FFXIV’s Biggest Expansion Yet, Endwalker, Will Take Your Breath Away

FFXIV’s Biggest Expansion Yet, Endwalker, Will Take Your Breath Away
Just looking at this screenshot of my character in Thavnair gives me chills. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

I recently had the opportunity to spend several hours exploring the new lands, jobs, and dungeons coming in Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker expansion when it launches November 23. I flew through the wretched ruins of Garlemald, strolled the serene streets of the scholarly city of Old Sharlayan, and marveled at the colourful sights and sounds of the Thavnair area. I tried my hand at the new Reaper and Sage jobs. I even teamed up with three fellow journalists to take on the expansion’s Tower of Zot dungeon. My main takeaways are that a) I hate MMO previews and b) this expansion is going to be so epic, you guys.

A staged preview is not a great way to get your first taste of an eagerly anticipated expansion pack to the most popular subscription-based MMO in the world. During the pre-preview presentation, a pre-recorded video from game producer Naoki “Yoshi-P” Yoshida, we were told Final Fantasy XIV had recently surpassed 24 million paid subscribers. I’d have much rather experienced this new content as one of those 24 million on launch day, exploring the new lands in the sequence developers intended. Instead, my fellow writers and I were treated to a small slice of Endwalker, a cross-section of content. Rather than connecting directly to a game server, the preview ran through a remote application streaming gameplay over the internet.

We infiltrated the city under cover of darkness.  (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) We infiltrated the city under cover of darkness. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

The preview began in Old Sharlayan, the city of scholars located on an island to the North of the main Eorzean continent. It’s a place of serenity, built from white stone with gold trim, filled with libraries and other repositories of knowledge. The music in the city, especially during nighttime, is so lovely and mellow I just want to curl up and take a nap.

Old Sharlayan is where our mini-adventure began. Each participant was given a character with every single job class in the game maxxed out to the new level 90 cap. That includes the two new classes, the healing Sage and damage-dealing Reaper. While that may sound like a Final Fantasy XIV players’ dream character, it was quite confusing and a little frustrating in practice.

Confusing, but fun!  (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) Confusing, but fun! (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

Imagine transforming into a brand new, never-before-played job class and being faced with three rows of completely unfamiliar skill icons. The first thing I did after getting my bearings in town was teleport to the island nation of Thavnair and test my combat skills on something called a Bhujamga. Fortunately, for me, it was level 85 to my level 90, and my void avatar companion and I tore it up, mainly by pressing the skill buttons that lit up after pressing other skill buttons.

Yeah, it was a bit complex, trying to figure out how to play the new class without starting off at level 70 and learning on the job, so to speak. From what I was able to piece together, the Reaper strikes a nice balance between damage dealing and buffing, with abilities that increase attack damage and shield not only me but my party members as well. There’s a chance I will switch my main from Dancer to Reaper when Endwalker drops.

There shall always be a Dancer in my body.  (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) There shall always be a Dancer in my body. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

Then again, considering the beauty and majesty of the temple I discovered while exploring Thavnair, ancestral home of the Dancer job class, I might not trade my silks in just yet.

I dabbled with the Sage job, but I am no healer. I cannot handle the responsibility of being yelled at when everyone dies. I will say the Sage looks cool as hell in their battle-ready state (see a few pics up), surrounded by their glowing Nouliths weapon. Later in the preview, during our group dungeon dive, our Sage managed to keep our wipes on the final bosses down to only three. Colour me impressed.

Sadly, we could not enter the city beyond. Still, wow.  (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) Sadly, we could not enter the city beyond. Still, wow. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

Impressive colour is the hallmark of the Thavnair region. Everywhere you go there are hues never seen before in Final Fantasy XIV. Even the mountains and hills are colourful, banded with orange and purple striations. Meanwhile, in Garlemand, things are a bit bleaker.

Darkness. No parents.  (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) Darkness. No parents. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

Yikes. Teleporting from Thavnair to Garlemald, the seat of the Garlean Empire, is a shock. The land is black and grey. Smoke rises from the ruins of an industrially advanced city. All of the NPC characters in the preview were given placeholder names, which only enhanced the ghost town feel of Garlemald. Something died here. Pretty sure that something was hope.

Despite being dark and dreary, Garlemald intrigues me. I got a very Nier-like vibe, exploring its crumbled cityscape. There’s a weird little underground train station in the middle of the ruined city that I feel might wind up being one of my favourite locations in the expansion.

My final adventure in the extended Endwalker preview saw me teaming up with three others for a run at The Tower of Zot, the expansion’s level 81 dungeon. The Tower of Zot is a reference to the hidden dungeon in Final Fantasy IV, home of the powerful Magus Sisters. In FFXIV it’s not so hidden, and it’s also the home of the powerful Magus Sisters.

Our stalwart heroes.  (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku) Our stalwart heroes. (Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku)

I will say this, the one good thing about an MMO preview is that everyone is on the same page. No one knew what to expect as we climbed the tower, battling trash monsters between boss battles against Minduruva, Sanduruva, and Cinduruva (aka Mindy, Sandy, and Cindy). Few of us knew our roles perfectly. I reverted to Dancer, though the provided hot bar configuration was nothing like the one I use the game proper, causing lots of confusion.

Despite that confusion and ill-preparedness, my compatriots and I managed to complete the Tower. It’s really one of the most straightforward FFXIV dungeons I’ve played in quite some time. The lesser enemies went down easily. The boss battles were challenging, requiring lots of movement. Minduruva, the first boss, is an AOE queen, filling the battle arena with devastating, hard-to-avoid magic attacks. Then it was on to Sanduruva, who went down a little smoother despite trying to turn us to stone and making copies of herself.

In The Tower of Zot’s final battle, we fought the third sister, Cinduruva, but surprise, the first two sisters joined the battle as well. Taking down Cindy there while dodging her sisters’ attacks was a feat that we had to retry three times to get right. Once Cinduruva goes down, cleaning up her sisters is a simple task, making the final moments of the battle rather anticlimactic, but a good time was had by all.

What an exhilarating experience, this rapid-fire tour of some of Endwalker’s new locations and challenges. I witnessed beauty in several different forms, eye-watering colour and soul-crushing destruction. I left the preview with a batch of lovely screenshots, some choppy videos, and the knowledge that we’re all in for a hell of a time when the expansion arrives. Now to do my best to forget all of this so I can go in fresh next month. Wish me luck.

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