Oh, Final Fantasy XIV, what a journey the last decade has been. It’s surreal to think that the game which launched to such tepid reception in 2010 would go on to essentially dethrone World of Warcraft in 2021, with players queued thousands-deep on each server to experience its fourth expansion.
And yet here we are, at the end of the game’s first massive story arc and the precipice of a glorious future. This path we have walked has led us to the best expansion in Final Fantasy XIV’s history, and the best new Final Fantasy story in years.
Endwalker is, as mentioned, the end of the MMORPG’s first macro-storyline, the “Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga.” Everything from the last 8-11 years has led to this moment, and the buildup is palpable. Throughout the main storyline, old plot threads become relevant again, long-lost friends are remembered, and even dispatched villains get a taste of new development.
The game’s cast is massive by this point; your main allies, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, outnumber the playable crews of most previous Final Fantasy games, to say nothing of the horde of other familiar faces. And yet, every single Scion gets their time to shine, as does practically every notable ally we’ve made along the way.
“Endwalker is, as mentioned, the end of the MMORPG’s first macro-storyline, the “Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga.””
Despite all the players on-stage juggling plot threads, Endwalker’s main questline is the most balanced and well-paced section of Final Fantasy XIV to date. The stakes start high and only escalate from there, and the typical RPG quests along the way are kept to a tasteful minimum. Unlike previous expansions, where the pacing is brought to a crawl as you explore each new area via a series of fetch-quests, Endwalker whisks you from one beautiful new region to the next with adequate haste.
Assisting with this is the new “accompaniment” mechanic, where certain allies will follow you on quests. This is first used to show you around Old Sharlayan, one of the new cities, where two of the Scions give you a tour, share insights from their past, and guide you to each of the aetheryte waypoints around town. It’s a small thing, and I was less enthused about other applications of it, but it does go a long way to impart a sense of camaraderie with your NPC friends.
Some of the most poignant scenes for me, however, came from the segment in Garlemald. For years, we’ve heard about the homeland of the nefarious empire, and at long last, the game has brought us there. I had briefly explored it during the Endwalker media tour a few months back, but the quests that occur there do a hauntingly beautiful job of portraying the strife between the empire’s citizens and us, their bitter allies. Though Garlemald is crumbling around them, their reaction to our presence and offered aid speaks volumes—and sets the tone for the further tragedies that unfold in the next acts.
“…Endwalker whisks you from one beautiful new region to the next with adequate haste.”
From a gameplay perspective, it feels like not much has changed, depending on which class you play—which says a lot, considering how much has changed under the hood. Endwalker brings some future-proofing revisions, crunching statistics to take the strain off processing, but it’s had zero impact on the actual feel of the game. The level cap now sits at 90, which admittedly feels a little hollow when you don’t have job quests unlocking every few levels; their replacements, the role quests, aren’t accessible until much later in the campaign, and don’t have quite the same impact.
Broadly speaking, dungeons follow much the same formula as they ever have: kill all enemies in your way as you progress down a single path, fight mini-boss, repeat, fight boss, duty complete. However, some narrative trappings help mitigate any potential monotony, like one level 85 dungeon which evoked some of the most intense battles at the end of Stormblood’s postgame campaign. The bosses encountered therein are some of the best main storyline bouts I’ve experienced.
(In a similar vein, a massive boss encountered about halfway through the main quest is one of the most quintessentially Final Fantasy fights ever and had me giving a chef’s kiss even as it wiped my party twice.)
“Endwalker brings some future-proofing revisions, crunching statistics to take the strain off processing, but it’s had zero impact on the actual feel of the game.”
As for the new classes: Reaper is an interesting mid-complexity melee job, grounded thematically in Garlemald. With a little experimentation, their teleportation skills can become second nature, a worthy alternative to existing classes.
Sage, however, still strikes me as a high-end job. With no healing experience to my own name, I quickly found myself in over my head during the class quests. Other players I encountered either underperformed compared to older healing classes, or were angels upon the battlefield, depending on their personal mastery. Neither class has usurped my go-to professions, but I respect the hell out of players who can play either well.
Just as Endwalker’s story is the best to date, so too is the score, overseen again by Masayoshi Soken. When Nobuo Uematsu pulled back from the franchise, I didn’t think we’d see his like again—but Soken has proven me wrong. Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker’s soundtrack is a banger from beginning to end, implementing themes, and crossing the genre spectrum with Uematsu-level mastery.
“Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker’s soundtrack is a banger from beginning to end, implementing themes, and crossing the genre spectrum with Uematsu-level mastery.”
The only technical fault I can find is in some textures. Even on the highest settings, on both PC and PS5, you can discern some small flies in the graphical ointment if you look really closely. But after all, this is a title which once ran on PS3, so these sorts of minor flaws will happen. They didn’t detract from the expansion’s overall visual splendour.
I have no doubt that in 2-3 years, when Endwalker’s story and updates are complete and its successor is nigh, this expansion will be a perfect 10. Planned content, like the cozy mode Island Sanctuary, sounds like worthy accompaniment to the lofty plot presented at launch, and it will be fascinating to watch the next chapter begin in patch 6.1 this spring.
As it is, it’s enough to relish the new environments and digest the hefty narrative implications of the whirlwind that is its main quest. May we not truly see the end of this game for many, many years to come.