Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker Review (PC): A walk to remember

Final Fantasy XIV has come a long way since its original inception back in 2013. If you had said that the game would become one of the most beloved and revered MMOs of all time, I would’ve said you’re nuts. The original iteration of XIV was, to put it bluntly, a boring, undercooked mess of a game. Aging mechanics, confusing systems, tons of technical issues, and just plain unfun gameplay made it one of Square-Enix’s biggest failures at the time. It was so bad that the PS3 version of XIV 1.0 was given the kibosh and a public apology was issued to the Final Fantasy faithful at the time.

At the time, no one thought that XIV would be anything other than a failed attempt to move on from the actual successful MMO, Final Fantasy XI. It wasn’t until the successful relaunch of the game and its critically acclaimed expansion, Heavensward, that Final Fantasy XIV has shown its staying power alongside the greats of the genre. Endwalker is the culmination of everything that has been built up until this point, as it is a showcase of everything that’s been learned over the course of the last decade of development of this game. Everything struggle, every single moment where the team has had to really grind to get this game to be the best it could be has come to this newest expansion. There’s only one question that needs to be answered at this particular end:

How good is Endwalker?

The answer?

It’s damn good. Probably the best piece of Final Fantasy content to exist in the past decade or so.

Decadent Desolation

Thavnair in Endwalker
Credit: Square Enix

Endwalker is all about fighting through a literal biblical apocalypse, and it makes sure that every single vista perfectly encapsulates the imagery of a world on the brink of destruction. Every new major area in the game has something messed up going on in the background, and as the story progresses, you feel the details become more sinister as you race to save everyone from certain destruction. Thavnair, for instance, starts off beautiful and serene, but as soon as you see the visage of the giant tower that is spawning hell-creatures endlessly, the entire area becomes a literal hell on earth. It makes every major area you visit feel really desperate when you see apocalyptic visions next to some of the most beautiful vistas yet.

The aforementioned Thavnair is just one of many new locales that really show the talents of the art team; there isn’t a single location that comes close to what you’ve seen before. Everything from lush greenery to ancient civilizations and even the moon have all been realized with great care. Even though you won’t be able to fly through these areas right away, Endwalker‘s new locations are still able to evoke a sense of wonder and amazement when you first step into them. It really makes you want to stop and smell the roses while you look for those aether currents.

The creature design is also something to take note of here, as Endwalker‘s enemy roster is packed with memorable mobs that will have you feeling a bit put off because of how damned creepy they look. Almost every new enemy that you encounter is some form of monstrosity that looks like it crawled out of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. The highlight early on is one of the early dungeon bosses, Anima, who has been wonderfully reinterpreted for Endwalker from Final Fantasy X. Many of the enemies that you encounter during the more intense moments of the story are some of the creepiest things you’ve encountered so far, with many arms, mouths and sometimes they have no eyes. Alongside the more terrifying visages, there are also plenty of the whimsical, strange, and plain badass in terms of enemy design. You won’t be bored when going through the various story beats.

To top it all off, the soundtrack is just fantastic. It’s no secret that XIV has been known for its fantastic soundtrack and Endwalker just reinforces the level of quality that composer Masayoshi Soken has brought to every expansion. There are plenty of tracks that compound some of the most compelling story beats in the entirety of the expansion, so you’ll be feeling really pumped up and hyped when the music drops at just the perfect moment. Endwalker‘s theme, “Footfalls,” is probably the most emotional piece Soken has created for this series, and it perfectly encapsulates the desperation and hope that runs through the entire story. If you ever want to feel like the protagonist of your own anime, just put this track on.

READ MORE: Final Fantasy XVI is being delayed for almost 6 months

Fight like hell

Tower of Zot in Endwalker
Credit: Square Enix

MMOs are pretty straightforward as far as gameplay goes, but Final Fantasy XIV has gotten the formula down right. After so many expansions and years of updates, Endwalker feels like the culmination of everything the team has learned up until now. To start with, main story quests have never been as involved or dynamic as they are in Endwalker. Many quests are still “go here and talk to X,” but many of them introduce new scenarios for you to deal with. Like, there’s a quest where you need to stealth around an area and reach a goal unseen. It isn’t Metal Gear Solid, but the mechanics are flexible enough that there is a sense of tension and excitement throughout the quest. It makes for some varied quests that don’t feel like fetch quests or mindless wandering but actually make for some compelling quests that have a great story payoff.

Not all the quests are winners, however, as many of them do amount to “go here and talk to X,” with an entire set of quests (roughly between levels 86-87) in a later area being fairly uninteresting and feeling longer than they actually are. The quality is still there, however, so the interesting quests do outnumber the tedious ones for the most part. Some of the most memorable moments in the story are compounded by some great instanced fights in the main scenario. Yoshida and his team have really gone all out on making the main scenario quests for Endwalker feel like a desperate journey to save the world; the quality of the main scenario even extends to the dungeons, which are just excellent all around.

If you go back and play some of the older dungeons from the base game, they’ll feel pretty slow and boring, whereas the dungeons in later expansions will be much more exciting and challenging. Endwalker adds plenty of dungeons that iterate on concepts such as markerless attacks and attacks in quick sequences. If you aren’t paying attention to the action on screen, then be prepared for an instant death; these dungeons demand the utmost coordination, especially once you get to the endgame dungeons.

Trials have gotten the same treatment as well, because they are, in my opinion, the hardest fights you will do in the entirety of Final Fantasy XIV. Extreme tier trials are tough because they ask for a lot of coordination from groups and punish mistakes gravely; the regular trials in Endwalker take a leaf from Extreme’s book for its own fights. You will fail if you aren’t prepared to dance around the arena to avoid some of the fastest and most layered attack combos in the game. Despite all of the terrifying things I just said about the difficulty, the challenge is very fun and will really test your knowledge of the game in meaningful ways. Just be prepared to wipe if you’re still learning what every marker does.

A welcome tweak that just makes getting to the newer content all the better is just how much XP you gain from just doing the main story quests. In the entire time I spent playing the expansion, there was never a point where I had to stop the main story quests and grind out levels in any activities. Leveling up to 90 was a breeze and always took just a couple of main story quests to reach the next set of quests; this marks a significant change from other expansions where you had to do some degree of grinding to reach the cap, especially towards the end. Endwalker‘s insistence on pushing the player into the newer content is really welcome, especially for those of us that just want to see the new stuff right away. Some of the MMO-faithful might consider this too baby for players, but I think it just lets you get to the ball-busting trials and dungeons all the quicker.

READ MORE: Why should you play Final Fantasy XIV?

A truly “final” fantasy

Scions in Endwalker
Credit: Square Enix

If there’s one major accomplishment Endwalker can add to its list of achievements, it’s that it managed to somehow top Shadowbringers in terms of story quality. See, Shadowbringers wove an excellent tale about saving the world and moving forward from tragedy; it was emotional, epic, and quintessentially ‘Final Fantasy‘. Endwalker follows it up with a plot being brewed to enact an apocalypse, not unlike the one that befell a previous civilization of people known as the Ascians. It falls onto your character, The Warrior of Light, and his party of companions known as the Scions of the Seventh Dawn to prevent this disastrous plot from coming to fruition. While that premise might be simple, the actual story is much more complex than you think.

The journey you take in Endwalker is arduous, difficult, emotional, and brimming with tragedy; you’ll sometimes be stunned at the horrors that are being wrought on innocent NPCs, while other times you’ll be chuckling at some of the lighter moments in the story. The different tones can feel strange at times, as you may have experienced a harrowing scene sometime before a joke is cracked at a character’s expense. However, it feels much more organic than it sounds, as there’s never a moment where the levity that the game affords you invades any of the really emotional moments. All of the different tones allow for these wonderful moments where you get to see your favorite Scions shine in their own unique ways.

By the end of your journey, you’ll have a good sense of finality, as the expansion does a great job of tying up almost every major story thread from Final Fantasy XIV‘s near-decade of operation. As mentioned before, every member of the main cast gets a moment to shine and they feel like they arrive at a satisfactory endpoint for their respective journeys. The remaining bits of their character arcs also do a great job of tying into the ultimate finale the game has seen thus far. Even the ultimate villain of the expansion gets some great characterization and is allowed to be more than just the arbiter of the apocalypse; by the time you reach the final dungeon, you’ll have a better understanding of their motivations and their actual endgame.

And let me tell you when you finish the last quest and see those credits roll, you won’t be able to help but feel an intense feeling of both catharsis and sadness.

Some endings aren’t forever

Moon area in Endwalker
Credit: Square Enix

Yoshida and his team have made sure to deliver an epic and powerful story in an MMO of all things; even though there’s an inordinate number of Warriors of Light, the stories in Final Fantasy XIV still feel personal and wholly your own. There’s never a moment where you feel pulled out of the experience and are reminded that you’re just one of many playing this game. You’re the Warrior of Light, preparing for the fight of your life alongside your friends that you’ve known for years now. Every struggle, moment of heartbreak, comfort, and triumph feels like you’ve only shared it with your fellow Scions and no one else. Endwalker is not only a culmination of everything you’ve done up until this point but is also a celebration of what the game does best: creating an amazing world and story to get lost in.

If you’ve been on the fence about playing Final Fantasy XIV, know that Endwalker is well worth getting to eventually. Sure, you have to play several years’ worth of content, but just know that at the end of that long journey is a finale that will leave you satisfied and ready for more. Yoshida has stated that he’s nowhere near done with XIV yet, so don’t expect Endwalker to be any indication of the XIV train slowing down anytime soon. Consider it an invitation to experience one of gaming’s finest rides.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

9.6

Graphics

10.0/10

Music

10.0/10

Story

10.0/10

Gameplay

9.0/10

Fun Factor

9.0/10

Pros

  • Fantastic story
  • Music is excellent all around
  • New content is a welcome challenge
  • Leveling is not an issue at all

Cons

  • Some quests are very tedious closer towards the endgame

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