(Spoiler alert – all kinds of FFXIV spoilers for content from 1.0 through to 5.55 are here, and speculation on the Endwalker trailer and details we have so far. Be warned!)
I’ve been spending my waking moments the last several weeks watching Quazii play through the MSQ of Final Fantasy XIV. His perspective is interesting and one that I find a lot of myself in – a longtime WoW player, disenfranchised with that game, coming to FFXIV fresh and in awe of the story of the game. It also makes for a faster, more digestible means of reliving the MSQ from the past as the hype train speeds ever forward towards Endwalker in November.
With that, however, I’ve found a lot of interesting points that have been explored and left hanging, including several I forgot about, and so here I am now, wracking my brain over the possibilities that exist for us to explore in Endwalker. The biggest reason I want to do this now is that it’s fresh in my mind from watching Quazii’s playthrough, but the next biggest reason is that there are a lot of threads left to resolve, and the assumption of the “Endwalker story concludes in 6.0” idea the development team has floated would lead me to believe that all of these will be revisited at some point of the launch experience. Also, the FFXIV team loves doing that kind of thing – seeing the Warriors of Darkness content from Heavensward again made that quite clear!
So, let’s dive in.
The Big, Obvious One: The True Nature of Hydaelyn and Zodiark
The biggest tease, and perhaps the most disappointing one in Shadowbringers, as it was used in the launch week trailer only to not be paid off in Shadowbringers at all as of yet, is the true nature of Hydaelyn and Zodiark. Prior to that point, our understanding of the two were as gods – forces that had always been a part of the order of things. Emet-Selch and the mural of Qitana Ravel undid our understanding completely, however – instead making clear that the both of them were primals of a sort – summoned by people through a massive amount of aether and a belief in the forces of Darkness (and Light). The question is, then, functionally, what does it mean? Emet-Selch was careful in his choice of words and that leads to a lot of open issues – is the Echo a form of Tempering from Hydaelyn? Is the Ascian cycle of sundering and reformation a similar idea to the Echo and thus also a form of Tempering for Zodiark, if so? We’ve seen both an Oracle of Light and Darkness in Shadowbringers, are these roles things that exist for regular Primals, or is that special to Hydaelyn and Zodiark? The implications of Amaurot and the story of 5.3 is that Azem was not a part of the group summoning Hydaelyn, and it remains sort of curious as to why that is.
At a core though, the big question of these two is their true nature, what it means for them to be Primals and not gods, and if that then means that we can or will be tasked with defeating them.
The Echo and Its Persistence
There has been a fair amount of effort poured into adding depth to the storytelling surrounding the Echo in the recent lore of FFXIV. In Stormblood, we had the Resonant and that was explored via Zenos and Fordola, with the implication that it can be artificially created in a way. The question from above extends here too, as if the Echo is a part of our gift from Hydaelyn, but the implication is that it creates a resistance to tempering by itself being tempering to Hydaelyn. That then raises questions about primal tempering and our ability now to undo it via the methods discovered and used in the story of patch 5.4, and all of that then loops back neatly to a huge question – if our Echo is indeed due to Hydaelyn, what would happen were Hydaelyn to fall?
The Dissolution of the Garlean Empire and The Remaining Factions
In Stormblood, the concept of mutiny and disarray within the Empire was front and center for much of the patch story, and our frequent flashbacks to the Source and to Garlemald during Shadowbringers help to cement this story beat. Garlemald has been in chaos, with Ala Mhigo and Doma both regaining their freedom from the Empire, then the pushback of the Bozjans during the Resistance Weapon questing, and all the while, there have been factions within Garlemald, like the Populares, who have been in disagreement with the Ascian-born aspirations of the Garlean rulers. Then, there’s the matter of the death of Emperor Varis at the hands of his son Zenos, the continued tale of the defection of Gaius Baelsar and his orphan children (the one that lives, anyways), and the nature of the Telophoroi as led by Zenos and the Ascian Fandaniel.
Our own adventure into Garlemald is a part of the expansion story for Endwalker, so it seems likely that we’ll get the answers to many of these. I would expect to see the return of Maxima of the Populares, to see the Populares as a faction that players will work with against the forces that remain loyal to the ideal of the Empire, but at the same time, the curveball is to wonder just who we’ll be up against. It is easy to assume there is a swath of Garlemald loyal to the idea of the Empire, but at the same time, the Empire has been in complete chaos due to the actions of Zenos, the failure of Valens and his Weapon projects, and the near-complete unraveling of Garlean society as a result, so perhaps such a faction does not exist – or would be hostile to us for different reasons.
What The Final Days Being Re-Enacted Actually Means
The core of Endwalker is a simple-enough premise – we’ve seen the Final Days as recreated for us via Amaurot in Shadowbringers, and now we will see a version of the very same concept on the Source. What remains somewhat unclear is the nature of how it will unfold. In the original version, on The Star, the Final Days were brought about by the Amaurotines losing control of their powers of creation, with their visions getting increasingly darker and more lethal until the abominations they were summoning were far beyond what the Amaurotines could handle, leading to the summoning of Zodiark, the counter-summoning of Hydaelyn, and the Sundering. Most Eorzeans are not wielders of incredible summoning and creation magicks, however, and thus it seems unlikely to be a perfect 1:1. The broad strokes seem to be there from the trailer – the invasion of countless fiends beyond imagining, fires and destruction across large portions of the world, and no clear solution in mind. I suppose the simplest route to recreate the Final Days would be to force the invasion, as it seems the Telophoroi have already sown the seeds for, and then to use the despair it creates to summon Zodiark, expecting us to counter with Hydaelyn. If that is how it goes, the question then remains as to how we avert it, or even if we can. There is an obvious answer that we must be able to, because FFXIV is an MMO with a growing roster of legacy content that strengthens the game, but there are ways around that (what’s the Bronze Dragonflight doing here?) but I think that the idea of a Sundering of the Source is not off the table, given the penchant for dramatic storytelling and the way that would weave a strong new setting for a story beyond Zodiark and Hydaelyn, beyond the base of FFXIV v1.0 and the A Realm Reborn additions.
Even assuming we avert the worst possible calamity of this reenactment, the question then remains how we pull it off and what accomplishing that means. A lot of curious possibilities exist there!
The Nature Of Dark and Light
A part of the story raised on the First during Shadowbringers, which was tied to the sort-of unsatisfyingly dropped Black Rose subplot, is that the nature of elemental charts on the Source were inverted compared to the First, where Darkness on the First is seen as the active element, the combination of all colors and Light is viewed as stillness, inert in its actions, but the reverse is seen as true on the Source. What has yet to directly be answered is if the interpretation on the Source is correct or incorrect, and what it would mean if so. Ultimately, the elemental chart is a datapoint derived by people, fallible ones at that, so it is not a 100% untouchable source of truth on either shard. It also bears questions as to the meaning of those definitions and how they would apply in reality – are we to expect that Hydaelyn will not act unless she must, and if so, then are we going to spend most of the expansion working with/against Zodiark? How does that apply with Venat entering the scene as we conclude Shadowbringers 5.55? Speaking of…
What Is The Deal With Venat?
Elidibus was the heart of Zodiark and became our prime villain for much of the main story from ARR through to 5.3, when we banished his spirit to the Crystal Tower. Elidibus was fully convinced of the might of Zodiark but separated himself from Zodiark, becoming a primal in his own right, with a singular directive to bring about the Rejoining in order to return Zodiark to life. The question, then, is that if Venat is now split from Hydaelyn, as she appears to be in the very final moments of the Shadowbringers story – is Venat herself also a Primal? Is she seeking something similar to Elidibus with Zodiark, acting in her own way to bring about champions of the Light to force the reappearance of Hydaelyn? In many ways, that would explain a lot – the weakness of Hydaelyn’s voice throughout the story, her rare appearances and use of emissaries and messengers over direct speech to us, as she once did when the story of ARR began, and her general absence from much of the plot since Heavensward when Her voice returned to us, albeit briefly.
The real questions I have are all related to the nature of Venat as a character. In many ways, her sudden appearance feels quite a bit like that of Emet-Selch, who was serving to bring back Zodiark for what he believed were noble ends. Much of Shadowbringers was us questioning the goodness of the Light, wondering openly if Hydaelyn is the benevolent force we once believed and if serving Her unquestioningly is a wise course of action. This is a question that has been asked throughout the game with some consistency, as Midgardsormr challenges us by removing our bond with Hydaelyn and we thus spend most of Heavensward acting of our own accord, the Warriors of Darkness then question if serving Hydaelyn is a good thing given that the Light is ravaging their home, and then the aforementioned hooks in Shadowbringers bring this question to full focus. All of this leads me to wondering if Venat will not, perhaps, be a villian of sorts in the expansion. While there is an obvious threat in Zenos and Fandaniel, it remains to be seen how much they’ll be an active threat versus creating the bizarre kinship that Zenos clearly sees in us. Venat would be an excellent twist – an Ascian, one that is aligned with us at a surface level but also represents a force that is broadly coming to be seen as a threat in its own right in the Light.
The Sharlayans And Who They Work For
This one is a lot of speculation on my part, but let’s roll with it for a minute. The appearance of Forchenault Leveilleur in Patch 5.55’s story is one that raises a lot more questions than it answers, as while it seems like a slam dunk that he would want to follow in his father’s footsteps at the behest of his own children, no less, he instead does quite the opposite, disowning the twins and stating that the Sharlayan way is to “chart the course of history, not change it.” He also dismisses the Final Days as propaganda, not willing to entertain the notion for even a second. This all raises a lot of questions, which G’raha Tia helps us start on by stating that the manner in which the elder Leveilleur discussed the Final Days suggests that the Sharlayans know more than they are letting on.
Given that, it seems possible and even somewhat likely to suggest that the Sharlayans may be in league with the Telophoroi, or at the very least, content to live the Final Days in relative peace, not unlike the Eulmorans who went along with Vauthry’s hedonistic hell to ensure their own comfort as the Flood took over the First. If they are not in league with the Telophoroi, then it raises further questions – about why Sharlayan seems largely untouched by the towers and the fiends that are crawling all over Eorzea in the trailers (and indeed, they may still be affected and we just are not shown that in the trailer), about the plans of Sharlayan to handle the Final Days for their own people, and then why were are still ultimately allowed entry to Old Sharlayan. Would Fourchenault be willing to let his children suffer to fight against the Final Days, or will he have a change of heart? We have other Sharlayan characters who could intervene, most notably Krile, who is already setup as our bridge forward into that story by the events of 5.55. It is an interesting bit of full-circle storytelling all the same – Louisoix sacrificed the empty ideals of Sharlayan in favor of direct action to aid against the Calamity, and now his son is opposed to acting against a new calamity befalling Eorzea. Will he remain resolute in the notions of Sharlayan against action, or will we see him change his mind and ultimately make a similar sacrifice for his children and their future? Or will he instead watch his children die for their ideals and be wracked with guilt (or anger at us)? There are a lot of potential options there – and which path ultimately unfolds depends on a lot of factors!
I could probably write more, but given that this is my first speculative lore post about Final Fantasy XIV, I should probably give it some room to breathe!