Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker is a comfortable step forward for current fans
Please note: This preview is based on impressions from non-final code. As the game is still in development leading up to launch, anything written below can be subject to change for the final product.
RPG Site, like many other gaming outlets and content creators, recently had the chance to sit down and preview a taste of the content to come with Final Fantasy XIV's upcoming expansion, Endwalker. I've got to level with you, though - this isn't going to be some in-depth guide about what to expect or the intricacies of all of the job changes. For one thing, it's rather hard to get a feel for the scope of a job's changes, major and minor, within the span of a couple of hours - doubly so if you haven't had access to the job at the current level cap of 80 in Shadowbringers. While I've sunk over 1000 hours into the MMO within the last year and a half, I have only maxed out 7 of the game's current 17 combat jobs - Dragoon (DRG), Astrologian (AST), Dancer (DNC), and all 4 of the current Tanks (Paladin, Warrior, Dark Knight, and Gunbreaker). As such I can only *really* talk about the changes for these 7 jobs, with some impressions of the two new jobs for the expansion - Reaper and Sage. Also, keep in mind - I don't think there's really any point in trying to dumb this down for non-XIV players. There will be jargon, but nothing that should be incomprehensible if you've spent a moderate amount of time with the game.
So, to start, content - we had access to 2 of the game's presumably 6 overworld maps that will be present at launch, and 1 of the game's dungeons. I won't spoil any specifics about the dungeon itself, and of course, it would be rather hard for me to come away with any real idea about how it ties into the story as a whole - but it was fun, with some very engaging boss fights that surprised me with the complexity of the mechanics that it asked of players. I do not think this is a bad thing, considering players should be expected to have played through the basegame and 3 other expansions to even get here, but let's just say that I'll be running this dungeon at launch with a pre-matched party if at all possible, or with Trusts. Very vague, I know, but I also understand that some players would prefer that the location and theme of it would remain unspoiled, and I would rather err on the side of caution.
During the course of the preview, we were told that A-rank Hunts were indeed populating the map, and a group of us within the session ended up partying together to take a few of them down. They had some fairly interesting mechanics, particularly one of them with how it takes advantage of Marching Order - a recent favorite of the dev-team, as anyone that has spent any significant time in the Bozjan Southern Front can surely attest - and overall, it was a fun time. As for the aesthetics of the maps themselves... they looked good, but also I hesitate to make any lasting statements, as not only is the game still in development - but our preview took place over parsec, and a couple of us had notable performance issues. Latency was fine, but image quality took a hit for a few of our connections, regardless of the quality of our own networks connecting to Square Enix. The point being - I'm used to playing XIV on my 4K monitor, and more recently I've taken to playing the game with AutoHDR on Windows 11. It's great! But it's obviously something I was unable to test for any of Endwalker's locations, and a loss of detail is inevitable when streaming a 1080p signal versus playing over a 4K signal locally.
As for job changes, the overall feeling that I got from every job I played was a sense of "smoothness" - not so much making jobs all that easier to play, but the gameplay flow for the ones that I tested felt remarkably good. For one thing, Astrologian benefited from the global cast time reductions, but jobs like Dragoon shined the brightest as far as I'm concerned. It was already a job that felt great to play at level 80, but changes like making Blood of the Dragon a trait instead of a skill, as well as allowing your line AOE rotation to top up your damage buff from your single-target rotation is great. Even more than that, there's a more seamless transition from your single-target rotation to your AOE rotation, and vice-versa. It has been very hard to come back since previewing the changes. Tanks, overall, benefitted as well. Burst phases are now no longer dependent on strict timing to take advantage of - instead, we're left with a charge-based system that punishes players far less for starting their burst phase right as a boss transitions to a different phase or mechanic that might otherwise make dealing damage an issue.
Most of these changes were, of course, detailed during the most recent Live Letter. There are a few changes here and there, but overall things feel like they're in a good spot. I do wish maybe Dark Knight had got something a little more interesting - but it's not like it's in a bad spot, as far as I'm concerned. Arguably Paladin walked away with fewer changes - the bombastic Confiteor combo that players saw during the Job Actions trailer is just that - a continuation of Confiteor. Flashy, but nothing that different from its current rotation. That's also fine, because Paladin already had a very solid rotation in Shadowbringers. The same can be said for both Warrior and Gunbreaker, too - Warrior finally doesn't have to use Bar to use its gap closer, and it's got a new damage ability that can be used during the middle of its burst window. Gunbreaker gets access to a 3rd cartridge slot, a new ability that uses 2 cartridges for an attack, and a follow-up attack for the cartridge attack outside of its burst window.
Of all the jobs I extensively tested, Astrologian had by far the largest differences. If you were one of the many Astrologian mains that primarily used Diurnal Sect, then rest assured that the Job is a straight upgrade from the one you've already accustomed to playing. If you were a Nocturnal Sect main, then as you already know - it's no longer a part of the job's kit. At any rate, Divination is now no longer tied to the card mechanic and is simply a regular oGCD ability that will buff the party much as it currently does, at the max limit it currently holds. We've now gotten an entirely new ability tied to the mechanic that it currently occupies, which will offer several buffs to the party depending on the number of unique sigils played, rather than buffing the one - it brings back a small bit of the flavor that the job apparently had prior to Shadowbringers, even if I was never able to see it for myself. Minor Arcana now have their own dedicated spot on the HUD and are drawn separately. Lord of the Crowns now deals AOE DPS, while Lady of the Crowns deals an AOE heal.
While I was unable to test it out on the field, the new level 90 ability Macrocosmos sounds incredibly exciting to check out on the field. Not only does it act as an oGCD AOE attack, it will also tag every party member within range with an ability that will keep track of the damage that they take within the next 15 seconds, and then restore HP worth half of it either when the button for the ability is pressed again, or time expires. Similarly, AST players get access to an oGCD ability that will reduce damage done to a targeted player, while then popping off a delayed heal. It's very fascinating stuff, and as a cursory healer player, I'm very curious to see how it feels to use these abilities come the full game.
Unfortunately, my time with Sage was fairly short. I was only ever able to run the dungeon once, and I didn't have the foresight to try playing it during the miniature Hunt Train that we enacted during the play session. What I did try felt fundamentally different from every other healer in the game, especially with the variety of DPS abilities that could also heal either you or a tagged ally. Aesthetically it looks amazing, however, so I'm sure it'll end up becoming a very popular class for that aspect alone. Who doesn't want to pretend they're a Gundam?
As for Reaper - it's a similarly unique class, this time a Melee DPS with the unique position of having not one, but two separate bars which players will be tasked with building up in order to optimize their burst phase where they channel their summoned demons, enveloping themself in horrors from the Void. It's a very clicky class, and really does feel like nothing else in the game at the end of the day. While I think I understand the rotation - build up one bar for a mini-burst to start leveling up the bar that will actually be used for your burst damage - I'm by no means the best XIV player, so the chance that I misunderstood some vital portion of its playstyle is far from zero.
This is all just scratching the surface of what Endwalker will bring to the table, and crucially, mechanics are only a small part of what makes the game great. With the seemingly exponential increase in the player base within the last several months, I'm still weary about how the servers will stack up to the load, as seemingly Square Enix worries the same. I also wonder how the story will be received after the near-unanimous praise of Shadowbringer's main scenario. There's only so much that hands-on with some gameplay changes, and a small taste of the content to come, can say about the final product. Either way, it feels like I have a better idea of what to expect from the game, come November 19th's Early Access launch. If you're a fan of the game in its current state, Endwalker feels poised to be more of the same game that players already love.