With Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker Patch 6.5, all eyes are pointed ahead for the game's future
When I reviewed Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker all the way back in 2021, it was my first time critiquing an MMORPG expansion; and, truthfully, it’s always going to be a question whether it’s appropriate to give a numbered score to an MMO expansion when so much of the content that comes as part of the package will only be added to the game months and years down the line as part of the patch cycle alongside it. Beyond that initial review, I’ve been doing my best to keep up-to-date on my thoughts and feelings of each patch Endwalker has brought to the table; and while we’re not quite at the finish line yet, with the release of patch 6.5 it’s more than fair to start reassessing Endwalker as a whole.
Getting the new content out of the way first and foremost, 6.5 saw the conclusion of the current story arc. While there is still some story yet to come to Endwalker, the true final patch of story content will tie directly into the next expansion - Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail - scheduled to release next year. This storyline has been contentious, to say the least… but I was always ok with it, and I found the conclusion to be satisfying. It certainly helps that both this patch’s dungeon and trial were especially good.
As for everything else; x.5 patches are always light on content, as the expansion’s headliner inclusions are usually doled out in the earlier half of the patch cycle. Besides an update to Island Sanctuaries, the other important content drop came in the form of the final raid in the Myths of the Realm Alliance Raid Series. While it might be still a little too early to say, it certainly feels like the series has cemented itself as either the best Alliance Raid series in the game so far, or one of the best. Either way, from both the enjoyable story and the excellent raids themselves - including some of the best music to hit XIV, let alone in Endwalker - it certainly helps make 6.5 feel like a worthy endnote to Endwalker as a whole; even if, of course, players won’t be able to experience Dawntrail for another 8 to 10 months or so.
But where does that leave Endwalker, now that it's essentially complete? The answer is, understandably, more than a bit mixed. Full props to all the work that the devteam have done to both update the backend of Final Fantasy XIV with Quality-of-Life updates, and the special attention given to implementing the Duty Support system to the point where every required dungeon in the game can be completed without other players; while players will still have to queue with others for Trials and the A Realm Reborn Alliance Raid Series, for anyone looking to play through Final Fantasy XIV’s story while keeping things as solitary as possible - it’s a huge boon, even if I’m still torn with the idea of disincentivizing multiplayer in an MMORPG.
It’s fair to say at this point that the PvP revamp that Endwalker introduced was a major success, and Crystalline Conflict is the most fun I’ve had in Final Fantasy XIV PvP, perhaps ever. That being said; there’s still work to be done. First and foremost, while Square Enix has officially sanctioned PvP tournaments, in-game you actually can’t queue into a match with your friends. Despite whatever reasonings Creative Business Unit 3 have for the decision, I can’t help but disagree on principle, and I sincerely hope that moving forward some sort of support for pre-made party queues can be enabled; it really is the one major thing preventing me from playing PvP more, besides the game’s inherent latency.
Battle Content, similarly, has been a mixed bag. While Endwalker has received the expected number of Extreme Trials, Savage Raids, and even two Ultimate Raids - it’s clear that the cracks in the current Job balance has begun to show, and especially the change to a standardized two-minute meta seems more and more like a failed experiment. Specific fights like P8S and The Omega Protocol showed the system at its breaking point; but even divorced from these isolated instances, it’s clear that the current state of the game exacerbates issues with Crit RNG and the like.
Of course, this is an issue that the vast majority of the playerbase won’t meaningfully engage with, or understand - but I’d argue it’s still the most glaring issue with Endwalker as a whole. More casual players will continue to enjoy Final Fantasy XIV regardless of the faults with high-end content, but if the changes were made to ease newer players into high-end raiding then it’s almost undeniable that the change has done more harm than good. That’s not even engaging with the very real argument for how the change has taken an axe to job identity - particularly for the support jobs in the game.
In a similar vein, Endwalker’s Relic Weapons have been a mistake. Previous weapons already offered alternate methods of grinding them out, in order to not box players into specific content - yet the overcorrection with this expansion’s weapons has robbed them of almost any identity, outside of the controversial choice to lock them behind completing the game’s lengthy Hildibrand sidequest chain. They could’ve required players to engage with Variant & Criterion Dungeons, the new Deep Dungeon, or something else entirely; while both the new V&C Dungeons are a great concept, they lack the sort of staying power and reward that would incentivize the playerbase to keep coming back and engaging with them.
Compared to both Shadowbringer’s patch cycle - which was very much hampered by the pandemic - and Stormblood’s, it’s easy to see why players might have found themselves disappointed with the amount of content Endwalker brought to the table. It’s clear that much of the dev team’s focus has been on less glamorous updates to the game, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yet at the same time, it’s clear that the balance might not have been struck for every player. I wouldn’t go nearly as far as some have to decry the entire patch cycle, but it’s also equally true that with as busy as I’ve been in the time since Endwalker’s launch, I haven’t been quite as impacted as others.
With Patch 6.5, Endwalker itself is more or less complete. While a few straggler patches will launch in the weeks and months ahead, all eyes are on the next expansion - and how it plans to steer the next 10 years of Final Fantasy XIV. While I’m excited to see what the future has in store for the game, it’s undeniable that there’s an air of uncertainty about the game’s future; but that was always going to be the case. Issues and all, Endwalker has been an excellent expansion for Final Fantasy XIV - and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next in the New World.