|Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
|Dec 3, 2021
|PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
When I first began playing Final Fantasy XIV during 1.0, I never actually imagined I’d go on the scope of adventure I find myself experiencing now through Endwalker. At the time, I was heavily invested in playing Final Fantasy XI and wanted to see what this new title offered. (Spoiler: It had a lot of issues.) I would check in on the game periodically to see how it was being fixed, but I never stuck around long, until Naoki Yoshida took the reigns. Not only did his leadership lead to a lot of gameplay fixes and gameplay elements (bring back Hamlet Defense!), but he began laying the foundations of a story that would take us not only beyond the boundaries of Eorzea itself, but also the planet. It’s been a wild ride ever since, and a major part of my life for well over a decade now, and even if it doesn’t always land its punches, I cannot deny the effect it’s had on me.
As a continuation of that story that began so long ago, Endwalker takes several themes and concepts and absolutely runs full tilt with them. Written by Natsuko Ishikawa, Endwalker naturally takes a lot of cues from Shadowbringers, and if that game dealt with isolation, despair, and yearning for a past that cannot be regained, Endwalker just doubles down. Depression, anger, loss, grief, forgiveness, identity and finding one’s place in the world – Endwalker puts a lens to all of these. For those who experience these emotions, especially at the extreme, it’s easy to become lost in them and lose yourself, and it’s on all of us to help lift others up. We have to help each other. It is, at its heart, a story about overcoming adversity and finding hope despite hopelessness, but it’s also fraught and difficult at times. Nihilism and loneliness play key roles in this story, and often push to their extremes. Without going into spoilers, there were times I found the handling of some of these themes less than ideal, though I think it’s obvious through context that it wasn’t meant to be harmful. How one interacts with them will vary from player to player, but Yoshida once said in an interview that players will say, “They went there?” and he wasn’t lying. Still, it’s always the darkest before the dawn, and while I don’t think the game needed to go to the lengths it does to show that darkness, I found the payoff to be incredibly cathartic and affirming.
In the broadest strokes, though, Endwalker takes the Warrior of Light on a journey to put an end to the havoc that Zenos and Fandaniel have wrought as of the end of Shadowbringers. The world is on the brink of apocalypse, Sharlayan is being shady about the Final Days, Garlemald is embroiled in chaos, and the Grand Company of Eorzea is spread thin trying to contain the monsters spewing forth from the giant towers Fandaniel has erected throughout the world. Why does the Ascian want everyone to die? What’s his grand plan? Where does Zenos and his singular objective to fight the Warrior of Light play into these plans? And what, exactly, awaits us on the moon? As the conclusion to the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga that began a decade ago, it’s a grand journey, and one for which I can honestly say I did not expect a good many of its twists.
Much like previous expansions, Endwalker adds new gameplay elements, this time through companions and stealth. During certain sequences, the Warrior of Light now has the opportunity to walk alongside their companions or other NPCs and talk with them about either the plot, or random trivia regarding a specific location. You cannot teleport or move too far away from them, otherwise they reset back to the starting point of the escort quest, but they also cannot be hurt if you happen to get into a fight, so that’s nice. I really like the immersive aspect of it and being able to chat with some of my favorite NPCs, but like most new gameplay elements introduced to XIV, it eventually overstays its welcome. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was relegated only to Main Scenario Quests (MSQs), but it’s also used in sidequests with random NPCs and rapidly loses its charm in those instances. It is, however, astoundingly great for Group Pose shots, and if we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s its main function. Of the two new gameplay elements introduced in Endwalker, it’s the one I prefer.
Endwalker also added stealth quests to the game, and these are vastly more hit-and-miss than the companion walkabouts. Like the previously-mentioned element, stealth is used in both MSQ and sidequests, and definitely overstays its welcome by about the third instance of it. The most common implementation is for the Warrior of Light to follow behind an NPC without being spotted. It is the most bare bones, basic use of stealth in a game, with repetitive “hide behind a rock” mechanics and instant fail punishment that sends you right back to the beginning of the mission. There are no checkpoints, save I think in one instance. It’s monotonous. I appreciate the effort the team put in to giving us a new style of play, it just suffers from any real depth. My hope is that if we continue to use it, they add a bit more complexity to it, as well as checkpoints, to remove some of the tedium.
Outside the two new gameplay elements, Endwalker introduced a handful of job overhauls and tweaks, as well as several quality of life changes. The biggest change is the stat squish, which significantly downscaled HP and damage values in order to prevent overflow on the backend. In practice, it didn’t change much outside the size of the numbers you deal in battle, but it did have the side-effect of making things feel like they took longer, especially in lower-level content. Endwalker also changed the Global Cooldown (GCD) for healers, decreasing recast times from 2.3 seconds to 1.42 seconds; as well as adjusted the Off Global Cooldown (oGCD) timers for several other jobs, including Bard (BRD). Abilities that once took 120 seconds to recast were reduced to 60 seconds, for instance, in some cases allowing for better alignment with buffs and burst windows, but messing up some others. Monk (MNK) lost several positionals, which up until now had been class staples. For me, the healer GCD was the biggest change, because it meant re-learning the timings on my spell casts. Muscle memory is a hell of a thing to contend with, but overall I found the change beneficial. As with every expansion, the retooled job actions and emphasis on level 90 rotations means a lot of jobs feel hollow and under-cooked during the leveling experience. I appreciate the effort the devs put in to creating really engaging experiences during endgame, but as a player, it ends up feeling really bad when getting starter dungeons in roulette, and from speaking with newer players, a lot of jobs don’t have a good hook until dozens of hours into your playtime. I wish I had an answer to this conundrum.
I do want to touch just briefly on the two new jobs, Sage (SGE) and Reaper (RPR), both of which I’m still leveling but have a general feel for. SGE joins Scholar (SCH) as a shield healer, while RPR is the newest melee. Both feel really nice to run with, with SGE’s emphasis on instant-cast shields providing tons of mobility and impressive mitigations. The Kardia system allows for twice as many spells on half the buttons, and I really like the versatility of deciding between shielding and raw heals. That being said, the job does suffer when it comes to raw healing, and bringing another player back from low health requires far too many resources. RPR is a stylish, zippy melee that uses voidsent to augment their scythe attacks. They have some helpful party buffs, as well as a ridiculous shield. They can also allow that voidsent to possess them, unlocking new combos and looking hella cool while doing it. I have been enjoying levelling both, and can’t wait to see how much more they have to offer as I approach endgame.
The other major job change in Endwalker is for Summoner (SMN), which received a complete overhaul. Rather than their previous focus on Damage over Time (DoT) skills with a burst phase that actually uses summons, SMN now more accurately reflects its class identity. With Carbuncle summoned, you can now rotate through Ifrit, Titan and Garuda modes, along with burst phases with Bahamut and Phoenix. It’s intuitive and easy to grasp, while keeping each summon feeling distinct, and I love it. It definitely lacks the complexity of old SMN, it could use a nice finisher move rather than the constant rotation it is now, and potencies feel really low, so it would be nice to see a bit of a tweak there, but playing SMN just feels amazing now.