I really want to talk about the story of Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker. I really want to talk about it. But the expansion has also been out and playable for only a week or so at this point, and some people have for various reasons been stuck fighting the queue monster for much of that. As topical as it would be to discuss the story now, I also don’t want to be a jerk to the people who aren’t there yet or write a column a lot of regular readers can’t read.
So instead, this week I want to talk about gameplay. Obviously, I had a chance to take a look at what the gameplay of the individual jobs would look like as a part of the media tour, but that was a very constrained experience focused on a pair of areas, one dungeon, and a few lower-level FATEs. At this point, I have multiple level 90s and have actually been through all of the content that I’m going to do. So what’s the overall environment look like? What do these new tricks mean in context? How does everything feel?
The first and most important thing to note, of course, is that some of the feel right now is also informed by what amounts to an undergeared populace. As I noted the other day to a friend, being a tank right now is very interesting because you are almost certainly at the lowest item level you’re going to be all expansion relative to content; sure, there will be a bump in item levels in 6.2, but you’re still going to be dealing with less of a gap between your gear and the ideal gear when you’re decked out in upgraded tome kit compared to what’s coming next.
So how does all of this feel? Right now, tanks feel squishy.
One of the things that I definitely noticed in the media tour was that every tank got a lot more in the way of kit to keep themselves alive, from healing added for Warrior and Paladin to more durability for Gunbreaker and Dark Knight. At the time, I thought this was more about a meta to really push what healers could do with DPS; now, however, it seems with more experience that the added survivability tends to push you more to the point where you can manage pulls.
Double-pulls in experts hit particularly hard at this point, and while they don’t fall into the dreaded valley of being overtuned or too damaging for the average player, they’re just on the right side of it. The dungeons can definitely mess you up, and you have to be cognizant of that fact.
This is also, naturally, something that compounds from multiple sources. Since healers need to be more active, there’s less DPS contribution there; since DPS is still somewhat undergeared, things are living longer. It’ll obviously even out somewhat more as gear levels increase, but I find it an interesting state of affairs for the moment, especially as the bosses tend to have mechanics that will require attention and can definitely punish the lazy or those who slip up too many times.
These days it seems like even the smaller bosses have a lot of room-wide damage, some tankbusters requiring good timing, and at least one mechanic where if you’re waiting to see the AoE marker pop up, you’re already going to be hit by it. They’re not insanely complicated or terribly difficult, but it represents a general step upward in difficulty, probably assuming (correctly, by my thinking) that many players have been in the game long enough that they can adapt to the added complexity.
On a whole, though, I also find the dungeons to generally be more fun than the ones on offer in Shadowbringers, which is naturally going to be a bit subjective. I enjoyed the majority of ShB’s dungeons, don’t get me wrong, but the general feel of how the dungeons are designed and trash is arranged seems to be more advanced still in this one. Perhaps most notably, there are fewer enemies requiring interrupts to avoid room-wide damage on random pulls, a mechanic that I like in theory but tended to be annoying to deal with in practice with tanks or ranged DPS that would ignore it.
What about beyond combat? Well, leves right now are busted, but in the good way; it’s crazy fast to level up gathering and crafting classes through creative use of leves, even without getting into challenge logs, studium deliveries, and the like. You’ll wind up leveling that side of things almost incidentally as you go through things, and I’ve found my levels on the crafty side rocketing up, helped materially by already having particularly good tools and gear to fall back upon.
The removal of HQ ingredients is honestly something that I haven’t found having a whole lot of impact. I very occasionally notice that they’re not there, but for most leves you’re mass-crafting anyway, and for most studium deliveries it’s easier to fall back on a simple rotation, so there’s no real sense that’s something missing along the way. This is, I should note, a good thing; it means that what I (and others, I suspect) were worried about with this change has not come to pass.
One thing that does irk me is how we have a whole new spearfishing minigame, and a fun one at that… and you basically never get to use it, because spearfishing doesn’t exist outside of Thavnair. Now, yes, this makes sense; in at least two zones there’s no place where you could have deep water, I don’t want to dive underwater in Garlemald, and the fifth zone just doesn’t happen to have it. But it’s still a bit annoying and limited, and it feels like an unforced error. Let’s hope the next expansion gives us a bit more underwater space.
Some jobs do seem to suffer a bit from having rather disjointed rotations at the moment, which is partly just a natural consequence of having to add and remove things over time and partly just a matter of how they’ve been designed. It’s not egregious, but you really do get the sense of some jobs (Reaper and Dragoon) flowing far more naturally than others (Ninja and Monk both spring to mind), either because of changes or just because of how much you need to fit into limited windows.
Ultimately, though, the game as a whole still feels good and satisfying to play as it did during Shadowbringers, which was the design goal. While a lot of things have changed on the micro level, on the macro level most of the changes have resulted in an overall similar flow for existing jobs or classes, and as a result you still have a similar rotation to before. That is, no doubt, both intentional and to the game’s credit.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I want to talk about the story after all just ahead of getting our new raid series, so fairly warned be ye for spoiler talk.