Over ten years since the original game released, we’re now at the end of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga with Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. One re-release and three expansion packs later, Square Enix has players take back their mantle as the Warrior of Light. After a brief stint as the Warrior of Darkness in Shadowbringers, they return to Eorzea and their homeworld of “The Source.”
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker picks up where Shadowbringers left off. Players have the newfound knowledge of “The Final Days,” procured from the “unsundered” Ascians themselves. Sound confusing? It should if you’re not familiar with the plot at least up until now. To that end, I recommend checking out our previous reviews of the Shadowbringers and Heavensward expansions.
Or better yet; play the game for yourself- as the original A Realm Reborn and Heavensward Expansion are now part of the game’s free trial up to level 60. We have endeavored to keep plot details restricted to before the first Trial.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Price: $39.99 USD
MMO fans know the drill already. A new expansion comes out, and it’s a mad dash to quickly catch up to end game once again. But that’s OK, after all what Final Fantasy XIV excels at is its story, and fans have eagerly been awaiting this new addition.
Before we talk about the story, there’s more immediate changes at play here. Endwalker has introduced a host of new changes, and two new Jobs. All players will find something new for their favorite Jobs- whether it’s just some quality of life changes, or an entire rework as what happened to Summoner.
Many have been given small improvements to their “Job Gauge,” a resource given a special gauge on the player’s HUD. This resource is usually the focus of a player’s rotation (like Dragoon’s Life of the Dragon), or more akin to a minigame players try and fill mid-combat (like an Astrologian’s Arcana).
These resources will generally no longer decay in situations they otherwise would have. For instance, the thirty second timer was removed from the Dragoon’s Blood of the Dragon- now a passive trait- allowing them to maintain their bonuses between long pulls without juggling cooldowns.
Paladin meanwhile, will receive a full Oath Gauge when entering a new instance or Duty, giving them a leg up on performing their actions. Ultimately these changes have made Jobs feel more approachable, less frustrating, and a step in the right direction for creating a broader appeal. The full list of Job Actions can be found here.
Another large change is the split of healers between “Pure” Healers and “Barrier” Healers. White Mages and Astrologians are Pure Healers, with Scholars and Sages being Barrier Healers. So different are they in design philosophy that they are even queued differently for duties.
Speaking of Sage, it’s one of the two new classes introduced with Endwalker, alongside the Melee DPS Reaper. The Sage uses Sharlayan-style combat, and heals via magical rods controlled by the user’s aether. The Reaper is a forbidden Garlean martial tradition, where the user binds themselves to the power of the void. This method allows the otherwise magickless Garleans to borrow power.
New classes and races are almost always a welcome addition to an MMORPG, and these are no different. Reaper offers a more simple melee class for those who might find Monk and Ninja overwhelming, or for those who think Dragoon isn’t edgy enough.
The largest addition comes with Sage, the newest healer since Astrologian was released in Heavensward. Sage borrows from aspects of the Dancer introduced in Shadowbringers; with their Kardia and Kardion bond acting much like the Dancer’s. This allows the Sage to help tanks be more resilient while they deal damage or heal someone else, with some of their spells having an additional effect of healing their Kardion.
A large complaint with Reaper comes from the DPS category already being saturated with options. Dancers, Dragoons, Monks, Ninjas, and so on. Reaper largely feels like it exists just because they wanted to make the game’s antagonist Zenos feel even more edgy than he already was.
Unfortunately, no new races were added in this expansion. However, it’s worth noting that we’ve finally gotten male Viera, and female Hrothgar are in the works.
Originally released with Shadowbringers, Viera and Hrothgar released as gender-locked races, with only female Viera and male Hrothgar being playable. Male Viera were made available upon the early access launch of Endwalker. Female Hrothgar are meant to be released at a later date.
Going further into the mechanics of Endwalker, not much has changed except for this new boss indicator. Sometimes allies will have this red circle mark around them that looks like it was ripped from the Persona 5 UI. To be honest, I’m still not sure what it means. Nonetheless, my Trust AI companions don’t really react to, it so it’s probably nothing important.
Endwalker also introduced a new mechanic for quests with allies who follow you around and will talk to you. In recent expansions, there’s been a trend towards fleshing out your fellow Scions, and what better way to appeal to weebs than a mechanic that lets you take your friends on a date around town?
You’ll have quests where allies follow you to points of interest, and you can talk to them. Players are rewarded with background dialogue, before being rewarded again with quest progress.
This addition, as well as a focus on alternative sorts of quests, has made Endwalker a more palatable leveling experience than it’s predecessors. There are still “kill x mob” quests of course, but little jaunts around the area, funny dialogue choices, and minigame-style quests break up the looming monotony of grinding.
Graphically, Final Fantasy XIV is finally showing its age, and this does Endwalker no favors. There’s creatively designs monsters and locales, but everything shiny and new is placed in contrast with the game’s decade old legacy.
Nothing ruins immersion more than being able to count the pixels on the decoration of Urianger’s weapon during a cutscene; not to mention the jagged hairstyles. Admittedly, Final Fantasy XIV has come far with its particle effects and other graphical innovations. But its old content has begun to clash harshly with the new.
Such an issue isn’t a condemnation of Endwalker individually. As a whole, the game has begun to show its age, even with new and fresh content like an expansion pack livening things up.
Of course it’s impossible to talk about Final Fantasy XIV without discussing the music. Endwalker takes us away from the rock and roll motifs of Shadowbringers, and brings the sound back to a more fantasy-like ambiance.
What’s even more interesting is the clever use of old songs. This can be first heard in the medley used for the expansion’s trailer; and this also happens throughout the main story. The themes from Heavensward, and other songs like Down the Up Staircase from the dungeon The Antitower reappear as appropriate.
Final Fantasy XIV as a whole might be a love letter to the entirety of the franchise; but Endwalker is a love letter to Final Fantasy XIV and it’s decade-long history.
Ultimately, Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker continues the game’s legacy of immersive storytelling, fantastic music, and inspiring dialogue. Which is fitting, as Endwalker is to be the end of the current saga of Hydaelyn and Zodiark. This statement which has left gamers scratching their heads over what will come next.
Is Endwalker the swan song of Final Fantasy XIV? The coda of the game’s story that’s been years in the making? Or is it just the end of the first verse? Either way, Endwalker is a standout among the MMO genre; with its writing, and clever use of music and themes to create a level of immersion scarcely seen in the genre.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker was reviewed on Windows PC using a copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.