Last night was a Producer Live Letter on FFXIV, and going in, most of us thought that it was going to be all sunshine and flowers on our way to an early access period two weeks away.
But we got the news right off the bat – Endwalker is pushed back two weeks, now with an official launch date of 12/7/2021 and Early Access date of 12/3/2021. The reasoning given was simple enough – some additional time spent in quality assurance to ensure the end result was solid. Given the timing of the release on Thanksgiving week in the US, I am glad for the delay (plus New World and WoW 9.1.5 have distracted me from farming my sweet jacket so more time is welcome). It also means for the Savage prog raiders that Pandemonium 1-4 Savage won’t be out until after Christmas, as opposed to right in the middle of that week.
That ended the bad news (well, real bad news anyways), and the rest was all uphill. With the delay announced, the full release schedule was confirmed, including the raid calendar (12/21 for normal Pandaemonium 1-4 and 1/4 for Savage), the new Tomestone names, and the release of the new treasure map map, The Excitatron 6000, which comes with the Savage raid release patch. We got a rundown of the new zones we’ll be visiting, including finally codifying the floating Amaurotine city art we’ve been seeing repeatedly as a zone, although with no name or other hints as to its true nature. We got the character recap, documenting the NPCs we’ll be seeing quickly (although the assumed Venat is named the Lady of the Light in these slides, hmmm), which is great for players who blitzed through the story or just need a refresher on basic history of each.
There was confirmation of role quests returning, which we did have anyways but they listed it as a feature with one new wrinkle – unlike Shadowbringers, which had level 80 job quests to cap off the experience and return to the NPCs we’d built our histories with, Endwalker will not have level 90 job quests. Studium deliveries in Old Sharlyan will be the new crafter/gatherer questing in line with the Shadowbringers Crystarium Deliveries, with 5 base questlines and a final capstone once all 5 are complete.
The team continues to keep the actual trials of the game under wraps, which is fascinating, as while we’ve had announcements of two old-school summons that would seem like viable Trial fodder (The Magus Sisters, Anima), we have reason to believe these may be misdirects for reasons I’ll get to in a spoilery section! They did share the name of the first wing of Pandaemonim – Asphodelos – and reconfirmed its release schedule.
For PvP players in FFXIV, your time is coming, as patch 6.1 will bring a new game mode in Crystal Conflict, a small-scale 5v5 PvP map where players are assigned mode-specific actions and a job-based Adrenaline Rush. The idea is for small, quick matches where role is less important, and to further enhance PvP, the team is adopting a seasonal approach of sorts, with Crystal Conflict being seasonal and having an accumulated pile of rewards for players to earn through play. They’re calling the Crystal Conflict mode “seasons” but there will also be a PvP-game wide Series, which will allow for unique rewards. They’re clearly still iterating on it, and the early details were shared with 6.1 as the target, so it will be a few months yet before we see the final version of all of this! As for Crystal Conflict itself, it plays somewhat like modes in team-shooters where the team has to get a mobile control point, assert dominance on it, and then push it to the end of their track. The map is small, but they have multiple CC maps already shown, with slightly different physical layouts in addition to thematic changes. I’ve only recently tried some FFXIV PvP, and it is actually somewhat enjoyable, so I look forward to how this shapes up!
Related to the seasonal PvP content, the team is looking at adding a “calling card” or business card system to the game, allowing you to customize your player search results for matches. It started off sounding very tied to PvP but it almost seemed like they realized as they talked that such a system would be fun engagement and could be given broadly as rewards for all kinds of content, so it will be interesting to see how PvP-anchored the final implementation of the idea is. Also a last PvP note, the Feast is being disabled as of 6.1. The Feast is the one super competitive mode of PvP I know of in FFXIV, and I haven’t played it at all, so I can’t say much about it. I may need to try it before it sunsets, though!
The big crafting and gathering change was the previously detail-less drop that HQ gatherables will be no more. Quests that require HQ items will be retooled to take HQ and NQ (in case you have some HQ still in your bags), deliveries that offer bonuses for HQ gatherables will be changed to improve the base rewards on offer since you can only offer NQ items, and actions that affected HQ yields will be changed. Because of how stat squish works in FFXIV, it also affects DoH/DoL gear, and so that gear’s stats and the recipe thresholds for progress and quality will also be adjusted to keep difficulty in-line with current expectations (this will be the fascinating one to watch, because WoW tradeskills are on a whole different system that has no interaction with stat squishes!). For gatherers, a result of all of this is that Perception as a stat will change, going from offering quality increases to having a higher chance per Perception to trigger “Gatherer’s Boon” which increases yield by one item. HQ yield actions will also adjust to now improve the chances of proc’ing this new bonus.
Fishing gets some interesting changes, with the removal of HQ now just offering larger fish and improving collectability, and spearfishing now triggers a minigame with its own UI to harpoon the fish. Lastly for crafting, levequests will be adjusted across the board, with several that demand an increase of turn-in items being nerfed and others being buffed.
Speaking of scaling and adjusting, as many expected, the stat squish will also flatten XP values, both required for leveling and rewarded for content completion. The goal is as it ever is with a squish – the same amount of activity and time is required, but the numbers are reduced. What is unlike when WoW has done this is that if you are mid-level, instead of attempting to scale you within the current level based on requirements, which usually meant that you were a magic pixel away from the next level, in FFXIV, the adjustment will be down – if you are 55.5 on a job currently, you will emerge in 6.0 at 55 flat and be left to re-earn the experience you had accumulated in that 55-56 journey. The explanation given is understandable (the way their database is set up seemingly disallows a more graceful value switch) but it also feels like a problem that could have been solved. Either way, this may mean that a practical solution for jobs in progress is to nudge them over the finish line to their next level and then leave them until 6.0 to avoid excessive loss of XP progress.
We get two new tomestones – Aphorism as our limitless launch farm for base endgame gear, and then 4 weeks after launch with Savage comes Astronomy. The slide mentions weapon exchange cost in tomestones being reduced from 1,000 to 500, but I wasn’t quite clear on what that meant and if it would affect raid weapons or just that first-tier basic weapon upgrade you can usually get from the tomestone vendor. Crafting and Gathering get Purple scrips as their new currency.
The achievement UI is being updated to look like a journal, with a list of near completion and recommended achievements in separate tabs you can review and chase after. Other small tweaks are being made, like being able to G-pose with a Bard instrument in Perform, the “Back on your Feet” company action being replaced to only increase sprint duration while in cities, and a random lootbox item being added to Grand Company Seal Exchanges, with a chance to contain a mount or minion. System-wise, FFXIV will with 6.0 support Emboy’s Immerse Spatial Audio, a sound modifier that uses the shape of your ear from a photo to create an immersive emulated surround sound through headphones. This is a third-party service that costs $20 USD or the equivalent in most local currencies, and requires that you send Embody a photo of your ears for them to complete the mapping. Once purchased and installed, you can enable it in FFXIV and the game will natively process the tweaked sound profile of Immerse Spatial.
Housing was probably one of the bigger bombshells, as we got the 6.1 housing rundown and the way the lottery will work for housing from 6.1 forward.
Firstly, the Empyreum, aka The Firmament, aka Ishgard Housing, finally opens for all in 6.1. Like with Shirogane in Stormblood, players will be able to tour the housing area in 6.0, with no purchases until 6.1. With 6.0, however, changes to housing start in earnest. Players can not relocate to land that is not ready for purchase, which will prevent a group of camping players being beaten by an existing homeowner transferring their estate.
In 6.1, housing really fundamentally changes, as land devaluation will be removed, brand-new members of a Free Company can no longer be given FC Master rank or the ability to manage land holdings for an FC, and the housing lottery is being added. In order to buy a house, you need at least one job at level 50 or higher, with Second Lieutenant rank or higher in your Grand Company, and another character on your service account for FFXIV cannot own a plot on the same server, as that will prevent you from entering the lottery for a plot (unless you are the current house-owning character trying to relocate that house, which will allow lottery entry). Within a Free Company, the rules are similar in 6.1 – if you are trying to buy for a company, you need to be in an FC with the necessary authorizations for land management in the company, the FC itself must be at least rank 6 and have at least 4 members, and you must not have another character on your service account and server that owns an FC house plot. The hope here is to likely prevent situations like the one we currently have on Gilgamesh, where a Free Company owns a majority of the plots on the server through what seems like alts buying up all the land. It’s a reasonable solution for the Empyreum, which will likely have more competitive and available housing as a result, but it likely won’t fix the larger problems like the one I mentioned above, unless the rules are put into place retroactively and people are pushed out of having 80 estates for their Free Company, which is a solution that, right or wrong, is also unlikely to be implemented by Square Enix.
The housing lottery is on a fixed schedule that is global to all worlds and housing areas, with a period of “several days” to put in a lottery entry and a period of “several days” more after for the winners to claim the land and lay down their base estate. Players can only enter a single lottery entry each period by interacting with the placard at their chosen plot and paying the cost of the plot in-full. You cannot withdraw once entered, and if you lose the lottery, you get the money back. If you win, you get the land, but if you don’t claim it before the end of the claim timer, you forfeit half of your deposit and you do not get the land. There is also a limited timeframe mentioned for getting your money back if you lose, so it seems like housing involvement will go from mindless clicking and macroing at the placard to a simple three-step process – picking an available plot, entering your number 1 choice’s lottery, and then either building or reclaiming your deposit.
Lastly, there is an Oceania data center going up, with a now-confirmed February 2022 opening. This data center will be called Materia, and it will use normal New World classification bonuses to pull players in with free world transfers and the Road to 70 (will it be Road to 80 by then. maybe?) enabled.
Wait, did I say that was it? There was also the ever-juicy launch trailer!
From here on out, it is pure speculation but also may include spoilers, so be warned!
*SPOILERS STARTING NOW*
Okay, so this trailer, as we all imagined, is packed to the absolute brim with speculation-inducing bits and juicy dialogue.
One of the first things we see really clearly is the party of Scions and the WoL leaving Limsa on a boat. Geographically, this makes sense as a boat leaving to Limsa’s west would be sailing for Old Sharlayan. It seems most likely that our first destination will be Old Sharlayan and Labyrinthos.
Following that, we get a lot of emphasis on Amaurot, with the final days raging superimposed with shots of new zones embroiled in similar flame. Emet-Selch is on deck with what sounds to me like new narration, which is interesting! Although I will also say that it could be the repurposing of his taunting us to meet on the seafloor at the Tempest from ShB, which being used in this context is fascinating – is our mystery zone…below the surface somewhere? Maybe…at the center of the moon? We get dungeon scenes interplayed with dialogue from Alphinaud, which seems to be a misdirect – my guess is that most of the dialogue is from Sharlayan while the scene cuts to Garlemald and mixes in what sounds like genuine dialogue for Garlemald as a part of the misdirection. The Lady of the Light (it’s Venat, right?) tells us that we’ll have our conviction tested, likely for our affiliation with the Light. The line “in Darkness, seek joy” is surely something that we’ll see in response to a tragedy of some sort, or for a turn into Darkness as we move towards Zodiark? The footage playing is the Tower of Zot, the first dungeon, and itself a massive roadblock to trial thoughts, as it is the level 81 dungeon confirmed in Media Tour, but the bosses are…the Magus Sisters, two of three individually and a final fight with all 3, which sort of dampens the idea of a trial with them but doesn’t exclude it!
We then see a shot of a dungeon that appears to be made of light crystals floating in space…I love the visual and I am achingly curious about what it means! The line “walk free, and bear the light for others to follow” sounds so interesting. Firstly, on a textual level, the video shows Fourchenault Leveilleur with his prickish frown in Old Sharlayan, which might indicate some darkness there, but on an analytical level, I cannot help but read it as the final words of Hydaelyn. If the main arc of 6.0 is the conclusion of Hydaelyn and Zodiark as our main plot movers, then it makes so much sense that we would be tasked with being the light to guide the world. I can’t even handle the subtext and speculation that would prompt – if Hydaelyn dies, what happens to our powers, the Echo? If we are to play the beacon for everyone else, in what way will that differ from our current duties? I’ll come back to this in a moment.
We get to see an Anima attack animation against a solo WoL. That doesn’t have to mean anything and feels like a misdirect to me, but I wanted to point it out all the same. Anima was one of the most interesting visual kits in FFX and I love that they’ve taken a lot of effort to keep the look but in much higher detail, and knowing what Anima was in FFX tickles the brain with what could be here!
But then was the moment that has gotten me most interested. A voice, a new, soft female voice, with a simple line. “Come, let me relieve you of your burden. You’ve suffered enough.” Said while the Warrior of Light clenches the crystal of Azem in his hand.
What, oh what, could that mean? Who could that be? The backdrop is not unlike the final stretch of Amaurot – skies of chaotic purple and black, red rocks all around – who is the character and what is the context? The suspense is killing me (in a good way)!
We see what looks like a mix of solo and dungeon play environments with cutscene mixing as Alisaie offers her observation that the Final Days are truly, definitely here, yep. We get a sizzle reel of what is likely cutscenes, with civilians being frightened by all manner of what I can best describe as “mouth monsters.” “Twas a grand, glorious dream we shared” is said as what looks like a Garlean looks at the banner of Garlemald, cutting back to mouth monsters running loose. The words “I won’t lose them, not a one!” echo out, in what sounded to me like Estinien’s voice? Alisaie’s voice is heard suggesting fleeing, while Thancred (I think) says “we’ve come too far to back down now.” Ooh, a surefire difficult combat for the whole group?
A dirty-faced Lady of Light is then seen walking the streets of Amaurot in the Final Days, a sorrowful look on her face. We see more light crystals being walked on and then Zenos standing opposite his throne, with the WoL, head down and shoulders sagging, seated on it. “Where so ever there is suffering and despair, you appear, to fulfill your duty as defender of this star,” he says, which seems to be leadingly framed in some ways (do we bring the suffering and despair?). We get a montage of prior WoL eras, a mix of old cutscene footage from prior launch trailers and some original cuts to show the progression in Shadowbringers, as Fandaniel comes up to offer his dialogue at last, wanting to “reclaim the perfect paradise we once had,” which seems…very different than his stated goals in the Shadowbringers post-patch content! We finally also see what looks like Zodiark being summoned, a backdrop of Amaurotines in chorus and another shot of Ascian masks surrounding us, before we summon the Azem circle again ourselves to close out the main trailer.
Then, we get the ending giant red flag. In Shadowbringers, this was the insinuation from Emet-Selch that Hydaelyn and Zodiark are merely Primals, summoned by the will of their believers. In Endwalker’s trailer, this is a monologue from Alphinaud about how glad he is to be at the side of the Scions, a thought he must share now, for “tomorrow is never guaranteed” while the trailer cuts to a cast collage shot, minus Alphinaud.
Unpacking the Trailer
So, uh, wow. There’s a lot to takeaway, and I didn’t want to necessarily describe the whole trailer, but I found it necessary to expand on some points.
Firstly, the trials being secretive like this suggests a degree of misdirection. The Tower of Zot from Media Tour would seem to indicate that Magus Sisters are not to be a trial, which means against our normal launch of 3 trials, we know maybe 1 of them is Anima. Even then, in Shadowbringers, they didn’t hesitate to tell us that Innocence was a trial, even as all the context around him was left empty to be discovered, and the same was true of Titania, who had ample footage in the early period of Shadowbringers hype. That leaves me to suspect that even Anima is not even a trial boss but instead something else. If that is indeed the case, then we have 3 big question marks as trials for launch, which is a big baller move and likely means that the story is going to be so heavily tied in here that we’ll be building to them over the launch window. I suspect at least one would be Zodiark, but Hydaelyn herself being another would also not surprise me and I think the thing about the lore for now is that there are a lot of possibilities. Zenos could be one as well, although in what form, who knows, and he may well serve to bridge us into a bigger trial against Zodiark or Hydaelyn all the same.
Amaurot being central to the experience is not a surprise, as it was the seed planted early in Shadowbringers to pull us in the Endwalker direction, but what I find quite interesting is that with the floating island zone having distinct Amaurotine features (curling spires, art-deco architecture and design) that we seem likely to find multiple Amaurotine hiding places – Mare Lamentorum uses a clearly-Amaurotine aetheryte and the design of the castle there has doors suited for them, while the chorus of Amaurotines in the trailer may well be hidden away ones or some sort of spirit effect of summoning Zodiark. Either way, the Amaurot leitmotifs in music are my favorite, and the idea of multiple zones calling back to it fills me with joy.
The focus on the Lady of Light is interesting, as it seems that she is perhaps not strictly an ally. She is obviously connected to Hydaelyn, although in what form or fashion remains to be confirmed. It seems logical that she would be Venat, the member of the Convocation of the Fourteen that turned to the light and summoned Hydaelyn in response to Zodiark’s summoning, although we then have to find the line drawn between Ascian and Amaurotine – most of the game says no more unsundered Ascians remain, but if that was used specifically as a category for those loyal to Zodiark, then she could still be around, and it would make sense if she withdrew from being the heart of Hydaelyn as Elidibus did in that role within Zodiark. I sense unease in the interactions we do see with her, as it seems like what happened in Amaurot was painful to her, but now that we know we are the soul of Azem, the one Amaurotine in the Convocation that went their own way separate from both paths presented, I suspect there will be some reason for conflict between us and Venat/the LOL. In fact, my biggest speculation is that we get Venat suffused with Hydaelyn as Minfilia was for her final appearances prior to Shadowbringers, but there is likely a separate Venat voice and my guess is that Venat is the soft feminine voice promising to relive us our burden in the trailer. Just a guess and not a particularly well-grounded one, but I think it would make some sense and it feels fairly clear that conflict with Hydaelyn is in the cards at some point.
I think we are likely to see that Sharlayan is somehow serving one side or another of this conflict. They seem to downplay the significance of the Final Days and refuse to help with the Shadowbringers finale, so it seems reasonable to suspect foul play there. Labyrinthos is an underground zone itself, as described on the special site for the expansion, and so it seems like the Sharlayans may very well have prepared a contingency for themselves in the event that the surface is uninhabitable after the Final Days. I think Fourchenault may well find himself questioning the Sharlayan path, especially if his adherence to it costs him the lives of his twin children…but I’ll come back to that.
Fandaniel seems to have true motivations that hew closer to that of the other major Ascian figures, although to what extent or how he arrives there remains to be seen. It would be interesting and yet predictable if his seeming insanity was a cover for a list of objectives he wants to arrive at with cunning trickery, and so I think it is reasonable to expect that he will turn at some point towards a more nuanced characterization. If Zodiark is indeed a Primal, which is well-established in the game’s lore now, it stands to reason that Fandaniel is tempered, held in thrall to his god, and his behavior would be in-line with that idea.
Lastly, the closing monologue.
So first, the trailer on its face seems to set us up with the idea that Alphinaud might be dead by the end of Endwalker’s base MSQ. The whole ending sequence of the trailer is a massive set of red flags – him speaking to the value of friendship and having everyone at his side, the urgency of speaking those thoughts now because “tomorrow is never promised,” and the final character montage having everyone except for Alphinaud in it. Giant, massive fucking red flags. Sure, you could say that the character collage is everyone Alphinaud is speaking to, and there’s maybe something to that as the FFXIV team loves misdirects in the expansion trailers, but those tasty lore morsels we get at the end in those post-credits sequences are usually true – the Shadowbringers trailer ending was, in fact, the lore that set us on our current path!
Obviously, the art of a good trailer is the use of obvious red flags and less obvious ones to draw attention and speculation out, and boy, this definitely got the job done, as it fits a handful of parts of the whole trailer to tell a harrowing story.
And so we land here, with 4 weeks now to go but the morsels of content dispensed and waiting, and I am still very excited. In some ways, the delay is great news actually – not having an internal monologue fighting about what to do on Thanksgiving because I want to play the game, not having Savage raiding starting over Christmas, and making sure the developers get that last chance to make sure everything is perfect for what is surely their biggest launch to-date. It also, somewhat ironically, inverts the old hype cycle – where FFXIV used to announce a date, stay firm, and then Blizzard would counter-program with WoW, we now have the opposite, as official launch day is the same day that the two week Legion Timewalking event begins. I think it’s a strong play, to be honest – they know at this point they can win a PR fight with Blizzard with one hand tied behind their back, and so watching most WoW creators instead run over to FFXIV for a big chunk of new MSQ seems like an easy layup to me.
But all that I took away from this live letter is a sense of absolute bubbling hype for Endwalker, that makes me really want it now even while I also think the dev team made a good move in delaying to polish just that much more.