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Review in Progress: Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

Half a day impressions

Final Fantasy XIV couldn’t have blown up at a better time. With all eyes on the MMO world after Blizzard began imploding at the top, XIV found itself in the enviable position of being arguably the best it’s ever been, content-wise, while maintaining a reputation as one of the most helpful communities in the MMO sphere. It was a right time, right place situation, and the newest expansion, so far, seems to be extending that ramp of goodwill. Here are some Endwalker review thoughts after a good eight hours or so with the expansion.

Endwalker review screenshot

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker (PC, PS4, PS5 [reviewed])
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: December 3, 2021 (Early Access)
MSRP: $39.99 (with a subscription fee)

So you know how these MMO reviews typically go: we provide our early thoughts on launch day, then take our time, finish the entire expansion, linger a bit, then provide a scored review after we’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see. We’re around eight hours deep into our Endwalker review, with two dungeons, a boss trial, and plenty of main story quests under our belt (with some Reaper and Sage testing for good measure). So far, I’m pretty happy.

As I hinted at already, Shadowbringers raised the bar so high it’s going to be tough to top, but man Endwalker is really trying. There’s a lot of story this time around, possibly more than ever before. Many main story quests break free of the classic MMO trappings, and are just literal walk and talks: like it was an anime rendition of a Sorkin project. Endwalker ramps up the “walk and talk” subgenre of quests to an all-time high even, with a “follow” mechanic that sees NPCs, at various points, walking in step with your hero.

While scripted, these allow you to take in the sights of any given area, and highlight portions of the game world where you can literally stop and chat if you want. If not, you can walk on by like you were Joel Madden in the year 2000, and move on with your life. It’s a clever way to get progression out of the way for people who want to move quickly, while catering to the hardcore lore nuts who want to pore over every moment of the world.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker screenshot

There’s a ton of worldbuilding in Endwalker right out of the gate, and even as I approach level 85 (five levels shy of the new cap of 90), it’s still going. Having played nearly every major MMO on the market, I’d say it’s very much on the heavy side when it comes to narrative; which is a testament to how much story there’s left to tell in this massive world that feels larger than life. By the time producer Yoshi P and his team are done with this whole affair, it’s likely going to have more raw text than any other game on the market.

Another huge secret sauce element that Endwalker still keeps is the joy of exploration. Aether Currents — a sort of minigame where you find collectibles to unlock the right to fly in a zone — are still present, and still fun to hunt for as your trusty compass key item can direct you toward their general area. The worlds themselves are lovely, and arguably the most incredible looking maps yet, to the point where I’d be stopping and taking in the backdrops regularly. This is par for the course for XIV, and one of Shadowbringers‘ best features, but that concept continues here.

It’s also effective at setting the mood. Citizens of these regions are often dire and despondent, as the stakes are continually raised throughout the ramping up of the tale. When you’re not out and about you’re probably in a dungeon, which are still linear (nothing changed here), but fun, and packed with interesting boss fights (that latter point is especially true for the first trial in the game, which is a pure win as a spectacle fight).

Frogs in Endwalker

You can tell the team is also still experimenting with that tried-and-true decades-old MMO formula, and not everything sticks. My one big beef so far is the way the follow system operates, which can be a bit clunky at times — an NPC might not keep up with you correctly, forcing players to run back and find them again. There’s also the matter of the literal follow quests (which have you “tail” an NPC), which are sometimes not that accurate in terms of NPC pathing, and being “noticed” can cause an instant fail (and a full reset). It’s not like they’re going full Assassin’s Creed here as there’s only a few of these, but they exist nonetheless.

The other long punts pay off. One mission has you taking control of another character entirely to go on a Metal Gear Solid-esque sabotage mission. Another asks you to take control of a common soldier and make your way through a war-torn city, fighting your way out by assembling a mech. I’m sure there’s more to come on this front and I can’t wait.

My gripes with Endwalker are minor, and I’m roughly halfway through. I’m anxious to see if it meets or exceeds the unrealistic bar that Shadowbringers set, but in the meantime, I’m glad I haven’t stopped playing this game since A Realm Reborn launched. Stay tuned for our full review next week.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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