Final Fantasy 14 is awfully enjoyable — especially if you play a tank. It’s one of the most rewarding roles in the game by far, partially because it’s so difficult. Dungeons in FF14 require tons of coordination. Trials, multi-phase battles against a single massive boss, are usually even more complicated. And tanks bear the brunt of that mechanical complexity — maneuvering bosses into the proper position, knowing which attacks do what, and sometimes intentionally taking hits to keep squishier teammates safe.
None of this is anything new. Even before the first FF14 expansion, the role was so daunting that Square Enix had to add class-specific incentives to get people to play tanks. Now we’re three expansions deep, with the recent release of Shadowbringers, and tanks are facing an altogether different crisis for the first time ever. Namely, there are just too many of us.
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It’s all thanks to Shadowbringers introducing two new classes: Dancer and Gunbreaker. Neither of which really fit the roles you might expect. The Dancer seems like they ought to be a healer, at first, with their focus on supporting teammates through rhythm game-style special moves. But the game classifies them as ranged damage-dealers. Likewise, Gunbreakers seem like they ought to be “damage per second” characters. They use gunblades — swords that explode sometimes — like Squall from Final Fantasy 8. Except the explosions create shields and barriers, apparently, so FF14 considers the Gunbreaker a tank class.
Therein lies the rub. Like a lot of MMOs, FF14 breaks down into three basic roles. There are healers who heal, DPS classes that deal damage, and tanks that take the heat. And you need a specific mix of all three to do any group content. The game just won’t let you start a Trial or dungeon until matchmaking puts you together with the required team composition (not unless everyone opts out of certain rewards, which is really only good for farming old stuff).
Now there’s a fresh, flashy tank for people to try their hands at. More than that, the Dancer and Gunbreaker start at level 60 — just 20 levels below the new cap. So it’s much easier for players make the jump if, say, they want to switch from a DPS to a tank. FF14 is actually different from a lot of MMOs in that way. It lets you level up every single class on a single character. Then you can switch on the fly if you don’t mind the grind getting there.
And there is a lot of grinding if you multi-class… That’s why expansion Jobs like the Gunbreaker are the top choice for players who want to change roles. They let you skip dozens of hours of repeating low-level content to grind experience points. You can only run Palace of the Dead so many times before you tear your own toenails out.
You might have noticed something; I didn’t mention a new healer. There isn’t one in Shadowbringers. The last new healer, the Astrologian, was added way back in 2015, during the first FF14 expansion. And the second add-on, Stormblood, only added more DPS: Red Mage and Samurai. That brings the total number of healers to three and tanks up to four. By contrast, there are now a whopping 10 DPS Jobs in FF14!
It’s awfully lopsided. Team composition does balance things out a little bit. Matchmaking requires double and sometimes triple the number of DPS players per party. But that doesn’t factor in how easy it is to switch from a White Mage to a Samurai that starts at level 50, or from a Paladin to a level 60 Dancer. People want to try that new shit. And the new shit is overwhelmingly damage-dealers. Not to mention DPS tends to be more popular than healing and tanking in MMOs in the first place. People also like watching those deadly numbers go higher.
So, in a vacuum, the Gunbreaker is a great addition. It’s also probably the simplest tank in FF14 right now — offering a perfect jumping-on point for players who want to try this difficult role. I’ve been a tank throughout almost my entire FF14 career. I started as a Paladin in A Realm Reborn and switched to Dark Knight in Heavensward (the first expansion). And I’m ecstatic to see so many others experience the wild business we tanks get up to in his game.
Have you ever single-handedly blocked a building-sized sword before it annihilates your entire party? Well, I have: many times. It never gets old.
The downside is that, for the first time I can remember, matchmaking isn’t instantaneous. Sometimes I have to wait upwards of 10 or 15 minutes to get into group content. And I rarely get the “adventurer in need” XP and money bonuses I used to. FF14 is just like a lot of other MMOs right now. It needs healers — badly. And there isn’t much incentive to play one. You can technically level up faster than the other two roles, but have to start from a much lower base. Even the highest-level healer in the game, the Astrologian, only begins at level 30.
Square Enix has said this “lopsidedness” isn’t really lopsided at all. That’s because the developers consider ranged DPS, melee DPS, and magical DPS as their own distinct roles. By that logic, ranged damage-dealers were actually the most lacking group. And the Dancer brought them back in line.
That… is a very silly explanation. The distinction between these three flavors of DPS is purely academic, since FF14 itself doesn’t differentiate between them at all. The matchmaking and in-game bonuses only operate in terms of tanks, healers, and DPS. Why should we be any different?
Overall, Shadowbringers is an absolutely stellar addition to FF14. The story, dungeons, and new zones are killer. I’d even go so far as to call it the best expansion yet — for the best MMO on the market. But there continue to be very odd decisions made about what does and does not get developed for the game. Besides this latest “healer crisis,” Shadowbringers‘ gender-locked new races remain a black spot of the add-on. It’s all especially odd in a game where gender expression, fashion, queerness, and just a generally supportive community are so important.
I’m not going to stop playing by any means. I won’t even give up tanking altogether. But unless something changes, my life in FF14 just got a little bit more difficult. Maybe I ought to take up healing for a while and help support all those new tanks on their journey. That feels like the right thing to do right now.