Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers Preview
I had the honor of visiting San Francisco for the Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers preview event. This was my first hands-on experience with the new expansion and all of the changes associated with it. I had several hours to check out so much of the new stuff.
I was able to try out the Dancer and Gunbreaker jobs, see the job changes for the existing jobs, explore three whole areas including the new hub city, master one of the new dungeons, and so much more. It is worth noting, though, that I didn’t get to experience any quests including the main story.
However, through my experience during the FFXIV Shadowbringers preview, I was definitely able to glean some details but, don’t worry, I won’t include any of those here. But, fair warning, I will be going into detail about the new areas and dungeons so be wary of that.
I won’t outright spoil any of the bosses from the dungeon, but it’s still worth noting ahead of time so you can skip those sections if you’d like to go into the dungeon fresh. Without further ado, let’s start by taking a look at the new areas in the expansion.
I had the chance to check out a total of three of the new areas that players will enjoy in the new expansion. One of those was the Crystarium hub city that will join the likes of Stormblood’s Kugane, Heavensward’s Ishgard, and the rest.
The other two new areas I checked out were, presumably, the first two (of six total) areas you’ll visit during the main scenario. Both were vastly different both from each other as well as the rest of the areas we’ve seen in previous expansions.
The Crystarium is the brand new hub city that players will be spending a lot of time in with the new expansion. Some of the things that were already known about the city is that it is centered around the Crystal Tower in what we know as the Mor Dhona area in our Source world.
The city is gorgeous to look at with some nice variation to explore. Though it is large in size, it doesn’t seem to be as big (at least to me) as Kugane. However, it is big enough in size and it does have some verticality to it.
There are quite a few areas on multiple levels including an entire area I didn’t discover until after hours of exploring during the preview. It’s also worth noting that there was a gatekeeper area that I couldn’t access so there may have been more I couldn’t explore, though, I don’t expect there to be too much there.
There is a solid mix of outdoor and indoor areas throughout the city that keeps the entire glass dome aesthetic going on throughout. It’s a beautiful city with a nice crystal-like theme to it. It made me think that this must be what the ancient areas where the Allagan lived looked like.
As such, there is no city quite like the Crystarium. I don’t think it’s going to replace Kugane as my favorite hub area, but it certainly does make wish I could buy a house there for sure. Like I mentioned, there is a lot of verticality to the city including plenty of ramps to high locations with gorgeous views.
In addition, there was this underground area that was pretty well hidden and took me quite a bit to find. Needless to say, there are going to be tons of spots to hide out and roleplay and all that jazz.
From Crystarium, I was able to leave through the exit and find myself in what looks to be the first new area in the game: Lakeland. Lakeland is centered around a large lake (hence the name) called the Source as well as the city of Crystarium.
Before you draw any comparisons to Mor Dhona, stop right there. One of the biggest concerns I had with this expansion was the possibility that places would seem too similar to existing places but Lakeland quickly wiped those concerns away.
There is a beautiful purple aesthetic to the whole area with fields and trees all sporting the purple-ish color scheme. It’s fairly large in size, feeling equal in size to Stormblood’s areas. What’s awesome is that it allows for both flying (of course) and diving in equal measure.
I didn’t even explore the entire place (saving that for the full expansion) but what I did explore was fun to see. It really gave me hope that this expansion will have some unique areas that don’t feel too samey like was the case with Stormblood.
Il Mheg solidified the unique aspect of these new areas. Presumably the second area we’ll visit in the story and connected directly to Lakeland, this area is the home of the pixies. Il Mheg is easily one of the most unique areas I’ve seen in FFXIV and by far one of the prettiest, too.
I enjoyed exploring it much more than Lakeland, interestingly enough. It is mainly broken up into two large land masses of sorts (at least in my head), despite being connected to one another. In the center is a large castle that you might have seen in screenshots previously.
Il Mheg continues the colorful trend that began in Lakeland and dials it up 1000 times. The land is covered in a uniform and glorious field of flowers that range from vibrant yellow to a stunning pink. Though the graphics of the build I was in didn’t seem as good as it could be, there was still an awesome effect of scattering flower petals when you frolic through the flower fields.
Again, this area is also large with a lot of water to dive under and explore. In a weird way, the layout and feel of the area sort of reminded me of Yanxia, which was my favorite area in that expansion. They look nothing alike but the feeling was similar oddly enough.
When you dive underwater, you will find much more variety here than in other places where diving is available. There are underwater buildings to explore and more things to see. Il Mheg is my favorite area thus far and also home to the dungeon that I got to check out.
Dohn Mheg Dungeon Preview
During the Shadowbringers preview, we had one dungeon to complete and that was Dohn Mheg. Located in the pixies’ Il Mheg area, Dohn Mheg features a lot of the similar visual appeal but also a good bit of variety, too, as it changes visuals several times during the dungeon.
It is a level 73 dungeon that syncs at 74. I used the Trust system for completing the dungeon each time (more on that in the next section) and I found it to be a decent dungeon overall. It isn’t too special gameplay-wise but it is pretty to look at.
I won’t spoil any of the twists or boss fights, but know that there are definitely some twists within the dungeon as well as a slightly new mechanic or two. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the boss designs, not that they didn’t look good, but they did feel too similar to previous boss designs.
The difficulty of the dungeon was pretty mellow and easy like most of the Stormblood dungeons, so don’t expect anything too challenging here. I did wipe twice but that was mainly due to the Trust system, which is worth covering on its own.
The Trust system, for those who don’t know, is a new feature that allows you to play through all of the new expansion’s dungeons with AI party members. So, basically, you can skip the queue times and practice (and make mistakes) by yourself.
It’s a great system overall that I believe in more now after playing with it a few times than I did previously. Producer Naoki Yoshida noted that the AI party members have special behaviors and actions, and it does show.
Playing with the Trust system is much easier and better than when you do the Grand Company dungeons with AI. You get to select who you want in your party and you can fill any role you want. I did the dungeon three times, once as Red Mage and twice as Dancer.
I never really had to worry about the health of my party members as they seemed to brush through the dungeon pretty easily without taking too much damage. In addition, they are rather good about doing various things like engaging in mechanics, stacks, healing, and keeping aggro.
What I found interesting is that Thancred, who was our Gunbreaker tank, would even pull enemies on his own if I got close enough to them but this did seem pretty finnicky. In fact, I’d say the same about most things about the AI of the party members.
There was one time that I wanted to do a limit break to see what the Dancer’s looked like but my party member went ahead and immediately fired theirs off as soon as the gauge was full. It would be nice to have a little more control in that regard, but it still works just as well.
Also, there were a couple of times we wiped because of the AI behavior not working correctly. The first was a mechanic that the party members had done previously but, for some reason, that time one of them decided not to do it and it wiped us.
There’s another boss later on that requires a DPS check and another thing that goes before it, and the party members got stuck on the first thing. This left me to do the DPS check almost entirely by myself as Dancer and we failed it because of that.
It also takes quite a bit of time to complete dungeons using the Trust system. It took me about 40 minutes or so on my only run where we didn’t wipe and I don’t see it getting much quicker than that. Overall, though, I’m really happy with the feature and will certainly use it for practice and skipping the duty finder.
I won’t spend too much time here since you can create your own Viera and Hrothgar right now through the benchmark. Thankfully, I had a ton of Fantasia to create to my heart’s content and I did. I found that both new races have a lot of detail and variation, much more than previous races.
I was happy with how both of my characters turned out and I can’t wait to see what players come up with once the expansion launches. I’ll admit that the Viera are so good that it almost convinced me to switch for the first time from my Lalafell, which is the biggest compliment I could give the race.
There are a ton of changes to the existing jobs including what feels like overhauls to the entire tank role as well as Machinist and Summoner (to an extent). I didn’t play around too much with the existing jobs but I did take time to switch through each of them and check out their actions.
My overall impression is that jobs other than the ones mentioned above feel pretty standard to what you would expect. However, I am curious how the huge changes to tanks will affect the meta. I’m not a tank myself but I could easily see from a glance that jobs like Dark Knight are likely to feel pretty different.
Summoner is one of my main jobs and, thankfully, it feels like the class wasn’t completely overhauled. I like that pets don’t take damage, but I am conflicted because I feel like this class doesn’t work as well as a solo story job anymore since Titan changed from a tank. Phoenix is really awesome, though, and I’m glad Bahamut wasn’t the last summon. I feel the same about the Scholar and its Seraph as well.
The Machinist, though, seems to be the biggest change overall. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say it is like an almost new class and all the better for it. The changes make it seem more like the Summoner (only a little bit) with more emphasis on the machines you summon. I’ve only delved into Machinist a little bit and didn’t like it, but this has me interested to come back for sure.
Now for the moment I’m sure many of you were waiting for (and quite frankly, what I was most excited about). I had ample amount of time to sit down and explore the two new jobs. I didn’t spend nearly as much time with Gunbreaker as I did with Dancer, mainly because I’m not a tank person, but I did enjoy the job a lot.
It feels very different compared to the normal tank job, with a lot of complexity and variety to it. You have your general combos and abilities they deal with the sword and they almost all work toward refilling your gun with up to two bullets.
Those bullets then open up plenty of gun abilities that use one or two bullets. There are a lot of branching paths it seems that the Gunbreaker can take and it feels like a blast to play. It’s only the second tank job besides Dark Knight that has me interested in checking out more.
Ah, the Dancer job. Gorgeous and elegant, this flashy job class is sure to become one of my mains in the upcoming expansion, much like the Red Mage did previously. At first, I absolutely hated this job. I spent 30 minutes or so playing around it and reading the action descriptions and had no clue what I was doing.
I was so frustrated but took some time off, refreshed my brain, and came back and fell in love with the Dancer. It has one of the steepest initial learning curves that I’ve seen in a job but it’s addicting once you start to get it.
After spending four hours with this job, I have a general understanding of its purpose and what it will be like in endgame but there is still a lot I feel like I don’t know. It is a job that will take patience and trial and error to really grasp for players.
You basically have four main physical ranged attacks that work together. Some will activate each for combos, but a lot of it seems to be based on chance. These four abilities need to be grouped together because of the dance moves.
You have two dances: standard step and technical step. Using them changes the aforementioned four abilities into four symbols: rose, crown, leaf, and a Twitter-esque blue bird. You then press whichever of the four are glowing to deal the most damage.
It’s totally random which of the four light and in what order, much like a music rhythm game, which is super fun. Standard step requires up to two buttons while technical step requires all four. Once I had my bar set up correctly, I was dancing around the map, dodging AOEs and completing the right orders.
It’s extremely fun to play and watch, but like I said, the randomness of the job is kind of weird. The other main aspect worth mentioning is the partner system. One ability lets you link with a “dance” partner and the buffs you get are given to them.
There is a healing ability, too, that will help both of you and give you each a buff. It’s a cool twist that I really enjoyed and I can see its implementation into raids already, with a skilled Dancer constantly switching partners to buff everyone up. It’s easily one of, if not the, most fun classes I’ve ever played and I can’t wait to see more when early access for Shadowbringers launches next month.