One of the first areas you visit in Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker expansion is the tropical island of Thavnair. The locals of Thavnair paint their buildings in bright colors, combinations of blues, reds, yellows, and purples. It’s some of the prettiest scenery I’ve encountered in a video game.
Three levels, one twisting dungeon, and a whole lot of fighting later, you’ll find yourself in Ilsabard to the northwest, home to the Garlean Empire. The Empire has been one of Final Fantasy XIV’s greatest threats since the very beginning, a nation built on powerful magical technology, also known as Magitek. But the Garlean Empire isn’t what it used to be. The machinations of the evil Zenos yae Galvus have left the capital city of Garlemald in ruins.
There is no color in this ruined city. It’s all dark gray metal and ash, surrounded by dirty white snow. Survivors of the chaos huddle together in an underground train station, trying to stay warm and fed in the face of a hopeless situation.
One moment you’re in a bright, colorful, tropical paradise where life is cherished and celebrated. The next you’re marching with a small army into the heart of despair. That’s Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker.
Of course, with more than 25 million active players, there’s a good chance you already know all that because you’re already playing the game. You’ve probably been in front of me in the 4,000-strong queues I’ve found myself in every evening since the expansion launched in early access last Friday. I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind the login queues so much. The developers did warn us. I’ve fallen into a rhythm of getting into the queue, starting to watch something on Hulu, and then forgetting I’m in the queue until the game logs me in and then idle disconnects me 30 minutes later and I have to start all over.
Maybe that’s why I am only level 85, while others have already hit the new level cap of 90. Well, part of the reason. I did spend a little time trying to level the Reaper, which alongside Sage is one of the two new jobs added in the expansion. As a damage-dealing job it’s fine if a bit edgelordy, what with the scythe and the void-creature companion.
Ultimately I went back to playing a Dancer, the nimble and elegant damage-dealer introduced in Final Fantasy XIV’s previous expansion. No offense to Reapers, I just feel comfortable in skimpy clothing casting dance magic with my whirling blades. I’d rather be a confident Dancer than a fledgling Reaper. Maybe I’ll take up the scythe again at a later date.
That’s one of the joys of FFXIV, the ability to play as you’d like. Be an adventurer. Be a gatherer. Be a crafter. Dance, stab, reap, heal, tank. Play with friends or, if you’re feeling antisocial, take a party of non-player characters into a dungeon. Play straight through to level 90, or only make it to level 85 because you’re falling asleep watching NCIS while waiting in the queue.
I’m hard-pressed to say what I like the most about Endwalker so far. The story is excellent, bringing together old friends from across the previous three expansions for the grand finale to the Hydaelyn-Zodiark arc that began way back in A Realm Reborn. There’s a good balance struck between high-drama moments of deadly danger and quiet times talking through the plot with the characters we’ve come to know and love over the past eight years. Loose ends are tied up, cute older plot points are revisited. There’s a lot of fan service of the sort you can only get from a game that’s been ongoing for the lion’s share of a decade.
The expansion looks gorgeous, whether depicting the painted hills of Thavnair or the ruins of Garlemald. The music, as always, is exquisite. Though I’ve yet to encounter a tune as impactful as the Rak’Tika Greatwood theme from Shadowbringers, I’ve been utterly charmed by the music that plays in Thavnair during the day. If you listen closely you’ll hear a sampled dog barking. I cannot help but bark along.
It’s not all been sunshine and barking dog music. Some of the new quests in Endwalker are just bad. There are quests where you have to be followed through town by NPCs, unable to teleport without having to start the whole quest over. Particularly annoying are quests where you have to tail a character who keeps turning around to see if they’re being followed every 30 seconds. Worst of all is a quest in the Garlemald area that’s just, grrrr it makes me so mad. Without spoiling anything, the quest puts you in control of another character and doesn’t explain what you need to be doing very well at all. Screw that quest in its stupid quest face.
Otherwise, I am having a delightful time working my way through Endwalker. Halfway through, the expansion feels like it’s building to an epic finale. I know there are many updates to come before the story is truly finished, but it feels like I’m definitely walking toward some sort of ending here. I’m so intrigued to see what happens I might just break into a run.