We’re still about a year out from the next Final Fantasy XIV expansion, but Endwalker is slowly starting to wrap up. For me, the penultimate main patch has always been mainly about one thing: the conclusion of the 8-man raid storyline and the last tier of Savage content. Because the .4 patch usually starts the setup for the next expansion, the main story typically isn’t terribly dramatic, which means that side content tends to shine more. Of course, the post-Endwalker patches are atypical in that they are the beginning of an entirely new story arc, so patch 6.4, The Dark Throne, has considerably more buildup behind it than usual. Even so, the main story still feels like it takes a bit of a backseat to other new content, although a dramatic confrontation and cliffhanger at the end definitely serve to hype players up for a conclusion in patch 6.5.
Zero continues to be the best thing about these post-Endwalker patches. Her unique perspective provides a refreshing contrast to the rest of our heroes, and watching her grow as she befriends the Scions and their allies one by one is heartwarming. Whatever happens in patch 6.5 and beyond, I sincerely hope Zero sticks around, which is more than I can say for The Dark Throne’s antagonist. I know there’s a lot of nostalgia at play with the Final Fantasy IV references, but it feels like Golbez doesn’t have much going for him beyond that. We have seen a little backstory over the patches, but it’s not enough to make him a compelling villain in this iteration. To be fair, this is generally how FFXIV treats its tie-ins with other games in the series; if this were side content like the optional trial series from past expansions, it would feel perfectly normal. And regardless of my quibbles, the climax at the end of the patch is excellent. I may be ready for this story to be over, but I am still excited to see its conclusion.
If you’ve played the previous patches, you probably already knew who would be featured in the trial for this patch, but just in case, The Dark Throne makes it exceedingly obvious via its official artwork. That’s right, we finally get to face off against Golbez, and it’s a pretty epic fight with an amazing Final Fantasy IV medley accompanying it. I wasn’t expecting to hear FFIV’s main theme, but it’s a gorgeous addition to “Battle with the Four Fiends,” and “Prelude” even makes an appearance in a section that feels like Masayoshi Soken was channeling Hitoshi Sakimoto from his Final Fantasy Tactics days. The fight itself is decently challenging even on normal mode, and the Extreme version is one of the harder fights in my estimation, unfortunately making it one of my least favorite EX trials to farm.
In contrast, The Dark Throne’s new dungeon is a chill and relaxing experience. The Aetherfont is a lush, secluded island with gorgeous vistas and a variety of animal inhabitants like polar bears and puffins. After the somewhat dark and drab dungeons from 6.2 and 6.3, I appreciate the visual spectacle of this dungeon. Soken’s accompaniment is equally lovely and matches the peaceful vibe of the dungeon. This arrangement of “Flow” would actually fit in perfectly on your Island Sanctuary, which is fitting because I’d love to explore the Aetherfont just like my island paradise. As for combat, the first two bosses are a little too easy, though each has one somewhat tricky mechanic. The final boss is more challenging and features an atypical arena from most fights to mix things up a bit. All in all, it’s a good time, and I prefer getting this dungeon in Expert Roulette versus 6.3’s Lapis Manalis as a result.
Of course, if you like challenging the harder (but not hardest) content in Final Fantasy XIV, even-numbered patches are always exciting because they introduce a new 8-man raid tier. The Dark Throne concludes the Pandaemonium raids, but while there is a fantastic (and even voiced!) sendoff for a certain companion at the end, the way the story wraps up is serviceable but mildly unsatisfying. There are some odd contrivances throughout, weak explanations for some of the boss fights, and a main villain that just isn’t terribly interesting or compelling. It’s not bad per se, but I was hoping for more after things got, shall we say, complicated in the second tier.
Luckily, the actual fights are a lot of fun and sometimes challenging. Most of the individual mechanics aren’t technically new, but they’re used in new ways that make the fights interesting. Two of the fights feature atypical arenas and ask you to deal with unsafe platforms while handling mechanics, so a fair amount of movement is involved too. The music is excellent again, with two medleys of the main Pandaemonium themes from the first two tiers and another wonderful (perhaps my new favorite) arrangement of the Amaurot theme. And then there are the Savage versions of the raid, which up the difficulty significantly. At the time of this review, I’ve seen about half of the tier personally, and I would say the fights feel more challenging than you might expect for a final raid tier. This is either a welcome surprise or a source of dread if you’re attempting to prog, but remember there’s a lot of time before the next raid tier, since 7.0 likely won’t be out until at least late spring next year.
For players who like to do things other than fight bad guys, The Dark Throne brings a sizable update to Island Sanctuary, FFXIV’s casual farming, crafting, and animal caretaking sim. With four new ranks, a new area to gather new materials, new plots in your hideaway to build an additional workshop and landmark, and of course, new plants and animals to raise, there’s plenty to keep you busy on your personal island paradise. You can even decorate your hideaway with outdoor housing items now, allowing you to customize your sanctuary further as you see fit. I immediately made an outdoor café and filled the area with as many cat and cat-adjacent minions as I could.
My biggest issue with Island Sanctuary at present is the pasture. Every major patch has added new animals to capture, but the pasture size hasn’t increased. At first, this was fine; it forced you to prioritize, and it generally worked out that as you caught the rare animals, you released the common ones. But we’ve now reached the point where you can’t fit all the rare animals in the pasture. This would still be fine if some of the new animals dropped new materials, but they don’t. I understand that the reasoning for this is probably to keep players from having to catch rare animals to make particular handicrafts. But the flip side is that without a larger pasture, new animals become superfluous. Unless you are in dire need of a particular material, there’s no reason to catch any of the new animals except completionism. And even if that is your motivation, it ends up feeling kind of shitty when catching a new rare animal means you have to let go of another rare animal. Alongside adjustments to cropland automation (please let us select different seeds after harvesting, Square Enix), this is the aspect of Island Sanctuary I would most like to see addressed in the next update.
Finally, every major patch brings many quality-of-life updates, and The Dark Throne is no different. The five main scenario dungeons from Stormblood proper (AKA patch 4.0) are now available to run via duty supports. While most of the bosses from these dungeons are relatively unchanged, one particularly annoying mid-boss in Castrum Abania got a complete overhaul and is now a much more interesting experience. Other improvements include increased buff ranges nearly across the board and helpful options for displaying job icons and custom role colors in chat and on nameplates. The former should make lining up buffs easier, and the latter should facilitate better awareness during combat and more clarity in chat when discussing mechanics.
Minor quibbles aside, The Dark Throne is another solid Final Fantasy XIV patch. The FFIV-themed story finally starts to heat up, promising an epic conclusion in 6.5. And between the new Extreme trial, Savage raid tier, and Island Sanctuary content, there’s plenty for players to do before the next patch arrives. Though I must confess that I’m ready to move on to whatever awaits us in the next expansion, I’m looking forward to the final trial, the finale of the alliance raid series, and everything else Square Enix has in store for us as Endwalker starts to wind down.