Over 10 years after its disastrous launch, Last Fantasy XIV is now one of many most-talked-about MMORPGs on the earth. The story, solid from the ashes of its very public meltdown, is ready to return to an in depth in just some weeks time with the discharge of the Endwalker growth. Set to take the unique denizens of Eorzea even additional world wide, it’s the sport’s most vital launch since its 2013 revival. It has huge footwear to fill, and if my diluted expertise with a preview construct is something to go by, I’m certain now greater than ever that what makes the sport isn’t the world exploration, however those that exist inside it.
Although the weird companionship of Emet-Selch — the newest in a protracted line of Ascian adversaries — all through Shadowbringers refreshed our tolerance of the baddies we’ve repeatedly bested, the patches that got here after started to drag on rusted strings. In assuring us that the Endwalker launch is simply that (the tip of 1 arc and the primary steps towards one other), I’m assured the workforce has the pacing right down to a tee for this one. They might have drawn issues out throughout one other two-year patch cycle, however every little thing will come to an in depth with this launch, leaving the build-up to the following growth to set the scene for an additional potential 10 years of recent storylines — hopefully with out an Ascian in sight.
A stroll across the neighborhood
Every thing in my daylong tour of Endwalker occurred with zero context. This wasn’t a sneak peek on the story. It was stripped naked. Spoiler alert for these nonetheless pushing by way of Shadowbringers, however the finish of the growth provides us a stable cause to go knocking on the door of Outdated Sharlayan, a spot of students who hardly ever need something to do with the remainder of the world. Logging into the college city confirmed a spot that was unsurprisingly architecturally much like the dilapidated ruins of the Dravanian Hinterlands, and virtually simply as unhappy to see in that second.
I spent an excellent chunk of time having fun with the small stone paths and gigantic doorways, however past the gimmick of seeing it forward of launch, there was little cause to hold round. The NPCs had been, except we made pals with them instantly upon arrival, far too jolly; every one wished me a swift “Good day” (or one thing to that impact) earlier than wandering off. It was clearly simply placeholder textual content, but it surely wasn’t how I anticipated my first time on this a part of the world to go.
Although it was actually a delight to roam the halls that lots of the finest and brightest Last Fantasy XIV characters used to name dwelling, the obvious omission of any key world-building element in my first journey there was, admittedly, a little bit of a moist towel on an in any other case thrilling day with the way forward for the sport. And the opposite two zones, Thavnair and Garlemald, echoed that have. With none form of world-building, they’re simply giant, principally empty husks that in the end present the sport’s age greater than we’re usually keen to confess. However there was a light-weight on the finish of the tunnel — my first style of battle content material.
Current within the preview construct was the primary Endwalker dungeon, The Tower of Zot. If you happen to’ve performed Final Fantasy IV, you’ll recognize that as the name of a place with very little lore behind it. Final Fantasy XIV wants to fix that. And we already know a lot about its place in this world. Standing ominously over Thavnair, this glowing ziggurat is just one of many that sprouted across Eorzea as the Shadowbringers story began to sing its swan song. It’s not the most exciting dungeon in the world, and it certainly doesn’t have the solemn air and urgency its counterpart in the past expansion did, but it offered a good taste of how taxing the level 80-to-90 experience could be.
Some will be sad to see a certain group of enemies dispatched so early into the storyline (assuming that’s the last we see of them), but they put up a good fight, weaving their abilities together for a final showdown that adheres to the game design 101 lesson of teaching before testing. Again, it’s not the most exciting place to be without proper context and without a closing cutscene, but in doing one run with my new preview buddies and another with Trusts, the game’s A.I. companions, I was fully eager to run it again with those who wanted to try out some new jobs and abilities. I just didn’t have the time.
By far the main reason for the preview build was to test out the game’s new jobs and any new abilities and gameplay changes brought to its already enormous class offering. Having played a White Mage since the very beginning, it was my first port of call and my first source of conflicting emotions.
On paper, Endwalker isn’t bringing many major changes to what Shadowbringers brought before it. The class-specific Job Gauge will forever be the biggest example of that, and this expansion is following suit. Most classes have been lightly tweaked as opposed to being reworked, mostly to fit one or two new skills into their rotation.
The White Mage’s day-to-day workings have barely changed beyond a skill that leaves a triggerable healing field at a select location to top up distant teammates and the ability to store uses of some skills like its shield-granting Divine Benison. They’re welcome additions, but not hugely exciting. And in playing other classes like Astrologian, Scholar, and Red Mage, the same was mostly true there as well. We’ve had bigger class shake-ups and reworks in post-launch patches. If you were expecting your class to feel brand new in a few weeks’ time, you may want to curb those expectations.
What did pleasantly surprise me, however, were the two main classes: The damage-dealing Reaper and the barrier-granting Sage. The former lost me completely. It’s hard to get to grips with two-dozen new skills on a deadline. But whenever I mashed its buttons enough to max out its gauge, it became an incredibly fast, fluid, and flashy edge lord that I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of soon. As for Sage, a class in a role I more intimately understand, it did not play at all how I expected.
It took what felt like years for White Mage to get abilities to weave between spells, yet that’s all Sage is — a spell weaver rather than a slinger. Most of its kit revolves around using one skill to augment a bunch of others, then using those in precise situations to prep other sets of context-based heals, shields, and buffs. It’s incredibly mobile and very refreshing. There’s long been the disagreement between veterans and newcomers that a healer should help deal damage when able, and Sage looks to put an end to that debate with a buff that allows it to heal a select party member by actually dealing damage to the enemy.
Although my six-hour stint around the newest accessible areas of one of my all-time favorite MMOs wasn’t as captivating as I’d hoped, it did make me reconsider how the game first drew me in, and how it should have no problem doing so again in just a few weeks.
Having been developed to run on the now practically retro PlayStation 3, Final Fantasy XIV is beholden to those early design decisions. As the zones have gotten bigger, they’ve started to feel largely hollow compared to the early days. Flying mounts play a big part in that in my view, but they’re absolutely essential in a game of this size with content appearing here, there, and everywhere. But in having the preview zones be completely devoid of any lore-spouting NPCs to go down and talk to, I was left with little choice but to simply take in the scenery from the skies. And it didn’t really do much for me.
Outside of main story content, I can’t really remember the last time I genuinely enjoyed just taking the world of Final Fantasy XIV in as I did in those first few years. The main cities will always be a blast to hang out in. Especially as they get the same facilities as the endgame player hubs. But roaming around Dravania, Gyr Abania, or even Kholusia has, in hindsight, never managed to recapture the original sense of wonder and belonging that Camp Tranquil, Bronze Lake, or Vesper Bay did all those years ago.
As it stands after the preview event, I’m no more aware of how Endwalker will turn out than anyone else in the world right now. Just as I was for Shadowbringers. And if the last expansion proved anything, the game’s strengths rely less on the world and more on the story told within. Endwalker is set to be the best of both worlds:A fulfilling conclusion to a decade-long story arc at launch, and the foundation for the next 10 years.
There’s no telling what the future holds, but so long as it sticks the landing at launch, having a conclusion right around the corner makes the game’s more dated aspects less of a concern. There’s a lot to wrap up in a small space of time, and while it may end up feeling rushed, it’s sure to be a hell of a roller coaster.
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker launches on November 23 for PlayStation 4, PS5, and PC.