Spoiler warning: discussing the next expansion innately involves spoilers for past content and some conjecture about upcoming content, largely focused on the MSQ of Shadowbringers.
What a presentation!
The Square Enix team, props to them, knows how to build hype, and they did a thing I kind of didn’t expect – retained most of the information about the next expansion for Final Fantasy XIV close to the vest. What was unveiled is great, but against my predictions, we got what felt largely like it would have fit perfectly into the first of a standard 3-event Fan Fest cycle. Not much was shared, and what was there amounts to tantalizing morsels for the future.
First, the basics!
Endwalker is the name of the 4th Final Fantasy XIV expansion. Continuing right out of the upcoming end of Shadowbringers content, the expansion sees us dealing with a mix of threats. The main story hooks are the logical endpoint of the current, patch 5.4 MSQ, with the sundered Ascian Fandaniel triggering a recreation of the Final Days on the source, which also will apparently lead to us concluding the main, original story arc of the whole game to this point – the saga of the opposed Primals, Hydaelyn and Zodiark.
Content-wise, what was unveiled matches with expectations (with a few key deviations we’ll talk about). There is a new 8-player raid series called Pandaemonium, for which we only saw a single piece of concept art that appears to be a sundered Lahabrea. There is a new 24-player Alliance Raid series that will be an original FFXIV story this time instead of a crossover (the last two expansions have had a NieR: Automata crossover and a Final Fantasy Tactics/XII crossover, respectively), but nothing was shared about what the theme or content will entail. There will be dungeons, the Trust system continues (we’ll talk additions to that in a moment), and there is a new housing district in Ishgard. All of this is accompanied by the usual round of fixes, tuning, new abilities, and additions to fan-favorites like the Golden Saucer.
However, there are some huge changes coming down the pike, and while I’m very much excited for the expansion, there are a few things that kind of concern me (slightly).
Let’s dive in!
We have precious little detail to go on here besides three discussed zones and the heavy implications of another place we’ll be going. The smaller of the two capitol cities we’ll get in the expansion is Radz-at-Han, the main hub of Thavnair. The whole region has a really cool south Asian feel, with tropical climate, bright colors, and interesting architecture. Radz-at-Han is the “small” capitol of the expansion, so it will likely be where we spend tomestones and spend most of our time actually hanging out, if the pattern of the last several expansions holds.
Outside of Radz-at-Han, we know we’ll be going to Thavnair as a whole, although if it is a single zone or several is as yet unknown. Thavnair looks cool, as I mentioned above, and for lore, Dancers come from here, and they are largely unplundered by the Garleans due to a non-interference pact, allowing the Garleans to trade via Thavnair while the region retains independence and a lack of – well, all the bad things the Empire can do.
The other region shown in the presentation was Garlemald, with concept art of ruins being used and the in-game screenshot being similarly gloomy. Garlemald being in ruins was presented as a surprise of sorts, but I do think the story has pointed in that direction for most of Shadowbringers, as the actions of Zenos have largely plunged the Empire into chaos. Exploring how things came to be and seeing what survivors might say should be fascinating though, and for a lot of our current lore characters, this will be interesting. I’m relatively sure we’ll see lore for Cid, Nero, and perhaps Gaius (pending whatever happens with the final Sorrow of Werlyt trial in 5.5), and getting eyes behind the scenes of the Garlean Empire should be interesting for a lot of long-time FFXIV players!
Lastly, we can’t leave it unsaid – a large part of the prerendered trailer shows the Warrior of Light on the moon. What is actually up there? It’s been left quite purposefully vague, but we know the Ascians love hanging out there, and much of the story as well as the main 8-player raid series are pointing at Ascians as core villains, so I suspect there is something up there. Whether it ends up being a city, some sort of base, or just a desolate field with small encampments, who knows, but it seems less subtext and certainly less of a joke now – we are going to the moon. Why? Well, if Fandaniel succeeds in recreating the Final Days on the Source, it stands to reason we have a need to escape.
This is the one that is very interesting to me!
So in the past, the FFXIV story arc has a sort of predictable pattern to it. The expansion (x.0) gives us the major story beats and sets us on a path to resolve the central conflict of the story. We get a mix of side-stories and lore developments in the x.1 and x.2 patches, before the big expansion conclusion in x.3, with the denouement and ramp to the next expansion in the x.4 and x.5 patches. This is how it has been since ARR.
Endwalker has promised something different – the entire story arc of Endwalker, as the team sees it, is self-contained in 6.0, with the full story and its conclusion being delivered without any patches dropping. The intent here is that 6.1 forward, then, set a new story arc for the game, and are used to bridge us into a new era of the game (the expansion cycle was presented very dramatically as a solar cycle, with ARR the sunrise, Heavensward the “blue skies,” Stormblood the “crimson twilight,” and Shadowbringers the “dark of night,” with Endwalker being a new dawn) and apparently the subtitling used for the game in Japanese has been getting at this theme the whole time. This has some interesting implications for elements of the story (the raid series starts in 6.0, if pattern holds, and is about Ascians it would seem, but that would mean the story is fully split off for the raid), and what I find most interesting is that it would seem to mean that the Alliance raid series may play a role in that storybuilding for the future (being an original FFXIV story that starts in 6.1). My fear is that it will mean the expansion has a quick start, packs in content and action, and then meanders for the subsequent two-year span, but the team on FFXIV has done very well with the story as of late and I think they’ve earned some leeway to tell the story they want to tell.
Otherwise? We just don’t have much to go off of as of yet. Zenos and Fandaniel appear to be riding around on a ship that is quite reminiscent of the Void Ark, they obviously have roles as the villains (curiously, the suggestion seems that Fandaniel isn’t the main villain, and the word “friend” was used to describe our relationship with Zenos, which is very curious), and the Final Days are occurring on the Source, although to what extent is yet to be seen. Given that we spend a significant amount of time in the upcoming expansion in Thavnair and Garlemald (at least from what we know so far) it seems unlikely that the world is completely destroyed or otherwise rendered uninhabitable. So right now we basically have two major question marks – the 6.0 story and the everything else, with only small, unenlightening details peppering the margins.
Expansion Jobs and Tuning
There are two new jobs coming with Endwalker – an as-yet-unnamed melee DPS job and Sage, a new healer job. New job actions have been confirmed as well, alongside tuning and adjustments not yet disclosed (with one major exception that will be its own point later!).
The Sage job is pretty cool looking, with little substance to go on. With a fourth healer job in the game, the team is splitting the healers evenly down the “pure” healer and the “barrier” healer path, which mostly entails introducing the Sage as a barrier healer and then adjusting the Astrologian away from being a versatile switch healer and moving to a pure healing path (which, in effect, may not be that big a shift, because the pure healing Sect for AST tends to outperform barrier healing anyways).
Sage has a unique, new weapon type called “Nouliths,” which are four spikes controlled by aether that float around the player character, giving them a sort of mecha-inspired appearance. Alphinaud will serve as NPC representation for the new job, switching to it from his ill-defined mix of Summoner and Scholar as was shown in the trailer. The new job, as could have been predicted, starts at level 70 with no prerequisites other than having an existing level 70 job on the character you want to pick up Sage on. Their DPS capabilities look awesome, but gameplay wise, it is hard to get excited for the DPS on an FFXIV healer when they all boil down to a rotation of a DoT you maintain and a cast-time nuke, with some sort of high MP cost AoE to round out the kit.
The remaining job will be announced in May at the digital Fan Fest they’re running at that time, and melee DPS is the only confirmation thus far. There are some hints towards maybe a Necromancer or a scythe-based class, as the trailer has a blink and you’ll miss it scythe next to Zenos, and Yoshi P’s shirt spoilers during the patch 5.5 live letter later in the night had a scythe-wielding silhouette on it. Of course, I latched onto that because I would love a Necromancer (still salty that Shadowlands didn’t give WoW one!) and in truth, there are other possibilities better hinted at in the lore (Beastmaster, perhaps something based on Ranjit) but then Sage was also sort of left-field, so who knows?
As far as job adjustments and tuning, we know we’ll get new abilities for all existing jobs and there will be tuning – some due to normal expansion creep, some due to a major change coming. Also, a new level cap of 90 – logically predictable and not worth commenting much on, so moving on!
FFXIV keeps gameplay pretty well locked as a core, so unlike WoW, where there are heaps of changes to discuss, there’s not much here. That doesn’t mean nothing, though!
The first major feature is the Island Sanctuary, a place where a player can manage an island, which appears to be down to a farming simulator of some sort. Players can plant and harvest, and there appears to be some herd management aspects as well. There is also a new small-scale PvP mode planned, but details on that were fairly light other than an interview with Yoshi P that specified they’re looking to make this role-free to reduce the burden on healers.
The PS5 Version of Final Fantasy XIV
One of the more-expected nuggets from the announcement showcase was that PS5 support is incoming, but what was somewhat surprising is how quickly that is coming. Instead of being tied to Endwalker specifically, there will be an opt-in open beta on PS5 starting with the launch of 5.5, with players being able to upgrade their existing PS4 license to allow PS5 access and play there, including disc-free even if you use a disc on PS4 currently. There was a trailer for the PS5 version, but I’ll be real – it is hard to get too excited about that as a PC player since the features mentioned are…all things you can currently do on PC. The only exception is that the PS5 version uses higher-resolution icons, which I assume would also come along with the PC version as well, and while matching the PS5 load times can be difficult, it isn’t impossible now (my new PC has a newer PCIE Gen 4 NVME drive with FFXIV on it, and loading times into zones matched what was shown in the trailer. Nevertheless, I am glad to see them moving so quickly to new technology – the PS5 version is notably sharper and clearer than the PS4 version, and it getting proper 4k support alongside playable framerates with full visual detail is nice. I tried to like the PS4 version, I really did, but it plays pretty poorly on a base-PS4 if you do anything higher than a basic dungeon, especially in newer content, so I absolutely do not envy someone whose core play of the game is on PS4. (I have heard PS4 Pro is better, and they both beat the PS3 version where enemy framerates were cut in half to reduce rendering burden!)
The Stat Squish
This is the item I have a ton of feelings for. As a WoW player, I have cold sweats in my dreams about stat squishes. Joking aside, this is a point of major contention for a lot of players, and I think there is a right and a wrong way to do a stat squish, and there are multiple points that require contemplation.
Having lived through each WoW squish, I had some things I wanted to hear the team say up-front. I wanted to hear they had a plan for a fixed reduction that maintains item level as a flat value (the first WoW item squish notoriously made item levels unequal, where the value of a single ilvl climbed sharply at breakpoints of expansion content), that they had balancing plans for all modes of content (not just new stuff, but plans for old content and for undersized parties and solo players to be able to continue to progress at equivalent difficulty), and if I’m being honest? They kind of didn’t offer that.
It is clearly early days for the FFXIV team in actually figuring out the nuts and bolts of their stat squish, so they talked a lot about the theory and philosophy behind it, and offered some funny but bad anecdotes about why it is needed – we’re close to enmity values for tanks being so high they overflow and wrap around to a 0, there have already been calculation errors with some abilities that have required targeted hotfixes to ensure stable math, and boss health values are already too high, with a boss in the upcoming 5.5 having 440,000,000 HP (as a Legion-era WoW player, that’s rookie shit, need to see some billion health bosses, let’s go!).
I know that the team cannot tell me with absolute certainty that they’re going to avoid every calamity that befell the WoW team on squishes, and that’s fine. What I was looking for is a robust discussion of the methodological means they’re using to flatten out stat curves, and on that note, I was disappointed. I was further disappointed with how casually they discussed it, remaining clearly theoretical as opposed to directly confronting the various issues posed by such a move – and further disappointed by how they raised the specter of unsynced parties facing issues in older content without actually proposing that they had seen that, knew it would happen, or had ideas in mind for how to counter those issues. It is still early days, and we’re a long way away from Fall 2021, but I would have loved to have seen direct answers on at least some of these, and it raised my hackles not getting them. WoW hasn’t had a completely smooth item squish yet, and while Blizzard is sometimes willing to be experimental and push things early to refine them, FFXIV has a major flaw here. Two, in fact – the expansion will be tested entirely internally, so it could miss some player viewpoints and playstyles, and then the squish is likely to be with 6.0 and with no hang-time between that patch and new content, so if it is broken, it will be very problematic to fix!
To be clear, I’m not opposed to the idea of a stat squish and while I miss being a 12.6 million health tank from the end of Legion in WoW, it hasn’t materially affected my enjoyment of the game otherwise. I suspect the same will be the case for Final Fantasy XIV, but until we see the squish launch, who knows?
There was a lot of hype for me going into the announcement stream last night, and while I think I expected more actual solid details, I’m very happy with what we got and Endwalker seems like it has a solid foundation of content and some interesting tweaks that differentiate it from the past expansions the game has offered. There’s not much more that can be said until the next series of Fan Fest events, but I know among my friend group, yesterday’s news lit up people with FFXIV fire and I think that is ultimately a good sign for the excitement the game can still muster even late into an expansion.