Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker Review
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker on PlayStation 5
The latest expansion for Final Fantasy XIV in the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga, Endwalker, has a mountain of pressure on her. To begin with, it tries to sum up well a long history of more than ten years. Ask some of the other publishers in the industry like BioWare how hard it is to end a long story in a way that makes everyone happy.
Endwalker has to follow Shadowbringers, by far the strongest expansion of an MMORPG in recent memory, and for my tastes at least (and I bet many others) one of the best video game stories ever told, period. So yes, no pressure!
Let’s jump straight to the end of Endwalker. It might be a weird place to start the review, but it’s definitely the most critical part of this expansion’s success. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the areas are (they’re all very pretty), how good the soundtrack is (the music is absolutely amazing) or whatever; did the development manage to stick the landing of this end? Yes they have.
Now, it’s next to impossible to talk about Endwalker’s ending without spoiling anything, obviously, but I’ll do my best to get you the gist. The ending is very safe but still incredibly satisfying.
The story as a whole, including the ending, doesn’t really take a lot of huge risks. Sure, there are surprises, twists, and dark moments, but they’re nothing super punchy in terms of the final conclusion. What the story lacks in risk-taking, however, it makes up for in depth.
The amount of fan service is off the charts. So many familiar faces return in this expansion, some you haven’t seen in ages. Fan-favorite characters get more time in the spotlight, and every major plot thread I can think of ties together well. You might be able to see the end coming a mile away, but that doesn’t mean it still won’t make you smile and leave your cheeks wet with tears.
That said, overall, Endwalker’s story highs don’t quite reach the level of Shadowbringer. Shadowbringers has managed to masterfully tie the story to this point and move it forward while developing its own identity. In particular, Emet-Selch, the main antagonist of Shadowbringers, will likely become Final Fantasy XIV’s best and most tragic villain.
Endwalker does all of these things very well but doesn’t do them as well as Shadowbringers. The threat for most Endwalkers is more ambiguous. Fandaniel, as he did in the pre-launch patch series of Endwalker, kicks off the expansion as Scion’s primary focus, but that focus changes a bit throughout the expansion.
Eventually, the plot refocuses on a singular and obvious threat who ends up being the final boss. This boss doesn’t get as much development as Zenos or Fandaniel, or as complex as either of those characters, let alone Emet-Selch from Shadowbringers. The final boss, while interesting, is quite one-dimensional and predictable in its motivations.
The locations also feel a bit disconnected. In Shadowbringers, the plot was very much about penetrating deeper into this unknown land to bring the Scions together, and the progression felt natural. Endwalker feels nervous in comparison.
A lot of times it feels like you end up somewhere, you do things until someone says something like, “Oh wait, there’s something going on here now, we have to go now.” It’s not that it doesn’t work; it’s just not as smooth as Shadowbringers. It’s probably a necessary evil considering you go everywhere, geographically speaking, in Endwalker: Garlemald, Sharlayan, Thavnair, Hell, even outer space.
Other than the last area, which I’m not going to spoil at all, my favorite area/section of the story was probably Garelemald. It’s great to finally be able to shine a light on the Garléans. I wish I could have seen it before it completely imploded, but hey.
The people of Garlean, so used to being at the top of the food chain, are humbled and embarrassed to be taken so low. Some are able to handle it, and many are not. This dynamic is key, and aside from the ending, it’s the most memorable part of the plot and very well handled.
While the story is definitely the main draw of Final Fantasy XIV for me and many others, all the new gameplay features have been added as well. Most notable, of course, is the addition of two new jobs Reaper and Sage. We talked about it quite a bit in our preview, but it’s worth coming back to.
Both jobs have started and fit very well into the current mix. The reaper to the right of the gates is one of the strongest DPS in the game. It’s complex, fun to play, and very rewarding. On the other hand, Sage almost feels like a second class DPS. It’s perhaps the most DPS-oriented healer in the game – at least in terms of the relationship between damage and healing – and anyone who likes to deal as much damage as possible before being forced to heal should have a blast.
Summoner is sort of Endwalker’s third new secret work as it’s been completely revamped to be more or less unrecognizable from its previous iterations. While this may bother some players who really enjoyed the old DoT style of play, anyone who wants to be, you know, a summoner who focuses on summoning badass avatars, will probably be happy with the new direction of that work.
As someone who is a main summoner in every Final Fantasy game I can get my hands on and has class, I can confidently say that the summoner in Final Fantasy XIV is the closest to fulfilling the fantasy of the work I fell in love with from Final Fantasy Tactics. It really isn’t a pet job anymore.
I mean, technically, Carbuncle will sit and watch you do things, but for the most part, you temporarily pull out massive, awful summons for a brief moment and let them unleash a super awesome attack. It’s satisfying and should be a sustainable way to grow the job in the future – no complaints from this summoner.
As usual in Final Fantasy XIV, the areas and soundtrack are top notch. Each area is absolutely stunning and beautiful in its own way, especially in the back half of Endwalker. The composers continue to beat .1000 and deliver another soundtrack filled with memorable and moving songs to perfectly set the mood in every area and dungeon.
This is, unfortunately, the point where I have to go on my semi-regular rant complaining about Final Fantasy XIV’s lack of incentive to explore the open world because Endwalker doesn’t really do anything about it. It’s not that there is no reason to spend time in open world areas. You can gather, do quests, FATE, etc., there just isn’t enough.
So much effort goes into creating these stunning areas with soundtracks that I just want to listen to for hours. Still, at least for me as an average player, as soon as the main story is over, I’m just going through a quest marker and continuing on to my next destination.
Endwalker, if any, infuriates this as he feels more generous with main quest and dungeon EXP while upgrading my first job. I barely needed to do a single FATE or side quest to get extra EXP; my character tracked his level well while doing the main quest. It’s such a shame, and I wish the devs would at some point come up with a creative way to maybe make leveling on the open world more viable on top of the FATE spam.
This is also when I complain about the fully functional but outdated state of Final Fantasy XIV’s endgame. It’s not that raids and dungeons are bad. They are well designed and mechanically fun to play. But hell, would it kill the devs to mix up the routine, even just a bit of A Realm Reborn? I’m tired of making expert casters. At least if I have to endure the same dailies unchanged, at least the structure of the dungeon could be mixed? A bit of variety like alternate paths, or maybe RNG boss fights would really help keep things fresh.
While Endwalker fails to eclipse Shadowbringers in most areas, it succeeds in what is by far its most important mandate: properly ending this extremely long story in an incredibly satisfying way. It’s a solid story from start to finish. The expansion adds some nice new areas, well-built new jobs, and overall ticks off everything you want a Final Fantasy XIV expansion to do with the level of polish players have come to expect. So take a deep breath Final Fantasy XIV fans, Endwalker is fantastic.
Reviewer: Ed McGlone | Award: editors Choice
- Amazing visuals and musical score as always.
- An extremely safe, yet satisfying end to the Hydaelyn and Zodiarc saga.
- A wonderful story filled with many heartbreaking moments.
- Sage and Reaper are solid additions to the job roster right off the bat.
- The end game routine continues to be beyond stale.
- Zones still feel like pit stops rather than areas where you are forced to spend significant time.
December 7, 2021
PS4, PS5, PC