Been meaning to do this entry for a few weeks now but I've been distracted by other things (I caved and installed the Chinese spyware that is Genshin Impact) so I'm only getting round to it now. This "review" will be split into 3 parts, parts 2 and 3 will be in a spoiler as they pertain to the story whereas part 1 is only about the new jobs and changes to a few of my go to jobs. Anyway onto the meat of the entry
The Jobs and Job changes
So with the release of a new expansion there's a host of changes to the pre-existing jobs as well as two new jobs. First off we'll get into my first impressions of the two new jobs; Sage and Reaper. Sage is to healers what Gunbreaker was to tanks, its mostly focused on DPS and it's most basic healing is done by using your DPS skills additionally it's a shield based healer so it does less overall healing but it grants shields to the group however their shields overwrite Scholar's shields and are also weaker than a Scholar's shield (at least it seems that way to me from what I've read and seen) additionally despite their healing being attached to their DPS skills it seems that they have a much harder time keeping up with the demands of healing in dungeons, especially when the tank decides to do massive pulls.
Reaper on the other hand feels like it'll be getting some pretty large nerfs in patch 6.1 (not the wee piddly healing potency nerf it got in 6.05) it does a a shitload of damage with insanely high potencies and some pretty decent party utility, its damage is close to (and can exceed) Samurai and Black Mage, the two greediest jobs in the game, they have no party utility out side of their raw DPS. Additionally its got more manoeuvrability than a lot of the other melee DPS jobs as well, although this can make it easy to jump off any platforms you're fighting on. Really Reaper in addition to being the edgy player's go to choice is probably going to be a go to choice for all the tryhards as well due to its raw damage and ability to reduce the need for healers (not eliminate though.) I've seen so many reapers over the course of levelling my other jobs that I'm already sick of seeing them. I myself found it fairly fun to play but I still prefer Dragoon.
Speaking of Dragoon lets get onto its changes, for the most part Dragoon hasn't had any major changes to its pre-existing kit just a few upgraded skills and potency buffs. The major change to the job comes with the removal of its job gauge giving you less to manage, the resources you do have don't have a constantly ticking down timer and can be stored from fight to fight in dungeons or to different transitions in trials and raids. In effect Dragoon got even simpler to play this expansion, due to it's lack of resource management and its core combo loop being the same as it was in SB and ShB (basically a big loop) most of the changes are QoL changes like adding their damage buff to their AoE combo and removing the positional requirements on Raiden Thrust, instead linking it to a new buff. The new skills are flashy enough with a new AoE being linked to the same buff that Raiden Thrust is linked to, although I feel the big level 90 finisher skill should have a higher potency and be linked to a trait that replaces Piercing Talon (since you yeet your spear in the animation) but that's a minor gripe. Overall I still really like Dragoon even if the only other melee DPS it out damages is Ninja.
Next up, Paladin the poster job for this expansion. Paladin was pretty fun to play in ShB (I rediscovered my love for it during the 180 raids I needed to do for the ShB relic weapon) but it got even more fun in EW, their core kit didn't change much except to add healing to its short cooldown skill (as well as a damage cut making it BETTER than Dark Knight's The Blackest Night skill) and to its party wide skill (which is still useless imo) other than that it's just more QoL improvements, some potency buffs on the magic skills. Where it gets really impressive is its "finishers" which is effectively just Unlimited Bladeworks from Fate Stay Night. you summon a massive sword, then summon more massive swords before summoning even more massive swords and finishing it with another massive sword that applies a damage over time debuff. They also changed Spirits Within to be less useless when the Paladin is main tank so rather than its damage scaling with your health it's just flat damage, before getting upgraded via a trait to a line AoE, although it now has a really OTT animation.
The other jobs I've levelled to max are pretty fun but I mostly did it to experience the role quests. Bard is fun, which is weird because I hated it in ShB but I was loving it in EW. Maybe because I play it almost exclusively in PvP. Red Mage is mostly the same but they expanded its finishers for their melee combos and allowed you to fire them off after the AoE melee combo. White Mage is decent but it now seems to have issues with MP and runs out very quickly. Samurai is still the same, just a few buff name changes, the buffs added to the AoE skills and some new skills, nothing exciting. So that's a brief overview of my first impressions with the jobs, I have yet to play Summoner though and it's looking like it'll be a very fun job.
The Story and Role Quests
The story for this expansion is honestly amazing. It's the culmination of ten years of storytelling and build up and the payoff is well worth it. So at the end of the post Shadowbringers patches a load of mysterious towers had sprung up around the world as well as Zenos taking control of the Garlean Empire alongside a batshit crazy insane Ascian named Fandaniel. So at the beginning of Endwalker you and the scions resolve to go to Sharlayan (a nation of pacifist scholars) to find out about the final days. You arrive and at this point the story splits, you need to do both paths but the order is up to you, where you visit Thavnair (the world's version of India) in one and stay in Sharlayan for the other both of these paths are a good way of exploring the lore behidn each area as well as setting up the first dungeon. You then join a company that enters Garlemald to aid the Garleans and again this is more good storytelling as it shows you the other side of the conflict that had been dogging the game for all of its expansions so far where you and the twins do your best to help a group of refugees only for them to essentially reject that help resulting in two of them running off and dying from being attacked by the wandering monsters. They also added Anima to this game and in an excellent bait and switch (which continues past the events of Garlemald) you don't actually fight it in a trial instead it's the final boss fight of a dungeon.
Honestly this expansion is an amazing example of how subverting expectations can make a story amazing, when you go to the moon you fight Zodiark which has been being built up as THE climactic battle between the PC and a being with godlike powers but instead we kill him at level 73 in the first trial of the expansion but killing him results in the final days occurring so the rest of the expansion is spent trying to save the people of the world while also trying to figure out how to stop the final days this results in a bit of time travel with you going back in time to when the Ancients (the Ascians pre-sundering) and finding out the cause of the original Final Days which resulted in the sundering. Basically it's all caused by a well meaning if depressed biologist sending out empathic bird girls to ask other civilisations what the meaning of life was (Emet-Selch calls him out on this) resulting in them deciding that the meaning of life is despair and cause each one to get destroyed as they use the second type of energy that's just been revealed to influence them subconsciously. Also when I saw this bird girl I knew we were going to have to kill her. You then come back and go through a dungeon to then fight Hydaelyn, this fight you can do with trusts as well which is nice and fluffy, before jetting off to the edge of the universe (yes literally) to chase the bird girl and in this final zone the scions sacrifice themselves to help you progress, one by one (sort of, Y'shtola and Urianger sacrifice themselves together and so do the twins, the others do it alone) to get you to the point you need to to confront the Endsinger, after you summon Emet-Selch and Hythlodeus to summon them back of course. At this point Zenos actually redeems himself as a character to me. You're staring down this godlike being after sending your friends to safety and he just comes in in dragon form and asks you why you haven't killed it yet, Zenos has a higher opinion of you than just about every other character in the game. The final boss fight also deserves a special mention as the boss yeets fucking planets at you, a very annoying mechanic and one I died to many times but this is where Zenos redeems himself as normally he'd have decided to fight you instead of letting you fight the Endsinger first but this time he helps you beat her realising that as long as she's around the PC would continue to ignore him and then after the Endsinger is defeated he again gives the PC a choice to either walk away or give him the rematch he was after (I say the PC and not the player here because there is no choice but to accept) and this leads to one of the best (if not THE best) solo duties in the game. It's a simple duel between the two deadliest fighters in the world and it's an example of there being beauty in simplicity, the mechanics aren't hard to deal with and it is literally just you and Zenos wailing on each other, the cutscene afterwards even has the duel devolve into a fist fight (although I play Dragoon so the first fight should have been heavily weighted in my character's favour what with the plate gauntlets) before the PC lands the final blow causing Zenos to reflect on things and finally go out content. Now there are a few theories for this scene since a teleporter device drops out of seemingly nowhere personally I think Meteion (the bird girl I knew we were going to have to kill) drops it down in order to save us. Also some people on the internet seem to think Zenos will be back at some point but I don't think he will, he's finished his arc and has had the fight he wanted and I feel the devs are ready to leave him where he is.
That was a bit of a wall of text but I'll address something else about this expansion I feel is worth mentioning, I mentioned this expansion ahs one of the best solo duties in the game in it on the flip side it also has one of the worst. In this duty you are sucked out of your body and put into the body of a random Imperial mook before being dropped into the middle of enemy territory and told to get back to your friends before Zenos (who is in your body) murders them all. Now I think this is a great way of telling a story, it shows that you (the PC) are NOT normal and things you find trivial to fight are actually exceedingly difficult for regular people to fight in fact when forced to fight an enemy you would kill in two or three hits and take barely any damage from normally you lose your health and it's outright stated that you were forced to kill them rather than just knock them out as it's implied you've doing in the majority of fights before. The issue is this duty is basically a stealth mission and due to the game's own limitations stealth doesn't really work all that well on top of the duty being deliberately obtuse in its objectives, don't get me wrong it's an amazing way of doing storytelling it's just let down by the game's own limitations and its obtuse objectives and duty design.
Overall I think Endwalker is easily the best of the FFXIV expansions and does an amazing job of capping off the story. It was well worth the wait and I can understand why Yoshi P had it delayed by two weeks for extra polishing, that polish does show and I can't wait to see what they do for the next expansion. Hopefully something down to earth since Emet-Selch outright says you haven't seen everything there is to see on Etheirys (the name of the world the game takes place in) and it would be a nice change of pace after dealing with a world ending threat.
Final thoughts on the Zodiark saga as a whole
It's been 10 years since Yoshi P took over FFXIV as the game director and A Realm Reborn launched and the story has definitely had its moments, from the Warrior of Light just starting out as a newbie adventurer and merely protecting their home country from the invasion of the evil empire, through ending a 1000+ year old war to freeing two nations under the aforementioned empire's rule to travelling to another world and saving that before finally averting the apocalypse. Obviously the game got off to a rocky start needing to be completely revamped but I think Square's faith in it has been well placed since it's the most profitable Final Fantasy game ever now. I obviously never played it during its original release and only really started at the end of Heavensward before being forced into a hiatus due to various circumstances and returning at the end of Stormblood. Now I don't actually think A Realm Reborn is all that bad story wise, there are aspects of it where you can see the team is just getting the hang things (the level 50 alliance raids and early dungeons being examples of this) but the story is actually really good and does a good job of setting things up for both HW and SB I don't even think it's the weakest story out of the expansions I've played. Heavensward however is amazing and is only topped storywise by ShB and EW, the political intrigue story is a nice change. However Stormblood is the weak link, I feel it would have been better off being split into two expansions so you can focus on both Ala Mhigo and Othard separately which would allow the devs to flesh each area out even more. In fact Othard gets the lions share of it anyway but the story really picks up in ShB before reaching a satisfying climax in EW.
The story alone places this game just below FFIX in terms of how good it is to me (and remember Final Fantasy is my favourite game OF ALL TIME) in comparison to the other FF games I've played and it's definitely in my top 5 games played on story alone as well. But the characters, they certainly do that final Fantasy title justice, even though they start off one note (and I still feel they could have done more with Minfilia rather than writing her out of the story at the end of ARR) but they really grow throughout the expansions, especially the twins and Thancred, to the point where the scions are some of my favourite FF characters now as well. The nods to other FF titles is also really nice although I wish there was more FFIX references and gear in the game but it's still good they acknowledge the games that built the franchise pretty much.
FFXIV actually has attained the same status as Nier Automate and FFIX to me where I'm actually sad I can't experience the story for the first time again, very few games have made me feel that way but this one is certainly worthy of being in that list. The Zodiark saga is possibly one of the best video game storylines I've been through and could be up there with one of the best stories full stop.
Sorry for the massive entry with a shitload of text, I've not actually got any good images for an entry like this.