All’s Well That (Endwalkers) Well?

Finished up FFXIV’s Endwalker expansion today – just the main story, mind you, I haven’t gone in to any of the post-launch content or done any of the optional stuff like raiding. I’m not really feeling any great need to at this exact point in time, however, so I thought I’d write up what I thought and then maybe come back to the game later on.

I haven’t played much FFXIV in the last couple of years. I was keeping an active subscription solely because I’d lucked into a housing plot and you lose your house if you’re inactive for too long. At some point, I logged on to go through all of the post-Shadowbringers stuff in order to be READY for Endwalker, and I pre-ordered Endwalker so I’d have the pre-order bonuses, whatever those were… and then it released last December and I’ve just gotten around to playing through the main story over the last couple of weeks.

The promise of Endwalker was that it would wrap up all of the story that started with your player getting off the boat (or wagon) way back in the opening quests of A Realm Reborn, and it does this pretty well. You meet old friends, there are unexpected callbacks to prior events, evil is defeated, good rules the day, you’re off to unspecified adventures. The last couple of hours of the story include a dungeon, with some actual teeth to the dungeon bosses, an 8-man trial that is packed full of WOAH moments, and a solo duty that is just *chef’s kiss*.

If that’s enough for you, stop reading here! From here on out I mostly complain!

It’s a shame that almost the entire story up to that point is told through painfully-long cutscenes, most of which are just a handful of characters standing around and expositing while you try to ignore the godawful textures that the game has been stuck with since its beginnings as a PS3 title.

Don’t zoom in. Just don’t do it.

There are a few breaks from the reading – like every FFXIV Expansion, there are six dungeons and three trials, and those actually involve some action, and there are a handful of solo duties which might be fun if you got to play your own character instead of being forced into whatever alternate skin the game thinks you should be wearing – but by and large the main story is, well, a story. Talk to person A, which triggers a cutscene, watch the cutscene, take five steps and talk to person B which triggers another cutscene.

Sometimes you have to sneak around – has there ever been a fun mandatory stealth section in any game ever? – and sometimes you will be tasked with a quick escort mission where you will stop three or four times to fight a couple of monsters, but those don’t come nearly often enough to break up the monotony of what feels like a visual novel, but without even the hope of porn.

It’s a shame the story doesn’t do more to get you out into the world. Like most FFXIV expansions, Endwalker’s zones are gorgeous and made more vibrant and alive with the weather system – still unparalleled in any MMO I’ve ever played. The combat animations, when you get to fight things, are satisfying and the sheer PUNCH of damage spells is just perfect.

Please keep in mind that I was playing as a healer – a Scholar, to be precise – and even the single nuke they give to healers has a solid, satisfying BAM to it.

There’s also a joy to the way FFXIV lets you start moving just before a cast finishes. The sense of dancing out of a nasty AE at the last second just brings an irrepressible grin to my face every time I do it.

Having said that, the zones just feel empty, populated with easily-dodged packs of monsters that exist …for some reason. Probably for repeatable “kill 10 x” quests that aren’t part of the main story. If you’re running around as a combat class, you don’t get to see gathering nodes, there aren’t any collectibles or any real reasons to explore, and once you get flying you will pretty much just be flying over all of it anyway.

Moreover, the dungeons don’t really exist “in the world” either. Of the six dungeons in the main quest, five of them are accessed by boarding a vehicle or by walking through some sort of mystical portal. There’s no finding a sea cave that turns out to be a pirate stronghold, here.

The Trust system from Shadowbringers returns, which lets you play through the dungeons with NPC members instead of needing to find other people, and it’s a low-key way to run them that lets you check out the scenery at your own pace. The dungeons, more than the overworld, are where FFXIV likes to stick little bits of lore, and I enjoyed being able to stop and read the books.

You can also get all the drops from the dungeons all to your own without needing to share, which is a time-saver if you’re trying to collect a specific set of gear for the way it looks. I mention looks specifically because dungeon gear is nothing more than a collection of stats, with higher-level pieces having larger numbers than lower-level pieces, and no special effects that would drag you back to a dungeon multiple times trying to get Just That One Special Piece.

Like, I have never been a huge fan of Diablo-style loot games where you are swimming in piles of similar gear and need to decide whether the +0.2 crit chance on THIS piece is better than the 0.2 crit damage on this OTHER piece, or whether it’s better to have a higher base damage on a weapon or whether you should use the weapon with the lower base damage that also has a 30% chance to set your opponent on fire 2.4 times a minute… but FFXIV’s loot is a Baskin Robbin’s with 31 flavors of vanilla.

And none of them are even vanilla bean.

To follow up my loot rant, I had a long rant here about FFXIV dungeon design, but I read it through a few times and it sounded super whiny so I elected to delete it. I will sum it up as “There are 18 dungeon bosses, 16 of them are pretty dull, one of them actually requires the healer to pay a little attention to debuffs, and one of them may be the only heal check in a game that relies almost entirely on DPS checks. Maybe they’re more interesting if you’re playing a tank.”

Anyway. When you get to the credits of Endwalker, you’re treated to a long scroll of monochrome screenshots from earlier expansions, so you can remember the fun times you had in those. Some of them actually had you playing your characters, rather than watching cutscenes!

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