Final Fantasy XIV is something special. Ten years on from its initial release, it goes without saying the game is absolutely thriving – not only because of various influencers and good word of mouth, but because the game really is that good as we have shouted about from on high time and time again. Despite today’s realities of an on-going global pandemic, things are shaping up for its fourth, latest (but not final) expansion due to be in reach of players hands within the next month. Whilst the strain of said pandemic has been hard on us all – particularly for the development team at Square Enix – producer/director Naoki Yoshida stresses to all of us his gratitude to the medical staff and all those who have had to work hard. That gratitude extends to the launch of Endwalker, where once again people around the world will be able to connect and share their experiences as a sort of relief from these trying circumstances.
It’s to that end we were invited to participate in the latest media tour covering a first look at expansion content. Normally, we would convene in person, but obvious reasons dictated that a digital event was to be held. So armed at home with our computer and remote software, we were given a go at some of the things players will encounter when they first boot up Endwalker next month. It’s important to remember that the game is still in a state of development and as a result things can change between now and release proper. That includes everything from visuals down to specific values that appear in tooltips or game menus. For those hoping to avoid spoilers, please be mindful of both our written and video content as new zones, enemies, job actions and a dungeon are part of the article. Each video is prefaced by a separate warning just in case.
As we’re dropped straight into the game first impressions run high. We find ourselves in the sprawling town of Old Sharlayan, which is being set up to be the new player hub of sorts once the expansion launches. And what a town it is. It’s even bigger than hubs of expansions past – filled to the brim with alabaster buildings, to a quaint section that could be mistaken for player housing (it’s not, just for clarification’s sake). Brilliant tunes play about as one explores the area, painting the pristine visuals with Masayoshi Soken’s eccentric flairs. Between the council hall, a certain mansion, various shops and a library, it’s clear we’ll be spending a lot of time here from November.
It’s from this hub area we were allowed to visit two entirely new zones for Endwalker: Thavnair and Garlemald. Thavnair is a place long-time players might be familiar with. It’s been mentioned time and time again in various ways but this is the first time we’ll actually be going to the physical location. For all intents and purposes, it’s quite a sight to see. Colorful shades of reds and blues and greens make up this seaside town filled with equally colorful architecture. Painted stones and the like cover buildings and its this sort of theme that can be seen throughout on other statues and locations across the zone. Most notably it feels a lot bigger than previous expansions – there’s a variety here between the areas by the beach, forests and temples within.
Garlemald, while not as big as what was available in Thavnair, still feels vast in that it offers a glimpse at an area we may go to in the future. It’s another snow-covered land that borders a city that’s been left to ruin. Adventuring into said area is quiet and punctuated by burned out structures and vehicles. It’s a stark contrast not only for that reason but because Garlemald itself is a place clearly influenced by technology. There’s even a subway station of sorts that can be teleported to and places you in said city, burned out against a backdrop of something menacing and mysterious in the distance. The subdued atmosphere puts forth many questions about the main scenario – just what has happened to the Empire in our time away from its conflict?
With new zones comes new dungeons and the one we specifically had a chance to test out gives us a taste of what’s to come in Endwalker. Continuing FFXIV tradition of borrowing themes from other titles in the series, the Tower of Zot was available to access either through pairing up with living, breathing people or by utilizing the game’s Trust system – allowing you to venture forth with selected NPCs controlled by artificial intelligence.
At first glance, if the name doesn’t give it away, the dungeon visuals and music certainly will. Covered in a sprawling mass of strange structures and curling walkways, the Tower of Zot has you meandering around a literal tower with enemies and bosses scooped right out of Final Fantasy IV. Without delving directly into spoilers (although you can see them in our battle gameplay footage so be aware…), there’s enough here to leave one wanting for where the story will go. Just how will the Warrior of Light and their companions end up here? As our preview time didn’t focus on story content, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Story elements aside, the dungeon offers up some unusual mechanics, which is refreshing to see with the dawn of a new expansion. You’ll need to be quick on your feet with each boss fight requiring a little bit of strategy – particularly the final one which is far complicated than most. The Trusts have been tuned to accommodate this, taking on upgraded AI that better allows them to react to the haphazard mechanics and situations. Similarly the dungeon offers a decent look at the truncation of number values being adjusted in Endwalker. Even though the overall damage numbers on display have gone down, the amount of damage being dealt still feels comparable to how it should be, and attacks still feel in-line with how they were with larger numbers at play. While the team notes that these numbers are not final and adjustments are still ongoing, long term players should be able to slip right into their usual mindset after several moments of play. It’s really no concern at all once you’re in the thick of it.
New jobs also join the fray with the introduction of Reaper, a melee DPS, and Sage, a new barrier-type healer. At first glance, Reaper has a lot of buttons – especially for someone not used to playing a melee class. It can be a bit daunting being tossed in at level 90 with everything unlocked – certainly this must be what it’s like to take a leveling potion and bypass the usual journey that has become common place among some newer players just wanting to get into certain classes gated by expansion entries. But between slashing attacks and a unique avatar buddy, Reaper has a fair amount to offer to the usual party composition. A Soul Gauge will charge on screen for the release of said avatar and its this specific resource you’ll need to be mindful of to bring out those powerful attacks. Reaper can also use a portal as a gap closer which will likely be useful in situations that require you to move away from an enemy or boss. It took some getting used to but after a round in the dungeon and running around on field getting the hang of things wasn’t too complicated. Reaper seems like a fun class for anyone looking to switch to DPS or from an existing DPS already in play.
As for Sage, the introduction of a new healer job is a long time coming – six years now with the last being Astrologian as part of Heavensward in 2015. This one too has a lot of abilities, but they’re used in a way that allows for both attacking and healing all at once. Whilst attacking with funnel-like objects, you can simultaneously heal a specific party member. Sage has several damage abilities as well including a damage over time attack. As a barrier healer, you can use instant barriers along with the usual AOE heals and single target heals. It’s flashy and satisfying all at once and offers a healer who can do more than just purely heal. That job has been delegated to White Mage and Astrologian, while Sage joins Scholar as a barrier healer – two jobs that offer a bit more flexibility in their style of gameplay. Sage is certainly a breath of fresh air with the mounting number of DPS and tank classes that populate the game.
Of course, the older jobs do not remain untouched. Several have been extensively reworked for Endwalker such as Summoner and Monk. Others enjoy new abilities in the same sort of styling as Shadowbringers. That is, they’ve added improvements to existing abilities that either replace or upgrade old ones without adding many more buttons if at all. This is especially important because it halts the game from becoming too bloated or crowded. It relies less on inflating the gap between player skill and focuses more on skills that the players can effectively use to better or accompany things they already have. For those who played the game back around the time Heavensward came out, you might remember that style was a bit unwieldy. It just wasn’t viable for a growing player base that was constantly bringing in new people – especially those new to MMOs.
For example, with Bard the addition of Ladonsbite takes the place of Quick Knock to provide a more powerful AOE ability. A new song called Radiant Finale has been added that increases damage for you and your party members for 15 seconds and the effectiveness of said ability is worked in by different Coda active in the Song Gauge. An enhanced version of Apex Arrow called Blast Arrow also joins the fray and slots in as an enhance trait following level 86. It’s things like this that don’t change the overall rotation or move kit much – they instead round out and improve that which is already there, and this is the case for the bulk of the existing jobs. It’s a great example of “less is more”. While some classes such as Scholar and perhaps Dancer leave a little left to be desired, that overall philosophy still stands – namely for the classes that were already in a good place.
The similarity to Shadowbringers here gives plenty to think about – not because it’s a bad thing but because it provides that sort of hope for the future. The evidence is on full display with everything we’ve seen of Endwalker so far – from the glimpses of new areas, new music, visuals, enemies and dungeons, there’s a lot to look forward to and unpack – certainly in ways that can adhere to player expectations. Shadowbringers itself was a monumental achievement in both gameplay and story content, and if Endwalker can be more of that as it seems to be shaping up to be, then rest assured Final Fantasy XIV will continue its path as one of the greatest entries in the series not just for this year, but for years to come.