First and foremost, I want to note that this is not going to be my official first impressions of Shadowbringers because that’s going to be later this week. I note this as much for myself as anything, though, because holy crap this expansion is amazing. So, you know, Final Fantasy XIV fans who want to see me spend a couple thousand words explaining exactly why it’s amazing, stay tuned for later this week. But as usual, the point of this column is talking about the early access experience itself.
And… oh no, that was also amazing. So much so that it almost makes you wonder if there’s a trick or something.
Oh, there have been tiny queues in the double digits, but they’re the sort of thing that forces you to wait for half a moment before clicking through. It’s a speedbump, not anything to actually stop you. And I’m not relying on this by logging in only at off-peak hours or anything; I’ve been swapping characters even around prime times, even on the weekend of early access.
It’s the sort of thing that at first makes you think that there must be no one playing or something like that, but a look at the actual server population makes it clear that the zones are packed. Digging out the NPCs I needed to talk with was often difficult, and that was with the advantage of being ahead of the curve (most people are not finished with the entire MSQ at this point). Zones are packed full. This is not a problem of the game being abandoned or anything so cynical; it’s the result of the developers planning carefully to ensure that this launch would be much, much smoother than the prior expansion launches.
There have, in fact, been exactly two queues that I’ve hit. One was when I logged in right at the start of early access, when I had a queue in the high triple digits and had to wait for maybe five minutes. The other was recovering from the DDoS attacks noted, which took somewhere between five and ten minutes sitting in queue. Aside from that, still playing natively on a high-population server, it’s been almost unconscionably smooth.
Progress-blocking bugs? Avoided. Instance server overload? Unseen; the worst cases have been some minute-long waits for otherwise full groups. Serious bugs that ruin the gameplay experience? The most I can point to is noticing that for some reason the map and location text popped up as “north Silvertear” instead of “North Silvertear,” which I assume is a typo and made me briefly wonder if something sinister was going on in the story. So, no.
Instead, I’ve been free over the past few days to focus on the actual gameplay mechanics, like the weirdness that everyone needs healers and tanks are actually over-represented… in places.
See, the funny thing is that tanks actually aren’t over-represented in the top end; once I unlocked the Expert roulette option, we were right back to tanks being in-demand. But for all of the leveling roulettes, you’ve got people who are leveling up Gunbreaker… but that’s not really indicative of the overall tank population or the people who want to tank in the long-term.
One of the things Yoshida said in the past stuck with me, when he mentioned that part of the design behind Dark Knight had been to attract players otherwise less interested in tanking. He went on to note that it turned out the tank population didn’t actually see a particular bump from it; most of the people who were going to tank had done so before Dark Knight, and all that adding it really did was offer another flavor.
I suspect Gunbreaker will be much the same. Yes, it’s unbalanced right now because we got one new tank and zero new healers, but the reality is that Gunbreaker, while fun, is still a tank with all of the attendant tank mechanics. If you haven’t liked that before, you are unlikely to really like that much beyond the effort to level it for a bit.
As far as actual balance goes, well, we’ll probably get a tweaking patch when Eden goes live, as usually happens. Right now it feels a bit like Ninja is undertuned, but it’s hard to be sure how much of that is a matter of the job really being underpowered, how much is a result of a new skill rotation, and how much of it is a result of my own atrocious luck at gear drops this expansion. So I’m reluctant to actually call anything worse.
The one job that has definitely lost out is Scholar, and honestly that’s also a job that needed to lose. Scholar has always been something of a mess insofar as it’s a job that spins off of a DPS job (so it had a lot of innate damage tools) and also has a healing pet (meaning that it could spent a lot of time not healing). While potencies and removed spells made Scholar a fair bit weaker going into Stormblood, adjustments brought it right back up to the top slot by the end of the expansion.
Something had to give here, and the result is a job that’s still very potent but also is no longer able to just let the fairy heal while you focus on damage endlessly. The class of Scholars who preferred things as they were seem rather miffed. The actual Scholars I wound up partied with reliably seemed pretty happy with the current state of affairs. Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal.
But there’s time for all of this to take root over the next few months. We’ll have time to get full breakdowns of actual job balance issues and examine everything. And we’ll have the space to do so in the wake of a launch that, by all indications, will be just as steady and reliable as the early access launch was.
Because that’s the real story here. Early access for Shadowbringers was a breeze. It made getting in to play the game and enjoy the expansion not just achievable but normal, and it meant that even as I mainlined the expansion to burn through the whole story in three days I still found time to level up gathering, explore the new delivery mechanics, level Gunbreaker and Dancer, arrange my hotbars, and even run people through a couple of pieces of content unsynced.
It’s a beautiful thing.
Feedback and your own anecdotal experiences are welcome down below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, I figure it’s still far too early to be talking about all of the major lore spoilers, so let’s talk about some of the changes to existing parts of the game and whether they help or hurt the game as a whole, hmm?