Zodiark and Hydaelyn’s saga ends with emotional highs and mind-numbing lows, paving the way for new adventures in Final Fantasy XIV’s never-ending MMO journey.
Following the beloved Shadowbringers expansion, Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker has a lot to live up to. Endwalker brings the level cap from 80 to 90, introduces two new jobs—Sage and Reaper—and concludes the long-running tale between the gods Zodiark and Hydaelyn. The new endgame raid, Pandaemonium Savage, is set to release in a later patch, after players have caught up with the story and leveled up their jobs to 90. For now, players are gearing up through the current level 90 dungeons and the two extreme-difficulty primals. The gameplay loop is the same as it has always been, with more areas to explore, more achievements to chase after, and more content to master. While the game has fundamentally remained the same, the high-quality, unforgettable experiences are the main attractions.
However, with Final Fantasy XIV at the height of its popularity, the expansion’s had a troubled launch. Any MMO player knows to expect problems during Early Access and official launch, ranging from frequent disconnects, to outside DDoS attacks, to outright server crashes. Endwalker’s launch has been rather smooth for players who are logged in, with only a handful of mass disconnects to speak of. The biggest issue is getting past the login queues. Even in these weeks following the official launch on December 7, 2021, players are still reporting record-number queues and hours-long wait times to log in.
About the Ongoing Server Congestion Issues
From the start of Early Access on December 3, 2021, logging into Endwalker has been a journey in and of itself. Players who stayed up late/early, depending on their time zone, and logged in as soon as the servers went live—they generally had a smooth experience. Sure, they would be stuck in a login queue for some minutes before reaching their home server. But after that, everything went well for the most part. At least on the North American servers. Some of the Japanese and European servers experienced troubles. But players were able to log back in after Square-Enix resolved the issues and server outages.
The major problems arose once everyone else returned home from work or school for the day and started logging on during their data center’s prime time hours. The login queues shot up to the thousands, resulting in three, four, five hours of wait times before they finally logged in. Players in the login queues would run often into the dreaded “Error 2002,” which would disconnect them from the game, forcing them to log back in and return to the queue. Or players wouldn’t even be able to reach the login queue at all, again receiving Error 2002, as the login servers had reached their maximum capacity, and could not let anyone else enter the queue without burning down the entire data center.
Final Fantasy XIV Director and Producer Naoki Yoshida has apologized multiple times for these ongoing issues with congestion. He’s explained in-depth that adding new servers would be the best solution. But due to the global shortage with semiconductors, the devs haven’t been able to get these servers ready in time. They have a fix planned for the Error 2002 problem while players are already in the login queue. For now, the most reliable solution has been to log in during a data center’s off-peak hours, well outside of prime time. Square-Enix has stopped selling new copies of the game, paused advertisements wherever possible, and halted free trial account creation indefinitely. This is an extraordinary situation we haven’t seen since the launch of A Realm Reborn in August 2013, when Naoki Yoshida took similar steps in response to server congestion issues, with the game’s sales massively exceeding the team’s expectations. After the runaway success of Shadowbringers, and the large exodus of World of Warcraft players to Final Fantasy XIV, this storm of login queues seems unlikely to die down any time soon.
New Jobs – Sage (Barrier Healer) and Reaper (Melee DPS)
Both Sage and Reaper bring new styles of gameplay to Final Fantasy XIV. Sage is a barrier healer alongside Scholar, but they approach the role in different ways. Sage is more like a tank for their party, layering various shields and mitigations to slow down damage taken. With proper play in dungeons, a skilled Sage can make their tank invincible to damage, while doing the same for their entire party in raid settings. While the job does require a lot of planning and know-how, Sage has several mitigation, regen, and shielding tools to make up for party mistakes on the fly. Those split-second decisions often lead to thrilling moments of saving your party in ways the other healers simply aren’t capable of doing.
Meanwhile, Reaper is a fluid job, with abilities that naturally connect to one another. Attacks build your Soul Gauge, which you spend on skills for your dark avatar. These skills then build your Shroud Gauge at a later level, which you spend on Enshroud, turning you into a host for your avatar, with rapid-fire abilities one after the other. Reaper steadily builds into stronger forms, unlocking a powerful, satisfying finisher at level 90 in the form of Communio. Shifting seamlessly from one sequence to the next, on top of handling battle mechanics, feels unique on Reaper in ways the other DPS jobs can’t quite compare to.
As a more advanced healer, Sage has a higher learning curve than White Mage, Scholar, or Astrologian. It’s worth investing the time into learning Sage, as the job pays off the more you put into it. Reaper’s intuitive gameplay is addicting, as it combines the rapid-fire phases from Machinist with the old style of playing Dragoon while maintaining a damage buff. Even though the job stories both feature run-of-the mill, comically evil villains like most other quests, it’s the lore that makes these tales worthwhile. Sage and Reaper are excellent new jobs that everyone should try some time. The only requirements to unlock them is that you have purchased Endwalker, and reached level 70 on any Disciple of War or Magic job.
Main Scenario Story Quests – Level 80-90
Endwalker is a love-it-or-hate-it expansion, thanks to the main story quests.
In wrapping up the years-long narrative surrounding Hydaelyn and Zodiark, the world of Final Fantasy XIVexperiences the Final Days—a dark apocalypse that threatens to end all life in the world. The Warrior of Light, the player, goes to the city of Old Sharlayan with their companions, the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, to learn what the city’s government knows about the Final Days. The player then gets caught up in a whirlwind of events, sending them to the exotic locales in Thavnair and Radz-at-Han, the snowy chill of the war-torn Garlemald Empire, and even to the moon in Mare Lamentorum. However, the story suffers from this split focus in different settings, much like the Stormblood expansion with halved attention between the Doma and Ala Mhigo regions. The problem is much worse this time as the story jumps to several more locations, dealing with large-scale issues all at once. The writing struggles beneath the weight of going from place to place without a clear focus. The time we spend in each region feels at once bloated and incomplete, riddled with Final Fantasy XIV’s usual fetch quests mixed in with new quests where you must tail an NPC, or have a companion accompany you for quest objectives.
Most egregious are the sequence of level 88 quests leading up to the final leveling dungeon. These are migraine-inducing levels of tedium, where you as the player must run back and forth between objectives, all while the same loop of intense music plays over and over and over again. By this point, it would have been nice for Endwalker to have evolved beyond this same, tired quest design from A Realm Reborn. The new style of quests aren’t enough to make up for the same old, same old everywhere else.
When the Warrior of Light isn’t off delivering items to story NPCs, stalking paranoid characters, or clicking destination markers to wait around for someone to show up, they’re spending time with the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. These companions have been with us since before A Realm Reborn, with much of the cast joining throughout Final Fantasy XIV’s expansions. The story goes out of its way to make sure the player bonds with the Scions. These heartwarming moments are nice, but if you don’t care much for the Scions, then these characters will quickly overstay their welcome. There are constant moments of joy and camaraderie—unrelenting—even when the story wanders into darker territories. This unfailing positivity has always been Final Fantasy XIV’s strength. But the story obsesses with its focus on despair, the philosophy behind it, and how people react to it. Moments where the player should feel despair are easy to read as temporary—especially if you’re too familiar with JRPG tropes.
If you can enjoy the story through a lens unblemished by these tropes, then Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker’s main scenario will likely reach into your heart and stay there for years to come.
Music and Presentation
While the story is unbalanced in tone and mood, the soundtrack, setpieces, and battle sequences try to make up for things. Final Fantasy XIV has forever iterated on these from expansion to expansion, with the music and presentation on a constant upward climb. Endwalker is no exception. Traveling to Old Sharlayan feels just like visiting Ancient Greece, while Radz-at-Han is a distinctive blend of South American and South Asian cultures together as one. The locales on the moon are ethereal and wondrous, with strong callbacks to Final Fantasy IV in the beautifully nostalgic music and characters.
The new dungeons and trials feel like they’ve grown and evolved with the game. The Tower of Zot—the level 81 dungeon from the Endwalker media tour—set the bar high for dungeons. For the most part, the other dungeons keep this momentum going, with their own unique atmospheres and settings. The two extreme-difficulty trials at level 90 are like night and day from one another. Players who are used to extreme trials likely won’t find anything too difficult with these fights. Those who have yet to experience extreme battles will find a nice training ground before Pandaemonium Savage releases in January 2022.
The only disappointment is with the current level 90 dungeons. These feel like rehashes of other existing content in the game, from the too-familiar music, or story and lore presentations. It’s clear that the devs intended to build on what made Shadowbringers so successful. But they went too far in the same direction with these endgame dungeons, ever with the reminder that Endwalker is Shadowbringers 2.0.
More Adventures on the Horizon
As this story concludes, Final Fantasy XIV promises a new tale yet awaits us.
The journey never ends.
After all these years, it’s strange to imagine the game moving on from Zodiark and Hydaelyn. Although it may have been in the story’s best interests to split Endwalker between 6.0 and 7.0, as the devs originally intended. Mashing everything together in a single expansion patch presented too many problems. The main scenario would have benefitted from a stronger focus on the many regions we explore throughout 6.0, with more time spent learning about the newer characters we encounter. Having nearly a decade of foreshadowing crammed into a rushed, disjointed finale feels unsatisfying and disappointing. But the places we travel to, and the sights and music we experience are top notch, evoking deep sentiments unique to the fantasy genre in gaming. It’s difficult to imagine the devs holding all of this back until 7.0.
No matter what happens with the story, Final Fantasy XIV will always be a vast theme park filled with different gameplay attractions. Some players chase after the challenges of extreme trials and savage/ultimate raiding, while others are happiest decorating their houses, socializing, and collecting new outfits for their glamour wardrobes. Endwalker offers all of that and more, with subsequent patches scheduled to introduce updates to PvP, and brand new casual content such as Island Sanctuary. The content never ends just as the journey never ends. The love and dedication that the developers pour into this game are equally never-ending.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker is a success as a complete package, even if the main story won’t be to everyone’s personal tastes. For existing players unable to log in, and new players who can’t purchase the game right now, this expansion is largely worth the wait.