Final Fantasy XIV Gunbreaker Class Review
A strong, silent gaze. Spiky hair. Stylish black leather jacket. And, of course, the gunblade: a sword with a gun attached. Or is it a gun with a sword attached? Either way, when Square Enix revealed the Gunbreaker class for Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers early this year, fans of the Final Fantasy series were thrilled. The gunblade has been an iconic weapon for modern Final Fantasy iterations. It’s the kind of weapon that says “Watch out, we’re dealing with a badass over here.” And while some were disappointed that Gunbreaker was filling the tank role instead of the DPS role, there were still plenty of people ready to take up a new weapon in XIV’s next expansion.
Until I held the figurative soul crystal in my hands, I had little interest in Gunbreaker. It wasn’t the tank role that had me shrugging my shoulders: I’ve been a tank main for years. I simply saw little reason to hang up my Warrior axe, especially with a myriad of changes made to tanking quality of life. That, and I had no real love for the gunblade or the characters that have wielded it in the Final Fantasy franchise. Now? You’ll have to dig up my tomb and pry it from my icy grip first.
TL;DR: I fucking love Gunbreaker.
I like to think of Gunbreaker as “what Gladiator could have been.” Those who have played Final Fantasy XIV’s Paladin class may remember that their journey begins first as a Gladiator – an arena fighter that uses one sword in swift combat. Eventually, the Gladiator turned Paladin picks up a shield for the true sword and shield tanking experience. Not so the Gunbreaker, who wields a single-handed weapon (the gunblade) without taking up an offhand weapon.
While at times I feel that the Gunbreaker is lacking something to aid in their combat abilities held in their off-hand, the visual style is nonetheless smooth and satisfying. Gunbreaker uses large, sweeping strikes, some with the visual flair you might find on the Machinist’s skills. They attack swiftly like the Paladin, with the aggressive force of a Warrior and the utility of a Dark Knight. Essentially, they’re a little like a hybrid tank, in all the best ways.
The Gunbreaker is best suited to the off-tank role. It isn’t their capacity as a main tank that is in question: Gunbreakers can hold threat and take damage like the rest of the tank squad. It’s that their kit is better suited for the off-tank role, where they can assist the main tank through shared threat (Shirk), mitigation (Heart of Stone), and party support (Heart of Light). That said, let’s delve into their skill sets to see how this all comes together.
Gunbreaker Attack Chains & Cartridges
The Gunbreaker’s class resource mechanic is the Powder Gauge, which can hold two Cartridges. Three skills (Solid Barrel, Demon Slaughter, and Bloodlust) can add Cartridges to the Gunbreaker’s Powder Gauge. These Cartridges can then be consumed to activate the Gnashing Fang chain, Burst Strike, and Fated Circle. Most of these abilities are within the Gunbreaker’s attack chains, except Bloodlust.
- Basic Single Target Chain: Keen Edge -> Brutal Shell -> Solid Barrel
This chain is the Gunbreaker’s basic filler attack sequence. While Keen Edge does nothing of note other than begin the chain, both of the following abilities in the chain should be noted. Brutal Shell, in addition to doing damage, heals the Gunbreaker and creates a barrier on them equal to the power of the heal, and works with Heart of Stone (explained later). Solid Barrel, meanwhile, adds a Cartridge to the Powder Gauge. On single targets, this Cartridge can be used either for the single target Burst Strike, or for the following enhanced chain.
- Enhanced Single Target Chain: Gnashing Fang (Jugular Rip) -> Savage Claw (Abdomen Tear) -> Wicked Talon (Eye Gouge)
This is the Gunbreaker’s most damaging chain, and is recommended to be used on cooldown, even in AoE situations. It begins with Gnashing Fang, a Cartridge ability on a 30 second cooldown. The remaining abilities have no cooldown and do not require a Cartridge, making it worthwhile to complete the chain once you’ve started it.
While Gnashing Fang, Savage Claw, and Wicked Talon are independent abilities on the global cooldown, the level 70 skill Continuation is an oGCD extension of these three abilities. With it, you can expand your damage chain from three hits to six in the same amount of time. Continuation automatically changes to the appropriate skill on your hot bar, which makes it easy to fire off this combo with a comfortable set of four hotkeys. When this combo is on cooldown, use Burst Strike to ‘dump’ one of your Cartridges, but only if your Powder Gauge is full (2/2) – always have one Cartridge ready to start this chain again.
- Multiple Target Chain: Demon Slice -> Demon Slaughter (+Fated Circle)
The Gunbreaker’s AoE chain is simple. Both Demon Slice and Demon Slaughter attack in a full circle around the Gunbreaker, making it easy to AoE down enemies and to pick up threat. Demon Slaughter adds one Cartridge to the Powder Gauge. As the Gunbreaker is likely to be in a continued AoE situation here, it is recommended they then use that Cartridge on Fated Circle, a third AOE ability that serves as a sort of finisher to this chain.
Additional Offensive Abilities
- DoTs: Sonic Break, Bow Shock
The Gunbreaker has two damage over time abilities. Sonic Break is a single target DoT that lasts for 30 seconds, while Bow Shock is an AoE DoT that lasts for 15 seconds. Both are on a 60 second cooldown and have the same potency, and are worth using whenever possible.
- oGCD Direct Damage: Danger Zone/Blasting Zone
Danger Zone is a strong oGCD ability on a 30 second cooldown, and transforms into Blasting Zone at level 80. Blasting Zone more than doubles the potency, making this a very powerful oGCD strike for a tank. Use it on cooldown, even in AoE situations.
- Closer: Rough Divide
Rough Divide has two charges on a 30 second timer with no additional cooldown. This is a jumping attack that leaps the Gunbreaker to the target and does a modest amount of damage. It also does not break ongoing chains, meaning that in addition to closing the gap between the Gunbreaker and the enemy, it can be used as an additional bit of damage.
- Ranged Threat: Lightning Shot
While ‘enmity’ (Final Fantasy XIV’s version of threat) has been removed from most tank abilities and focused entirely into their tank stance as part of the ability rework, Lightning Shot still has the additional enmity effect on it. This is a mid-range light attack with no cooldown, best used for establishing threat or when forced to move out of melee range of a target.
- Cooldown: No Mercy
On a 60 second cooldown, No Mercy increases the Gunbreaker’s damage dealt by 20% for 20 seconds. A great chance to boost damage (and threat, if in tank stance). Best used in coordination with the enhanced single target chain.
Defensive and Utility Abilities
- Royal Guard
Shadowbringers included a comprehensive combat rework that included the way tank classes handle threat and reduced damage. The base damage reduction has been built in to the class itself. Meanwhile, threat has been removed from individual abilities and funneled into a single “threat stance” that can be toggled on or off. For Gunbreakers, this is Royal Guard, and it must be on if you intend on staying at the top of the threat list for any period of time.
- Nebula & Camouflage
These are both standard tanking cooldowns. Nebula is your strongest damage reduction, so save it for the worst tankbusters. Camouflage is primarily a parry buff, so use it when you’re tanking a physical target; it won’t be as effective otherwise.
This is a low-potency heal over time that can be used on yourself or another party member. It can be a useful bandage in a pinch, but remember that the healing will be gradual, not instant.
- Heart of Light
This is an area-of-effect defensive buff against magic for yourself and your party. It’s got a modest cooldown of 90 seconds. I’ve found it mostly useful against party-wide AoE damage as an assistance to healers.
- Heart of Stone
This is one of Gunbreaker’s two uniquely styled defensive cooldowns. At its most basic level, Heart of Stone offers you a 15% damage reduction for seven seconds, on a paltry 25 second cooldown. That, alone, makes Heart of Stone worth keeping up constantly, and a perfect CD to break out for frequently used tankbusters.
On top of that, however, Heart of Stone can be used on another party member – and, if you have Brutal Shell (your shield from your basic attack chain) up, it will also give that shield to the party member. This ability really makes Gunbreakers shine as an off-tank, as they can be constantly giving the main tank extra mitigation in the form of both a shield and a damage reduction. Regardless of your situation, use this ability liberally.
Ah, the Holmgang/Living Dead of Gunbreaker. Superbolide is an incredibly powerful defensive cooldown, one that your healers are going to love or hate you for. This is how it works: it drops the Gunbreaker to 1 HP, while making them immune to all damage for 8 seconds (except for damage intended to wipe the party, such as a berserk timer.)
The natural instinct is to treat Superbolide as an “oh shit” button for getting out of the worst moments, and sure, it can be used for that purpose. The problem is, if your healer is in the middle of casting a life-saving heal on you, you may be wasting their cooldown just as Superbolide goes off. Likewise, it’s not great to cause your healer to panic, when the cooldown can be used to actually reduce the stress on a healer instead by giving them a window to focus on raid healing, fight mechanics, or assistive DPS instead.
Instead, the recommendation is to communicate with your healer and use Superbolide only after giving them a heads up that it will be used. Some tanks have been using this effectively for AoE pulls in dungeons, as it gives the healer a chance to throw some hard DPS in the eight second window to further speed up the clear. Likewise, it can also be used during the phases of a fight where burst DPS is essential. Be a considerate tank and think of your healer’s situation before hitting that button – and consider making a macro to give time for the healer to adjust.
Gunbreaker and the Meta
I’m not a fan of analyzing the meta, and I’ve long since exited the hardcore min/maxing scene of the elite end game experience. The meta is also always changing, and early in the expansion, meters are fluctuating from day to day. That said, I’ll do my best to address where Gunbreaker is at the time of this article’s posting, two weeks into Shadowbringers.
Gunbreaker’s damage, despite some outlandish claims, is on par with other tanks. Meters show it ranging anywhere from first to third out of the four tank classes depending on the time of day you pull the report on FF Logs. The differences between the four tank classes are essentially minor, and all four rank just above healers and securely below all DPS classes. Don’t mistake Gunbreaker for a “DPS that can tank” – like the Warrior, they are a tank that can DPS effectively, especially at higher skill levels.
The Gunbreaker is proving no “squishier” than any other tank so far, given its robust defensive options and the standardized base damage reduction offered to all tank classes. Likewise, threat is essentially equal among all four tanks, given the normalization of threat in the combat rework. More than ever, good tanking is based on knowledge and skill.
As to which of the four tank classes is the most fun to play? Ultimately it’s personal preference. I worry that Gunbreaker outshines the other tank classes in becoming more engaging than the simplified kits of the other tanks. After all, the three other tank classes had two different single target combos – a threat combo and a DPS combo – which have been reduced to a single combo with a different finisher. That’s far less involved than GNB’s enhanced combo from the cartridge system. And while all three have their own resources to use to empower additional attacks, it doesn’t quite feel the same level of involvement or complexity.
Perhaps that complexity is the very reason why I find Gunbreaker so rewarding compared to my previous tank experiences, and the state of the other tanks at this time. It’s not that I oppose the simplification of some of the combat experience for tanks; I felt that the previous system of dual stances and threat combos was a little unnecessary. It’s just that Gunbreaker retains the right level of things to do in combat, and adds on top of that some useful support abilities and a fun fighting style.
Gunbreaker feels like an ideal tank class for those who are used to DPS, along with those who feel dissatisfied with some of the tank combat changes in Shadowbringers. While a fourth tank class didn’t feel necessary in the same way a third ranged physical DPS (Dancer) did, I feel it’s a remarkably fun addition that doesn’t upturn the meta. And sometimes, the best things in life aren’t what were needed, but were given to us anyway.
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