In last week's "Letter from the Producer," we got a preview of some of the battle system changes coming to Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. Some of those changes are great. The mechanist rework is brilliant, the charge actions work wonderfully, bards' skills are more streamlined, and most jobs feel exactly like they do right now, just better. The two new jobs are also fantastic. Gunbreaker has a ton of Squall references for those who love Final Fantasy VIII, and is a pretty easy tank job to master once you get the basic skill rotations down. It's also capable of putting up some nice burst DPS, so it has that going for it as well. Dancer, despite not being a rhythm mini game, does have a bit of a tick to it that gives it a solid beat to follow. Plus, having all the special Dancer moves named after actual dance moves is, actually, pretty darn adorable.
However, some of the coming changes don't seem to be particularly well thought-out.
The biggest trouble will be the changes in balance between tanks and healers. Much like when Final Fantasy XIV's Stormblood expansion released with a slew of job changes, the reworks on tanks and healers worked fine at the newer levels. But were absolutely trash when you tried to run synced versions of older content. And, in the early days of Stormblood, a level 70 scholar paired up with a level 70 warrior was pretty much a party death-sentence.
Since Stormblood's battle system changed to make healing and tanking a bit easier for all jobs, warrior became a bit… broken. And I say that as a long-term WAR main. While the balance evened out over the next few patches, you can still solo a ridiculous amount of content as a warrior, and that's just absurd.
So naturally, going into Shadowbringers with the idea of making all tank jobs equally viable, WAR had to be slapped with a giant nerf stick. But it might have been a bit overzealous.
The problem with early Stormblood was that it was pretty much impossible for healers to keep up with a warrior's scaling health, thanks to the benefits of their Defiance tank stance. Shadowbringers attempts to fix that problem by getting rid of the DPS deduction, damage reduction, and HP increase effects of all tank stances. So Defiance will no longer raise your max HP. And you'll be able to Fell Cleave while still in tank stance, which is kind of nice. The problem there is that Inner Beast and Fell Cleave stack on top of one another, so once you unlock Fell Cleave at level 52, say goodbye to IB. Same with Steel Cyclone and Decimate. The problem with this is that warriors can no longer use Inner Beast and Steel Cyclone to regen health during big pulls, to make up for their terrible mitigation.
And because Shadowbringers gets rid of a ton of tank role skills, Warriors can only take Rampart as a shield-buff role skill. So they're stuck waiting until Vengeance unlocks at level 46 to have a native shield buff. Their second shield buff, Raw Intuition, only unlocks at level 54, while they get Thrill of Battle to increase overall HP at level 26 and Equilibrium to regen some HP at level 58.
However, the loss of Convalescence and Awareness for all four tanks is a bit rude, to be honest. Since tank stances will no longer increase a tank's defense, losing cooldowns is just plain rude. Especially for level 50 content. Paladins have the least trouble with this, since their job includes a ton of native mitigation skills. Dark Knights and Gunbreakers run into the exact same problem as Warriors, since they get only two native mitigation skills. Which will go real great in Savage raids. I can already see the trade-off tank death bonanza coming.
However, when you add the loss of tank cooldowns to the lack of protect, since all healers are losing access to that 10% shield… low level content also becomes incredibly dodgy.
I also don't understand why tank enmity rotations were dropped, since now all four tank jobs really only have one or two rotations to go through. Which is boring, but again, makes low-level content a bit of a mess. Since, below level 30, no tanks get their tank stances. Which basically means that they're just going to be really crappy DPS jobs when underleveled, since most of the rotations that were kept for Shadowbringers are high level ones. Even with some of the level acquisition adjustment, those skills don't come in when they're needed.
It's also really, really boring and takes away a lot of the skill involved in tanking in FFXIV. The beauty of Final Fantasy XIV's tank jobs were that they all worked differently, and you had to adapt your playstyle to the job, and know what skills to use when. Taking away the tank's enmity rotation really just takes away the skill involved in tanking things in-game. The Summoner rework is a bit similar. While the lack of a pet hotbar is great, needing only two Aetherflow skills in order to us Dreadwyrm trance, deathflare, and summon Bahamut was part of the skill in running SMN. While dropping some unnecessary skills and stacking others makes sense for players on console, but dropping an Aetherflow stack just seems… silly.
Really though, what I'm saying is, I'm already dreading the thought of being a level 80 tank dropped into Sastasha Seagrot, and these changes aren't even finalized yet. Which is the other thing, Square is still balancing out the job changes for Shadowbringers, so the build I played isn't the final version. And I honestly hope that both tanks and healers get a few skills back, so we all don't wipe running level 17 dungeons.
Now, none of this is to say that the job changes are a complete mess and we should just stick with the system we have. The problem is that I was unable to fully test the job changes in the preview build of Shadowbringers that I got my hands on. Mainly because the only instance we had access to was the Level 73 dungeon Dohn Mheg. Which is a gorgeous and innovative dungeon, with surprisingly fun mechanics, and a fabulous sense of art direction. Honestly, every part of Shadowbringers' open world that I got to visit, which included the Crystarium, Lakeland, and Il Mheg environments, was absolutely breathtaking.
And while battle system changes didn't exactly cripple my party in Dohn Mheg, but things got a bit dicey.
I ran Dohn Mheg with three other players at the media preview event, and we ran into some trouble every time I pulled more than two groups. You can check that out in the video below, though the gameplay will swap perspectives between our white mage and one of our dancers, as my PC's capture software didn't actually want to work.
That said, the biggest thing I took away from the Shadowbringers preview was that the battle system clearly wasn't tested with back-compatibility in mind. It's great at level 80. But drop that down to 60 or 50, and things will likely become a bit of a wreck. Granted, I wasn't able to test the low-level dungeons and trials, but my gut instincts based on the job reworks are not great. And I'm not even saying the changes can't stand. Just maybe give us back a few role skills. Between protect and awareness, it should make low-level dungeons a bit easier. Though I will still miss having 2-3 rotations to swap through on all three current tank jobs.
Because honestly, the only thing the rework makes me worry about is the viability of the tank jobs in older content. After all, syncing back to level 50 dungeons, raids, and trials doesn't magically bring jobs back to the way they were when that content was top-tier. If they did, well, White Mages might complain about the lack of stoneskin a bit less.