Final Fantasy XIV is an incredible game, wouldn’t you say? That statement has been further proven after these past couple of years in isolation due to the pandemic. The number of players has reached a staggering 24 million, forcing the development team to increase the server load due to the game's explosive popularity.
I’ve been playing FF14 for just over six years now, and I can tell you the game has only got better with each expansion but will Endwalker continue this trend of topping the last expansion with more exciting content? We attended the all-digital media tour to bring the answer to you.
The event kicked off with a brief presentation from FF14 director/producer and FF16 producer Naoki Yoshida - and it’s clear that the ongoing COVID-19 situation has had a significant impact on development. He thanked medical staff around the world for their hard work and noted that without them keeping the world turning, the FF14 development team wouldn’t have been able to continue maintaining the game as a socially distant meeting place.
From the moment I got in, to the moment we had to say our goodbyes, I was completely enthralled with the content that was included in this demo build. We got to explore a handful of areas, including the gorgeous new hub town of Old Sharlayan, two fields in the form of Garlemald and Thavnair, topped off with what I assume will be the expansion’s first dungeon, the Tower of Zot - a throwback to a location from FF4.
Old Sharlayan is jaw-droppingly stunning. Fans have seen it before, of course - featured in the CG movie for Endwalker that was shown off at the recent Digital Fan Festival. The CG marvels translate well to in-game architecture - it oozes with a graceful elegance that tells you much about the people that built it.
Garlemald is quite the opposite. A land that has been torn apart by war, it’s almost devoid of life if not for the monsters that roam the fields of snow. However, that snow in amongst the ruins looks more like ashes of the fallen population in the remains of the war-torn city of Garlemald.
Thavnair completes the wildly differing location tour with yet another flavour. A beautiful tropical island filled with lush forests and tall red cliffs that tower above-said forests with ancient temples, it reminded me of Kilika from FF10 as I soared the skies looking for FATEs to test out my level 90 Warrior of Light against.
Dungeons are where the action is at, though. I was eager to jump into the Tower of Zot and try out my main job within this tall structure that looks straight out of the mind of H. R. Giger. So, I jumped in with my Samurai bunny boy and my Trust companions. For the uninitiated, Trust is a mechanic that allows you to tackle dungeons without other players, instead swapping in AI companions to help you. I find that Trust helps you learn the mechanics of a dungeon pressure-free before you head online.
The Tower of Zot is one of the harder dungeons I've come across in my long time with FF14 - at least until you get used to the mechanics presented by the obstacles that await you. In my first attempt, I fell a few times due to a blend of panic and remote play lag, but from the second attempt onwards, I weaved in between the several explosive mechanics like a well-choreographed dance.
During my several runs of the Tower of Zot, I tried out the brand-new job, Reaper, because let’s face it, Reaper looks super badass and gothic. It’s good Bloodborne energy, which you can’t say no to. Thankfully, it’s not all aesthetic - the Reaper is a lot of fun too! It can be a little tough to wrap your head around at first, but once you understand its job gauge and how the shroud mechanics work, Reaper just feels great to the point it may replace my main job, Samurai.
Unfortunately, I didn’t spend too much time with Sage, the new healer class - the hands-on was for a short time and I have to admit I got a little Reaper obsessed. I’m also not a very good healer - I’ll leave that to somebody who truly understands how to utilize those classes. I watched others play with Sage during my dungeon runs and countless FATE encounters and saw enough to know that when Endwalker rolls around I will give it the time it deserves and hopefully finally become a decent healer.
For existing FF14 players, there’s an elephant in the room whenever Endwalker is discussed. It’s a worry for long-time players, so let’s talk about it - the ‘stat squish’. However, for newcomers who are unsure what I mean in regards to the stat squish, essentially, boils down to FF14’s popularity, Yoshida and his team have decided to reduce the numbers as they want to keep expanding the game for at least 10 years and the larger the numbers get, the more like the game is to crash server-side plus with smaller numbers flying around the game can receive performance boosts according to Yoshida. Currently, one of the high-level raid bosses has 440,000,000 HP! Now imagine the health of a boss in 10 years - this is the reason behind the stat squish.
Yoshida has tried to calm fans before, saying the stat squish is nothing to worry about - and I’m pleased to report that he was right. It’s not something to worry about. The stats of your character have shrunk, but in combat enemies still drop as quickly as they do now, so it hasn’t made you appear weaker like a lot of people thought it would. In the presentation, Yoshida said it would take around five minutes for the new numbers to feel natural, and he wasn’t wrong. After a few minutes in the dungeon, I had completely forgotten that the squish was a thing.
Another purpose of the stat squish is to help out newcomers or players returning after time away. Basically, the stat squish will reduce how much experience is needed to level your character up. FF14 is incredibly accessible for newcomers and those who have never touched an MMORPG. I was a bit of an MMO virgin until FF14; I thought they were games that just drained your life away but this game and development team understands that you have a life that needs your attention. I know this might sound a bit rich after admitting to putting 2000 hours into the game, but remember that I’ve been playing for 6 years now and that for one of those years I suffered a tragedy that left me with a lot of free time. When I’ve been busier, however, I found it easy to pick FF14 up whenever a story patch came out, leaving plenty of time for other games and the rest of life.
Final Fantasy 14 is an incredible game and is home to an incredible community that welcomes new players like family. The story is quite possibly one of the best Final Fantasy stories - something single-player FF fans really should experience. Endwalker promises a thrilling conclusion to the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story, so now is the perfect time to jump and enjoy the story from start to finish without the two-year gap between expansions. And as one door closes, another must open: with patch 6.1, a brand new story will begin.
Much has been written over the years about Square Enix’s Creative Business Division 3 and Naoki Yoshida’s rescue of FF14 from the pits of a very public failure. Since then the studio has been firing on all cylinders for expansion after expansion - and though this conclusion is only based on a short hands-on, Endwalker is looking like another home run.
The Tower of Zot proves that dungeons can still keep even the most experienced players on our toes. Plus, the quality of life changes such as the new town aetheryte system shown off in the recent Live Letter, and the new player friendly stat squished level up experience mean that Final Fantasy 14 continues to be a game that can appeal to anyone. I’m super excited for early access on November 19th and the mysteries waiting to be solved by my boy, Kanem and the cast of FF14.