As of January 2022, I will have accumulated a total of 1,560 days subscribed to Final Fantasy XIV. My relationship with the game began in full during the beta period for FFXIV A Realm Reborn. While the rebirth of the title was something of a substantial improvement, A Realm Reborn was still known for tedious fetch quests. For a time, the community even suggested new players skip through the entirety of its story to reach what endgame content the game then afforded. The quality of the MMORPG would only improve with Heavensward‘s more focused storyline and new Job Classes. While my excitement for expansions dwindled since the release of Stormblood and Shadowbringers, I felt a familiar rush when FFXIV Endwalker was revealed. For the first time in roughly two years, I was excited for an expansion again. I was eager to keep up with updates and curious as to how the team would resolve a story that expanded over the course of some 10 years. However, one thing remains clear. Final Fantasy XIV continues to build upon an already solid foundation to bring a better experience to players year after year.
The introduction to Endwalker begins almost immediately, and is less of a slow burn compared to previous FFXIV expansions. Players are taken to Old Sharlayan, a bureaucratic city-state that remained a place of importance since before the beginning of A Realm Reborn. Serving as one of two player hubs, the locale is heavily decorated and populated with scholars and a variety of other residences. There is an immediate sense of culture to be found within the city. It is a testament to the world-building FFXIV has become paramount in providing.
From there the plot progresses slowly, hamstrung by the very nature of the isolationist city-state and the very secrets it keeps. The escort quests involve accompanying the likes of G’raha Tia and other Scions of the Seventh Dawn and feel intentional in that way. While they serve as a fair bit of filler, they introduce the player to areas of importance and allow you to ask these familiar NPCs about the history of the city. That said, these pseudo-escort missions do begin to overstay their welcome well into the 10 hour mark of the expansion. The frequency at which they appeared left me wanting the old tried and true fetch quest formula to reappear. This specifically becomes something of an annoyance much further into the expansion.
In addition, while the region of Thavnair is now explorable through the FFXIV Endwalker expansion, it feels more or less like a stepping stone. It is not wholly organic, like the sprawling Dravanian Highlands of Heavensward or the whole of Ala Mhigo in Stormblood. There is little to say about Thavnair and the colorful city of Radz-at-Han. This is mostly because of events that happen during the story. Major plot beats that appear in Thavnair focus on the grotesque hopelessness of The Final Days. They desperately try to straddle the edge of being truly abysmal and hopeful all the same. It’s a shame that this city specifically doesn’t have the opportunity to actively shine in the same way as Old Sharlayan, as it feels more culturally rich.
The player will also be taken to Garlemald fairly briefly for the story. While the narrative attempts to do better in terms of its presentation of the Garlean Empire and the various themes it tries to tackle, it largely falls flat. This is due to the use of real-world parallels that the story just can’t seem to handle appropriately before eventually moving on to more pressing matters. Like sending the player to the moon. Which is, unfortunately, mostly relegated to filler content. While the Loporrits are an adorable new addition to the game, so much of that section felt like it was implemented to stretch out the player’s time with FFXIV Endwalker. Additionally, any time Loporrits would appear outside of the moon, it would usually be to break the tension of any serious event. This ultimately made some points of the story feel like complete tonal whiplash. Specifically, there is an instance following a tense encounter with Zenos when a Lopporit will appear, begging for pudding.
This is where the narrative of Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker began to lose me. Players are left to uncover events that led to The Final Days. Characters from Shadowbringers return and are thoroughly fleshed out, while also introducing important new faces. It also reveals the full extent as to why the original star was sundered. The story eventually escalates to a cosmic scale, quite literally. I won’t go into spoilers, but I found finale of the game somewhat disappointing, as the true antagonist to a 10 year conflict is introduced some 20 or so hours into the expansion. Final Fantasy as a series has a tendency to do this, but Endwalker handles it poorly in comparison to just about every other title before it. However, little bits of fan service from previous expansions are littered here and there, which serve to remind players of the legacy of the MMORPG and hours invested into the world of Eorzea. There is a moment during the final Trial that I appreciated, but it was mostly due to the memories I held of A Realm Reborn. Outside of that, I was unaffected by the ending of Endwalker and felt mostly disappointed with the conclusion.
Thankfully, the gameplay continues to improve year after year, and this is where FFXIV Endwalker continues to shine. I was somewhat worried about major Job Class adjustments and changes, initially. However, Jobs like Gunbreaker are easier to manage on a controller. The new Summoner updates make the Job feel more involved too. Now Summoners can properly summon Primals like Garuda, Ifrit, and Titan to lay waste to their enemies. However when it comes to level 90 skills, some Jobs feel as though they have been retooled specifically for high-end Trials or Raids. A specific example is the level 90 White Mage ability. It feels as though it was designed more for party-wide AoEs and less for solo play or dungeons.
However, the most exciting Jobs in Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker are the Sage and Reaper. As you might expect, these two feel as though they were specifically designed for this expansion. Both are more mobile and reactive. The Reaper is a melee DPS Job, which has players performing a delicate balancing act between keeping three different gauges full. While the Job only has two combos, there are a plethora of skills to weave in between. This allows for the players to summon their Avatar to deal increased damage to enemies. It felt a lot like Samurai at the end of Stormblood, constantly weaving attacks together to deal massive amounts of damage. But the Reaper offers more mobility and an incredible amount of potential as a DPS during Extreme Trials.
The Sage is another refreshing Job. It feels like it has more in common with the Heavensward-era version of the Astrologian. I didn’t have the opportunity to take this Job into the two Extreme Trials, but found throwing out shields and healing to be more involved than either White Mage or Scholar in their current iterations. Additionally, the Sage rewards players for taking and distributing damage. This is an interesting change of pace. Players who are looking for a more involved experience while healing will potentially love what the Sage has to offer.
The endgame content in FFXIV Endwalker also felt extremely satisfying. Dungeons aren’t overly long, and the Extreme Trials feel accessible to new players. There are a fair bit of effects that fly over the screen. However, there are new markers that have appeared through Endwalker to better telegraph party-wide AoEs or tankbusters (extremely heavy hitting attacks reserved for tanks) that need to be soaked with both tanks. This arguably makes the Extreme Trials easier to manage, as players are now given clear markers as to what will happen and when. Naturally, they will take a bit of practice to clear, but these aren’t overly frustrating. Over the past 10 years, it has remained clear to me that one of the greatest strengths of FFXIV is in its combat design, as it continues to build on mechanics in a way that makes sense.
Another great addition throughout FFXIV Endwalker are the numerous quality-of-life changes. These include the ability to now see where you will teleport in cities through the implementation of a map now tied to aetherytes. Players will no longer need to memorize the names of specific aetherytes while navigating through cities. Instead, they can simply glance at where they will teleport. While it is a seemingly minor change, this is arguably one of my favorite things about Endwalker. Well, that and the ability to now search for items through the marketplace by crafting or gathering method. It’s a lot of the smaller quality-of-life changes that feel significant as the game continues, mostly because it makes the experience easier and more streamlined.
Ultimately, Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker marked the end of an era. Plot threads from A Realm Reborn onward come to a close. The story is rife with fanfare, paying homage to past expansions in ways that sometimes feel overmuch or hit in just the right way. While the story isn’t as effective as it could be, the combat adjustments and quality-of-life improvements make Endwalker a strong expansion.
Final Fantasy XIV and the Endwalker expansion, are immediately available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.