After ten years of playing Final Fantasy XIV, I’ve seen enough patch cycles to learn what to expect from the final major update to an expansion. There’s a dramatic event and a final fight, a cooldown period, and then someone new or unexpected shows up to invite or sometimes force the Warrior of Light to journey to a new land. Endwalker patch 6.5, Growing Light, is much the same as previous final patches in most respects, but I found myself far more ready for it to be over than I have in the past. This isn’t entirely surprising. Longtime players know well that fatigue and burnout can set in toward the end of a patch cycle, after the most climactic moments have resolved and their day-to-day becomes a little more mundane. Perhaps I myself am starting to experience that burnout, but I think it’s the content of these last few patches and their resolution that has left me feeling tired and eager for something new. Growing Light provides the latter in its brief lead-up to this summer’s Dawntrail.
Growing Light sees the Warrior of Light square off against Golbez one more time and deal with his abominable creation, Zeromus, before the two of them can unleash an unstoppable army of voidsent upon the Source. As part of this final conflict, our new ally Zero gets an epic glow-up and a badass save-the-day moment. It’s a fantastic and fitting way to wrap up her character arc and capitalize on her personal growth over the course of the last few patches. But it does mean the Warrior of Light has more of a supporting role, which may feel a little weird after spending so much time as a central figure. Zero is such a great character, though, that I didn’t really mind her getting her moment in the limelight.
Zero is the bright spot of Growing Light — as she has been for the entire patch cycle — but the rest of the plot on the Thirteenth tired me out. Part of the issue is that this patch cycle has ultimately felt more like a side story than a new adventure. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s the kind of setup that would typically be in one of FFXIV’s optional trial series, and while it will likely become more relevant in the expansion after Dawntrail, right now, it feels like filler. Another consideration is that this story takes place over the course of the entire five-patch cycle, as opposed to two or three patches like in previous expansions. In other words, the plot is drawn out a bit and may have landed better in a more concise format. And then there’s the fact that this storyline quickly became another “save the Source from certain immediate doom” plot, which is just a little bit too much of the same coming off the heels of Endwalker’s apocalyptic premise.
It’s not all bad, though. The last few quests that arrived in the second half of this patch (6.55) introduce a new character — and the game’s first female Hrothgar — Wuk Lamat, and formally set the stage for the Warrior of Light’s journey to Tural in the upcoming Dawntrail. Between the tonal shift, Wuk Lamat’s adorable and endearing earnestness, and the tidbits of New World lore we’re able to glean, I found this part of Growing Light to be a breath of fresh air. It feels like Dawntrail will truly be the new adventure we were promised, and I’m now significantly more excited for this expansion than I was even after its unveiling at last year’s Las Vegas Fan Fest.
Moving on to gameplay, Growing Light adds the final main story dungeon and trial. At first, The Lunar Subterrane looks like it will be another void dungeon with dark passageways stalked by horrific monsters. But after the first boss, you enter the memories of a certain individual and witness the events that ultimately led to the fall of the Thirteenth. The battles themselves are fairly standard and don’t introduce any new mechanics or challenges, but the lore is much appreciated. The trial fight against Zeromus is similarly not terribly complicated, but the nostalgia factor is high, especially with the excellent arrangement of “The Final Battle” from Final Fantasy IV. The Extreme version of this fight is decently challenging for a final trial, with one mechanic in particular proving to be troublesome even in farm parties.
Growing Light also concludes the Myths of the Realm alliance raid series. After some speculation in the previous leg, we finally get confirmation about who the Twelve really are, and with that comes an emotional sequence of passing on the torch and laying certain myths to rest. I liked the story revelations and how they relate to the lore of Endwalker more than the actual raid itself. The fights aren’t that interesting or challenging, and the music is kind of a letdown after the last two raids. This is a bit of a departure, as the final 24-player raid is usually the hardest, but as with most things, your mileage may vary.
The final major piece of battle content added in Growing Light is the new Variant and Criterion dungeon, Aloalo Island. Variant dungeons are so called because they are non-linear; the routes you take and the bosses you fight change depending on your choices. The Criterion versions of these dungeons are linear but up the difficulty to a more Savage-like level, and there’s an even higher difficulty than that for those who want the ultimate 4-player content challenge. Aloalo Island is a nice tropical change of pace after the previous two Variant/Criterion dungeons, and getting to explore it with the adorably awkward Matsya is a nice treat. I feel like the bosses strike a good balance between accessibility and challenge, though to be fair, I generally run Variant dungeons by myself to guarantee I get the routes I need. The Criterion dungeons are not my cup of tea, but it’s great that the game provides players with challenging content for smaller groups, especially during the lull between expansions when most are done with the 8-player Savage content.
Outside of battle content, Growing Light also brings updates to various side activities. Island Sanctuary receives its last major update for the foreseeable future, with new ranks, materials, crafts, and critters available and a new Felicitous Favors feature where crafting certain items can earn you tokens for special rewards. Sadly, pasture size remains the same. Meanwhile, relic weapons and tools for both battle and crafter/gatherer jobs reach their zenith, and the Manderville quests associated with the former continue to be hilarious and even feature a relatively painless trial to conquer. The battle relics, in particular, look absolutely amazing, and I’m shamelessly going to grind for as many of them as I can.
Finally, there are a handful of quality-of-life updates worth mentioning. First, the final three Stormblood main scenario dungeons can now be run via Duty Support, meaning that every story dungeon in the game can now be undertaken solo. Stormblood itself has also been added to the free trial, meaning new players can now experience the base game and two whole expansions for free. Second, players now have the option to display job icons in front of character names, and chat text color can also be automatically adjusted to reflect the role of the person speaking (i.e. blue for tank, green for healer, etc.). This option does wonders for me, as it allows me to more quickly identify who is speaking and better understand context when discussing mechanics in chat. Finally, you can now sort teleport destinations according to expansion instead of by region. I know this sounds like such a small thing, but trust me, it’s very helpful if you’re like me and can’t remember for the life of you what regions Sharlayan or Mare Lamentorum are located in.
While there will be a few more minor patches in the coming months, Growing Light marks the end, for all intents and purposes, of Endwalker. It’s been an interesting patch cycle, but I’m ready for something new. At the time of this review, we don’t have an exact release date for Dawntrail, but it should only be another five or six months before that new adventure is upon us. I’m looking forward to learning more about my new best friend, Wuk Lamat, taking in the sights and sounds of Tural, and maybe engaging in a little friendly competition against some old allies. After literally traveling to the edge of the universe and back to deal with nihilism personified, and then fighting the undying forces of darkness on a twisted, doomed world, a little summer vacation in a bright, colorful land with energetic — dare I say happy —companions is just what I need!