Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker review – a stellar expansion
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Right now Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker is so popular you can’t buy it anymore. To prevent overcrowding and crashing servers, Square Enix have had to halt free trials and new sales to keep the game stable after an unprecedented surge in popularity this summer. Between that and the global shortage of materials to add more servers, it may be quite some time until new players are able to experience it. If you have an active subscription and manage to brave the long queues however, you’re one of the lucky few who get to experience something truly special. For everyone else: hang in there, it will be worth the wait.
FFXIV is unique among MMOs in that its story is very much the focus over rushing to gear up for endgame raiding, though that’s great too. After 10 years of restarts and expansions, Endwalker is the final chapter in the tale of opposing gods Hydaelyn and Zodiark, and after the excellent Shadowbringers expectations are high. Horrible towers have appeared all around the world ushering in an apocalypse called The Final Days so you and your fellow Scions set off to stop it.
During my review-in-progress, I mentioned how the story gets off to a bit of a slow start while setting things up, but was just starting to kick off, and holy hell does it deliver. All my previous misgivings are forgiven as the game takes you in some really unexpected directions, delivering some amazing emotional punches. It really does all of the cast proud. After dealing with the trouble in Garlemald (the source of frequent strife and villains in previous expansions), you’re treated to the reveal of the grander, darker plot and set forth on a journey that takes you beyond the moon.
There are certain story beats that had me physically pointing and gasping because of just how far back some of the foreshadowing for Endwalker goes – it’s all so beautifully brought together.
It also neatly brings in a lot of plot points and characters all the way back from A Realm Reborn so that all of your favourite cast members get their chance to shine without just being shoehorned in for fan points. There are certain story beats that had me physically pointing and gasping because of just how far back some of the foreshadowing for Endwalker goes – it’s all so beautifully brought together.
However, it does also mean you miss out on much of the experience if you’ve skipped any of the previous expansion – playing through all of them is a must and if you haven’t played in a while it’s worth doing a little Google refresher to get the most out of it. In particular you really need to play the Crystal Tower and Omega raid series and all of the story linked with them. But when all of the story up to this point is so good already it’s no hardship to catch up.
Admittedly there are a few pacing issues – a handful of quests oddly overstay their welcome and the stealth sections, while commendable for trying to mix things up, can be frustrating as they just don’t work very well within an MMO. Baddie Zenos’ arc is also a bit of a letdown – his antics feel superfluous to everything else going on. Though weirdly these minor irritants and slower bits help give a bit of a mental break to process some seriously impressive moments. I could definitely feel the heat of tears trying to escape my face and the sweat on my palms due to the sheer intensity and pay off of certain moments. Thavnair and the majority of the fifth area (no spoilers here, you really need to play it) were personal highlights that I’ve continued to think about long after I’ve stopped playing.
Tying all of the story together is the sheer genius of Soken’s musical score. Characters from previous expansions will appear to versions of the soundtrack from that expansion blended into the current one alongside classic Final Fantasy themes. Moments that have been foreshadowed beforehand and accompanied by the perfect timing of lyrics from previous theme songs. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much but the way both Zodiark and Hydaelyn are represented throughout the score is phenomenal. There is just so much hope in his music – slight twinkles in dark moments that really make you feel like your Warrior of Light is rising to the occasion. And all of that while he has been privately fighting cancer is an utterly astounding accomplishment. Endwalker’s soundtrack truly is a masterpiece.
On top of all that, Endwalker also raises the level cap to 90, adds two new jobs and updates all of the pre-existing ones. It’s been great fun seeing my laser-crystal Nouliths zoom around me in battle as a healing Sage, and despite starting at level 70 it’s relatively easy to pick up if you’ve had any experience healing before. I wasn’t quite as taken with the scythe-wielding DPS Reaper, but that’s very much a personal taste thing as it’s currently sitting at the top of a lot of damage tables. Most other jobs have been streamlined a little to make room for new abilities with the raised level cap – I’ve been having a lot of fun with the slightly easier manoeuvring of Monk and the sudden burst of power in Dancer’s rotation. Summoner has received a huge reworking that players seem happy with (mine is still only level 18!), but while the size of the beasts brought forth for battle is impressive, they can fill a distracting amount of the battlefield.
The trust system that allows you to run dungeons with a party of NPCs also makes a return and is well worth doing the first time you tackle each one. In particular, if you run the level 87, 89 and 90 story dungeons with members of the cast you’ll get a lot more out of the story. It really helps make everyone feel like they’re a greater part of your team for doing it, even if it takes a little longer than doing it with other players.
After you’ve finished the main story there’s still plenty to keep you occupied including extreme versions of two trials, two other level 90 dungeons, hunts, and a recently added 8-man raid series called Pandaemonium. Currently only the ‘normal’ version of the raid is available to give people the chance to gear up before the ‘Extreme’ version drops in January, but getting a little more Lore about the Ancients is a welcome distraction. Between that, crafting and gathering to make all of the hundreds of new items and upcoming seasonal events there’s vast amounts of content to see you through to the upcoming patches and the wait to see where Square Enix will take FFXIV next.
Endwalker isn’t quite as tight of an experience as the previous expansion Shadowbringers and definitely suffers from a few pacing issues, but it’s still a must for Final Fantasy fans and exceeded all of my expectations. It’s also showing its age graphically now (the grapes memes attests to that), but if you love the main FF games and still haven’t tried this MMO yet, then you really need to fix that (when the game goes back on sale again of course) as you’re missing out on one of the greatest FF tales of all time. A genuine must play despite its flaws.