded versions, there’s new healing abilities and finally a new sect has been added that grants 20% healing potency. This won’t change most of the current players’ rotations that much, but it should be more approachable for those newer to the job.

Scholar: Pets in general have become a stronger emphasis, especially with the new high level skills of 76 and 80. But as for what has made its exit, those would be Shadowflare, Rouse, Bane, Miasma, Energy Drain, and because pets no longer take damage, Sustain. Of everything, I didn’t expect to see Shadowflare gone as it’s not like no one is using it. Same goes with Miasma to a certain degree. Regardless, Art of War, a simple AOE attack has been added, and just like the other two healers, upgraded version of Bio and Broil are available into the Shadowbringers content. Outside of that, there’s an ability that allows the use specific healing abilities, such as Adloquium and Succor without consuming the necessary resources (and guarantees a critical hit), and the brand new summon of Seraph. Of the three healers, Scholar has had the most changes, especially with Shadowflare.

Summoner: Speaking of Shadowflare, Summoner has lost it too, along with Rouse and Sustain. Aetherflow and Tri-bind are also thrown to the wayside, but with it comes two AOE attacks, Energy Siphon and Outburst at level 35 and 40 respectively. More than anything, the biggest changes for Summoner come in the new high level skills. While Summoner doesn’t really get more skills (although the Firebird Trance does reduce cast time by a couple of seconds), it instead we get a brand new summon in the form of a Demi-Phoenix. This being is powerful, especially considering it grants healing to party members and unleashes heavy damage to enemies. Outside of that, though, Dreadwrym Trance now reduces casting time instead of increasing magic damage, which could be more beneficial in the long run. It should be interesting to see how Summoners utilize the new Demi-Phoenix and whether or not it will take over from Bahamut.

Dragoon: As someone who doesn’t really enjoy Dragoon (as much as the armor set remains the best in the game), it has received a number of adjustments. For starters, Impulse Drive and Heavy Thrust have been removed, the latter of which is something I’ve hoped for a long time. Disembowel now unlocks at level 18 and combos with True Thrust, and because Piercing, Blunt and Slashing resistances are gone, it now simply increases damage. Blood for Blood is now called Lance Charge and removes the damage suffered penalty, Elusive Jump no longer removes binding and instead cannot be used while bound, and Spineshatter Dive doesn’t stun, which is the biggest tragedy. Finally, Geirskogul requires 2 points off the new gauge and changes Blood of the Dragon to Life of the Dragon. This in turn turns Geirskogul into Nastrond, which is just another stronger strike. As for the new high level abilities, we are getting an extended line of slight combo for Sonic Thrust, alongside two new jump attacks. I’m a little more excited to go back to Dragoon with these changes, but whether or not it will change my mind on the job is to be determined.

Monk: This job barely makes it into the Medium Changes category. It doesn’t quite do a whole lot new, as even the new high level attacks are just focused on extending Greased Lighting along with adding an AOE and fifth chakra attack. Instead, Monk finds its self losing a bunch of attacks and special effects. We’re talking Internal Release, Steel Peak, Howling Fist, One Ilm Punch and Purification. I couldn’t tell if the tackle variations have been removed, either, but they no longer can be found in the skill list. Outside of that, there is one new AOE attack under the raptor form, and shoulder tackle no longer stuns. Really, it does feel like Square Enix removed Monk’s innate ability to stun enemies, which was surprisingly helpful in a handful of instances.

Minor Changes

White Mage: I main White Mage because I’m lazy. It’s the default healer and is the best at pure brute force healing. Unfortunately, (or potentially fortunately) not a whole lot is changing. The new skills revolve around instant healing others, similar to Tetragrammaton, which can be stacked a handful of times in case you get into trouble. Other than that, White Mage doesn’t see much change, although the new MP cap limits the number of heals that can be done before the pool runs dry, but that’s more of a healer concern in general. Aero III is being removed, though, which is a bit of a disappointment now Holy is the only AOE attack. As for newer abilities, there’s a self buff, upgraded Stone and Aero skills (now named Glare and Dia, respectively), and an incredibly strong attack once all the blossoms bloom on your gauge. I enjoy playing as White Mage and I will no doubt continue enjoying it.

Samurai: As you may suspect, the Stormblood-introduced class has received very few changes as Square Enix kind of nailed it right away. Agetha and Hagakure are now gone from the skill list, with the latter being replaced by Ikishoten, which simply increases the Kenki Gauge by 50. Mangetsu, Oka and Hissatsu: Gurren also no longer have diminishing attack power for each enemy and will strike everyone equally. The high level skills have one heavy hitting gauge attack, a skill that repeats the last Iaijutsu with more damage, and a skill that’s determinate on your Meditation potency. Samurai continues to be fantastic and remains selfish.

Ninja: I almost moved this into the other category because there’s one fairly large change, but the rest aren’t anything to cry about. Jugulate, Smokescreen, Shadewalker and Duality are no longer in Ninja’s arsenal, with a new AOE combo added. Without doubt, the big change comes in the form of Assassinate. First off, it’s no longer unlocked at level 18, but instead 60, and it can only be used when “Assassinate Ready” via another skill such as Dream Within a Dream. No longer will you be able to use it on enemies when they’re almost dead. Rounding things off, there are two new ninjutsus (one AOE and one single target attack), but most importantly, you’re able to create a double that’ll mimic your skills. Ninja should still be a fun job to play as.

Bard: I’ve been on record saying I don’t like how Bard plays. I greatly appreciate Bard players as they’re useful in most party compositions, but I find it boring. This doesn’t seem like it will change as not a whole lot has been revised. Misery End is no more, but most importantly, the 2% critical boost on songs is history. The new high level skills aren’t anything remarkable, either, just single target or line of sight attacks.

Black Mage: Of everyone, Black Mage is the least modified job. Nothing has been removed, although Covert just being turned into Manafront which now only restores 30% of your MP. Freeze and Blizzard IV have been given additional effects, though, nullifying or reducing the MP cost of Fire abilities, which should speed things up a bit. The remaining abilities center around a new fire spell and a heavy hitter while under the effect of Polyglot, which is obtained by holding Encohain for 30 seconds. Black Mage has always been one of the stronger DPS jobs and it will probably maintain that with not a whole lot of changes.

Red Mage: Finally, we have the second Stormblood-introduced class, and just like Samurai, Square kind of nailed it. It’s fun to play and resourceful, having the ability to heal and resurrect others instantly. That should be a little harder to do with the MP pool being less, but it should ensure for strategic use of abilities. Regardless, the only skill that has been thrown out is Tether, with Verthunder and Veraero receiving AOE versions. As for the new high level skills, the only one that really matters is “Scorch,” which is a new end combo that comes after Veraflare or Veraholy.

And there you have it, our impressions on all the jobs and their changes. Now we should talk about the rest of the expansion.

As someone who prefers the healing aspect of battle, the visualization of barriers on health bars is an absolute blessing. Usually you just have to focus on status bar of, well, usually the Tank, and hope you can spot the right icon and whether or not it had disappeared yet. Here’s hoping they are able to somehow do the same with some of the other status ailments effects.

This wouldn’t be a proper expansion without dungeons to trek through and we got o play through the vibrant and fantastical meadow of Dohn Mheg. We went from patches of flowers to a forestry area to a watery palace, and it was a sight for sore eyes, especially considering Stormblood felt a little dry when it came to their dungeon color palate. Naoki Yoshida did tell us that they were trying to move away from the mechanical environment of the Garlean Empire and go back to their roots of fantasy and it shows here. You can also see how much Square Enix is slowly implementing mechanics from raids and trials, as the final boss in the area featured maneuvering dangerous terrain to get into a specific circle to do damage and interrupt a, what I assume would be a room wide wipe cast. The other bosses also featured mechanics that could go bad in an instant, such as springs of water that need to be timed and moved away from properly, and intercepting sprouts before they buff an enemy to the point the healer is unable to keep up. This was just the Level 73 dungeon (which should be the second in the expansion); we can’t wait to see what kind of challenging mechanics are in store for us.

With this new dungeon, we also got to try out the Trust system. This ensure you don’t have to wait in a long queue to get into a dungeon by bringing along NPCs to help you out. This isn’t exactly a new feature for Final Fantasy XIV as it was experimented on with the Grand Company’s Command Missions, but that was far from a great feature. You needed to hold the NPCs’ hands through everything and they were far from reliable. It was a big frustration leveling up classes, but at least it was faster to get into a dungeon with a DPS. Anyways, that looks to change with Shadowbringers as the NPCs in the Trust system were spot on. They engaged with enemies properly and knew the mechanics of each boss. It’s clear Square Enix put some time into this feature as I actually trusted my AI teammates, something I don’t think I would have ever through I’d say about the MMO. Unfortunately, those looking to substitute real players for NPCs will be sadly out of luck. You either have to go along with NPCs or try and find a party as the two systems don’t mesh together for whatever reason. Here’s hoping that changes in the future as it would be great to only take along a friend or two without having to in a dungeon unsynced.

As for the world itself, The First is gorgeous. We only got to check out two areas, Ill Mheg and the Lakeland, but they were sights to behold. It reminds me a bit of Limsa Lominsa’s bright colors, all while splashing a palette of lavender and pink in there. We also got to check out the new town, The Crystarium and I hope it isn’t anywhere near complete. While there are some sights to see in the town, specifically the Crystal Tower, it felt void of much life. There was a lot of wasted and open space with little going on. It would be as if Idyllshire was twice the size, but that extra space was inhabited by emptiness. Regardless, this wasn’t the final build, so there is still hope that it’s more than that, but what we got to try out had us a bit concerned.

We only got a handful of hours with the expansion and we came away wanting to play more. Granted, that’s exactly what Final Fantasy XIV has always evoked, but there’s a great deal of changes over a familiar attraction. I was a little disappointed with Gunbreaker, as while it’s a flashy Tank, it leaves much to be desired in terms of setting itself apart from the pack. Dancer is a fantastic buff job that should do well in most party compositions, and the existing jobs have had a fair amount of changes, most hopefully for the better. Obviously there are concerns, for the city itself, but the Trust system works perfectly and the single dungeon we got to try was a bright and lovely stroll. Square Enix has pretty much announced all it can, although it was said that you can expect more information regarding crafting and gathering around E3 in a couple of weeks.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers will be available on PC and PlayStation 4 July 2.