Final Fantasy XIV will bring an epic conclusion to its first story arc when it arrives on November 23. Before the next era begins, here are our hands-on impressions.
[This article is based on play of an in-development build of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, and content in the final version is subject to change.]
Fan festivals and media tours for Final Fantasy XIV are normally a larger and more personal spectacle. This year’s showings were smaller remote affairs, but director Naoki Yoshida’s excitement and personality were undiminished—not when speaking to fans at this summer’s festival, nor in his recorded remarks shared at the media tour event at the end of September.
Yoshida began his press presentation with a personal message to healthcare professionals everywhere, thanking them for their efforts during the pandemic. Acknowledging that Japan is “in a pretty tough situation,” Yoshida stated, “It’s because of their commendable efforts that we’ve been able to continue development.”
He also acknowledged the unique role Final Fantasy XIV has played in players’ lives over the last 18 months, with new players signing up to escape their real-world stresses or to even meet friends remotely in-game.
“This has only been possible thanks to the immense support of everyone in the medical community. […] We’ll carry on our own fight, in order to continue creating a game experience that you’ll enjoy. As such, I would be so glad if you don’t lose sight of hope as you work.”
Moving on to the game itself, Yoshida shared an updated player count for the rising MMORPG star. By the time his remarks were recorded in late September, Final Fantasy XIV had crossed 24 million players worldwide. It was only April of this year when Square Enix announced it had crossed 22 million players, and it now stands as the most profitable title in Final Fantasy’s 34-year history.
“Final Fantasy XIV had crossed 24 million players worldwide.”
Again, the significance of these figures wasn’t lost on Yoshida, who reflected that the game had experienced a uniquely difficult launch. Final Fantasy XIV has just entered its twelfth year of development, including the tumultuous first years with version 1.0 and its rebirth in A Realm Reborn. In 2015, before the launch of the first expansion, Heavensward, the player base totalled 4 million. The team was just grateful to still be running at that point, Yoshida said, let alone launching patches and their first expansion.
By Stormblood’s arrival in 2017, Final Fantasy XIV had 10 million players, and 16 million by Shadowbringers in 2019. Now, with the fourth expansion upon them, Yoshida again shared gratitude to the swelling player community, especially for their efforts in fostering a welcoming environment for newcomers.
Even with these reflections upon the last 11 years, and with the game’s current storyline drawing to an end, Yoshida emphasized that the team is looking forward to the next decade of service. Endwalker will close the “Hydaelyn & Zodiark Saga” that has permeated everything so far. But this is far from the end of the game, as a new storyline will kick off in just a few months with the next major update, patch 6.1.
Closing the book on this particular narrative was necessary, Yoshida explained, to prevent the game from becoming stale. Exploring mysteries for years on end without resolution can become frustrating to players.
“First, we want to tie up loose ends for the story we’ve built up over ten years,” he said. “Once those are done, then we’d like to challenge ourselves by beginning a brand-new story. That is the main theme of Endwalker as an expansion. It’s a concept I particularly cherish. So, when you play, I hope you’ll pay close attention as the story reaches its peak but also eagerly anticipate what lies ahead. You might even let your speculation run wild when it comes to certain lines of dialogue – I’d appreciate it if you could keep a look out for those too.”
[Note: Some minor details that follow may be considered spoilers.]
The story of each expansion has traditionally spilled into its subsequent patches—the Shadowbringers narrative, for example, was only brought to a complete end in May 2021 with patch 5.5. But with Endwalker shaking up this formula, it will have more to offer players, both in terms of gameplay and story.
“Especially for the story, when we look at the amount of text, cut scenes, and so on… I don’t want to give such a comparative figure, but there’s a lot more here than in Shadowbringers,” said Yoshida.
This new content will include a handful of sprawling new areas, including Old Sharlayan, Thavnair, Radz-at-han, and Garlemald, the home of the Garlean empire that has plagued our heroes from day one. Of course, players will also explore Hydaelyn’s remaining moon, where Zodiark is imprisoned, by the story’s end. A new residential district is opening in Ishgard, with housing available for purchase in 6.1. Island Sanctuary will offer some peaceful distractions as well, where Warriors of Light can engage in Stardew Valley-esque farm activities.
The playable demo included a few of these new areas. As the expansion’s major hub city, players will spend a lot of time in Old Sharlayan’s peaceful, palatial streets. Its chill background music was soothing while waiting for player parties to queue up, with flakes of snow drifting down onto my borrowed player character. I’m looking forward to seeing it come to life once the expansion launches.
Where Old Sharlayan is peaceful and bright, Garlemald is desolate and bleak, ruined by the empire’s machinations. Coasting over its darkened streets was chilling, shadowed by a massive tower. Outside the city proper is a snowy wilderness comparable to Ishgard, where I took on an A-rank hunt called Minerva alongside fellow participants.
The A-rank game we hunted in Thavnair, Sugriva, was a true challenge. After multiple tries, our party of 8-9 players eventually stood triumphant in a vibrant jungle. Inspired by India, Thavnair is alive with colours, especially after the more stark extremes of the other regions.
That Indian theme continued into the playable dungeon included in the media tour build—the Tower of Zot. Series fans may recognize this name as Golbez’ base in Final Fantasy IV, one of the expansion’s many promised links between these games. After slaying some stubborn magitek monsters, we faced off against new versions of the Magus Sisters, the recurring trio that also appeared in FFIV’s Tower of Zot. The Sisters have been reimagined, but their key strategy and signature Delta Attack remain—get ready to dodge some extreme patterns of AoE templates.
I ran the Tower of Zot twice, once with fellow participants and once with the Trust System. Introduced in Shadowbringers, this allows players to take on the game’s dungeons with AI-powered versions of their NPC allies—in this case, Alphinaud, Alisaie, and Estinien, who is a new addition to the mode. The AI characters were capable allies, and I enjoyed seeing how Estinien interacted with the twins.
Of course, Final Fantasy XIV will be receiving two new jobs in Endwalker. Reaper is a melee DPS class utilizing a scythe and dark powers. They get to impart buffs on the party in the process and can create Hellgates to enable some movement-based trickery. Similar to Dark Knights, they can summon a shadowy avatar for special attacks.
As promised in the recent Live Letter, Reapers seem like a complex yet accessible class. It only took a little trial-and-error to get used to the angle of their teleportation attacks.
The second job is the Sage, a barrier healer. When not healing allies, they deal damage with their unique new projectile weapon, the Aether-based Nouliths. They can apply the buff Kardion to an ally to heal them automatically when certain other spells are used and increase those effects with abilities like Soteria. I got the impression that it’s probably not the best option for your first healing class, but it’s got a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing what more accomplished healers can do with it.
We were also able to use the new playable race combination, male Viera. My Hyur avatar has become one of my favourite character creator products, but by the end of the demo I was considering using that bottle of Fantasia I’ve had in my inventory forever once the expansion is live.
With the level cap increasing from 80 to 90, there’s plenty of room for existing jobs to grow as well, as Yoshida detailed in the most recent Live Letter stream. I was very pleased with the changes to the classes I use most.
Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room ahead of Endwalker is the downscaling of damage values. When Endwalker was revealed, Yoshida announced that the calculations under Final Fantasy XIV’s hood would be adjusted so that it would seem players are doing less damage.
Though this sounds scary at first, players are not being nerfed. Effectively, everything has been reduced by ⅕. For example, imagine a Black Mage would currently deal 100, 000 HP with a single casting of Fire IV. After the Endwalker update, it will deal 20, 000 HP.
What’s important is that everything has been adjusted to the same degree—so the same Black Mage will take ⅕ of the damage from foes, and those enemies will likewise have ⅕ the HP in the first place.
Yoshida promised that it should take players about five minutes to adjust to the new math. Shortly after jumping into the demo build, I had to agree. Sure, if you compare the raw damage your character produces now against what they’ll dish out post-update, it’s going to seem like a considerable difference, but you ultimately won’t be any weaker for it.
The change comes as part of Square Enix’s plans to keep Final Fantasy XIV churning for at least the next ten years. Yoshida understands the confusion as a player himself, and one who “isn’t very good with numbers” at that. However, the calculations the game is working with are getting incredibly complex, and the threat of crashes is growing. Instead of risking application errors to keep churning out massive damage, the team is condensing statistics and enabling the game to focus on rendering player characters, enemies, and environments. This also leaves room to grow over the next decade of content.
Speaking of growth, teleportation costs are being adjusted. With new regions across the world to visit, and going to the freaking Moon, aethernet travel costs will have their current 999 gil gap lifted, and costs will be adjusted relative to the new expanded network of destinations. Geographically, the new regions are a fair distance apart, with Old Sharlayan farthest to the northwest corner of the map, so the infrastructure needed retooling.
During the demo, I was often paying 1400-1500 gil to warp around, though it should be noted again that the build I played is still being adjusted, and those numbers are likely to change. Nonetheless, players would be wise to reassess which aethernet hub is ideal for them to set as their favoured spawn point and consider using the Return feature in conjunction with teleporting to keep costs down.
Experience gains are also being reworked. The time it will take brand-new players to level from the start to Endwalker will be smoothed out “holistically,” and especially for those who only play a single class. Yoshida hopes that this, combined with the Trust system in Shadowbringers and Endwalker, will make the game even more welcoming to newcomers who may dread the MMORPG aspects.
By the end of my demo time, my appetite was truly whetted for the new era. I’m chomping at the bit to see not only how all the pieces fall together across the board, but where the MMORPG juggernaut goes from here. I’ll meet you all on the Moon, Warriors of Light—let’s hope this satellite doesn’t come crashing down on our homes too.