Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: MMORPG
 
Rating: PG
 
Release Date: December 7. 2021.
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
5/5


 

Positives


Outstanding, brilliant storytelling
The best MMO experience on the market right now
Amazing soundtrack

Negatives


Still running on PS3-era tech.


Posted January 10, 2022 by

 
Full Article
 
 

When I first wrote about Final Fantasy XIV for Rocket Chainsaw back in 2014, I talked about the game in a wildly different MMO world to the one that exiats now. Back then I found an enjoyable MMO that, I felt, was being hampered by its subscription fee. Surely this challenger, resurrected for a second try after its disastrous original 2010 incarnation, would once again fall at the feet of the mighty World of Warcraft.

Well, seven years have passed and we live in a very different world now. Final Fantasy XIV has had three critically-acclaimed expansions (Heavensward, Stormblood, and Shadowbringers), and its chief rival has stumbled critically, both with a poorly received expansion in the form of Shadowlands, but also with the sexual harassment revelations at Blizzard.

That had the knock-on effect of causing a major World of Warcraft streamer, Asmongold, to jump ship to Final Fantasy XIV in mid-2021. If the game had been steadily building in popularity and playerbase since the 2019 launch of Shadowbringers, then suddenly it exploded . Within months, that active playerbase had more than doubled, and short queues to log in became normal for all servers. After 11 years of hard work, Final Fantasy XIV was having its moment.

And into this moment comes Endwalker, the fourth expansion since A Realm Reborn rebooted the game in 2013. To say it’s an important event in the history of FFXIV would be a significant understatement. The expectations placed upon lead developer Naoki Yoshida and his team are the highest they’ve ever experienced.

Yoshida is a confident yet humble man, and he’s as much a character to the community (who refer to him as YoshiP) as the characters in the game. He was the one that came to the rescue of the troubled MMO after its disastrous 1.0 launch, and it’s his guidance that has both built the game into what is, and created the community goodwill that allows him to try crazy ideas without fear of backlash.

Endwalker may just be YoshiP’s magnum opus. This is very much the conclusion to the story arc that began with the 2013 relaunch of the game, A Realm Reborn. It is, without question, the most ambitious expansion that any MMO has ever had. The quality of the storytelling is beyond anything else ever attempted in the MMO space, and even in video games in general. This is a proper classic.

If you’ve ever stared, glassy-eyed, as your FFXIV-playing friends gush endlessly about the game’s story, throwing around terms like “MSQ”, “Scions”, “Waking Sands” or “Alphinaud”, then let me explain: FFXIV is unique among MMOs in that progression is driven by the main scenario quest (MSQ), which is the main series of quests that guide the player through the game. Almost everything in the game is gated behind MSQ progress, and doing your MSQ is how you’ll spend the majority of your time in FFXIV.

It’s important then, that this quest be good, and it is. Even from the beginning in A Realm Reborn, FFXIV’s story has been compelling, and each expansion has expanded and improved on it. Ever since A Realm Reborn, there have been story threads that have been established, but never fully resolved by subsequent expansions, and an overall story arc that runs through all the current expansions.

Endwalker’s goal is to conclude that arc, and finally reveal the truth of the Ascians. It achieves this about halfway through its story, which came as a surprise to most players due to the first boss of the expansion, Zodiark, having been built up as the expansion’s main boss.

What comes after Zodiark is both insane and brilliant. The FFXIV community is intensely protective of the game’s story, and they go out of their way to ensure new players don’t get spoiled on anything, regardless of how significant it is. Because of this, I’m loathe to say anything about what happens beyond Zodiark, other than the path from the moon (which isn’t a spoiler, going to the moon was revealed in the first Endwalkertrailer) to the end credits is one of the wildest, craziest and most emotionally draining experiences I’ve ever had in a video game.

So instead of continuing to gush about the story, I’ll talk about some other parts of Endwalker, such as the job changes and new jobs (jobs are what FFXIV calls classes). I mostly levelled through the expansion as a Gunbreaker, which is a tank class modelled primarily on Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII. The main issue with Gunbreaker was that they used a lot of buttons as their primary combat rotation. Endwalker, or rather the 6.0 patch that supports it, fixes this issue, making the class much more enjoyable to play.

Other jobs all received updates to some degree, with the most dramatic being the changes to Summoner, essentially a new job in Endwalker. The two actual new jobs are Reaper and Sage. Sage is a healing job based on the legendary Final Fantasy IV character Tellah. It’s one of the two ‘barrier healer’ types, which are jobs that use barriers to absorb incoming damage as their primary mode of healing rather than direct player heals (though it can do that too).

Reaper, on the other hand, is a melee DPS class that has very strong “it’s not a phase, mum” energy. As someone who’s been maining Gunbreaker for a while, I found Reaper very easy to get into. It’s a high damage melee DPS class with a moderately complex rotation, but very high damage and strong area-of-effect. It feels like the class most closely themed with Endwalker, as one of the expansion’s main antagonists adopts the class during the story. It also has a really cool class quest that helps introduce the concepts and themes behind it.

If I had to find anything to criticise about Endwalker, it would be simply that it runs on a game engine that dates from the Playstation 3 era, and it shows. The Crystal Tools engine that powers FFXIV was originally developed for its immediate predecessor, Final Fantasy XIII, and it really is showing its age in some areas. Thankfully, Endwalker is now the second expansion that doesn’t have to run on Sony’s crazy late-2000s game console with its paltry 256MB of video memory, so the artists can go a lot further than they were up until the end of Stormblood, when PS3 support was dropped. Textures are still incredibly low-res in a lot of places, and it’s a testament to the art team that the game looks as good as it does in spite of the limitations of the engine. There’s been rumours of a major engine overhaul for a few years now, and I hope that we see it for the game’s 7.0 expansion, whenever that arrives.

On the other hand, the technical limits mean the game will run on a potato-class gaming PC, and even at 4K resolutions the game runs at above 90 frames per second on my RTX2080 GPU. I haven’t personally tested the PS4 and PS5 versions for this expansion, but the game has always been solid on Sony’s hardware so I would be surprised if it had any significant issues.

Technical complaints aside, Endwalker is absolutely the best-in-class expansion to the best-in-class MMORPG. FFXIV didn’t just get popular because of the recent stumbles of its rivals. It got popular thanks to years of work and commitment from a development team that genuinely loves the game and the stories they can tell in it. The redemption ark that began with a game so disastrously bad that Square Enix didn’t even charge subscription fees for much of its first year, and which was then shut down and re-tooled into A Realm Reborn is now complete, and the result is easily the best game of 2021.

If it weren’t for how protective the community is of spoilers, I would gush so hard about how good the story is, how the moments that make Endwalker incredible just keep piling up. But FFXIV is truly something you have to experience for yourself to understand. Once you get your character through the initial stages of ARR and the story builds across the three previous expansions, you’ll hit Endwalker in exactly the right frame of mind the game wants you to be in for the story its about to tell. You will, and this is not hyperbole at all, laugh and cry at different moments. You will meet amazing characters, become attached to them, then become devastated when they die too soon. You will go on the most amazing journey that video games have to offer.

In short, you will play the greatest Final Fantasy, and perhaps even one of the greatest video games ever made, and I will envy you, because you get to do it for the first time, and that experience is something you can never repeat.

If you do nothing else as we head into 2022, you should definitely try the popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV, whose free trial now extends to level 60 and includes the critically-acclaimed Heavensward expansion.


Tim Norman

 
Raised in the arcades of the 1990s, Tim believes that if you're not playing for score, then you're not playing.