Well, a bit ago, Smudge and I got through the main story of FF XIV: Endwalker.

It… was quite a ride.

Overall, I’d say Shadowbringers is still the best the story has been, but this came really close, and largely falls down on a couple of smaller bits. The story, if anything is bigger (in content) than the massive epic that the previous expansion was. So big, it’s really easy to get caught up in later portions and forget just where the story started. Which is a really successful bit of immersion, but also, the story is just too big for your head without really stepping back to try and look at it again.

[Massive spoilers of the entire expansion plot ahead!]

So… we have the big bad that is really just an early boss. Saving the world. Dinner (there’s three different scenes at meals). The villain-behind-the-villain. The nihilistic villain (okay, same person, also as usual in FF). Meddling ancients. The new tech of the expansion. Fantastic new zones. Existential dread. New game mechanics. Time travel. Did I forget anything?

Oh yeah, these guys:

When we last left our Warriors of Light and Darkness, everyone had had a small breather before whatever’s going on inside the Garlean empire becomes the focus of attention again. Also, something is up in Sharlayan as they are steadfastly refusing to help with the fact that Fandaniel is definitely trying to bring a back the phenomena of the Final Days that laid low the Ancients.

This goes into the usual split-zone introduction that does feel a little unsatisfying as the thread with Sharlayan is allowed to stall out. However, the immediate problem of the towers that popped up all over the place overnight is addressed, and culminates in the first dungeon and trial. Very nicely, there is a solid in-world reason given for how all those towers appeared.

Yeah, that’s about how I felt after every dungeon.

After that is a trip to the center of the Garlean Empire and Garlemald itself. That was a slight disappointment for me. I’d like to see more of the rest of the empire, and it all got skipped over. In particular, was hoping to get to see the Werlyt itself, instead of just Terncliff. However, that section was certainly handled well, and showed that the Empire is effectively a non-entity now.

The climax of that, in best FF IV tradition sends you to the moon and Zodiarc’s prison. Things are definitely looking bad, and I was all set for a long questline of trying to patch the seal back together to buy some time. But no, it rushes us into a fight against what’s been the focus of the behind-the-scenes villains all this time: Zodiark.

You know, in most stories like this, defeating Zodiark would have been a major climax. Even assuming it’ll obviously lead to a new problem, it’d be the end, or even nearly the end with the Final Days showing up in the equivalent to the 6.5 patch, with a ‘wait for the next expansion for how to get out of this one!’ Even earlier FFs would generally have this no earlier than the halfway mark with the “looking for a new solution” arc being the second half (see FF VI and FF X for this pattern).

Here, we’re just barely getting going. This is the second time FF XIV has done this, and put a big dramatic moment that they can put in all the advertising no more than a fifth of the way through, and leave you seriously wondering just where you can go from here. In fact, in Shadowbringers, they let you ease down with a new routine (slay lightwardens) before starting the tension up again with apparent problems with the current plan cropping up. Here, we immediately get a new problem (the Final Days starting), which itself never steadies down into a stable configuration, as it’s obvious that just putting out crises as they arise cannot be the solution.

So, narrative tension is never allowed to relax nearly as much or as long in Endwalker as it did in Shadowbringers. I think this is large part of why it just feels like a bigger story. It just doesn’t let up. That said, they do use this as the opportunity to show just how bad the Final Days are by wrecking one of the new areas that’s just been introduced in the story, and putting a bunch of people you just befriended in danger.

Now, there is a nice calm stretch in the middle where you do catch your breath. Because there’s time travel, so whatever happens, no (present) time will have passed. More surprisingly, this is a full zone to explore, and eventually revisit in the future (um, not that future). This section is really well handled. Elpis is a nice tranquil place that still has sidequests that need doing, but more importantly is chock full of people who have been important to the overall story, and you finally get to see them before they have to deal with the consequences of the world getting wrecked. It also shows the glorious paradise that Emet-Selch told us about in Shadowbringers, and lets us feel his pain all the better.

And about that. SE does a nice job of warning you that you can’t change the future, that you’ll definitely end up back where you started. But as things go on, you start wondering about that; it sure looks like this could be going somewhere different before dropping the boom on you, and yes this is indeed a closed time loop, where your actions are part of what happened all along. Though it is possible to change the past, as G’raha Tia did exactly that by moving a future version of the Crystal Tower to the First and keeping the eighth umbral calamity from happening.  And without that, Garlemald and Eorzea would be locked in a war with no room for Fandaniel, so that broken time loop was needed for this closed time loop to happen at all…. My head hurts.

And the climatic sequence after all of that is in the land of Existential Dread, Ultima Thule. The journey itself is a good part of storytelling itself, and doesn’t even feature a dungeon to do it. We also get a rare overview of a zone on the way out.

The progress through Ultima Thule zone was… predictable, and upsetting all at once. Certain things (like “eight little Scions”) are cliche because they work. And like with the rest of this expansion, the writing was top notch. An especial note for this one is the zone music changes twice during the story here, which also is a great touch. (They pulled this trick elsewhere too, but generally just shifting to a previous theme for certain short bits, this the by far the most prominent case of the music boosting the story.)

And as part of the final confrontation, part of wrapping this long, and very emotional journey up, Zenos shows up as part of an assist, and then for his long lusted after repeat fight. And you know, that final punch at the end was really satisfying.

But I thought it was a thematic mis-use. Zenos’ driving ambition the entire time is the adrenaline junkie’s thrill of a fight where his life is truly on the line, and at his power level that’s nearly impossible for him to find. And he spends the entire expansion lurking around edges waiting his chance for that one special fight with the Warrior of Light. Of course, say he gets that fight, and wins. Then what? What does Zenos do with himself now that he’s won the only fight left to him that has any meaning?

I am put strongly in mind of the Omicrons, one of the races in Meteion’s catalog of broken worlds. A people who dedicated themselves to growing ever-stronger out a fear of being conquered, and then became the toughest beings in the universe, with nothing left that could ever be a threat again. And they stopped, unable to find a new purpose, a new direction, until all wound down, and they were no more.

Of the various Scions’ refutation of the despair of Ultima Thule, G’raha’s attempt with the Omicrons was the best; nicely reasoned, deeply philosophical, with the point that you don’t have to let your past goals determine all your future actions. Or lack of them. Zenos could have been very useful as the person who can’t grow and learn past his limitations. Or maybe he can in a way that causes other massive problems, as is his way.

So, to me, the final bit with Zenos feels kind of tacked on. There because you couldn’t not have Zenos in the conclusion after placing that gun very prominently on the mantelpiece lo, those many moons ago.

Past the main story being very good, there were a couple new mechanics, which were generally good ideas. However, I would really appreciate it if all the warning messages on them would at least get cut down after the second or third time you’ve seen it. The ‘following NPC’ bit is a nice bit from a story side as you can stop for extra bits of conversation. I think that still needs some work to feel a little more natural, but it’s certainly the right idea.

So, that’s been the latest expansion. I’m still trying to get going on all my other jobs, and then back to leveling what hadn’t gotten to 80 last time. So I have too much to do, and a few months of rest to do them in.


Oh, of course while this is the end of the story, this isn’t the end of FF XIV. By the time this is published, Square Enix will have officially talked about their plan for the next ten years. Of course the end of the story already had Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr Emet-Seuss to hint at what a lot of the next decade will have.