A Decade Of Ever Growing Success
Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker is the long-awaited conclusion to the Hydaelyn saga, beginning all the way in 1.0. While the original Final Fantasy 14’s release was in 2010, the game had seen its fair share of “death” and “rebirth.” The end of 1.0 served not only as a reset to the then failing MMORPG, but it also served as a strategical reboot of lore with limitless potential. While the service has been going strong for over a decade, the revival that would be known as A Realm Reborn launched in 2013, eight and a half years ago.
There are many stories detailing A Realm Reborn’s success, almost being solely responsible for getting Square Enix out of the red, and being one of the most profitable long-running games of all time. Players out of the loop and are teeming with curiosity as to how a near-decade old game continues to wrap its players in a vice-grip may wish to hear me out. As a player since 2014, I feel I’ve seen enough of what the game has to offer to explain its appeal.
I’ve begun my journey in Final Fantasy 14 back in 2014 mainly as a favor for a friend. They needed members for their newly founded Free Company and my best friend and I obliged. What began as an innocent reason ended up changing my life in many ways. Through the first year or so alone, I met many friends, became engrossed in a story fitting for a Final Fantasy game, and enjoyed the simple yet effective gameplay.
It wasn’t a simple “point and click to attack” game, but rather the player can move, attack, and use skills with ease. It was just as simple for controller players as it was for keyboard and mouse players.
Looking back, its simultaneous console release had been an influence, releasing on the PC and the PS3 on the same day. While 14 wasn’t the first MMO to have console and PC crossplay, it did so masterfully so long as the player had a keyboard to type. (Trust me, typing with a PS3/PS4 controller was not fun)
The Effect Of COVID-19 On Eorzea
I realize that this intro is taking longer than it should, as this is a retrospective of Endwalker, so I’ll skip a few years to the year 2020. As with most services, due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, updates and news for the MMO remained stagnant. At the time, Shadowbringers was reaching its climax with a then-unnamed expansion on the horizon. As the offices in Tokyo closed, the staff was forced to adopt a WFH approach, which proved difficult initially.
2021 brought in new hope for staff and players alike, beginning with the announcement of the final chapter in FF14’s current story, Endwalker. The information came in droves including new class information, locations, and important characters that would be introduced. Locations that were hinted at and referenced for years, including the Garlemald and Thavnair regions, would finally become accessible.
Two new jobs were also announced in Reaper and Sage respectively. Reaper, the latest DPS class, was a melee DPS using a scythe and incorporating a voidsent avatar in their attacks. Sage, the first new healer job since Heavensward’s Astrologian, used Sharlayan technology to heal and shield allies.
Following a delay, Endwalker finally saw its Early Access December 3 2021 to much anticipation. “Much anticipation,” being an understatement as tens of thousands of players flocked to the servers over the weekend. This, of course, flooded login queues as the amount of returning players who laid dormant for months was too much for the server load.
It was common to see queue times ramp up to five digits with numbers so exorbitantly high that there were queues to get into queues. Those who were around to experience it would be all too familiar with the dreaded “Error Code 2002” that would kick players out of the queue, forcing them to log in again. While players were able to have better luck off-peak hours, the problem was consistent to the point where the developers gave players a bonus of three weeks in playtime to compensate.
Fortunately, at the time of this writing, the login queues have been stable and this can be attributed to various reasons. It has been over a month since Endwalker’s release and most players have seen the end of the story. With the next major story patch yet to be announced, this is considered “downtime” with the exception of “raid nights.” From Tuesday to Friday, players can expect servers to be a bit bloated but not at all as chaotic as the first two weeks.
Regardless, throughout the rough launch month, I was able to play and finish the main story of Endwalker, including 6.01’s Pandaemonium raids. As if the introduction wasn’t long enough, rather than give a review on Endwalker I’ll provide a “Patch 6.0” retrospect.
The new expansion only recently came out, with many more story patches along the way. Therefore by the end of the expac’s lifespan I plan to come back and revisit Endwalker to see how my opinions have changed overall.
I’ll leave no stone unturned, including thoughts on the story, leveling certain jobs, learning to embrace crafting and gatherers, and more. Without further ado.
The Following Sections Will Contain Spoilers Involving FF14 Endwalker
The story picks up where Shadowbringers ended, with the threat of the telophoroi towers looming over Eorzea. As they are meant to bring about the end of the world, the Scions attempt to enlist the aid of Sharlayan to help mend the problem. Unfortunately, a representative from Sharlayan, Fourchenault would not only slam that door but would also denounce their own children, effectively disowning Alphinaud and Alisaie.
All hope isn’t entirely lost, however, as Krile was able to use her status as a student of Baldesion to give the Scions access to the city on her behalf. Wasting no time, the gang boards the next ship up north and enter Sharlayan for the first time in player history.
Old Sharlayan is one of the three locations that have been mentioned in detail via flavor text, past dialogue, and story quests. Like Garlemald and Thavnair, it’s impressive to see how roaming these cities and lands compare to the years of lore the players have ingested.
All Aboard To Old Sharlayan
OS is a coastal city that reminded me of Limsa Lominsa, yet is grounded in its scholarly roots. Some places to note are The Studium, which houses several Disciple of Hand and Discipline of Land story quests. These are perfect for the crafters and gatherers to speed up their leveling journey to 90. As with most city-states, OS includes an inn, market board, and a levequest provider.
Old Sharlayan plays the same role in Endwalker as The Crystarium did in Shadowbringers, which won’t be the last time I will compare the two games as there’s some similarity with pacing. Coincidentally, after the player’s tour of Old Sharlayan, the Scions are split into two groups. One group remains in OS to learn more about the history of the Forum while the other is sent to Thavnair to investigate the telophoroi tower that spawned.
You can already guess that this is similar to how Shadowbringers handled the beginning of its expansion, splitting the main story into two paths. Both must be completed in order to progress with the main story, but I always liked this pathing. It ensured that both locations are given ample amounts of time and moments separate from the other.
Certain memorable scenes, including Y’shtola turning the Warrior of Light, Alisaie, and Alphinaud into frogs and the boys getting sick from traveling, shine brightest when they are self-contained in their own paths. This is also appreciated as the pacing for Endwalker quickens at an alarming rate following its slow burn in the beginning.
The Tower of Babil and The Three Sisters
In contrast to the lush greenery of Labyrinthos, Sharlayan’s “field zone,” Thavnair is what players would expect from a location based on the Middle East. Deserts, rock formations, beaches, and red-baked textures flourish the area located in the game’s “Near East.” A mammoth-like race known as the Matanga is formally introduced to players, native to the lands of Thavnair.
It seems with every new expansion, new races are introduced, which leads me to believe that the developers never seem to run out of ideas. While Matanga had been introduced as early as Stormblood as an enemy type, the friendlies have made great first impressions as studious alchemists of their craft.
Eventually, as the Scions regroup, Group A reveals that the Forum is indeed hiding something about the “End of Days,” while Group B had assessed the situation of the Tower of Zot in Thavnair. Shortly, the player enters the tower as Endwalker’s first dungeon, which provided a spike in dungeon difficulty.
I wouldn’t say “difficulty” as in I had problems going through the dungeon, but, compared to the previous expansion, the enemies hit harder and I felt I took more damage than before. It didn’t stop me from pulling “wall to wall,” but I was encouraged to use skill cooldowns while being attentive to my health. Everyone, healers, tanks, and DPS, had to focus on the power spike of the enemies. As the dungeons persist, it became easier to grasp, especially as a Dark Knight main.
The bosses of this tower were The Magus Sisters, a recurring summon in other Final Fantasies, with the final boss having the player fight Cindy, Mindy, and Sandy. I won’t speak too much on the sisters until the next dungeon, so keep the trio fresh in mind for now.
After the Tower is destroyed, the group rendezvous back at Old Sharlayan to plan their next move. The fall of the Tower reaches back to Eorzea with everyone willing to cut to the chase; Destroying the tower in Garlemald.
Garlemald And The Grey Area Of War
Before approaching Garlemald, an entire fleet consisting of those on board with the expedition are to travel via airship. To disarm the guards, players take control of Thancred Snake as he explores Shadow Moses Island undetected.
I’m sorry, you control Thancred as he infiltrates a base with the intent of disabling the Empire’s security system. It just happens to be a Metal Gear Solid-esque instance. Poor attempt at a reference aside, the concept of stealth and doing things in FF14 that goes beyond “fight enemies in waves” impressed me. While situations like these are few and far in-between the quests in Endwalker, when it breaks the monotony, it does so in spectacular fashion.
Garlemald happened to be one of the most important arcs in Endwalker as it debunked many theories I’ve had about the region. Since A Realm Reborn, the player has come to blows with the Garlean Empire. Some may say that they have been recurring antagonists, conflicting with the views of Eorzea and achieving resolution through conquest.
It wasn’t until Stormblood, with characters like Fordola and Yotsuyu, that I began to question the morality of the Empire. Both characters were affected by the Empire and were betrayed by both, only for them to deal with the gravity of their consequences. The former notably so as she lives to fight for the side of the “good guys” once her nation has been freed, her people’s futures secured in good hands.
Although Fordola fought for the Empire, she fought as there was no other choice. Never once did she make excuses, becoming well aware that the ones who she fought for turned their heads at her for fighting her own kind. Take the story of Fordola and multiply that by at least a thousand. This is what goes through the mind of the average citizen of Garlemald. I initially believed that the entire region was just the Empire, but there are civilians affected by the war as much as any other nation.
Not knowing what life is like outside of Garlemald, all they see is war and destruction caused by Eorzeans like the Warrior of Light. While the intentions were to unite Garlemald and Eorzea to fight against the threat that would end the world, old scars dig deep. The introduction to the young girl with her sick sister set the stage, deciding it was best to die rather than instill faith in the enemy.
When Julius, a young soldier working for the Empire is introduced, he is also led to believe that the Eorzeans are the enemies that have put Garlemald through such torment. This is reflected in the way he treats them, even attempting to stage a coup that would ultimately fail. By the end of the Garlemald chapter, I was placed in an awkward situation.
Final Fantasy 14 Says No More Heroes
There were moments, especially in Heavensward, where I felt despite doing the right thing, I was hated by those who didn’t see it that way. This magnified instance of having both sides see the wrongdoings of their actions despite the best intentions is what would be a recurring theme in Endwalker.
While this was not meant to be a 1:1 retelling of the plot, the expansion’s story covered loose ends with important side characters as well as forced everyone to look into themselves. Fourchenault’s ideas can be considered radical and inconsiderate towards his children when it’s anything but. As a father who wants nothing more than the best for their children, it’s with the misconception that children don’t know any better. During the WoL’s visit to Elpis, an entire tug-of-war between what’s good for civilization vs what’s comforting towards civilization is being tested. Those with the best intentions have done vile acts to ensure that their vision for the good of all is realized.
For over six years, I was lead to believe that as the Warrior of Light, as the “protagonist,” I was the “hero” and yet what gave me the right to that title? There are those who will always think otherwise, considering the path to saving the world was a bloodied one (literally). By the end of 6.0’s story, ultimately, there are no “good” or “evil” people. It’s all about perspective. Without detailing too much of the plot (as I would like readers to experience the story for themselves), that's my consensus on what Endwalker taught me.
Endwalker's Story Is Best Experienced As The Sum Of Its Parts
We have a lot of ground to cover involving what I believe is the most important game in recent history. It's a game that has affected the livelihoods of those who worked on it as well as the company that backed it. It has saved careers and an entire company from folding and that much is known from word of mouth and fellow news outlets.
While I can, and probably would if I was allowed to, talk about the game forever, it's best to split this retrospect into two parts. I've spoken enough about the history and part of the story that stood out for me, but what about the rest of Endwalker? The gameplay, the classes, the meta? I'll focus more on my personal thoughts on the expansion in the second half, so stay tuned!