Featuring the Final Fantasy XIV hamburger analogy you didn't know you needed.
Putting the ‘Final’ in ‘Final Fantasy’ - The Ultimate Endwalker Review
Anyone who has ever been in a management position has heard of the ‘feedback sandwich’. Or ‘crap sandwich’, as it is not-so-affectionately known. This somewhat outdated tactic is an oh-so-slick way of delivering criticism to the unsuspecting employee by sandwiching it between two bits of praise. For example: “That’s a great tie - you are the worst employee in the history of this company - your lunch smelled delicious today.” You know, let ‘em down easy.
But when you have to review the performance of the model employee that is Final Fantasy XIV, you’re going to come out with a pretty abominable sandwich. Like a sliver of dry criticism-ham between two uncut loaves of compliment-bread. So for this Endwalker review, we’re taking the concept of a ‘feedback sandwich’ and putting the good bits in the middle. And there are a lot of good bits, so it's more of a ‘feedback hamburger’. Something G'raha Tia would certainly enjoy.
Endwalker is what Final Fantasy XIV fans deserved, both old and new, after a meteoric rise to MMO superstardom.
With that in mind, we’ll open with a criticism right off the bat, and it’s something that we were all immediately forced to contend with. The queues.
Yes, it is a good sign when the world and its spouse are wanting to spend every hour of every day immersing themselves in what is obviously a god-tier game. And yes, the predictably satisfying response from the beloved Yoshi P was basically more than enough to soothe our frustrations. I certainly felt like the free playtime was warranted. But it still warmed the cockles of my heart regardless.
However, that certainly didn’t help at the time when many were slapped with an error message after queuing for five hours, only to be hoofed straight to the back of the 7,000-strong queue once more. It was a slap so hard you would stand dazed for a few moments as the tingling pain starts to materialise and you’re left wanting to rage-quit a game you haven’t even started yet.
But there’s myriad reasons why this inability to cater to the droves wasn’t a death knell for Endwalker, a game that has managed to garner the ‘best game of all time’ accolade from tearful MMO players the world over.
No Endwalker review could skirt around the obvious: it is very pretty. The stunning vistas of FFXIV inspired by every corner of the world beg to be lost within at every turn. From the marble-white towers of Limsa Lominsa to the rolling dunes of Thanalan in the dead of night, some of the beauty on full display in Eorzea can sometimes defy belief. Even if you don’t have the biggest rig to run it on.
So while the chance to ascend to the moon may seem a little bit gratuitous in any other context, it is somewhat par for the course in this franchise known for its gaudiness and stunning visuals. The icing on the cake when it comes to Endwalker, however, is that the literal moon isn’t even the most sensational location you’ll visit.
Endwalker brings players to several all-new locales on terra firma as well as the cosmos. And each one is mesmerising in its own right. The South-East Asian-inspired Thavnair is a jungle-covered wonderland replete with monstrous wildlife that can almost feel like a perfect holiday destination were it not for the sense of impending doom messin’ with our vibe. Much like visiting a tropical country in 2022.
For slightly more apt surroundings, however, there’s the ruined city of Garlemald. The chance to visit the dilapidated centre of the series’ longstanding enemy is poignant in so many ways, and the wave of emotions that hit when traversing this dystopia for the first time belie the oncoming tsunami.
Old Sharlayan, meanwhile, is a futuristic wonderland. The knowledge-hoarding central city of Endwalker is nothing short of mindblowing, with mesmerising architecture that includes a subterranean labyrinth, and tech that made my bow-wielding Bard’s head spin.
Suffice to say, if you’re the kind of leisurely player who would rather soak in the views than make a beeline for the endgame, there’s no shortage of long walks to make and pictures to take. Ideal for when you’re trying to stave off the punch to the gut that is the final stages of the story.
With new expansions come new methods with which to decimate our enemies. At this point, it’s a wonder that Square Enix can even invent more ways to slice and dice. But with the advent of the Reaper and Sage jobs, we are reminded that swords and bows are as humdrum as instruments of destruction can get.
To start, the Reaper effortlessly appeals to the teenage emo in us all. The name alone is enough to attract the edgiest Eorzeans. But as anyone who has seen a suped up Reaper milling about the Aetheryte Plaza can attest - these scythe-wielding soul-harvesters look damn cool.
It’s not just the rock-n-roll attire that catches the eye, however. The combat animations are equally as gratifying. Voidal rends trailing each swing of the scythe are accompanied by beefy numbers that make encounters a joy to both engage in and witness. A perfect spectacle to accompany the general feel of Endwalker, to say the least. But in some ways, it can almost feel as though the Reaper may be making things a little too easy.
On the other hand, there’s the Sage’s white to the Reaper’s black. Though ostensibly a healer, the Sage requires a little more nuance when it comes to effective deployment of their many skills.
As a new barrier healer à la Scholar, the Sage is a tour de force in the right hands. Pulling off the correct sequence of manoeuvres to dish out damage, buff the party and heal all in one fell swoop is like having your cake and eating it. Only in this context, nobody but the enemy will complain.
The Sage brings the sci-fi flair in spades, trailed by four ‘nouliths’ that act as both attack and utility drones with a blue-and-white colour scheme that emanates ‘cool’. With the most DPS options of any healer, abilities such as Kardia dole out healing in tandem with damage dealt by Dosis make for some epic moments in the heat of battle. Sage by name and sage by nature, this new job is an incredibly rewarding choice for experienced players.
And though the Sage and Reaper comprise the brand new jobs, you may as well place the revamped Summoner among them. The once complicated DPS job has become a streamlined joy to behold, rivalling even the ferocious Reaper as a damage-dealer to be reckoned with.
Though rest assured, Patch 6.0 brought balance to the jobs roster in its entirety. It may not be perfect, but it’s damn close. A running theme for FFXIV.
**Fair warning: keep the tissues within reach. **
Endwalker draws a line beneath a decade-long narrative. The gravity of that task was lost on nobody - but dear lord did it land with a flourish.
Forget the story skip - this stuff needs context, and not the kind that can be provided with a series of cutscenes and a wiki-binge. Though if it’s cutscenes you want, then boy you’re in luck.
Going through the exquisite stories of FFXIV from Heavensward to Shadowbringers together with the brilliantly written NPCs turns every mammoth cutscene into an unmissable spectacle rather than skippable filler.
Granted, at times this can feel as though Endwalker suffers with its pacing. There are also times when a fifteen-minute cutscene will play out and we are left wondering whether we are playing a game or watching a movie that would give the ungodly length of MCU movies a run for their money.
But the swathes of Endwalker content that hone in on these moments are not just worth it, they are necessary. We’d wager that there were enough tears shed in Endwalker’s first two weeks to fill a small ocean. And that’s all thanks to the cutscene-heavy way in which Square Enix writes its final chapter, interspersed with playable interactions between the player and NPCs that may not be necessary to progress, but damn well feel like it.
Taken as a whole, the impeccably written Final Fantasy XIV is something that only an MMORPG could convey. Every Final Fantasy XIV expansion feels less like a new chapter and more like a whole new book. And like Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Endwalker delivers a heart-wrenching conclusion worthy of such a beloved series of stories. Only a lot less cringy at the end.
The heartening reality, however, is that Endwalker and the Hydaelyn-Zodiac saga was just one book. With even more content confirmed for FFXIV’s future, the excitement for further instalments is already beginning to build. But a little more time to reel from the ending of Endwalker may be needed first.
And with that comes the other side of our Endwalker review feedback hamburger. And it is made of something we have all come to deride in our years as RPG gamers. You know them. You (don’t) love them: escort quests.
Feel free to lump the “stealth” missions in with this gripe. No matter the game, escort quests will always feel like timewasters. And for anyone who just spent seven hours trying to log in, spending another ten minutes holding another braindead NPC’s hand as you sluggishly crawl from point A to point B is going to get one’s goat.
But even then, there’s still success to be found in Endwalker’s execution of the much maligned RPG practice. Because getting from point A to point B in Endwalker rarely does feel like a chore, thanks to its stunning locales. Battling foes en route with patched up jobs will feel endlessly rewarding. And the encroaching sense of finality compels you to take your time in every aspect of Endwalker’s contents, including spending time with NPCs. Especially spending time with NPCs.
But what we really have is something that’s as close to perfect as can be. Endwalker is what Final Fantasy XIV fans deserved, both old and new, after a meteoric rise to MMO superstardom.
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