Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker Review — The End of Days
The end of days has arrived, as the sky burns and the people of Eorzea transform into horrific creatures. This grim picture certainly paints Endwalker as the darkest expansion yet for Final Fantasy XIV, but it's also uplifting and hopeful at the same time. It's the most ambitious expansion the game has seen yet, and on almost every level it wildly succeeds.
Picking up where Shadowbringers left off, Endwalker begins with the Scions of the Seventh Dawn fighting to stop the coming of the final days. Despite having roughly the same runtime as past expansions, Endwalker feels like it's absolutely loaded to the brim with story — more so than usual. The expansion consistently feels like it's building to a climax, only to change gears and move to an even bigger climax, right until the end.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker Review — The End of Days
For those invested in the story of Final Fantasy XIV, there's a lot to look forward to with Endwalker, especially if you've been paying attention to a lot of the side content and job quests. However, the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio feels greater than ever. That's not to say Endwalker doesn't make some huge strides in terms of gameplay: it just seems like the pacing can get bogged down by huge story dumps. When the big moments of Endwalker hit, though, they hit hard, as the expansion has some of the most memorable sequences of the entire MMO to date.
With Endwalker, it's important to have some understanding of the lore and previous story beats, whereas Shadowbringers almost feels like its own self-contained experience. The strength of the writing is just as top-notch as ever, and there's a strong theme of camaraderie that permeates everything.
Story is, of course, only half of the equation, and Endwalker shows the game's development team at its peak, with some brilliant additions and changes.
Chief among the new gameplay elements are the two brand new jobs, Sage and Reaper. The latter is an interesting melee-DPS job that has to constantly keep a debuff on enemies to cause peak damage. The job also summons an avatar for part of its rotation, creating an extra wrinkle to job actions. While the Reper is certainly interesting, Sage is what really feels like something new and vibrant.
Sage's big gimmick is that you can apply a status to one party member, and all of the damage you cause will then heal that party member for a small portion of their HP. Most of Sage's other abilities are focused on applying barriers or regen effects, making them the most offensive healer by far (I had a blast playing healer throughout Endwalker, and it's actually come to be one of my main jobs these days). Both of the new jobs also feature strong story quests that do a fantastic job of tying into the main story.
In terms of changes across the board, your experience will vary depending on which job you play. Certain jobs, like Summoner, have seen a complete overhaul while others, like Machinist, are essentially the same experience outside of the new 80 to 90 skills.
Speaking of, a small but pleasant surprise in Endwalker is how light the grind for the new level cap feels. This expansion is much more generous with experience, especially when it comes to the XP from dungeons. This made my time with the expansion much smoother than it has been with past expansions, cutting down on the leveling I needed to do to keep the story going — something I imagine will be embraced.
As usual, the real highlight of Endwalker comes with the selection of new dungeons and trials. Final Fantasy XIV has long had excellent dungeons, but Endwalker's feel like they're at the top of the pack.
The first two dungeons are horrific, twisted H.R. Giger nightmares, and the Anima boss fight is a real treat. The later dungeons feel equally distinct and introduce a variety of different mechanics, but I won't say anymore there to avoid spoilers. Trials also feel grander than ever before, with some seriously challenging battles that pack both literal and visual punches.
Outside of the dungeons and trials, there's a host of other content to dive into, and the general flow of Endwalker is the same as past expansions. You arrive in a new area and spend a few hours venturing all over it, syncing with new Aetheryte, and unlocking a metric ton of sidequests along the way. These sidequests are generally simple, but also do a good job at fleshing out each of the new areas, especially the later ones.
Role quests also make a return from Shadowbringers, but there are five this time for Tanks, Healers, Melee DPS, Ranged DPS, and Magic DPS. Each role sees you assist a different section of the world during the final days, and like with Shadowbringers, they each provide a compelling new story. It's likely one of the last things you'll do in Endwalker, but playing each role quest series is more than worth the time.
If there's one criticism I can weigh against Endwalker, it's that it doesn't diversify its main gameplay experience as well as it could. Main Scenario Quests sometimes have you stepping into the shoes of other Scions, but never on the scale or quality that Shadowbringers does. This expansion also introduces the age-old "tailing" mission, which requires you to do a surprising amount; the mechanics in the tailing sections are fine, they just don't feel compelling against everything else on offer.
I absolutely can't write a review of Endwalker without mentioning the soundtrack composed by Masayoshi Soken. Final Fantasy XIV has long had some of the best music in the series, and that's never been more true than here. So much of the soundtrack embraces the past of FFXIV, while also providing a fresh new sound.
Outside of all of the new content, the 6.0 patch with Endwalker brings a whole host of quality of life changes, like being able to view a map when using aetheryte in a city. It also does away with high-quality materials, provides male Viera as a race option, removes belts from equipment, squishes stats, and more.
I could spend all day going over every change, but you can take a look at the patch notes for that. Needless to say, the development team has put a lot of thought into improving different facets, both big and small, of FFXIV.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker — The Bottom Line
- An emotional and harrowing story that pays off years of build-up.
- Reaper and Sage are fantastic new jobs that feel distinct.
- Dungeon and Trial design feel more imaginative than ever, with each having unique mechanics and design.
- Soken's soundtrack has some of the best Final Fantasy music ever created.
- Story pacing can feel sluggish at times, especially with the number of cutscenes.
- Gameplay in the Main Scenario isn't quite as diverse as past expansions.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker is the biggest and boldest FFXIV expansion yet, even if it does occasionally stumble. The new jobs are some of the best the game has ever seen, and the dungeon and world design are absolutely top-notch. If you haven't jumped on board the FFXIV train yet, you have more reason than ever.
[Note: The version of FFXIV: Endwalker used for this review was pre-ordered by the writer; a launch key was provided and used for guide content.]