Looking back on Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker—two years of frustration for a game I still love

Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker will finally call curtains next year as we head into Dawntrail, and I’ve never had so many mixed feelings about an MMO I absolutely love.

Endwalker had a lot riding on the back of it. It was the culmination of a 10-year storyline, saddled with massive expectations from Shadowbringers. It was also dealing with a massive influx of players, migrating from the Shadowlandsapocalypse of WoW. 

Impossibly, Endwalker stuck the landing—but it kind of drifted off the runway afterwards. Not enough to harm my feelings toward my favourite MMO, but enough to make me take more breaks than I ever have. Let’s talk about why. Spoilers ahead.

Endwalker made me cry 18 times

(Image credit: Square Enix)

I won’t ever shed as many tears over a game as I have Final Fantasy 14. I actually counted how many times the waterworks were turned on by force—and I had a little weep no less than 18 different times

While I am a sentimental sap, I think what FF14 achieves is pretty monumental and rare when it comes to gaming (in fact, I’m not sure we’ll ever have something like it again). It’s not just an RPG, it’s five massive RPG stories that tell one continuous tale with no breaks. Other games try this—Mass Effect, for example—but the cast, mechanics, and even storytelling styles change enough to make them feel disjointed.

Endwalker somehow managed to tie up 10 years of story in a satisfying bow and land on a resonant theme that felt true to life: suffering is not necessary, but it is inevitable, and you can push through it. The fan response was pretty unified, too. While some found its reluctance to axe main characters a touch too toothless, it was considered a masterful bookend overall. When WoW convert Preach Gaming rolled credits on Twitch, he just said: “Well, that’s the best RPG I’ve ever played in my life.” 

Unfortunately, Endwalker’s post-patch story hasn’t shared the same fate. I don’t think it’s bad, necessarily—I had a grand old time getting to know Zero, knocking over the fiends, and getting Golbez on-side with the power of friendship. But compared to the heights of Endwalker? It was just… fine.

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Part of this is just how stories work. The base game, A Realm Reborn, didn’t blow anyone’s socks off—but a lot of it paid off later. Endwalker’s 6.1-6.5 storyline similarly feels like it’s setting up future dominoes. In Heavensward, the Warrior of Darkness storyline gave players similar feelings of filler, but its plots points would later fuel a whole expansion. I have faith.

Yet I can’t shake off this feeling of malaise, particularly in patch 6.3. Maybe that’s because, for every other expansion, the third patch is a finale to the story set up in the main campaign. Shadowbringers 5.3 patch, for example, is considered to be a peak in FF14’s story—seeing us ferrying G’raha Tia (my digital husband) back to his home. It was cathartic and gorgeously written. 

But 6.3 wasn’t an end-point, it was a midpoint. We went back to Ishgard, Zero learned some stuff about friendship, she ate some really well-animated bread, and then we bullied a couple of fiends into submission. I’m being reductive, but compared to the heights of any other expansion, it felt like a tired sigh at a time where the FF14 community should be losing their collective gourds—like missing your birthday for a year. It doesn’t help that Endwalker felt quieter for your average player, anyway.

The missing midcore and MMO loneliness

(Image credit: Square Enix)

MMOs now have a considerable number of players who want to feel like they’ve been taken to task by content, but who don’t have the time to get a group together and raid. As an MMORPG’s core base of players starts to age, they might even become the majority. These midcore/solo players need something to latch on to. For WoW, Mythic+ dungeons actually fill this role quite well. You can get three friends (or even PuG) and go tear through some keys that don’t take too long to complete. In FF14’s Shadowbringers, this gap was filled by Bozja.

Bozja (and its follow-up, Zadnor) was an exploration zone, a large, open field filled with bosses and a handful of raids that popped up on timers. You could log in, teleport to a zone, and knock over some bad guys as part of a roiling mass of players. Crucially, these bosses could actually kill you pretty easily, it’s just that dying wasn’t a big deal for the rest of the raid. This was great food for the midcore/solo player because they could focus on their own performance. It also did another important thing—it made strangers play together.

FF14 as it stands feels incredibly lonely as a midcore/solo player. It’s a game that either caters to a casual audience—people who want to just zone out and blast through some dungeons—or raiders with statics to party with. The lion’s share of challenging content (Eureka Orthos, Criterion Savage, Savage raids, Ultimates) need a coordinated group.

You can do some of this stuff with the public—I did the first Savage raid tier without a dedicated team—it just takes way longer. And if you want something that’s quick to hop into? You’re out of luck, there’s basically nothing that’s worth doing more than once. Everything is either extremely easy or hard enough to require coordination with no inbetween.

Relic weapons: a swing and a miss

(Image credit: Square Enix)

FF14 has relic weapons, which are meant to be the game’s non-raider grind. In theory, a relic weapon forces you to engage with certain features (like Bozja in Shadowbringers), or it makes you do stuff you wouldn’t usually do. Old raids, public events, that sort of thing.

In Endwalker, you just pay tomestones. For every step of the grind. Tomestones can be gained through any piece of content—which, in theory, loosens the requirement right up. As a player, though, I feel like this decision has completely backfired.

In practice, I’ve already been doing all of the things that give me tomestones—I’ve been doing them for weeks. By making these relic weapons less annoying to get, they commit a far greater sin—they become a chore. They feed into the vicious circle of logging on and doing the same dungeons on a loop.

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Which is a shame, because in terms of the actual content—difficulty problems aside—Endwalker’s been banger after banger. The alliance raids are fun, the variant dungeons are a blast, and this raid tier has had some of the best story and fight design out of any expansion. But unless you’re worried about gear? There’s no point in doing any of it more than once.

And yet, I’m still hyped beyond belief for Dawntrail. Maybe it’s just a sunk cost fallacy, or maybe it’s because I know that Square Enix responds to feedback on an Ent-like timescale—the problems I had in Endwalker are unlikely to dominate the next expansion. Heck, we’ve even had whispers that a Bozja-like zone will be making a comeback. These frustrations are only here because FF14 is so dear to my heart. Also, my Warrior of Light deserves a beach episode—and judging by the trailer, that’s the whole pitch.

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