Final Fantasy XIV’s upcoming expansion Shadowbringers looks to be a dark tale full of dimension-hopping and cosmic threats. The expansion releases June 28 in early access for those who pre-order, and July 2 for everyone else. It adds two new classes and revamps nearly every old class as well. I had a chance to play the expansion last week, and what I saw left me excited as hell.
I only had one day to cram as much Shadowbringers into my brain-hole as possible. This meant peeking at every old class and spending a lot of time with the new ones. Shadowbringers’ general philosophy is focused on streamlining classes to fulfill their role in the group. That doesn’t make things boring, though; there’s a ton of exciting new abilities and revamped mechanics that made playing each class really enjoyable.
The biggest additions are the two new classes. Gunbreakers are a tough new tank class, using a gunblade to smack enemies senseless. Dancers can hit at long range and buff their teams with different steps and special dances. Both classes are great additions to the game, each offering a fresh and fun change of pace from what dedicated players know.
When I first started playing Dancer, I was intimidated by the amount of meters and abilities to track. It is an incredibly active class that became easier once I leapt into a dungeon. Once you take a few bruises and learn the tricks of the trade, Dancer opens up into a reactive class where random chance and improvisation create a fun sort of organized chaos.
Dancer’s main action is to perform one of two “step” sequence, the standard step or technical step. Whenever these abilities are selected, players need to perform a mini-game in which they select the right colored dance step in order. A standard dance is two steps; the technical dance is four. The more steps you perform correctly, the more damage your final dance step will do. Completing a dance sequence boosts your attack and that of your teammates. The standard step buffs the dancer and whoever they mark as their dancing partner, while the technical step buffs the whole party. The buff lasts a full minute, after which players need to perform a new sequence. It’s easy to lose track of this buff in the middle of battle, but after a while it became second nature to me to perform my steps and keep my party boosted.
Dancer can also attack using a variety of long range single-target weapon skills and close range area of effect abilities. These abilities have a chance to trigger new attacks in a combo chain or, in the case of certain attacks, grant a resource called Fourfold Feathers. These feathers can be spent on powerful abilities that use the Dancer’s fan to strike with a magical burst. The idea is to attack and run through combos as they trigger, using Feathers on special abilities whenever you gain them. As a result, attacking as a Dancer is partially driven by random chance. You have a 50% chance of gaining Feathers on most abilities, so Dancers are required to react in the moment and improvise based upon their luck. A high level ability called “Flourish” enables all attacks regardless of if they’ve triggered, but it has a one minute cooldown. This means that you can sometimes cut loose and do whatever you like, at least from time to time.
That’s already a lot to keep track of, but there’s one final meter that Dancers need to watch. Whenever a buffed player or teammate lands a weapon skill attack, it builds up resources in a small bar called the Espirit Gauge. Once the gauge reaches 50 or above, a powerful finishing attack becomes available. There’s also an ability called Improvisation that slowly builds the meter without the need to land attacks.
Here’s how fighting as Dancer might go: you mark a fellow player as your dance partner and open by performing a simple step sequence that boosts both of your attacks. You do a series of basic attacks until your gain a Fourfold Feather and spend that on a special attack that hits all enemies. You follow that up with another attack that happened to trigger, then you repeat the process a few times and go where the flow takes you. When your first dance’s buff period runs out, you perform a technical step to buff the whole party. Everyone’s attacks fill your Espirit Gauge, allowing you to use your big finishing skill.
Playing as Dancer feels like a juggling act. You’re always reacting to something, be that the need to reapply buffs or change up your attack based upon how many Feathers you manage to get. On top of all this, there are special abilities to boost your team’s defenses or perform a modest amount of healing to your dance partner. Where classes like Samurai or Black Mage focus only on damage, Dancer is a much better team player. Players looking to contribute in a lot of different ways will find an active and rewarding class once they rise above the initial difficulty curve. Players who dislike randomness and prefer having reliable skill rotations will probably bounce off the class.
The second new class, Gunbreaker, felt more natural than Dancer, with easy to understand attack rotations and fun rough-and-tumble animations. Gunbreakers are armed with gunblades, weapons made famous in Final Fantasy VIII. The gunblade’s schtick is that you can pull the trigger when you swing it in order to do extra damage. In fact, “trigger-action” was the word producer Naoki Yoshida used when I asked him to describe the class in one word. To capture the sense of trigger-action, the Gunbreaker uses a unique mechanic called the Powder Gauge.
The Powder Gauge can store “cartridges” that are spent on special attacks. You earn cartridges by performing basic attack combos. Cartridges can be used on boosted versions of normal attacks—for instance, the circular Demon Slice can be replaced with the explosive spinning slash Fated Circle—or you can use them to access a long combo chain. That combo chain is what made Gunbreaker incredibly rewarding to play. This is thanks to an ability called Continuation.
Continuation changes into a new attack ability depending on what attack was used before it. If you run through your abilities correctly, it’s possible to hit certain attacks, hit the continuation attack, hit another attack, and then hit a fresh continuation attack. Basically, you’re linking together an explosive combo by carefully timing the abilities you use. Instead of a basic three or four hit combo, the end result might be a powerful flurry of seven attacks. Choosing when to spend cartridges on special one-off attacks or the Continuation combo makes moment to moment decision-making a lot of fun.
Of course, Gunbreaker isn’t just about attacks. This is a tank class, which means a lot of mitigating abilities to keep you and your teammates alive. Chief among these is Heart of Light, a massive protective spell that gives everyone a defense boost. There’s also Heart of Stone, which grants a teammate the benefit of getting healed whenever you perform your basic combo. Top that off with heal over time spells, and you have a class that can look out for overextended damage-dealers or, if you’re the off-tank, protect your main tank.
Gunbreaker is incredibly accessible. A few encounters with enemies was enough for me to understand the basic attack rotation and some of the key defensive abilities. Folks looking for a stylish class will find a flashy, explosive experience, while anyone nervous about becoming a tank will enjoy how easy Gunbreaker is to learn.
There’s a ton of changes to the old classes as well, and I’d be here all day if I outlined all of them. The video above has some of the noteworthy changes, but the most important thing to know is that Machinist, a class that pretty much no one played, has been completely overhauled. (Side note: if you want in-depth breakdowns of every single class’ nitty-gritty, consider YouTubers like Mrhappy1227 or Larryzaur.) Machinist feels like an entirely new class and is packed with gadgets and robots that are a lot of fun to play around with.
Machinist now uses two resources: heat and batteries. Both of these resources build up when using special attacks. Batteries are used exclusively to power your Rook Auto-turret or, once you reach higher levels, a robot buddy called the Automaton Queen. Basically, you fight until your meter is high enough, then you’re able to use some cool mechanized pals. Heat is a bit more complicated and ties into Machinist’s identity change from “dude who uses a gun” to full out gadgeteer.
It’s clear the developers took big influence from Final Fantasy VI’s Edgar when redesigning the class. When you build your heat gauge, you can use an ability called Hypercharge. Hypercharging your gear allows you to use a handful of special gadgets like the auto-crossbow and heat blaster.
In addition, you have abilities like the poisonous bioblaster and restrictive air anchor use on unsuspecting enemies. Instead of just shooting your gun a lot, Machinists use a variety of machines and tools to even the odds on the battlefield. It’s hard to say how desirable this class will be in the long run, but these changes give it a much stronger, sillier identity than before.
In an interview with producer Naoki Yoshida (the full transcript will be available this afternoon), he opened up about the tensions of simplifying Shadowbringers’ classes. After so many years of new abilities and skills, the Final Fantasy XIV team felt it was time to trim the fat and return classes to basics.
“We took a bold step this time,” Yoshida said. “We mustered up a lot of courage and decided to revisit and really clean things up. It’s simplified, yes, but we did it to make jobs easier to grasp. That was the first big step we took in redesigning all the jobs. It’s still subjective though. It’s a matter of asking: Is this comfortable? Is this still fun for us to play?”
If my time with Shadowbringers is any indication, I’d say that Yoshida and the team mostly succeeded. The two new classes bring their own fun quirks, and while some players might lament losing extra skills, streamlining the old classes made it easy to leap in and fulfill their roles in group content. I was cautiously optimistic about Shadowbringers before. Now I’m excited to play more of the new classes, and waiting for launch day is going to be a serious test of patience.