Okay, now let’s get into the juicy parts of the patch.
Endwalker continues forward with its unique approach to the FFXIV patch design cycle – in gameplay terms, much of the patch fits with the cycle we’ve seen in each previous expansion, and yet in story terms, the game is telling a completely self-contained and unique story that won’t be solely continuing into 7.0. Characters likely will, and some elements may have roots planted here, but the main arc is intended, by the dev team’s admission, to end by 6.5, covering the full 5 major patches of Endwalker.
That means that just like 6.1, we’re sort of in interesting territory with no clear expectations. What did we get?
The Deft Hand Of Fanservice
FFXIV, more than any other FF title, wants you to know that it is a Final Fantasy title and that it has the entire canon of each FF title at its disposal. The first Alliance Raid series was a throwback to FFIII, Eden raids last expansion were an FFVIII nostalgia trip in small ways, and Endwalker has been tribute after tribute to one of the most well-regarded mainline FF titles – Final Fantasy IV.
The base 6.0 MSQ has a lot of tributes to FFIV while not specifically leaning on it too heavily – the Warrior of Light, fresh off a job change from Dark Knight to Paladin, embarks on a journey to save the world from certain doom, a quest that leads them through two towers taken right from that FF title and then leads our hero to the moon. The outline and some specific bits of content have clear references to FFIV, but then FFXIV goes its own way to a new original plot that involves the resolution of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark storyline, which takes us a bit afield of the FFIV loveletter.
The patch cycle of Endwalker has brought this back into focus by using character names, designs, and plot beats that all very specifically and more directly tie in to FFIV. Our trial series for the expansion is now clearly the Four Archfiends of that game, although the ordering is different and the current setup leaves 1-2 potential holes that could be interesting. Our main villain is now clearly named as Golbez, and the nature of him as a villain sets up some interesting ideas about where things could go. 6.2 adds Zero, who has a couple of parallels to different characters. On the name front, my first move as someone only vaguely familiar with FFIV was Zeromus, the true end villain of that game, but there are a lot of parallels drawn between FFXIV’s Zero and Rosa, a protagonist of FFFIV, mostly because her domain on the Thirteenth bears resemblance to Baron, a town in FFIV (at least in terms of layout).
But for me, what I appreciate about this story is that it manages to be both fanservice for FFIV fans while also feeling like a proper and integrated part of the FFXIV story. The story presented is an FFXIV story, with the characters getting fresh and full introductions that wink and nod at FFIV fans while being complete enough to do for people who did not play FFIV. Even then, the characters are given a distinct FFXIV story arc and development that uses elements of the FFIV character in a new and novel way. Scarmiglione is a fiend and a sort of cowardly-yet-powerful entity, but the FFXIV version has a full backstory rewrite, with the original form of Scarmiglione being a cowardly military general who was buried alive by someone further up the chain. You get this flavor of how he ended up that way and get to see how Golbez was able to play that up to recruit him, in a way that both honors the original FFIV depiction but takes it and expands on it with a unique twist for FFXIV.
And so we end the patch with half of the Archfiends defeated, but in a unique order compared to FFIV, with Golbez self-confessing to being on a warpath (although in what way?) and with the startling revelation that Golbez appears to have been to the moon of the Thirteenth and perhaps killed its version of The Watcher, which appears to have been the inciting event for the flood of Darkness that engulfed that world. This leads us in a few possible directions.
Firstly, the remaining two Archfiends, Rubicante of fire and Cagnazzo of water, must be dealt with, but they seem prepared to team up, which creates an interesting scenario. The early setup of the patch puts us on a clear trajectory to have Rubicante, Cagnazzo, and Golbez (perhaps) as the trial series remnants, but if the remaining fiends are a tag-team battle, then that leaves a slot open. Likewise, if Golbez is not a trial, then that would leave two openings when paired with that prior note. There’s reason to believe this could be the case too – in FFIV, Golbez has something of a face turn most of the way through the story, with it being revealed that Zemus (aka Zeromus) was controlling him the whole time, and so it remains possible that such a turn could happen here as well. If he follows the FFIV path, nothing we’ve heard from Golbez thus far would be the real man behind the mask, and that creates some potential for other plots. The involvement of the moon could point to a reprise of the Zemus/Zeromus story, although that then makes Zero suspicious, at least because the name feels very on-the-nose, which is either intentional as a “please look forward to it” element or as a misdirection.
Secondly, we’ve seen precious little of Azdaja, the whole reason we are on the Thirteenth looking. The FFIV comparison would be the Shadow Dragon, but that isn’t a given just yet, as Azdaja is serving more as a meal and less as a formidable servant in her own right. That could change with time, of course! – but for now, it remains sort of ominously hovering, something that is not being said explicitly in the story of FFXIV yet but is echoing loudly for the FFIV-heads in the audience.
Lastly, we’ve been introduced to Zero as a new NPC character to keep with us, and through her, we’ve learned much about the Thirteenth – about the Contramemoria war, about Memoria as a technique, and about how voidsent society is ordered and functional. Despite the appearances of the world, the Thirteenth is not a chaotic hellscape – it is a scarred and broken but working world, where the life still there has established a sort of running rules of society. In spite of the big question mark about Zero’s hook into the FFIV nostalgia of the story, she serves a very real and good purpose here, creating the set dressing of the 13th that gives us a clear setting and stakes. She’s also a very humanizing force for the Voidsent – giving us this peek behind the veil of monstrosity to reveal the very real and human nature of the voidsent.
While 6.0 was the “end” of Hydaelyn and Zodiark, their impact on the world of Etheirys and the shards remains intact, and we will likely see more of this, as was made clear with both the moon flashback scene with Golbez and the fact that Hydaelyn’s crystal restored Zero from her voidsent familiar pact with Zenos. In fact, it feels like we will be speedrunning the Shadowbringers story in the other direction, trying to restore Light to a world engulfed by Darkness. This will almost certainly bring around Cylva and Unukalhai, both of whom have things to say to you on the First if you go back and tell them you went to their world (which requires you doing all the Shadowbringers role quests including the capstone quest, which requires you having done the complete Warring Triad trial series in Heavensward, but a lot of players are able to do that!), and their comments hit on exactly this note, as do the final sequences with Zero.
In a way, it’s great storytelling because the fanservice is dripping from this content, but it comes with full context within FFXIV that means you don’t have to have any awareness of FFIV to enjoy it. In fact, the trick here is great – if you are unaware of FFIV’s connection to the plot, you have more room to speculate, while FFIV fans have their corkboards and yarn out to start diagramming all the connections and possible routes things could go in!
When Pandaemonium was said to be the main raid series of Endwalker, it raised a lot of questions – presenting us with a half-masked Lahabrea as the key art for the raids. This made little sense at the time – Lahabrea had been soundly defeated and trapped in Ascalon and so the idea of him returning made no sense at that time – which isn’t to say it wouldn’t make sense, but that players were rightly kind of scratching their heads in wonder.
Now, oh now, the headscratching is reaching the level of bloody scalps – in the best possible way.
The story of Asphodelos was scene-setting and largely not that important – we get our characters, establish that Lahabrea has a son and that Elidibus (Themis) is investigating (while not explicit in the 6.0 content, it was very clear from the voiceover post-credits to introduce the raid, with Themis monologuing about Pandaemonium with the Elidibus voice), with guidance from Azem. We also note that something is going horribly wrong, as interred creations are wandering the halls and creating issues for the overwhelmed son Ericthonios, who is trying his level best to master containment magicks while noting that none of the keywards of Pandaemonium seem to be around.
Abyssos changes all of that, as we get a ton of deep, deep lore that sets the foundation for more of what is happening in Pandaemonium. We learn that the death of Athena, Ericthonios’ mother and Lahabrea’s lover, was something of a noble act – Lahabrea found her experimenting on Ericthonios as a means of finding a way to ascend into godhood, and so the young Lahabrea merged with Athena, taking on her memories and then purging that from himself, eschewing his name Hephaistos to become Lahabrea in both title and name. With Athena’s knowledge, he could not trust himself to not pursue her research, and so the purging of those memories was meant to discard them into a memory crystal, out of reach. However, this crystal was not destroyed, and it manifested as a fully separate Hephaistos, who becomes the boss of P8 and is the main troublemaker at the core of the Pandemonium raid series.
However, there is a new problem bubbling up – or a few. Hephaistos’ goal was to resurrect Athena, taking Ericthonios to try and use him to help in that process, preying upon his affection for his mother and his grief over her loss, the nature of which was never explained to him – Lahabrea was willing to endure his hatred in order to safeguard his son.
All of this gives a lot of context to the Ancients and their society, and ties in well with what we saw in Shadowbringers through Amaurot, Akaedemia Anyder, and Anamnesis Anyder, as well as the character arcs there of Emet-Selch and Elidibus. Lahabrea has been hinted at in this content, mostly through Akaedemia Anyder, and yet his role in all of it has been relatively secretive in the lore. That has changed now, as we can see that while creation was his focus, he had a lot going on with the nature of life and being and was a (relatively) good and duty-bound individual working to better the world. In many ways, it hits the high-notes of Emet-Selch – single-minded focus on duty and kinship which warped his mind over centuries left alone, acting alone in concert with the few remaining Ascians as his sanity slipped and the people he lived and worked for faded out one by one. It does a lot to evolve Lahabrea from his sort of cackling, one-dimensional version from ARR and Heavensward and gives him a lot of the pathos and meaning that Emet-Selch was revealed to have over the course of Shadowbringers (with his reprise in Endwalker solidifying that).
And then the biggest twist happens – if you felt like Abyssos was speed-running elements of the Elpis story or wondered what role the Labyrinthos cast would have in the raid as a whole, we get an idea at the very end of the raid story this patch – Pandaemonium….appears in the Aetherial Sea!
During the Abyssos story, Claudien, the lead researcher at Aporia, takes off for Azys Lla – the crystal that was discovered that started this whole journey spoke to him, telling him of a matching crystal there he needs to find. Claudien also has a striking resemblance to Ericthonios, if you squint hard enough and give him some red hair dye. I’m sure that’s not going to be at all relevant!
Anyways, as you do the raid series, the assistants are rather worried about Claudien, as his work has faltered of late and he seems to have almost a single-minded obsession with the crystal and Pandaemonium. He doesn’t return, but we take a trip down to the Aitiascope, and sure enough, Pandaemonium is just floating there in the Aetherial Sea. Through reflection, the raid story has set a clear enough path forward – the memory crystal, drained of color, seems to match the general pattern of the crystal that contains Hephaistos and Athena’s memories, and taking it to Azys Lla specifically opens up the possibility that it has fused with the remaining essence of Lahabrea trapped within Ascalon. It seems like, given Lahabrea’s love of body skipping, that he would end up within Claudien, now with the restored memories of his past as Hephaistos, the quest for godhood of his wife Athena, and his existing madness bred over millenia. The presence of the raid in the Aetherial Sea raises the prospect of tons of crazy things, as we don’t know what ancient spirits may remain adrift in the Aetherial Sea – it would seem like it could be key to Athena returning, and there is a lot of curiosity I have around if the continuing story involves Themis or Ericthonios, both of whom have uncertain fates but would be complicated in the present day in at least one case (Themis’ essence is trapped in the Crystal Tower as it exists on the First, so him being present in modern-day Etheirys is…unlikely).
I genuinely loved this tier on Normal already for a myriad of reasons – the boss mechanics are engaging but not too hard, there’s clear runway for Savage to do some crazy stuff, the musical selections are more varied here and hard-hitting (and there’s a secret track for P8S that has been datamined that is an interesting use of Trance music), and the general quality of the story steps up so far from Asphodelos as to be one of the best raid stories in the game, and what I would call the best with what we have so far.
In the past, raid stories were split from the main story, happening concurrently but also in a way that didn’t have major impact on the main story. Pandaemonium is great because it ties loosely to the Endwalker MSQ but also ties much tighter to classic FFXIV content from ARR and HW – bringing a new edge to Lahabrea’s character that adds so much as it stands now. There’s a chance the final tier could drop the ball on story, but I am intensely curious about what is to come, where the Asphodelos finale was very meh on that front.
Overall, that sentiment maps quite cleanly to my main story impressions this patch. There is a clear setup with a ton of interesting potential routes to take, and I am so excited to see what comes next. While there is every possibility that the story doesn’t quite live up to expectations, the foundation they’ve laid from 6.1 forward is very solid. They’ve responded to some critique clearly in the story (G’raha is nowhere this patch as of yet, and that fits because he’s doing the investigation into the Twelve with Deryk and Krile) and the raid series absolutely condenses a lot of lore bombs into a digestible, enjoyable package that was definitely to my liking.
More than any of that, though, I am happy that the integration of FFIV lore into FFXIV is smooth for all parties involved. Some of FFXIV’s fanservice integrations are very hit or miss – the original Crystal Tower was made better posthumously by Shadowbringers to a point where the Crystal Tower simply feels like a natural part of FFXIV’s world and story, but then you have the shoddy lore integrations of the YoRHA content (NieR fans seemed to like it, but the tie back into FFXIV and the First was tenuous to me) and even the stuff like Return to Ivalice (it’s cool, but it doesn’t feel like an actual part of the world), and there was enough reason in that to be wary of basing a whole MSQ segment around what is an FFIV loveletter. I am very glad to be wrong and excited to see how they follow this up, especially since the narrative structure of FFXIV patches is nearing the point where Endwalker has explicitly been said to upend things.