FFXIV: Endwalker Expansion Review

*spoiler alert* Later in the post I will discuss and mention story points, characters and zones. This will be marked with “Story” headline, until this point it’s a safe reading. *end of spoiler alert*

FFXIV Endwalker: Technical Issues

It is impossible not to address the major launch issue again and again: lobby server errors and login queues. My personal experience was a complete disaster, and remains to be so as of December 9, seven days after early access launch. Past afternoon, I’m inevitably bumping into 4-6k login queue, which kicks you out of game client with a lobby server error sooner than later, and no player solutions (like quick relog) or hotfix maintenance from developers solved this problem yet. By and large, the game is effectively unplayable in my camp in the second half of the day, and my only option to finish the expansion was to login in the morning and not to logout until I’m done with the game session.

To developers credit though, once you’re in the game, it runs flawlessly. I’ve experienced zero bugs and zero disconnects, not a single hiccup – even for a super long final 14-hour session yesterday which took me through 88-90 questing and 6.0. expansion finale.

FFXIV Endwalker: Leveling

I’m glad to certify that Endwalker requires no grind to meet the quest level requirements and complete the MSQ. I used food XP buff almost never, never completed a single FATE and never performed extra dungeon runs, and it went well. I did only MSQ and aether current questing to unlock flights, period.

My first hiccup was to reach level 87 before proceeding – but it was solved by a single mere common quest which are plenty. The second hiccup was 2,5 mil XP for 88-89 threshold. As an explorer, I chose to cover them by opening all zone maps (262k for completing a zone map is no small feat) and crossing out several Sightseeing Log points on the way (86k per node). It took about 20 minutes, so did not stall me much :)

Leveling process by MSQ was quite easy. I main a Dragoon, and the open world combat and solo duties appeared to be easier than previous expansions. As always, you’re getting a full armor and weapon upgrade set per chapter, and spruce it up with story dungeon drops, so you never lack gear level and never have to buy it – which was the case in Shadowbringers to even queue for the final dungeons and trials. Before the final zone, don’t forget to claim free 560 set from Tataru quest.

FFXIV Endwalker: Gameplay and Mechanics

Endwalker introduces a new couple of quest types which could be annoying to a point. First, it’s escort quests. More often than not, you’ll find yourself in a company of Scions or other characters which require nursing them on the way to quest goals. Luckily, unlike WoW, it is you who are setting the pace in most cases, and they follow you with your speed – just struggle the urge to mount up. Not a real bother, this. But still it pins you to the quest ground until completion, and you’d better not queue not to start over.

The second quest type – is a subtype of escort, where you must follow a character in secret. From time to time, the character will look back, and if you’re not hidden behind a rock, you failed. It’s not too hard to complete – a couple tries in the worst case – but it’s an annoying slog, and I would prefer there were less of these quests. You’ll have at least 1 such quest per chapter, so developers definitely liked the idea and intend to use it in the future. Well – please, don’t :) Not in that amount in any case.

Speaking of slogs and annoyance, there was another couple of quest designs that pissed me off big time. First – the vehicle In from the Cold quest in Garlemald. I hated everything about gameplay here. Second – tracking a quest character in “heaven” zone, twice in a row. Both quests is something I started, and very quickly tabbed out of the game for guide and directions, and I heavily recommend you do that if you’re not planning to break your screen and keyboard in rage and frustration.

Other than that, it’s your very normal FFXIV experience – talk, tap, fight, do solo duty, do few vehicle fights, watch multiple cutscenes. If you’ve arrived to Endwalker, you’re already so used to the flow.

Can’t tell anything about other jobs, haven’t managed to try them yet, but Dragoon received a few important tweaks while maintaining the core gameplay. Blood of Dragon buff is now built in, thank you very much, one unnecessary sorry gcd out. Two basic spells get an upgrade during 80-90, and there’s a fresh trash-pack AoE nuke ability which makes dealing with several enemies a lot less boring and a lot more effective. Now the class is even more perfect, and I keep to main it in the content to come.

FFXIV Endwalker: Dungeons and Trials

Dungeons and trials appeared to be super hard, in contrast to smooth open world gameplay. I did them all with groups, not Trust system, and it was quite brutal, from dungeon one to trial last. The worst thing is you must switch your attention now from the void zones on the ground to bosses’ casting panel, and be prepared to act accordingly. So instead of paying attention to the field, you gaze at gauges and meters, and that’s not a good decision imo as it breaks the immersment to an extent. Besides, this design requires knowledge of 10+ mechanics by name which is tasking.

A rough example: say, a boss drops a central or side void zone to run out. Previously, you see it on the ground, you move out or else, and then it’s a big ba-da-boom, eyes on the field and boss. In Endwalker, you keep your eye at boss casting line, you see something like Enchytomasapaeodeia ready to be dished out. You need to know what this means, and run to a proper spot before it finishes cast, because when void zones appear, it’s already too late. Mind that there are 6 to 14 abilities to learn depending on encounter, and you’ll know what I mean. Long story short, do your homework, memorize spell names and what they do, and keep eyes on boss casting line instead of being totally engaged in the field – that’s not good.

Mechanics tend to overlap a lot, so I often find myself running in circles instead of doing any damage at all just to cope with a trio of different void zones trying to bury me at the same time. If I distract for a fraction of a second from boss casting and try to perform a round of my rotation, looking at my action bar, I’m kissing the ground. Can’t tell you how many times I was Raised, because it was a lot, and embarassingly so.

So in general, group content is less pleasant, requires exceptional awareness and boss knowledge, and is less immersing than before. Cherry on top, I felt like trash packs took forever to kill. So: yes, still challenging, inventive, and top notch encounters, generally enjoyable, but this shift in the direction of overall design is something I did not like too much.

FFXIV Endwalker: Zones, Music and Ambience

As with story, FFXIV is hopping several steps up with visuals with every next expansion, and Endwalker was no exception. Shadowbringers and A Realm Reborn already looked like a difference between WoD and TBC graphics (WoW players know what I mean), but Endwalker surpassed even Shadowbringers. There’s literally nothing I would like to improve – maybe it’s character models next, just to keep up?

Labyrinthos and Sharlayan were so serene and beautiful, it was a mere pleasure to walk in these zones. Thavnair is a very convincing and a good taste take on India, from seashore to jungle to altars, cities and villages.

Garlemald performed its task of an industry-themed, tech-advanced, but at the same time imperial northern country too well.

One note though: I’ve met mentioning that Garlemald is based on Russia and/or Eastern Europe. Yes, it’s located where “Russia” should be on the planet map, and it has snow, but apart from that – nothing in common. Trust me, as a Russian myself and having visited most countries of Eastern Europe more than once, it’s not the source of inspiration here. Literally nothing in architecture, clothing, attitude, society design strikes me with recognition, not a single element – neither ancient tzarist Rus, nor the imperial period of westernized Russia 1700-1917, nor soviet or modern periods. It’s not a bad take, it’s just not that at all. So, Garlemald is simply Garlemald :)

The Moon has stricken me like a sledgehammer, it’s a zone of utmost beauty and ambience. I could wander these fields forever, just kicking the moondust and listening to the music – as a therapy, no less. Its underground facility – well, not so much, being too vast and unproportional, like a factory, but it’s in the lore why it is so. And the secret “heaven” and “hell” zones – mind the quotemarks, they’re actually not by lore – are so excellent and mesmerizing, both serving their lore purposes and just being exciting places to dwell.

As for music, I could highlight Thavnair/Radz-at-Han theme, the Moon ambient, the major theme during the boss encounter, and the sung theme in the final leg of final zone. Not quite a lot of hit tracks for my playlist, but anyways, Soken copes well with delivering the ambience, so no questions here.

As for travel, aether currents are quick and easy to find as before, aether current quests are quick and moderately annoying distractions from MSQ. No bother with navigating the terrain and all, no lack of aetheryte crystals, so basically your common FFXIV zone exploration experience.

You will unlock the first half of Labyrinthos and Thavnair in initiate questing, but will revisit the other half later in the MSQ – much like the Fringes, Sea of Clouds or Kholusia zones. The other zones are wholesome and could be explored in full/unlocked flights as soon as you arrive there and finish the zone story.

*spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* *spoiler alert*

FFXIV Endwalker: Story

I looooooooooooooved it! Like I always said as I advanced through the expansions, it becomes better and better with every next expansion, hopping over its own head every next time, and Endwalker pushed it to the limit. It’s not just a good story by MMO standards, it surpasses the whole bulk of media – books, series, movies, single player games – name it.

Let’s just say when I finished the final quest, I was sitting like in a warm emotional blanket, awashed with emotions, musing about the characters, the revelations, the story flow, the epic finale and resolutions of many, many arcs and questions. I just sat there, literally swaying in my chair, tears of happiness drying on my face, and slowly moving a cursor over characters in Scions base (well, I still have to talk to them and give in the final quest, lol).

The most important feeling was that the story flows very smoothly. You don’t find yourself in a boring slog – every part is important, plays a key role and feels exciting. The one chapter that I did not like storywise was Elpis – it was too much of a drag. Yes, it was super important as a reveal for the final villain, some great insights in the past were a much better introduction of the ancients’ characters and their society than, say, Amaurot, and the time travel thing paradox (which I normally absolutely hate in every media) was resolved with an elegance that deserved a literal applause from this side of the screen. Yet I dragged through it with a grimace of boredom – all these endless zookeeper chores, pretty bleak Venat investigation and the exhausting chase of Meteion. The only thing that mitigated this arc for me was the zone ambience – a heaven, no less.

Sharlayan the city was very exciting to explore, I loved the initiate questing very much. It was a bit weird in Labyrinthos part one – we achieved nothing, we were busted too soon – naturally! – and the Forum session revealed nothing new. So it felt like time wasted. I mean, that much we knew before we even entered Labyrinthos, what was that couple of hours spent for except admiring the terrain?

Thavnair started as a slog in port town (except for a hilarious aether sickness part), but quickly set on tracks once we arrived in Great Works and remained so until dungeon culmination. Garlemald was excellent from top to bottom. It had everything: the most exciting launch duty, the acquaintance with the locals through masterfully told minor character stories, the twists and the epic resolution. Needless to say, I was shocked to arrive at the enemy land only to find that the Empire is literally no more, and we fight not the local army, but just cultists.

The Moon did not send us on errands and we quickly – nay, immediately resolved the purpose which we came here for, and immediately set the stage for further development, raising the stakes. Loporrits were adorable, nuff said, they picked up the comic relief banner and carried it proudly till the end.

Thavnair part 2 was one of the gravest and tear jerking experiences, I loved everything about this story, from opening dungeon to the ending negotiation cutscene. Matsya and the baby scene is one of my most important emotional highlights in this expansion as a whole.

I talked about Elpis, well, it’s the sagging thread in the narrative – strong at its ends and hanging loose in the middle. Thank the Twelve we had Emet-Selch to spice it up a bit with his snarky comments, or this whole bit would have been a disaster in otherwise perfect story.

Sharlayan part 2 too was not very inspiring. Too much legwork and mundane for my taste, and knowing that resolution was at hand made it even more tantalizing. But it payed off big time once we arrived to Hydaelyn and the spaceship.

Ultima Thule was a bit like Azys Lla in terms of being a thing totally out of this world, weird and cranky. But omg I loved it so much, and it’s so much better. Azys Lla was a lab we didn’t even explore properly as we rushed to the big bad at full speed. Here in space- oh no, not at all. Weird creatures, stunning skies, emotional jerks every two quests, and the big ascendance to the finale was something I can not really express with words.

Villains? Yes, I was stunned to see our biggest enemies from before – Zodiark and the Empire – resolved, just like that, and no later than level 83. What is happening, guys? But we didn’t get a relief, as the new threat immediately picked up, and it was brilliant and most epic. Meteion was an excellent villain, and always in vein of FFXIV and Japanese media in general: a good guy who’s actually mistaken, and could be talked from disillusion (not before an epic beating, of course).

Zenos was a weird wild card, I can’t say I hated his arc, but I felt pity for the character :) He had a sole purpose of another encounter with the Warrior of Light, and his wish fulfilled. But throughout the expansion he walked by, showing before us, and no one really paid attention to him: shoo, we’ve got important business to do. Like a stray, beaten dog. I was actually happy that he got what he wanted in the end. And… presumably dead, as there was no one left to save him and heal his wounds? Well, as he literally returned from the actual grave before, we could see him yet as a leader of Ultima Thule robot army, lol.

Two more points to elaborate on. First, as with all good sagas, I loved the all-stars thing throughout the expansion, as all threads and people we helped and deal with before showed up to help and just to have their face in the spotlight. It’s really an amazing trope that I can’t get enough of.

Two, threads and hints for the new expansions to come. Emet-Selch basically drew a developers’ map in his casual farewell speech, mentioning at least three continents on Eorzea to explore yet, and not to forget about the shards: we’ve seen the Source and the First so far, how many to go?

We’ll learn very soon, as 6.x. patches will roughcast the way for 7.x., as before.

But before that, some resolutions are in order. We would probably see the Garlemald succession and reforming, with Jullus and Maxima being the most probable leadership candidates – I’d vote Maxima. Not Gaius though, he’s a lone wolf now, and least interested in ruling.

We would probably see another Leveilleur reunion, all words need to be said and such. We’d probably see how Loporrits integrate in the society and what about the Moon. So, even with epic finale, as always, well get some aftermath.

But even without it, it’s been the most amazing ride, and technically it could end just now as a saga.

***

Some conclusion is in order? The expansion is flawless storywise and elevated the whole game to the heights of narrative which is nigh impossible to compete with. Gameplay remains a good old FFXIV we got used to, with some minor quality of life tweaks, and it works well. It’s a turmoil of pleasure and emotions, and I’m glad it’s not over. Before the new content comes, I’ve got tons of old non-MSQ content and activities to explore, alt jobs to level and what not. But story comes first, and I’ll be waiting for the new chapters with eager.

P.S. If not for the effing login issues!

7 thoughts on “FFXIV: Endwalker Expansion Review

  1. I’m still working on my spoiler post, but I am glad to see that I’m not the only one that hates time travel arcs and loved the idea of Elpis due to the execution. I was worried when I saw the idea of it, but they address everything in-universe quite well and resolve the potential hanging threads that normally dog such a story. That being said, I am nervous that the post-credits clearly indicate the raid series is also here, and the profession quests also play a little fast and loose with the idea of it (oh we need something to research from the past, wonder where we can get that…) – but it felt like it was done right enough that my normal irritation over time travel was gone.

    I also think I mostly agree on the Zenos arc, but I noticed that the game sort of integrated real fan criticisms of him as a character into the plot, which was great. Alisaie just monologues things players have said about Zenos to his face, and it actually made him think and change his stripes, which was also great. He didn’t feel “redeemed” in that sense, but more at-peace. He had been a soul yearning for more and we finally gave him what he wanted so he could die and let go. Given how his Resonant power seemed to work in Stormblood, I’d wager he’s gone for good and I trust the sense of the writers on this game to know when a character needs to exit!

    Login issues aside, I’ve really enjoyed this expansion and the story hooks for what comes next are pretty open – I could see the relic weapon chain of this expansion being Corvos, based on how often it was mentioned in the MSQ and how it is both the birthplace of G’raha Tia and the original home of the Garleans. It feels like it was name-dropped a lot to set up patch content, which is the only likely way it would get added as a zone during the Endwalker cycle and it feels most relevant to us in this current content.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s the relic weapons? :) I haven’t managed to meet them yet, is it something you grind for?

      I too hope Zenos does not come back, it would be feeble as in we can’t produce fresh convincing villains. Ultima robot army though, we ignited some spark there…

      I saw the post-credits now, yes, but as a side raid streak it’s totally viable. We can’t make it a central plot, as it was a one time thing, at the same time it would be a waste of resources not to address this zone again.

      Can’t wait for your spoiler post :)

      Like

      • Every expansion, there is a multi-patch content stretch from around x.2 to the end that builds a multi-stage weapon. The overall name fans use is Relic Weapons, but each expansion has different names for them – in Shadowbringers they were Resistance Weapons, in Stormblood Eureka Weapons, etc.

        They’re usually the second-best weapon for a job in stats (behind the current Savage raid tier at a given time) but accessible to all players with a multi-part quest. Since Stormblood, these weapon quests have involved added zones specifically for the weapon quests – in SB it was the islands of Eureka, in Shadowbringers it was Bozja and Zadnor. The grind is real, but they start off easy enough – usually you use your Poetics to get started and then have to complete a list of gameplay objectives to upgrade the weapon. They have iconic job-specific looks and usually are the glowiest and most well-crafted models (save for Ultimate raid weapons).

        I don’t disagree on the point about the raid being in Elpis – I worry that it could muddy the waters which were made pretty clear in a good service to the plot, but I trust they can pull it off and I’m mostly just really curious to see how they work it in. Teaming up with Elidibus is a big surprise, although getting to Elpis in the first place had some elements of that and unsundered, pre-Final Days Elidibus will be fascinating to see after the 5.3 story!

        Now back to my draft, and thanks for the kind words! :)

        Like

  2. That really sucks that the maintenance didn’t fix your queue issues. I was pleasantly surprised that I could leave FF running behind WOW while I bang my head against the Mage Tower. I’ll occasionally alt-tab over to it just to make sure I haven’t been 2002ed. I don’t even bother wiggling the queue countdown window anymore. So far, the biggest queue I’ve been able to count down from without disconnects is 3200. If it’s over 4000, I cancel and find something else to do. I’m not sure why I arbitrarily drew a line in the sand at 4000 to be my “Nope!” boundary, but it works for me.

    Like

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