Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker review
What is it? The MMO's latest expansion closes out a long-running story arc.
Expect to pay £30/$40
Developer Square Enix
Publisher Square Enix
Release date Out now
Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 7 1700X, Gigabyte RTX 2080 Super, 32GB RAM
Link Official site
The word 'expansion' feels almost too small for what Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker is. Not only is it a full-length JRPG that'll easily take at least 50 hours to beat, it's also the culmination of a storyline that's been running for over 10 years, which myself and millions of other players have been following that whole time through updates and expansions. Rather than simply an add-on, it feels more like the final book in a long-running fantasy series.
So, to get to the big questions—yes, Endwalker is a fantastic send-off to the Hydaelyn/Zodiark saga (two ancient beings locked in a light versus dark conflict involving many crystals—Final Fantasy fans know the drill) that celebrates all that came before; and yes, it leaves the door wide open for new adventures that we know are on the way.
Listen to my story
In tying things up, however, things get a little messy. While its runtime is about the same as the previous hefty expansions, it feels like there's loads more story than usual, for good and ill. As your hero and the Scions Of The Seventh Dawn battle to overcome the apocalyptic 'Final Days' they deal with multiple seemingly climatic threats, and dispatch a heap of villains, all while moving quickly between areas great distances apart (you go to the moon, after all). It almost feels like the plot could have been dished out over two or three expansions.
What's here might be meaty, but it's not always mighty. Moments that take place in the ruins of a suddenly tumultuous Garlemald—the Empire that's hounded our Eorzean friends for some time—are memorable, but slight. The once formidable Empire now in ruins is filled with grieving people, citizens caught up in a brutal supernatural disaster, but it's not given the time in the spotlight it deserves. The same goes for the vibrant, colourful Thavnair, the South Asian inspired land that we're only visiting for the first time here. First on the chopping block when fiery plague begins to sweep across the land, it's seeped in small tragedies that give some of the hardest hitting moments the MMO has needed to wrangle. Within its lush jungles and ancient ruins there's only a handful of characters with speaking parts, well drawn enough I wished I could learn more about them, but just not allowed enough time to shine in this ambitious undertaking.
Rather than making it feel like an anthology, it ends up introducing problems, like the lack of any real clear villain (the true final boss we meet for the first time about two thirds in), and narrative conceits that appear suddenly, lead you briskly through a rollercoaster, and then wrap themselves up. It might be fun, but a rollercoaster is still on tracks. It's a shame, as the little moments are great. Those who have played since the beginning will be fist pumping as even relatively minor characters get a moment to shine—even if it feels like it has three separate "and my axe" moments where allies show up with a wink and a nod.
Where last expansion Shadowbringers was enjoyable as a self-contained story in a new world, Endwalker's commitment to giving everything its time under the faltering star is both its biggest triumph and at times its weakness. Though anyone who's made it this far will probably have a big grin on their faces. If you've not played the rest of the story up to this point, don't use the story skip—it's a much stronger payoff if you've gone through the full journey.
Peel back the emotional and at times very bleak story (apocalypses tend to be a little dicey, after all), and Endwalker provides what's expected. The headline additions include two new jobs: the Reaper, a physical DPS, and Sage, a healer (and the first new one in a few years). You can then put those new jobs, or your old ones, through their paces with six new story dungeons, plus two extra endgame ones, and three trials (large-scale boss battles). There's plenty to explore, too, with six new maps to stomp around, along with two new cities for up-to-date players to hang out in: Thavnair's Radz-At-Han, and the Greek-inspired Old Sharlayan (full of stuffy centrist scholars), both quite expansive.
All of these additions represent FF14's development team at their peak. Both jobs are terrific fun, and thanks to the way the MMO allows all users to switch jobs straight from their inventory, easy for anyone to jump into. Reaper is all about twirling a scythe around as you fill up a couple of meters in order to power up your own personification of Death. Sage, meanwhile, uses robo-scalpels to not only heal, but erect barriers and blast lasers at monsters, all while juggling a little mech toggle that alters the mode of some of your abilities to, for instance, turn a single-hit blast into one that damages over time instead. It feels very active. As usual, though, these start out at a level a bit below the main quest (70 versus 80 this time around), meaning you'll need to put in some grind time if you want to take them on your journey. You'll be looking at 7-8 hours of levelling, which doesn't seem too long in MMO terms—but even this can be a chore when you're raring to take your Sage on the big new journey.
Debatably there's a third new job in Summoner, which has received a substantial overhaul The cute lil' minions are out, and bigger pals are in, as you can now call directly on the power of Primals (FF14's versions of traditional summons), which flashily take up large chunks of screen space as they rampage.
Every job has received tweaks, but it's more than just adding new stuff. Old skills have been pruned to make way for the new, and as usual it's all smartly done in a way that avoids things becoming overwhelming. My main job, Dragoon, has dropped an upkeep move in favour of automating it, while adding a new area-of-effect finisher that makes it integrate more closely with the rest of the moveset. A neutral change to my standard hotbar in terms of space, which feels deliberate. It's especially useful when playing with a controller, which continues to be fantastically supported with the crossbar system that allows easy access to three or four bars all at the touch of triggers. It's great to see the commitment to alternate ways to play continue.
Similarly, crafting and gathering have been hit big. Always a fun and deeper-than-expected diversion, the disciplines could still feel a little bloated. With high-quality materials blasted out of the game entirely to reduce the need to take up multiple inventory slots, however, everything feels more streamlined. Past content like quests and skills have all been altered to account for its absence, too. It's a huge undertaking that feels like it's paid off as those good with their hands prepare to juggle the heaps of brand new gear Endwalker has introduced.
The same philosophy can be seen in the dungeons and trials you'll either be partying up for or undertaking with AI allies. MMO mechanics have never been more readable, and boss battles, whether within dungeons themselves or the larger bust-ups, feel thrilling as a result. Each has some great mechanics that make the bouts feel unique, while also remaining fair. Whether it's a snowy behemoth who hides in a blizzard before popping out to strike most of the arena, who you can track by the snowy footprints it leaves behind, or juggling where to stand to avoid both a string of deadly butterflies and a wing-blast all at once, it feels fun to pull off your moves all while dancing around their attacks. The telegraphing of some classic mechanics has even been extended, with "tankbusters" now receiving a special red arrow to denote that your party's buff buddy beating is on its way.
Trusts also feel better than ever. This recent addition means that rather than queueing up to take on story content with friends, you can take NPCs with you to do it solo. They're competent, too, so there's no excuse if you end up wiping—and it can be a great tool to learn boss mechanics. They even add to the story as they banter back and forth. I usually always go through with players for the first time, but one instance struck me so much with how the cast of characters approached their mission that I simply had to see how it played out. I was not disappointed.
Singleplayer duties also return, giving you set-piece moments to play through all by yourself, sometimes as your own character and other times allowing you to step into the shoes of an ally (and now offering easier difficulties if you fail once). These feel less spectacular than they did in Shadowbringers, but offer some surprisingly effective changes of pace and unique storytelling tricks while allowing you to stay in control of the action. Thancred's stealth mission is no Metal Gear Solid, but better than it has any right to be, and another forces you to play as a much weaker character than usual which really makes you consider which fights to take on, and which to avoid.
Some of this inventiveness carries through into main quests, with more emphasis placed on keeping you present in the moment rather than always arbitrarily bouncing between quest markers. Allies will now sometimes join you as you walk around, and there are places where you can take a break for some optional chats (not dissimilar to, though much more limited than, the Tales series' skit system). Less successful are tailing missions which, while thankfully few and far between, are as annoying as any tailing system ever.
It's impressive that the team is still able to take FF14's trappings and crystalise them into new forms even so many years on, from the way jobs and dungeons feel like the best they've ever been, to their confidence when it comes to experimenting with the relationship between gameplay and storytelling. But while there are some stunning vistas and lighting effects, and the detailing on new armour designs are enchanting, the age of the core game can't help but show, smooth as it is to play. This is a great final chapter to a story that'll stick with me, and I'm excited to see the team tell a new one—but I'm eager for some bigger changes to shake up Eorzea when they do.
Source: PC Gamer