A wise catboy once asked, “How many years have I waited for this moment?” For finally getting hands-on with Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker? Well, about two years. Two very unique years. It’s wild to think about how much FFXIV has evolved from a gameplay, narrative, and cultural standpoint since the launch of Shadowbringers in July 2019 and the 5.3 update, Reflections in Crystal, in August 2020. And I’m not just accounting for the sheer number of new players that have come in waves in recent months.
With every major story beat, we’ve learned something new about its characters and lore, and watched in awe as the pieces of the FFXIV universe shifted around to present stunning revelations about a game we thought we knew well enough. In its best moments, FFXIV is endearing and often empathetic; captivating and genuine in its melodrama. There’s a human element to it that carries into how we perceive the game world itself, redefining what an MMORPG could be. In the impressive spectacle and charming, fancy dialogue, I found reasons to cry over a goddamn catboy multiple times — and still do to this day.
With Endwalker about a month away, these thoughts and feelings are fresh in my mind. I watch the Endwalker intro cinematic and remember the scale of what this expansion represents, as a grand conclusion to a decade-long story arc and as an unprecedented piece of game development, largely done amidst an ongoing global pandemic. But while our recent preview sessions did not include any specific story-based content, I could get a sense of the stories being told through the game’s design.
Disclaimer: All the following articles are based on an in-development build of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, and content in the final version is subject to change.
In the absence of cutscenes and dialogue, we looked to the world design itself to tell us the story of the three new expansive areas we could explore: Thavnair, Old Sharlayan, and after all these years, Garlemald. My colleague Mike Williams put together a wonderful tour of all these new zones and each of their regions, which put into perspective the weight behind finally traveling to these places.
Old Sharlayan is a new place for players to congregate and soak in the rich (literally), vibrant, and relaxing scenery. But I was taken aback by the gaudy vibe. It’s where Eorzea’s greatest scholars come from; the home of the Leveilleur family; a place we’ve heard so much about but never seen until now. It’s also a city-state insistent on stubborn neutrality and isolationism.
After a decade of Garlemald imposing its horrifying will, we finally arrive only to see the oppressive and imperialist nation on its knees. It’s a desolate place with only rubble of an abandoned city left to show for it — and a massive tempering tower as a centerpiece. The remaining people have either fled, been tempered, or are scraping by in the underground subway stations where a shattered aetheryte resides.
Thavnair boasts a lush natural landscape, bursting with color and architecture seemingly inspired by South and Southeast Asia. We see hints of its devastation in the cinematic intro, and off in the distance of the zone itself is another one of those massive towers that have spawned from underground throughout Eorzea; looming over Thavnair as an ever-present reminder of its tempering power.
In a full-on ode to Final Fantasy IV, we actually enter one of these tempering towers to find the Tower of Zot, the first dungeon in Endwalker, and see first-hand what Hydaelyn has been hiding this whole time. As we fight through mobs, we hear a grand orchestral arrangement of the original Tower of Zot theme song. It’s an imposing tune that matches the dungeon’s menacing and gory bio-organic aesthetic. Each boss fight is against FFXIV‘s own version of the Magus Sisters, heavily referencing their visual and combat designs from the source material. Two of them make for exciting combat challenges as we climb up the tower and, in the end, all three sisters unite for a concluding battle that cleverly layers the mechanics from the preceding fights. And I’m still pondering what the full context around this dungeon will tell us.
As I ran it using the Trust system, I thought about how much having the Scions of the Seventh Dawn with me made it a more enjoyable experience. It’s one thing director and producer Naoki Yoshida highlighted in a presentation before the preview session: that the Trust system is core to FFXIV‘s design philosophy moving forward, and the team has worked on improving and adding new features to the AI, making it more intuitive. My colleague Natalie Flores elaborated on this in her article about the goals and future of the Trust system.
The Trust system has also been effective as a narrative device, letting me fight alongside my favorite characters who have stakes in the story and see them band together in these critical moments. However, you can’t get by relying on your Trusts alone, even though they’ll practically show you the boss fight mechanics by quickly reacting to them.
You still need to be in tune with the latest changes and additions to the combat Job of your choosing. I dug real deep into how each Job has been tweaked or revamped, while making sure I learned the new Reaper and Sage Jobs to comfortably run Tower of Zot as them. While most Jobs have adjustments and new abilities to coincide with Endwalker‘s level 90 cap, some will play a lot different from what folks might be used to — namely Monk, Astrologian, and Summoner.
Monk has a whole new layer of Chakra types to manage for its most powerful attacks to live up to its expectations as a formidable Melee DPS. Astrologian essentially had its deck shuffled with reworks to several core mechanics like Minor Arcana, Sects, and spells that lean into “pure” healing. And the major overhaul for Summoner has resulted in it playing like a brand-new Job — its emphasis on summoning and cycling through Ifrit, Titan, and Garuda alongside Bahamut and Phoenix feels much more in the spirit of its namesake.
As for the DPS newcomer, Reaper, I thought of it as a new main once its full skillset clicked with me. It’s fast-paced, visually enticing, and wholly satisfying to play. You essentially balance two gauges using some chunky, high-damage attacks using your Scythe and your Grim Reaper avatar. It’s all in an effort to go Super Saiyan in a phase where you and your avatar become one and begin wailing on enemies with powerful positional attacks. Keep in mind that this is also the Job that Zenos represents in the current story arc.
Sage is also an aesthetic showcase, though a lot less grim with its glowing glamour and shining Nouliths shooting laser beams. As the fourth Healer in FFXIV, its emphasis on applying barriers to protect your allies while executing your healing duties makes a distinct addition to the roster. Sage comes with its own intricacies that’ll take time to master, especially once we start to see it used in high-level content. Our good boy Alphinaud has become the poster child for Sage in Endwalker as well.
These two new Jobs already feel like they’ve found a place in FFXIV‘s extensive lineup. With 17 combat Jobs already fully developed, I can only imagine the work that has been necessary to create Reaper and Sage while trying to maintain and revamp the existing ones for another expansion cycle.
After the brain-melting focus I put into understanding and practicing the complexities of these Jobs, I had to mellow out for a moment. It’s important for me to take the time to soak in the soundtrack and solely focus on the melodies, harmonies, instrumentation, and leitmotifs that get layered into its songs. Music has consistently been one of the most powerful things about FFXIV, and in many cases, inseparable from its storytelling. The days after my preview session, I woke up with the Old Sharlayan theme songs stuck in my head and just wouldn’t get out. They draw from that specific verse and melody in the Endwalker trailer when Old Sharlayan is first revealed, you know, the part that goes:
Our song of hope, she dances on the wind, higher, oh higher
Ere our foes endure, every faithful realm is strong
Standing tall in the dark ’til we carry on
On wings of hope, you rise up through the night, higher, oh higher
Carry in a song, raise up everything in our hearts
So that its chorus might ring for all
It’s a catchy melody that sonically evokes the sense of desperation and hopefulness found within the lyrics. With that constantly in the back of my mind as I enjoyed the whimsical flourishes of the daytime version and the chill vibes of the nighttime version, it was easy to get lost in thought. To recall how the Endwalker theme itself includes a medley of every theme song that came before, while reflecting on what this expansion represents and what Final Fantasy XIV means today.
As I took in the views of Endwalker‘s vast landscapes, contemplating the stories that may be told around them, I couldn’t help but think about the time and effort that went into creating Endwalker; about the conditions it was, and is being, made in. In our interview with him, Yoshida-san talked openly about the FFXIV team’s challenges with adapting to working remotely during the pandemic. It seems the team has managed to achieve their vision, though he also alluded to some difficulties and just how much work it was. After all, Endwalker’s massive script has a word count that is 1.5 times larger than that of Shadowbringers; that itself tells its own story.
Through its new zones, dungeons, gameplay mechanics, Jobs, overhauls to existing Jobs, and especially in the evocative music from Masayoshi Soken and the sound team, our short time with Endwalker told us many stories of different varieties without a single line of dialogue.
The expectations are high following the two years since Shadowbringers and the wave of content that followed, but what we’ve seen from Endwalker has been impressive on many fronts. We’ll see it in its entirety when Endwalker launches on November 19 for those with early access, and November 23 for everyone else.
Until then, we encourage you to read the many stories we’ve told about our time with FFXIV Endwalker, which you will find below. And trust us: we still have so much more on the way, including the launch of Fanbyte’s dedicated Final Fantasy XIV section, The Linkshell.
Breakdown of the New Jobs
- Sage Breakdown and Impressions
- Reaper Breakdown and Impressions (coming soon!)
Changes to Existing Jobs
- Tank Changes and All New Job Actions to Level 90
- Healer Changes and All New Job Actions to Level 90
- Melee DPS Changes and All New Job Actions to Level 90
- Ranged/Magic DPS Changes and All New Job Actions to Level 90
- Tour of the New Zones — A Walkthrough of Old Sharlayan, Garlemald, and Thavnair
- Tower of Zot Dungeon Breakdown and Impressions (coming soon!)
- The New Trusts Make a Single-Player Future Possible
- Why Endwalker Will Make It Easier Than Ever to Level Up Secondary Jobs
- Numerical Changes to Sustain the Next Ten Years