There will be spoilers here for Shadowbringers MSQ, so be warned!
So last night was the first night of two in the Final Fantasy XIV Fanfest Online for 2021, a single event designed to replace the three-event, 2020-2021 cycle of North America, Europe, and Japan that was halted, like so many things, due to a global pandemic.
In early February, we got our first taste of the new content to come in FFXIV 6.0. Dubbed Endwalker, the expansion focuses on a theme that was pulled into focus near the tail-end of the base Shadowbringers story – the final days of the realm. In the case of Shadowbringers, we first examined it solely for the effect it had on the Ascians, viewed through the fascistic lens of Emet-Selch, who was our main antagonist for the cycle of the early expansion and ultimately believed the Ascians superior, such that he was trying to bring about a calamity and rejoining to accelerate the return of Zodiark. Now, in Endwalker, we have Fandaniel, allied with Zenos, bringing about the final days on Hydaelyn for the simple sake of chaos, and thus our expansion story will begin.
With the details announced in early February, the expansion seemed to be on a good course, but there were still mysteries to solve. Notably, we were still a content patch away from any sort of bridging, so while the 5.4 patch story had prepared us somewhat for the transition, it was still sort of vague and unclear what direction we were to head – a standard weakness of the x.4 patch in the FFXIV model, really. Now, we have most of the story beats established, and with that, we now know much more about how the story is going to bring us into the end of the world.
And boy, it seems pretty damn good.
Rather than recap every single announcement in full detail, I’ll encourage you to watch the videos of the event online, but as many of my readers don’t play Final Fantasy, I’ll discuss my excitement in enough detail to convey the reason for the hype without getting bogged down in mechanical discussion. One of the advantages of the way Square Enix communicates about FFXIV is that there actually isn’t much to say mechanically. Unlike a standard Blizzcon where WoW features have deep-dives and all sorts of system details disclosed, FFXIV presents a pure distillation of the cool stuff they want to show you, with enough vagueness that you can project some measure of hype onto it yourself. That isn’t always good (expectations can be failed more easily if you build them yourself) but for most players who’ve been around for at least two expansions, there is a built-in tempering of expectations that works out fairly well.
So, let’s dive in!
Don’t Fear the Reaper
Reaper is the new melee DPS job that we were told to expect in February, and boy, it looks spectacular. The job seems to do most of its damage with melee strikes (duh, I guess) but amplifies damage with an Avatar of the void, who appears to have some pet functionality (in FFXIV, pet functionality is sort of a hot topic and varies from AI-based attacking with Summoner to command-based casting with Scholar) but the Avatar was seen in the job unveil video attacking. The Reaper can also consume the Avatar to gain more power, which appears to grant a special form and enhanced attacks. In all likelihood, this ends up being pretty basic – probably a fairly standard melee job with command-based pet strikes, if I had to guess (those will probably be off-global cooldown for weaving, which is my big prediction) and then the Avatar consumption buff is probably a short-to-mid combat cooldown that creates a moment of big burst damage. In those terms, it might sound less exciting, but at the same time, some of FFXIV’s best melee jobs (in my opinion) make use of OGCD weaving and strong burst windows (I loved Ninja for this reason) so I am still pretty excited. The animations for Reaper all look elaborate and fun!
The technical aspects we do know are about in-line with expectations – starts at level 70 with no required class or job other than some job at level 70, starting in Ul’dah, and will be sharing Maiming gear with Dragoons, bringing a second class to the geartype (and leaving Scouting gear for Ninjas as the only single-job geartype).
The (Likely) Trials To Shape Us
The launch of an FFXIV expansion typically encompasses 3 trials – two during leveling, which also get EX versions at the new level cap, and an MSQ-concluding trial, which typically gets an EX version in the x.1 patch. While it isn’t strictly said that we’ll have these trials yet, the announcements both set up obvious conclusions. In February, we learned Anima, from Final Fantasy X, was likely to be the first of these, with redrawn character art by the original FFX artist. As of yesterday, the second (likely) trial is the Magus Sisters. While I was familiar with them from FFX as well, the FFXIV incarnation is leaning heavily on their original presentation from Final Fantasy IV, as the main FF title the expansion is drawing most of its inspiration from. The version in FFXIV is slightly newer and more colorful, but retains the character of the original Yoshitaka Amano art for FFIV. The colors used also fit strongly with Thavnair as shown in the zone previews, which likely tells us the point in the story they’ll be fought. In fact, were I to guess, my suspicion is that we’ll fight the Magus Sisters in Thavnair and they’re likely our first trial at around level 83ish, with Anima coming much later, either in a Sharlayan zone or the fancifully-named moon zone Mare Lamentorum.
Precious little was said about dungeons, which fits with FFXIV in general, as dungeons are largely MSQ content and repeatable, farmable stuff instead of being significant content in their own right. No dungeons were directly named, and all we got was a sizzle reel of dungeon footage which appeared to show three dungeons of a likely launch roster of 8. All of this was set to a new rendition of Golbez’ theme from FFIV, which has stirred the speculation for a great many FF fans!
No new information was shared on Pandaemonium, the core 8-player raid series that will run throughout the expansion. We did, however, get the name of the 24-player Alliance raid series, and a single piece of concept art that definitely lit imaginations aflame. Dubbed “Myths of the Realm,” the focus is on the Twelve, the pantheon of Eorzea. Given that across three 24-player raids we would expect to see 12 bosses, and given the focus on Hydaelyn and Zodiark’s story conclusion…is it possible we will attack and dethrone God(s)? I don’t know, but the possibility is there and I think the idea is cool even if we don’t murder the full pantheon. FFXIV’s gods are ill-explained and explored in-game, and they had there most significant lore moment during the cursed 1.0 cycle, which means the majority of current FFXIV players have only heard whisperings or passing mentions of them.
A Brave New (Ending) World
With an MMO expansion comes, of course, new zones to explore. We don’t have a final zone count as of yet, but we were shown in-game footage of a list of new zones, including some for which we only saw basic screenshots or concept art back in February.
First the reveals: the large, Crystarium-replacing capital city of Endwalker is Old Sharlayan, the city-state which has done the most to shield itself from the affairs of the rest of the realm. In the cinematic, this is played with as a point of tension, with the implication being that there will be some conflict (with the father of Alphinaud and Alisaie, no less, who was the main speaking Sharlayan character in the cinematic!). Despite that tension, it appears that we will at least have some respite here. With that, a zone named Labyrinthos was shown and appears to be a part of the region, as the architecture and design language speak to a common aesthetic. Thavnair itself was confirmed as a zone as well, although it seems like we’ll tackle the entire island nation as a single zone and capital instead of as multiple sub-zones, which sort of tracks given the broad scale of places we are slated to go. A brief preview of Garlemald was shown in ruins, albeit with more detail than the concept art crater we got in February. Lastly, of course, there is the Moon – a zone dubbed “Mare Lamentorum” which showed a fairly interesting, if narrow, in-game preview. The zone features a lunar castle, gravity and breathable air (which had attention called to it by YoshiP!), and a cave. Details on the zone were obviously heavily controlled, but the brief preview included zone music which was an obvious evolution of the Tempest/Amaurot riff that I loved from Shadowbringers – bringing the theme of the final days fully into focus.
All of the zones, while still unfinished, looked stunning and had interesting visual flourishes – the dome over Labyrinthos, the walkthrough of the lunar castle in Mare Lamentorum, the vibrant colors and statues of Thavnair – all of it seemed really well-built and was quite nice to look at. As for how it will play? We’ll find out!
A Surprising Fan Request Met
In Shadowbringers, FFXIV added two genderlocked races – the Viera (female-only) and Hrothgar (male-only). This was met with some amount of outcry from fans who wanted to play the other gender option, and Square Enix largely replied the same to each request – the lore is that these races are locked, so we’ll keep it that way for now but evaluate in the future. To me, as a WoW fan, that read like a no, because usually, Blizzard will say something very similar and then not act on player feedback (I’m debating expanding that to a full post, let me know if you’d be interested in that).
So when the end of the presentation showed a video preview of a Viera dressing, it was strange…but then became clear quickly. This Viera has no boobs! This Viera’s eyes were different! It’s…a bunny boy!
Quickly confirmed by YoshiP after the video was that indeed, the team is adding both male Viera and female Hrothgar to the game as customization options. Male Viera are further along (having received the most requests) and will be first to launch, followed at an undetermined point in the future with female Hrothgar. Given that the team has stated that they don’t intend on adding more races, this is probably the end of the road for new races (unless they change their minds later!) but it is cool to see them relent, and historically fits, given that Miqo’te and Roegadyn were both gender-locked in the original FFXIV launch only for the team to relent and add males and females to them (respectively).
Collector’s Editions, Pre-Orders, and Launch Dates
This one might be a smidge of a downer!
Given COVID delays, we knew the expectation was not a late-June/early July launch as normal, but instead going to be around 4 months out. Most speculation landed on October which felt reasonable, but the actual date goes a bit further (stretching the definition of Fall for some) – November 23rd, 2021.
As per usual, the expansion will have an early-access window for preorders starting on Friday before launch day, so on November 19th, most players (let’s be real) will jump in to Endwalker.
As usual, the game is launching with both standard and Collector’s Edition flavors, with Collector’s further subdividing into digital and physical. In the past, this meant that each platform had basically 3 versions – a physical CE box with game code, a digital CE download, and a standard edition you could buy on-disc at retail or could acquire online, add the code to your account, and be ready.
This time, the intent is that there will only be two versions for most platforms, and download/code vouchers will be the only way to buy the game. You can buy either the standard or Collector’s Edition digitally. But what about the physical goodies?
Well, PC (non-Steam because the game’s purchase methodology is kind of a mess) can choose 3 versions – physical CE, digital CE, or standard, while all the others get just digital options for standard or CE. To make this work better, however, the majority of physical CE’s are…gameless. Instead of selling you a $200 box of stuff with a game code included inside, they will sell you a $140 box of goodies with no game, and then you buy a digital CE or even standard edition separately. Non-Steam PC players are the only ones with the option to purchase a physical CE that includes the CE game key – which doesn’t really mean anything and in-fact simplifies the process.
In the past, if you bought the physical CE on pre-order, Square-Enix sent an early access code to allow you to play while the game box was shipped and if you didn’t get it by the drop-dead date on the EA code, you lost access to your expansion-exploring character until the actual game code was added. With this methodology, if you really still want that experience, you can get it if you play on PC, but for everyone else, it’s actually much simpler. You can preorder the game in your chosen flavor, get the pre-order bonuses and early access without limits, because your account is already updated, and then just get the box of goodies in the mail when they come, without any sort of time pressure to get the key added or miss out on playtime.
But what’s in the box?
Well, the physical CE is pretty damn cool. It has a new Warrior of Light statue based on the job selection in the trailer, so a Paladin this time. The paladin is posed in the defensive cooldown Passage of Arms, which looks great, and includes some adjustable effect pieces you can remove if you don’t like them. You also get an Azem pin (which is meaningful to those who’ve completed the 5.3 MSQ), a Loporrit plush (a new beast tribe in 6.0 that is a cute rabbit person), a set of art prints featuring all of Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork for the special edition cases in FFXIV, including the FFXIV 1.0 box art, along with the CG artwork from the 1.0 box of the WoL and a CG print of the Endwalker-dressed WoL for 6.0, with a final print of the Endwalker logo and a frame that can be used to display the prints. If you want this…a quick search shows Square Enix is currently already sold out of them, but has a waiting list and will likely have small numbers that go to retailers like investment meme Gamestop.
The digital CE goodies are the basics we’ve come to expect – a mount (named Arion, a 6-legged flying horse with armor and coloration to match the Endwalker-paladin theme of the WoL), a minion (Porom from FFIV), and a weapon for one of the new jobs (the Death Scythe, modeled after an FFXI weapon, usable only by Reapers). Then there are preorder in-game bonuses besides early access – the Menphina earrings (which boost XP for combat jobs up to level 80 and scale stats up to the same) and a Palom minion (creating a matching set of FFIV twins when combined with the CE items).
Pricing remains pretty static, with standard at $40, digital CE at $60, and the physical CE at $200 total ($140 for the box of goodies and $60 for the digital CE) with the only “new” option actually created being the choice of the standard edition of the game but the physical CE box, which would run a total of $180.
Square Enix has generally done a better job in recent years of making the CE worth the cost in terms of quality of items in the box as well as offering a good mix of in-game items and bonuses for the CE and the pre-order. I’d actually really like to see Blizzard consider the CE “box” option in the future – I tend to buy the preorder for instant access on launch day and then the box with another game code and it creates this complicated system of turning in the code for a refund or giving the physical CE code to a friend. Especially if they use the Shadowlands model of multiple tiers of special edition, I think being able to buy the goodies separately with the old-school CE box would be nice.
As for the launch date…yeah, I’m a smidge disappointed, and you know they expected that too, because they spent a not-insubstantial portion of time on stage discussing the semantics of a late-November launch being called “Fall.” At the same time, I think the quality of an FFXIV expansion is generally worth the wait, and what they’ve shown off so far is something I anticipate playing with minimal intrusions of cynicism, so I’m totally fine with it.
Oh yeah, also, the full trailer and theme song was the opener to the show, and the song has changed with full lyrics from Sam Carter of The Architects and a lot of homages – the theme samples both Heavensward’s and Stormblood’s themes when appropriate, and it really gives this impression of the finality of this story arc of the FFXIV tale through song, which is great.
That makes as good of an ending as any, so here’s the trailer! (Well, until we figure out who the mystery character at the top of the new expansion artwork is!)