It’s been just over two weeks since Early Access for Endwalker launched. In that time, I’ve been fortunate to put a lot of hours into the game – to have finished the MSQ prior to the end of Early Access and spending my time in-game since that point working towards a myriad of goals.
This post will not be about my goals, but I wanted to share some impressions of how the game feels to play at level 90 from a handful of perspectives – I’ve done crafting, gathering, tanking, healing, and DPSing now, and I think I have a decent base to build on. That being said, my goals with leveling and moneymaking in the game have kept me from doing EX trials, so I can’t say much about those, but for the average player, I think there’s some interesting stuff to observe.
Job Leveling – A Lot Of Choices But Some Bad Ones
I’ve leveled all 11 trades to 90 and 4 combat jobs to 90, and at present, my job breakdown looks like this:
My experience so far, from a mix of FATEs, roulettes, Trust grinding, and side questing for the combat jobs is this – there’s really only one way to go wrong, and wrong, thy name is sidequests.
I’ve never really used sidequests for leveling in the past, short of breaking experience curve leaps in the various expansion leveling journeys of the past on my main job. In Endwalker, I’ve done them more, and while they are great for story (EXCELLENT in some cases), the experience curve is meh.
At the start of Endwalker, when going from 80 to 81 requires nearly 6 million experience, they give out 160k. At the end of Endwalker leveling, when going from 89-90 requires shy of 11 million experience, they give…188k. Joy. Even low-level FATEs in Endwalker zones give between 270-340k experience each, plus the valuable bicolor gemstones that can be used for trade materials that come from a zone’s enemies, and a single dungeon run outside of roulette bonuses goes from 2-4 million a piece. If you’re waiting on a roulette to pop or leveling an alt combat job between gathering runs for scrip, sure, do some sidequests, and definitely do them for the story and worldbuilding hits you get. But for leveling? Unless you’re trying to break a level that you’re close to so you can Trust run the next dungeon up or something, they’re not worth it.
Leveling pace from 80-90 with an armory bonus is pretty great even with just roulettes, and since the game is so packed with players right now, even DPS roulette queues are satisfyingly short.
On the gathering side, leveling gathering felt very simple from 80-90 without any guides or real finesse. I burned some leve allowances to make it faster, but it is very possible to just go out into EW zones and smack rocks or cut bushes until the bar is filled 10 times, and you can supplement fishing and one of the two other gatherers with the Studium quest chains, which is nice.
Crafting leveling is definitely a game of optimization. I won’t say I’m an expert here because I most certainly am not, but I got to 90 basically by a mix of leves, crafting building block items like lumber/cloth bolts/ingots, Studium questing, and collectable turn-ins. It seems like the easiest route would be to burn leve allowance first (lots of gil in that if you gather most of your mats or get good deals on the Market Board!), pad out jobs you struggle to level with Studium quests (Culinarian is great here because all the foods you can make bar a couple require a boatload of ingredients), and then push as hard as possible on collectable crafting turn-ins.
Something that deserves mentioning here is that the professions tweaks made through Shadowbringers made the experience to start in Endwalker so much more straightforward for a newbie. You won’t accidentally gather an ore as collectable when that has no value, or waste time struggling to figure out your crafting progression path – it’s all pretty clear, although I will say crafting in FFXIV retains some edge in terms of optimal routes, and rotations automated through in-game macros are still the easiest way to keep things on the path. Having said that, I did all of my leveling sans macros or guides, so it is definitely possible, and I enjoyed it a bit more having it be less academic (but that’s just me).
The New Jobs – I Like Reaper More, Which Surprised Me
Going into Endwalker, Reaper looked cool and I wanted to play it, but as a healer main, Sage felt like it was going to be my jam.
There’s a peculiar problem, though, and it’s this – if you don’t like Scholar much, Sage plays similarly enough to it that you’ll likely not be super into Sage either. Now, if your Scholar complaints are mostly faerie-related, that doesn’t apply, so you’ll probably like Sage in that case – but for me as a WHM/AST fan, Sage just didn’t quite hook me in the early play.
Now, Reaper, on the other hand…
I actually just unlocked Reaper last night, as I did the roulettes to work on leveling Monk from 80-90 and landed at a safe spot with all roulettes done. I had been gathering for white scrips for my folklore tomes, and decided to give Reaper a shot. It was addictive!
Reaper’s core combo is simple enough, and so far I’ve found the job’s resource management to be fairly simple. It has a strong, involved multi-step AoE combo, and the pacing and feel of combat as a Reaper is probably the closest I’ve felt an FFXIV job get to WoW smoothness – the slicing sounds and visual hits sync up really well to gameplay and everything has a flow to it that is pretty satisfying, even early on in their leveling curve. It feels good in both low-level content (I did Guildhests last night to get an easy Challenge Log bonus XP shot for the job! Guildhests!) and has a satisfying flow of unlocks up to 90, from what I’ve seen and read.
Surely, I’ll like Sage with some time spent on the job, but Reaper was just one of those things that immediately clicked for me, and I did the intro trial from the job quest and was immediately taken by how much I liked it.
Plus, as a bonus, it has the best look with the 2B glamour set from the Copied Factory raid!
Healing at 90 – When I See A Non-Warrior Tank, I Dread Them
Healing in FFXIV always has challenges, particularly because there’s a conflict that comes at the core of any social game – do I risk asking the tank politely to modify behavior and having it be a social conflict, or do I just boss through their bad play as a healer and they move on blissfully unaware of how much work keeping their deadweight ass up took?
For me, conflict-avoidant as I am, the answer is usually the latter, and White Mage has a toolkit that does that exceptionally well.
My experience in expert dungeons so far is that seeing a Warrior tank is a ray of sunshine, because a halfway-competent WAR will absolutely be sustainable even in sub-optimal pulls with use of their update to Raw Intuition in Bloodwhetting, which gives them the self-healing that Nascent Flash did in Shadowbringers without needing another target to put the additional buff on. So if your WAR is already reasonably good at hitting their CDs, they’ll live through damn near anything, and even a bad WAR who only hits Bloodwhetting (because it’s up on a sub-30 second CD like a WoW active mitigation ability) will be quite survivable.
My worst experiences with PUG tanks have been Paladins, who mostly seem to not notice their other mitigation buttons outside of Shelltron, whose Holy version is better, but only marginally so. Gunbreakers are…okay, I suppose, though I haven’t seen many, and Dark Knights are either very good or very meh, mostly because of normal tank stuff in FFXIV. The general problems that you might see in a given run with tanks still persist – either someone knows how to cycle their cooldowns including role action buttons like Reprisal and Arm’s Length, or they don’t, and the former is easy while the latter is tough. Wall-to-walls are as easy as usual with a competent healer, but the tank’s role generally matters more here – a tank with poor mitigation habits requires an above-average healer to keep them alive on a W2W pull.
But when I see a Warrior, I know my job will probably be easier and it generally is – unless they’re wearing any Legend tag, at which case they all play poorly and I weep at my desk.
That (and having a Retainer that is a leveled Warrior) is why my first tank was Warrior, and it has worked out very well!
Tanking – Cycle Your CDs and Get Brave
My observations about tanking are that the job is mostly the same as ever, but with better cooldown habits more rewarded by gameplay. Wall-to-wall pulls remain, perhaps counter-intuitively, the best way to live, as you get full benefit from a rotation of cooldowns reducing a lot more effective incoming damage – provided that group AoE DPS is up to snuff, of course. The level 90 abilities for most tanks being strong, high-potency AoE attacks helps this, as a tank can contribute more AoE DPS this time around than a basic two-hit AoE combo. Warrior is the perspective I can speak to most, and being able to weave Orogeny in as an AoE oGCD with your two-hit combo is nice, plus every time I use Primal Rend elicits a bit of joy from me!
Generally speaking, one thing that you have to be more on top of is cycling cooldowns. In Shadowbringers, stacking CDs could pay off sometimes when you were learning and it was generally less likely to bite you in the ass, but in Endwalker, you really want to be playing a smoother cycle with only 1-2 active CDs at a time. Each tank has access to a reasonable small-recharge mitigation ability that is, typically, buffed in leveling from 80-90, and those are useful padding alongside a major cooldown like Rampart or the like. I’ve found the process of playing and leveling a tank quite fun in Endwalker, but it does definitely demand that you learn how to properly cycle your cooldowns and for you to be brave and pull bigger. Learn the job and get comfortable, but I still believe from some hands-on that going wall-to-wall is more beneficial than not!
DPS – It’s Fun
I have the smallest number of impressions to share here because the jobs do play quite differently. I can speak to Bard and Black Mage at 90 and new Monk a bit at 82 – they’re all pretty good. Bard is probably still my least favorite ranged in the game, but the oGCD weaving of Wanderer’s Minuet is satisfying if hectic. Black Mage is fun once you get the particulars of movement with one down, and Paradox at level 90 makes the flow of phases feel a lot better, at least in my opinion. New Monk…I still am not sure, but I think I like it, if that makes sense? It has a confusing sub-system in the new Lunar/Solar cycle that I’m not really sure about, but there’s definitely something there, and it feels better to play even with that uncertainty than the old Greased Lightning maintenance style did. Lastly, for the new DPS, I’ve already said my piece about Reaper and I think that will be next on my list after Monk, even though I should finish Dragoon to get my Retainers situated.
Encounter Design and Difficulty
At launch, I had the immediate thought that dungeons and trials in Endwalker were notably more difficult than prior content, and I think that still largely holds true. Having said that, I would not say they are overly challenging, and the perspective of even having to relearn Black Mage in that content has not swayed me from it. There’s more to learn and less-obvious tells to watch for, but as you learn what is what, you’ll be in good shape.
With Pandaemonium normal raiding opening this upcoming week, we’ll have some more interesting things to see and I’ll likely have more to say then!
The Overall Gameplay Design
Endwalker is a front-loaded experience that works exceptionally well, in my opinion. I loved the MSQ, but if you don’t care that much about the story, once you finish it, the amount of choice you have in gameplay is so open to offer a mix of everything and it is genuinely quite good for it. I’ve done a lot of dungeon and raid roulettes this week (every day’s daily allotment, about 30 trust runs, and a couple extra leveling roulettes on Reaper) and had a ton of combat, I’ve done a lot of running through zones for collectable gathering to get my gatherer’s scrip in order and all the stuff I need to do real endgame gathering and crafting purchased, and no session has ever felt like I’ve run out of stuff I can do or hit a wall. I wanted to level crafters and gatherers so I did, wanted to level retainer jobs so I did, and wanted to get back my Mentor crown, with all the baggage that carries, and I did.
Long-time readers here will know that my choice in MMO gameplay is always towards more choice and a strong mix of obtainable goals over both the short and long-term, and Endwalker is replete with such choices. I’ve done the full Studium quests, all role quests but melee DPS (don’t have one in the level range for it yet!), and the full MSQ with a sprinkling of side quests, and I have had a blast.
Endwalker continues to be a largely joyful experience for me, and even as the glow of the MSQ is more distant, the core gameplay still offers me something valuable that I enjoy logging in for daily, even if right now, that means still fighting through an hours-long queue to get in!