Experience the climax of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story, and encounter an even greater calamity than ever before as you travel to the far reaches of Hydaelyn and even to the moon.
Cast: Colin Ryan, Jonathan Bailey, Robert Vernon, Robyn Addison, Peter Bramhill, Timothy Watson, Bethan Walker, Bethan Cullinane, Gemma Lawrence, Luke Allen-Gale, Stefano Braschi, Gunnar Cauthery, Joanna Ruiz, Ciaran Owens, Adam Howden, Laura Aikman, Jaimi Barbakoff, Nigel Pilkington, Allan Corduner, Nigel Betts, Ben Turner, Sheena Bhattessa, Jay Saighal, Anthony Howell, Gemma Whelan, Gwilym Lee
Developer: Creative Business Unit III
Director: Naoki Yoshida
Writers: Natsuko Ishikawa, Banri Oda
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed on: PC
Also available for: PS5, PS4
It is not often that video games get a second chance. Final Fantasy XIV was originally released in 2010 to minimal fanfare; a troubled launch and an inconsistent gaming experience would generally lead many MMOs to an early grave along with many that had come before and many that were yet to come. But the Square Enix team decided to bring the realm back to life with the appropriately named Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013. Who could have expected that a game that had to be relaunched would be at a point four expansions later where Square Enix couldn’t sell the game anymore due to player congestion from the overwhelming community response to its most recent expansion, Endwalker.
2021 has been an amazing year of growth for Final Fantasy XIV with a swell of support from the franchise leading to many players picking up the game for the first time (including myself) thanks to the games free trial period (which I am sure you have heard about). But can the team led by Naoki Yoshida move this recent popularity even further with the release of Endwalker after several delays and content cancellations?
Endwalker is the accumulation of the ongoing story that began in 2013 with the relaunch of the game, and it sets out to wrap many of the loose threads created throughout its time and create a world for new stories for the next ten years of content. We know that endings to great ongoing stories can be difficult with recent history. Still, since writer Natsuo Ishikawa took over with the acclaimed Shadowbringers expansion, there was hope that this would not be similar.
Endwalker quickly brings players back into the story with the Final Days set to be ahead with the player’s Warrior of Light and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, Eorzea’s last hope. Ishikawa does a fantastic job bringing the Final Fantasy XIV story to a resounding crescendo. Continuing her work from Shadowbringers, Ishikawa continues to bring further depth to all of her returning characters, especially the ongoing villains, the Ascians, who continue to change into characters the player can connect with rather than the classic one-dimensional hooded villains.
Throughout the extended playtime of Endwalker, players are given plenty of time to get to know characters new and old while discovering many truths about the forces of light and darkness, Hydaelyn and Zodiark. But Ishikawa does seem to struggle with returning characters from beyond her previous writing scope. Many characters featured heavily in the original game. The earlier expansions (A Realm Reborn, Heavensward and Stormblood) seem to be missing for much of the plot compared to characters featured within Shadowbringers. This is made very clear by one particular fan-favourite character brought back, set to have a central role in this expansion from the trailers and preceding quests lines; Ishikawa seems to struggle with understanding their storyline. The character ultimately flounders within the overarching plot to the disappointment of many fans. Despite this apparent difficulty, the story of Endwalker is something that I do not believe will be experienced in video games again. The nuance and depth that the story is willing to go to is beyond much of modern-day video games. The fact of the matter is that Final Fantasy XIV, despite being a Massive Multiplayer Online game, truly lives up to the credentials of the Final Fantasy franchise and can be considered among its best.
Throughout the 40+ hours main storyline, players will find themselves venturing through 6 unique areas, from the Indian inspired Thavnair to the cold wastes of war-torn Garlemald. Adventures are treated to a feast for the eyes, with landscapes showing a beauty that has become a regular for Final Fantasy fans. With this landscape comes a wide array of new characters to meet and quests to go on. The team at Creative Business Unit 3 tries to vary the gameplay loop throughout the playtime, but prior to the final two areas, there was somewhat of an overreliance on ‘follow quests’. For the first time in the game’s history, players are given a chance to journey with many of the companions they have come to know throughout their time in Eorzea. Quests throughout Endwalker feature members of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn accompanying the Warrior of Light, providing further detail and character to each of the areas explored. This also goes through to the improved Trust System that allows these characters to join the player in Dungeons throughout the game rather than other players; the AI works well and forms around whatever role the character has taken.
The dungeon’s in Endwalker are designed well for the most part, with many bosses feeling new and fun to learn, though one or two of the mid expansion dungeons do fall flat compared to those surrounding it. The trust system further improves these dungeons with the added conversations coming from the NPCs. One particular dungeon towards the end of the game is made a truly fantastic experience by including the NPCs.
Along with the new systems, the story of Endwalker is made even more significant by Mayoshi Soken’s awe-inspiring score. Many of the moments throughout Endwalker are made truly memorable by the included score, to the point where returning to areas will quickly bring back emotions just from the score playing as players adventure across the landscape.
As with all Expansions for MMOs, two new jobs are added with Endwalker: ‘Reaper’ and ‘Sage’. Plus, there’s a slew of new abilities for every Job, and even several Jobs reworks. Both of the new Jobs bring unique aspects to Final Fantasy XIV. With its giant scythe, the Reaper summons the darkness of the Void to inflict large amounts of damage, with a fun rotation and minimal downtime on its abilities, Reaper currently boasts the highest damage of any Job in the game. Sage enables the player to become more flexible in the role of healer, set a partner to be your healing focus and then set your mind to destroying the foe before you, the Sage may be a difficult Job to master, but its gameplay design means it may be the most rewarding of the healing jobs.
The expansion also came to a statistics squish, which means that numbers across the game have been reduced, which is typical for MMOs throughout their lifespan. This choice also sets up Final Fantasy XIV for its next ten years of growth. This stat change also means many changes have to come to every Job in the game—each boasts new skills for the Level 90 cap and significant changes to existing skills. The latter has led to players having a new challenge with learning how best to use their jobs within these changes. For many players starting Endwalker, it could be a surprise to see many of their abilities with large red Xs when they first log in, especially for Summoner players who have had the most considerable rework from the existing Jobs. Balancing is still to be done across the board, so many Jobs will see slight changes within the foreseeable future as to be expected from any ongoing game.
Unlike many MMOs of the modern era, Final Fantasy XIV emphasizes its story, but this does not mean it strays away from what many believe to be the most important aspect of the genre: end game content. With Extreme Trials available from this initial release, there was plenty for players to dig their teeth into; both trials held an array of new mechanics for players to learn with enhanced versions of bosses from throughout the core story missions. Two weeks after the launch, the first floor of the normal raid content was released by Square Enix, with four new bosses available for players to tackle along with a new story that is set to prepare players for the future of Final Fantasy XIV.
Each of the four bosses is very entertaining to play with mechanics that some players may enjoy a new take on and several signs that the developers are only getting started with their game design mechanics. Players are currently getting ready for the new Savage Raids, more complex versions of the recent raid releases, which will be out in just a week. But Final Fantasy’s endgame also boasts plenty more content for players who are not keen on the harder difficulty content. Crafters and gatherers have plenty to do with the stories of the Studium as they level, as well as the improved Fate system to assist with levelling Alt-Jobs throughout Eorzea. With this just the beginning for endgame, there is plenty to be expected with Alliances Raids, Ultimate Raids and Relic weapons still to come.