Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, the review of the expansion of the great MMO of Square Enix



Having completed the main campaign, we are ready to draw the conclusions of the Final Fantasy XIV expansion that concludes the story that began ten years ago

Perhaps there are no games that have had the same history as Final Fantasy XIV. A product that, after being reborn against all odds like the proverbial phoenix, has managed to become even a victim of its own success: by now you all know about the late, but well-deserved visibility achieved last summer due to a peculiar set of circumstances – if not, we recommend you read our recent in-depth analysis on the subject – that brought the work of director Naoki Yoshida, for friends Yoshi-P, on everyone’s lips.

Long the uncomfortable alternative to its direct competitor World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV is now an MMORPG that has forced Square Enix to discontinue digital sales and free trials to loosen its grip on servers, which are congested with a staggering number of players.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, the city of Old Sharlayan

To aggravate the situation was the release of the Endwalker expansion, perhaps the most ambitious that has worked the team of Yoshi-P in all these years. If for the curious and players of the last hour is an add-on full of content, for veterans of Final Fantasy XIV is instead the closing of the circle and the conclusion of a story that began years ago, even before the reboot A Realm Reborn.

Our review of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker only comes now for this reason. We wanted to complete the campaign, also known as the Main Scenario Quest, and try the Extreme-level Trials that unlock at the highest level, which we reached with three Jobs, including a completely new one added just in this expansion.

Main Scenario Quest

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, reunion between Scion

Unlike many other MMORPGs where narrative is subordinate to character progression and gameplay, Final Fantasy XIV is a game that has always focused on story. Endwalker, in this sense, represents the most important creative effort of Naoki Yoshida’s team. We’ve said it many times: Final Fantasy XIV is played mainly for its Main Scenario Quest, the main campaign that can be played as in a single player role-playing game, except for some fights that require the participation of eight players. We will not anticipate anything about the plot, so it is full of twists and unpredictable turns. Suffice it to say that begins exactly where it ended the previous expansion, Shadowbringers, with the Scion in search of new allies to deal with the apocalypse promised by Fandaniel, the last worshipper of the diabolical Zodiark.

Endwalker actually closes the game between Hydaelin, that is the personification of our planet, and its antithesis Zodiark: a clash with ancient roots in which we, the Warriors of Light chosen to save the world and its “reflections”, have been caught up.

The story of Final Fantasy XIV, however, has never been that of the Warrior of Light. Although indicated as the absolute protagonist, guide and reference point of a large cast of characters, they have always been the latter, and in particular the so-called Scion of the Seventh Dawn, to occupy the stage. Endwalker dwells on them, leading to a natural epilogue all the subplots set up over the years. Their excellent characterization, and the paths taken over time, mark the development of the story, which reserves the right space for each of them, including memorable twists, touching introspective dialogues and moments of relaxing everyday life.

Unlike other MMORPGs in which the sidekicks are literally this, and therefore subordinate to the great deeds of the player, Final Fantasy XIV has dedicated years to the growth and evolution of the various protagonists – in particular Alphinaud and Alisaie – who form a sort of extended family: the script often plays on the bond that the player has established with these imaginary friends, yes, but so well characterized.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, Zenos continues to haunt us in this expansion

The narrative draws heavily from the previous expansions and the player who has followed the plot up to this point can not help but feel a strong sense of nostalgia and fulfillment as the credits roll at the end of the Main Scenario Quest, aware that one story is over and a new one is about to begin. Let’s be clear: the plot of Endwalker reaches very high peaks. It is the best for detachment in the field of MMORPGs and can easily compete on equal terms with the most emblazoned chapters of the franchise Square Enix. The merit is not only a staging even more cinematic than in the past, but also and above all a writing cultured, intelligent and never dull. The texts completely in English could be difficult for those who have just a scholastic mastery of the language of Albion, but there are dialogues so solemn that it is impossible not to be enchanted by the localization headed by Michael-Christopher Koji Fox.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, twins Alisaie and Alphinaud Leveilleur in a scene from the CG introduction

It must be said, however, that the new Main Scenario Quest is not exactly perfect. There are unforgettable moments that wouldn’t have had the same impact if the game had relied solely on dialogue and direction: Masayoshi Soken’s stunning music contributes greatly to the success of the narrative, and Naoki Yoshida has a real knack for placing them. It’s almost as if you can hear him gloating while we’re witnessing a scene that’s already particularly engaging in its own right, when he also places a meaningful song or music track in there that puts the load on the whole experience.

Were it not for these peaks of the highest quality, Endwalker’s would have been an all-too-brief Main Scenario Quest compared to the last expansion, Shadowbringers. The fault lies in the balance of the narrative. The Main Scenario Quest of Endwalker seemed to us tend to be longer because of the fillers, literally “fillers” designed to artificially prolong it. They are certainly not a novelty, but we had the impression that Yoshida and his team have structured them in a less judicious way than in the past: a little ‘for the power of the narrative, a little’ for the sense of urgency that characterizes the main storyline, these fillers often clash with the pace of the story, diluting it and slowing it down overwhelmingly at the wrong time.

The initial part of the adventure, in particular, is extremely slow and measured, but after a few hours the situation unlocks and the progression becomes smoother, except for trudging here and there before some new breathtaking descents.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, the expansion also takes us to the Moon

All in all, the issue could be summed up like this: in its best moments, Endwalker significantly outperforms those of Shadowbringers, which has been the benchmark for Final Fantasy XIV expansions so far, but in its worst moments, Shadowbringers is a more fluid and cohesive story. Accomplice to an unexpected, bold, and important turn about a third of the way through the Main Scenario Quest, Endwalker veers in an unusual direction that holds quite a few surprises.

Too bad only that the narrative suffers the weight of a graphics engine now more than obsolete: the art direction is superb, but can not hide the ugly textures in low resolution or rigidity of the animations in cinematics. The general glance is always satisfied, but we can not help but think that a more sophisticated Endwalker, from the purely technical point of view, would have been an absolute masterpiece.

Progression and variety of gameplay

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, the dungeon Vanaspati

Endwalker is an expansion so committed to storytelling that every now and then it forgets that we’re supposed to play the game as well. Most quests are solved by interacting with an NPC or a point of interest, and you may face hours of dialogue before entering one of the six dungeons that punctuate the campaign. Every now and then you’ll have to defeat one or more enemies, but more often you’ll find yourself leading an NPC to their destination: a new routine means that some NPCs can follow you around like in a traditional JRPG; the idea is very interesting, but the Main Scenario Quest abuses it, as it abuses a new kind of assignment to be completed by sneaking around without our target spotting us.

Fortunately, Square Enix has made some changes to the structure of the side quests, which are many and, while paying far fewer experience points than the most important ones, have been greatly simplified: now they are solved in a few steps and are distributed more organically on the map. The maximum level is easily reached without resorting to these optional missions, but often rewarded with pieces of equipment or other consumables useful.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, Smileton is a spectacular level 90 dungeon

Progression remains linear, however, and there are no choices that can deviate from the predetermined course in the Main Scenario Quest, although some multiple-choice dialogues change the lines immediately following, granting the player a marginal level of customization in the representation of his alter ego.

Honorable mention deserve some Duty, that is, the missions instanced in which we often find ourselves controlling another character for a short period of time, and the maps themselves, but for a reason a bit ‘more complicated. On the one hand, we really appreciated the new maps, which are vast but not dispersive, full of details and sufficiently diverse not so much in the obvious geometry, but also and above all in navigability: thanks to a series of narrative or logistical tricks, it is impossible to explore them completely right away, and you have to progress in the story to be able to discover the whole map. The problem, though, is that there’s no reason to. Now that even the Aether Current are distributed more organically and close to the objectives of the main missions, unless you want to draw on the collection points there is no reason to explore the maps, which continue to suffer from the absence of collectibles, points of interest and the like.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, some choices may show alternative scenes

The introduction of special FATE in remote points, to be reached only by flying, is not enough to customize the maps, which are really beautiful and scenic, but in practice do not offer anything more than a few views to photograph. It is an edge that Final Fantasy XIV always drags on and that we hope will be filed in the future.

The same could be said for the dungeons, which tend to be even more linear and short than usual, but also extremely well cared for both from a scenic point of view, both content. We really appreciated the retouches made to the Trust system, which allows you to face these challenges together with three Scion without using the Duty Finder and then the other players. Already present in Shadowbringers, the Trust has been revised to ensure a more satisfying experience. Scions deal more damage, which greatly speeds up Duty completion, and they chat with each other, making dungeon navigation more engaging.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, bosses are designed with great care

The bosses are, as usual, the flagship of the combat system. The ones we faced in the dungeons were fairly straightforward, if only because they make use of visual or sound cues that we now know perfectly well and that Square Enix’s designers have learned to recombine or reinvent creatively: faced blindly, without any preparation, these encounters turned out to be so well-designed that we rarely lost on the first engagement for not understanding a mechanic or a strategy on the fly. The same concept can be extended to the eight-player bosses in Trials, but in this case the Yoshi-P team has definitely outdone itself. The bosses we faced in these arenas were not only among the most scenically impressive, but also among the most challenging, if never frustrating.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, the Sage is a new Job specializing in cures

We faced the expansion playing two jobs at the same time. We chose the Summoner, a class revised and corrected for the expansion: perhaps trivialized and simplified in its rotations, the new Summoner is nevertheless very fun and spectacular, especially once unlocked the new Enkindle that provide specific spells to the three basic evocations. While being able to access the Scholar, the only class that levels up along with the Summoner, we played as healers as the Sage, one of the two new classes added in Endwalker. It’s a job that gave us great satisfaction, but perhaps needs some adjustment in terms of output: while it can heal a chosen target by inflicting moderate damage to enemies, it lacks direct spells powerful enough to get a fellow player out of trouble.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, the Summoner has been simplified

More or less, each Job has gained or lost something in the transition from Shadowbringers, and as is normal, Square Enix will make the appropriate changes in the upcoming updates. The first is scheduled for December 21: despite the critical issues faced by the launch to date, which have forced the company to give away, so far, well twenty-one days of subscription to all players, the team of Yoshida intends to follow the schedule to not leave with their hands in the hands of players who have already completed the Main Scenario Quest. In addition to the two level 90 dungeons that must be repeated to upgrade equipment, and the two Extreme difficulty Trials that grant rare weapons, accessories and mounts, the first wing (Asphodelos) of the new eight-player raid, Pandaemonium, will also be added. The same wing’s Savage difficulty will then be introduced on January 4. Yoshida has promised a stream of regular and constant updates: whatever they say, the story is not really over, and Final Fantasy XIV fans old and new can rest assured that there will be plenty to play in the coming months. Tails permitting.

Comment

Endwalker is another successful chapter in the Final Fantasy XIV epic, perhaps the most important one: it’s here that Naoki Yoshida closes the story that began so many years ago, when he took in hand the disaster that was Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 and turned it into one of the most beloved video games in the world. The new expansion reconfirms the talent of the team that Yoshi-P put together and that signed one of the best Final Fantasy ever. For the avoidance of doubt, we would like to point out that our judgement has not taken into account the monumental queues that are afflicting players: as annoying as they are, they have nothing to do with the contents of the expansion and their quality.

PRO

  • A fantastic story that will thrill players old and new
  • Extraordinary soundtrack
  • Bosses rewarding to face and spectacular to watch
  • Some fillers tend to slow down the pace of the narrative too much
  • The graphics engine feels the weight of the years
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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