By Daniel Avola
“That which lives is destined to die. Love leads to loss. Every beginning has an end.”
Well met adventurers! Today I am here to tell you the story of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the hit MMORPG from Square Enix…wait, didn’t I do this already? Sorry, a force of habit.
When the wonderful team at GateCrashers approached me about writing this review, I jumped at the chance to talk about one of my favorite online gaming experiences. However, now that I am sitting here, just finishing drying my tears after seeing the credits roll on this expansion, I am almost at a loss for words.
While I will be avoiding Endwalker spoilers in my review, I will assume you have played through the Main Story Scenario of the base game, A Realm Reborn, all the way through the previous expansion, Shadowbringers. If you have not played through this content, I might suggest holding off reading until you do so. (Maybe go check out the overview I did for the base game not too long ago!)
When it comes to MMORPGs, I like to think of myself as a hardcore casual. You might be saying, “Hey Dan, that sounds like a lazy way of saying you love the game but are probably bad at it.” AND you would be right…mostly. I will be talking about this game from the standpoint of someone who loves to dip their feet into all types of content but does not take pride in constantly challenging myself by completing the hardest difficulties. So if you consider yourself a casual gamer, I think you will agree with most of my thoughts regarding Endwalker.
At the end of Shadowbringers, the Warrior of Light and their Scion friends returned from the First and found themselves at odds once more with their Ascian “friends.” Fandaniel, the seemingly craziest of the Convocation of the Fourteen, has teamed up with Zenos (The current emperor of Garlemald and our best pal from Stormblood) to destroy the world and ultimately kill himself along with it. Part of his plot involved causing these mysterious towers to pop up all over the world. Endwalker starts with the Scions investigating these towers and the “Final Days” that Fandaniel hopes to bring about via mass summoning of primals. To do so, we took a trip overseas to Old Sharlayan, the city-state where most of our Scion friends grew up. I will not get much further into the story than that, but I must say the zones you get to explore are gorgeous. Old Sharlayan is what I thought it would be, based on the ruins of their colony on Eorzea that we explored in Heavensward, and the music in each zone adds so much to each locale. I love spending time in these areas, and I think you will too.
The gameplay itself has evolved so much as well. Each job has received updates, and while I am still learning what changed for each one individually, I loved the changes to my main job, Red Mage. Plus, we received two new to try out as well. The first is Reaper which is just as edgy as it sounds. Wielding a scythe, they give the Dark Knight a run for their money for the title of “Edgelord of FFXIV.” They are a melee DPS class and can be unlocked once you reach level 70 with any other. The second job is Sage which wieldsnouliths (floating sci-fi daggers that shoot lasers.) in battle. They are a healer class, and they shield their allies and augment the heals by dealing damage to the enemy. They can also be unlocked with any level 70 class. Now, if you plan to use these classes to play through the Main Story of Endwalker, you will need to get them from 70 to 80 to start.
The Trust system returns from Shadowbringers improved. For those that do not know, the Trust system allows you to play MOST dungeon content with a party of NPC’s made up of our favorite characters instead of playing with other actual players. The system is a little controversial, but I think it is great. It lets players learn the different dungeons and boss mechanics without dealing with the social anxiety of “being bad” in front of other players. Granted, this game has a great community, and most people will not troll you. But for some, even that reassurance is not enough to break out of their shell to try an MMORPG. It opens the game up to players who want to try but do not want to let anyone down. I know I felt that way, especially when trying new classes and roles such as tanks. The second reason this system is awesome is that it adds extra levels of immersion to the game. Oftentimes, you roll up to the dungeon with your NPC friends, and they are all amped up and ready to go…and then you take on with some random adventurers for the NPCs to come running up at the end having not been involved. Now you can have these moments with the characters and even see their dialogue as you traverse through the halls of these dungeons and fight these massive bosses, which adds to the main reason I play this game, the story, and the character development.
Speaking of which: Oh my god. The character development. I won’t get too deep into the weeds because I want this to remain spoiler-free, but I would be remiss if I did not briefly touch upon the character arcs. Having spent this much time with all of these characters and seeing their stories resolve was just heartwarming and, other times, heart-wrenching. The callbacks and references to the older content are all there, and it goes to show you that everything your character did, like the Warrior of Light, truly did matter in this world. There is soooo much I want to talk about in this section, but I believe that you need to experience this yourself, especially if you have a soft spot for any particular member of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. The most I can say is that every Scion gets their turn in the spotlight during this expansion’s story quests, and it was done so beautifully.
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. If you are at all plugged into the MMO community, I am sure you have heard about the queue times that the FFXIV servers are being plagued with right now. While the dev team has been very open and honest with the player community about their plans to solve this problem, the main cause is out of their immediate control. (supply chain issues, covid, etc.) BUT the openness about these problems from the team and the director Yoshi-P has been exceptional. They are working on fixes, but the best advice I can give is to try and log on during non-peak hours.
Wrapping this up, all I can say is wow. Not to get existential, but the overarching theme throughout this expansion’s storyline is the question, “Why is life worth living?” and the answers that each character finds are incredibly unique and thought-provoking. Looking at the past two years, I know I am not alone in having asked that same hypothetical question. The game takes that and makes you, as the player, stop and think. That is the beauty of Endwalkers story. It gives you some very real concepts to think about that you can take with you out into the real world. I often found myself stopping mid-cutscene only to think about the words that the Scions and other characters discuss. The game takes you across the gamut of emotions throughout the leveling experience. It is riddled with comedy but never at the expense of the overarching danger that is constantly looming. It takes you down to the darkest abyss of despair only to then remind you that even then, hope and perseverance reign supreme.
Whether you have been following this story since before A Realm Reborn, you just picked it up due to taking a break from that other MMO, or you read my last review and crashed through the gate of online gaming, you will find that this story arc has been wrapped up perfectly by the time you finish the last Main Story Quest.
Grab your swords, staves, and spears. Prepare your favorite snack (to eat whilst you wait in the queue.) and go out there and save the world! But do not get too comfortable once you are done because this may be the end of the Zodiark Saga, but our adventures in Final Fantasy XIV are just beginning!
Also, feel free to hit me up in-game, Davola Steel on the Lamia server! You can watch me hug the floor during some boss fights.