The Final Fantasy series has always had a special place in my heart. Sure, it’s not a franchise for everyone, and it had some severe mismanagement and blunders during the past decade or so, but no one can deny the impact it’s had on gaming throughout its 35 years of existence so far.
When I say it holds a special place for me, I really mean it. At during one of my youth’s lowest points, Final Fantasy VIII was my escapism amidst my living conditions at the time (start of my parents’ divorce, living with my mom’s family all crammed up in an apartment, new small school with no friends, sleeping on a mattress in the floor, and my small tv resting on top of a plastic chair).
I’m also an unrepentant MMO junkie ever since I first journeyed into the world of Ragnarok Online and beyond. Now, just because I like these two things doesn’t mean that I played Final Fantasy XIV when it was first released in 2010. Like many other MMO players, I completely dodged the initial 1.0 version of FFXIV for obvious reasons. Because of its disastrous launch, in addition to me being an avid World of Warcraft player, and the complicated state of things in my life at that time, I had little to no interest in A Realm Reborn when it launched in 2013.
A few years later I began to get entranced by FFXIV through a video of the Thordan fight, and the game’s soundtrack, slowly but surely, lured me in, one banger theme at a time. Curious as I was though, I didn’t have the means to purchase the game, let alone pay for its subscription fee during the days of Heavensward.
Burned out of WoW gold farming, I traded some of it to have the means to finally try FFXIV out in 2017, and thus I embarked on a long journey across Eorzea. I must confess that I first erroneously approached this game with my then WoW mentality at first (skipping parts of the story, ‘muh endgame,’ and whatnot), but thankfully I slowly started to steer away from that by the time I was going through Heavensward.
Fast forward a couple years, and bam, Shadowbringers’ story had completely blown my mind. Now, we find ourselves at the end of 2021, and Endwalker is upon us. This is the end of a long chapter, not just in terms of narrative, but it also represents the culmination of all the hard work Naoki Yoshida and his team poured into — a hard work that has paid off immensely. FFXIV is not just one of gaming’s most impressive comeback stories, but with Endwalker, it now boasts one of the best video game stories ever, kept in its very structured and manageable MMO formula.
This is my personal review of it.
In case the above warning didn’t catch your attention, yes, there will be spoilers.
TALES OF LOSS AND FIRE AND FAITH
When they said that Endwalker would conclude the Hydaelyn vs. Zodiark storyline that began with A Realm Reborn they weren’t joking. This is it, the literal end of the road, everything gets tied up pretty nicely, and answers are received.
One of the bigger strengths of Final Fantasy XIV is its story and presentation, it’s what makes it stand out among the other MMOs in the market right now. Having come off so strong with Shadowbringers many doubted that they could repeat that high note with Endwalker, but they did — it’s just as good, certainly different in some aspects, and better in others.
Once again, Natsuko Ishikawa did an amazing job writing the story, she deserves all the praise she’s gotten, and the praise that is to come. Since this is the end of a multi-chapter narrative, it’s pretty much imperative that you had followed the story so far, there is no ifs and buts about it. If you skipped all the story up to this point then I’m sorry for you.
The Final Days are upon Eorzea, and it’s up to the Warrior of Light and the Scions to once again, save everyone. Being the finale of a multi year narrative, the stakes are at its highest, and naturally, the tone and setting of the story are of a broader scope when compared to Shadowbringers and all other past expansions. Your adventures this time aren’t just centered around a specific region or alternate world, they span far different reaches of the Star and beyond.
I have to say that this expansion does start a bit slow, and you don’t actually fight anything during your first hour or so, in fact, there’s not much combat this time around outside of the key moments, dungeons, and scenarios. Labyrinthos is honestly a slog that intensifies the initial slow start of Endwalker, and the zone remains a slog even during its second visit (excluding certain heartfelt moments). Some of the most impactful moments are structured around the MMO part of this game, and follow the same formula as Shadowbringers, so you know when to expect a trial and dungeon.
Everyone that has played past expansions knew that the Moon being shown from the get-go meant that it wasn’t going to be the final zone, but I honestly did not expect to go to the past, and to the literal edge of the universe during this journey. Thavnair’s take on Indian culture was quite impressive, even though it suffers from a slow start too. I’m no history buff but Garlemald very much resembled a post-WW2 setting, down to the loyal to the end Quintus and civilians distrustful of their erstwhile enemies.
Elpis was a beautiful area that gave us a glimpse of the Ancients in their prime, and how they looked at life. Ultima Thule is such an emotionally strong journey from start to finish, I’ve never seen an MMO area have such an emotional impact on its players before, but I’m yet to meet someone who did not feel any kind of emotion during their journey across that zone.
I also did not expect Zodiark to be the first trial, it’s an amazing fun fight and the music just amps the hype up to eleven, but it does fall a bit short if you’re in the mindset of expecting to encounter Zodiark after so many years of being built up — but that’s how Endwalker’s wild ride goes, it all culminates with you fighting Zenos in a duel that takes place at the literal edge of the universe while the expansion’s main banger theme plays, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The core message of Endwalker is beautiful, and very much welcomed in these turbulent times we live in. The message of hope, to “seek and find joy, even as darkness descents, and amidst deepest despair, light everlasting” is something that truly resonated with me because of the current situation of my complex life, as I’ve been personally found myself suffocated by growing despair lately due to my own struggles to start a new life, and all the obstacles being thrown at me that I can’t simply power through.
But among all that, it’s the small joys in life, the small brief moments that have kept me going, and Endwalker has its own fair share of such moments, from the Scions sharing a meal and drinks, Julles, the Garlean soldier breaking into tears over the kindness of those that up until recently were his enemies, and many more.
The laughter shared with friends, the brief moments of happiness with my brother, the joy of making others smile, the messages of support, to be able to help others with my limited skillset, these are things that very much parallel that which Endwalker is trying to tell you, and this is what made it hit me so deeply like no other recent game has.
“…and in suffering find strength, and purpose. And hope.”
Venat’s cutscene (if you played the game, you know which one I’m talking about), is honestly, one of the best cutscenes there’s been because of how its metaphorical scenes exalt the message of her words.
In other words, the game is trying to tell you to not be a blackpilled doomer, there’s always hope for a better tomorrow. That’s the tl;dr of Endwalker’s message.
Hermes/Fandaniel/Amon is quite the fascinating character. Sure, he doesn’t hold a candle to Emet-Selch, but he doesn’t need to — besides, it would’ve been a fool’s errand to try and topple Emet, the one character that managed to dethrone FFVII’s Sephiroth as the top Final Fantasy villain after all these years.
It’s interesting to see bits and pieces of one man throughout three different eras of his existence, up until becoming the unhinged and deranged Fandaniel. Hermes is shown as a depressed man, disillusioned at the state of his civilization and how they nonchalantly toyed with the concept of life, discarding creations not deemed worthy of their perfect utopia like it was nothing. It is what drove him to find his own answers to the meaning of life, creating the Meteia that travelled the stars — ultimately triggering the Final Days.
Meteion is an alright character as well. FFXIV has a strong element of making you understand that which you will end up fighting against, and Meteion serves as a conduit to understanding the final boss, the Endsinger, which is in itself, an absolute spectacle of an encounter.
Emet-Selch and Hythlodaeus, two fan favorite characters, make one last final(?) appearance, effectively closing up the Ascian storyline and symbolically passing the torch to you, the new stewards of the Stars. Emet’s narration as you enter a new area for the first time is just superb.
As of this post, the trial series hasn’t been announced, here’s me hoping that it’s the Four Fiends and Golbez so I can jam to Hyadain’s Four Fiends once more.
On the matter of callbacks, I like how certain cutscenes paid homage to the game’s 1.0 roots, and how, depending on what content you have cleared, certain NPCs will show up to cheer you on and support your final journey.
One of the new additions that I liked was the brief segments were some NPCs would follow you around.
There’s much charm to be found in those moments where you have some of the Scions (and others) accompany you. The very first one made me a bit nostalgic of FFVIII, because that was my first experience with that kind of mechanic.
All in all, Endwalker is an amazing roller coaster full of emotion. From very dark moments, moments that make you root and cheer for NPCs overcoming despair, to Puddingway’s charming levity. I don’t wanna keep going into details out of chance that someone who hasn’t finished it is reading this (go do that instead).
The only real criticism that I can give of the story as a whole lies in its pacing issues, especially at its start. Naoki Yoshida stated that Endwalker was roughly 30% longer than Shadowbringers, with more story cutscenes than the previous expansion. This ended up being a bit of a double edged sword in some moments, as there are parts that do feel a bit too long and drawn out, and others too short, but when things get real, they do get real, and there’s so much good that the few bad parts end up being completely eclipsed.
The other problem, however, is the long queues and login errors, which end up impeding and frustrating many out of enjoying such an amazing story. Game is so full right now that you literally can’t buy it.
I strongly suggest playing Endwalker for its story, which means playing and stomaching through these problems and weathering the queue lines during prime time. I’m certain it’s only a matter of time for these issues to be fixed, and the server capacity problems alleviated in one way or another.
Endwalker is, without a doubt, one of the best Final Fantasy stories there’s been, and one of the best video game storylines ever made. I understand MMOs are not for everyone, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying such an amazing narrative.
If you played Shadowbringers and are by now familiar with how the game flowed, then expect little to no surprises with Endwalker, as Shadowbringers was the baseline for Endwalker’s gameplay changes.
At its core, it is essentially Shadowbringers 1.5, so do not expect any revolutionary (and often counterproductive) reinvention of the wheel. Many Jobs got some much needed Quality of Life improvements that alleviate some of the tedious parts of their core rotation, such as certain buffs being turned into charges with a less strict timer.
Certain actions were condensed, and some combos have now been consolidated into one button. It feels like they’re doing a test run of this with some specific actions, because the fact that they didn’t do it to more obvious ones is a bit baffling. For example, there is no reason for Astrologian’s Draw and Play to still be two different buttons, a situation made more complicated with the reintroduction of Minor Arcana and Crown Play — I know there’s a certain third party plugin that solves this, but we don’t talk about that.
On the other hand, Machinist and Dark Knight, which received major overhauls in Shadowbringers, don’t have much new this time around. The rest of the tanks got massively improved cooldown abilities while Dark Knight still relies on its tried and true Blackest Night.
A ‘stat squish’ was bound to happen sooner or later, and it came with Endwalker. The removal of belts helps simplify the gearing process, and these had no visual impact on your character whatsoever.
In the end, everyone got a little bit of something that improves their gameplay mechanics in one way or another. That’s how it should be, in my opinion, just keep improving them with each iteration. Certain MMOs used to be until they took different design paths.
Even the non combat aspects of gameplay got its own fair share of changes. Gathering items feels faster now since you can further manipulate the amount of gathered items through your actions in a better way now that gathering High Quality items is no longer a thing. Fishing remains the gigachad profession in the game, while Crafting remains as intuitive as ever, although you do end up automating all those buttons up with macros at the end.
It wouldn’t have been an proper expansion without some new Jobs (classes) to play. Endwalker comes with
two three new Jobs: Reaper, Sage, and Summoner.
The edge, the absolute edge of this new Job. I’m still leveling mine, but from what I’ve plated of it so far, Reaper is an exceptionally fun Job to play as. Its gameplay rotation flows very nicely, the animations are flashy and look dope, outshining every other melee Job in the game right now.
The dev team may have overtuned Reaper a bit, because as it stands, it feels like it does too much damage, to the point of completely rendering Dragoon and most Samurai obsolete, nothing that a little bit of tuning can’t fix. Numbers can be easily adjusted, fun not so much, and Reaper is both edge and fun.
It’s a healer, with fin funnels.
I’ve played Sage far more than Reaper so far, and I gotta say I enjoy it. A piece of advice: If you’re new to healing then there may be a bit of a steeper learning curve healing with Sage than say, White Mage, but you can and will quickly learn the ropes and know when to use which cooldown.
You’re expected to juggle through your cooldown buttons to reduce incoming damage and not just blasting through all of them at once, or you’re going to have a bad time on the next dungeon pull.
It feels different enough to its other “Barrier Healer” counterpart, Scholar, in the same manner Astrologian differs from White Mage even though they all serve the same fundamental healing role.
I’m pretty sure WoW players were expecting Sage to be more akin to a Discipline Priest (for those that don’t know, Discipline is a priest specialization where you primary prevent damage through shields while converting your damage done into healing to marked players). On a basic level yes, you have to deal damage to heal a marked target (your tank most of the time), but this alone won’t be sufficient, that’s why you have to know when to press what, there in lies Sage’s key to success.
One of its drawbacks is that its mana regen is tied to it’s Addersgall resource, and you might start to get a bit mana starved if you don’t make proper cycling of this resource by spending it properly.
You also have lasers that go pew pew, and at level 82 they become even more flashier and pew pew-y. Definitely a fun healer to play as, but not one I’d recommend as your first healer if you’re new to the role.
The third new job in Endwalker.
Summoner was actually the first Job I played as when I first started playing FFXIV because it was the ‘dot’ class. It always felt like a mixed bag of different play styles from different years mashed together into one, with a long and rather strict rotation that at times punished you greatly.
They completely reworked the Job from the ground up, removed all of its damage over time spells, and turned it into a Job worthy of its namesake, one that evokes other Summoners in previous Final Fantasy games. The core gameplay has been replaced by a much simplified and barebones cycle of going through all of your Pokem—I mean, summons, and spending their corresponding charges. It doesn’t really feel complete until level 86, that’s when you get 1 new ability for each of your basic summons and essentially complete your DPS rotation toolkit.
You will either love its newfound simplicity or hate it, there is no real in between. I personally find it fun, but I completely understand if you don’t like how simple it’s become, given all of its past reputation as being a “high IQ” Job to play as.
Certainly so, it’s one Job I can now recommend to new players and to those unfamiliar with MMO mechanics due to its straightforward formula and extreme mobility.
Because it shares a base class with Scholar, leveling Summoner gets you a free healer and vice versa, so yeah, there’s that too
MUSIC OF THE END
What is there to say? Soken did it again, the absolute madman.
If the expansion is a fantastic wild ride, then so is its music. From start to finish, it’s an amazing soundtrack and once again, a testament of Soken’s prowess as a composer. Plenty of vocal tracks this time around too, from the Endwalker main theme sung by Sam Carter from The Architects, Amanda Achen’s beautiful voice in Flow, to Jason Charles Miller in Close in the Distance.
If the story’s narrative evokes deep emotion in you, then its music just exacerbates them to greater heights. I’ve always said that even if you don’t like MMOs or have any interest in Final Fantasy at all, FFXIV’s soundtrack is worth listening to. Nowadays you can catch most of it (aside from the most recent releases) through streaming platforms, so it’s never been easier to listen to it.
No surprises here. They will continue to adhere to the tried and true endgame formula that they’ve been polishing for years now. Why reinvent the wheel, when this one works quite well for what it needs to be, and with other casual forms of content at your disposal, there is no need to funnel everyone into an endless raid labyrinth.
Other than the removal of belts, endgame gearing remains as-is, with many avenues for casual players to catch up and gear up as the expansion’s patch cycle runs its course. At the end of the day, FFXIV doesn’t have an endless gearing treadmill, which is good, and thus is more respectful of your time in this regard.
One positive change in Extreme trials (and older raid content), is the introduction of coffers that speed up gearing and, in the case of older content, obtaining items for the true endgame: Glamour.
In the case of Extreme trials, only two have been released so far. Zodiark EX is extremely easy, and essentially an introductory fight to higher difficulty content. The way each of the boss’ abilities has a distinct color and shape attached to it helps train newcomers to react to these types of mechanics.
On the other hand, Hydaelyn EX is a more proper boss encounter, but not that difficult either. It has a little bit of everything (stack, spread, move, DPS checks) to once again, acclimate new players into FFXIV’s endgame environment. Another fun fight to partake into.
Adding a weapon coffer in addition to a regular weapon drop can potentially reduce the amount of time you have to invest in getting your desired weapons, and this is a win-win for everyone. As it stands, the savage version of Pandæmonium: Asphodelos hasn’t been released. The normal mode is pretty much normal mode, designed to be easily clearable, and don’t get me started on WILD FREAKS.
The Hydaelyn vs Zodiark storyline has come to an end, but there’s still plenty of content to come. Some of the announced features of Endwalker are yet to be released too, from the delayed Dragonsong Ultimate raid, to the comfy not-Harvest Moon Island Sanctuary. The upcoming 24 man raids, an entire trial series, and the relic weapons via whatever form of content will succeed Eureka and Bozja Southern Front are some of what’s to be expected across Endwalker’s two year span.
Whatever next expansion comes after Endwalker may be a much grounded one, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d personally like to see something of an exploration based expansion, after all, there’s plenty of places in Eorzea left to visit, the matter of the Void, the rest of the reflections, and beyond, Emet-Selch himself gave players a little teaser of many of the still unexplored corners of Eorzea.
Again, Endwalker, and by extension, Final Fantasy XIV as a whole, are worth playing for its story content and manageable MMO mechanics and time requirements. The only thing deterring me from fully telling you to jump in right now are the long queues and server issues — and the fact that sales of the game and its meme’d free trial have been suspended because the game is literally full.
I may be mistaken, but this is probably the one instance of a game that at some point had its sales stopped because of how bad it was — now becoming a game so good sales of it had to be stopped (twice) because of how good it is. I hope this is all done and sorted out soon so more people can get to enjoy the game, and those currently in don’t have to resort to cheating the AFK timer and whatnot.
There will come a day when I stop playing FFXIV altogether, but Endwalker’s messages of hope are something I will carry on with me long after that day comes. Since I’m kinda stuck right now with regards to my US visa stuff, feel free to message me if you wanna play together. I’m on the Cactuar server (Aether DC) along with the rest of the Imagine Dragoons lads.
Forge ahead, till the end, my friends.