Zones! They’re kind of important. And we got to preview a couple of the Endwalker zones during the Final Fantasy XIV media tour, so that’s good. Not exactly unexpected, of course, but still good! While I’ve always taken the opportunity to get something of a walking tour of the new zones during a media tour, this particular time I had a chance to take a few more screenshots, and so I thought that fans might enjoy at least a slight overview of the three zones available during the preview.
It’s important to note that during the preview the zones are staged with monsters, FATEs, and NPCs, but NPC dialogue, quests, incidental dialogue, and general flow are not present during these previews all the same. That means that any previews are by their nature limited to the geography, the feel, and speculation about what’s going to be there in the future. So keep that in mind as I talk about the zones; however much I might have seen, there’s going to be a lot more there when the actual expansion goes live.
The short version of Thavnair is simply that it’s gorgeous. It feels slightly surreal with its violet stones spread throughout the zone, but the pale olive-to-brown of dirt and scrubs with the green highlights give the whole zone a unique and memorable color scheme as you make your way through the zone as a whole. And it’s helped a lot by the fact that the whole place is intensely visually distinct.
Flying around, I noted what felt like three or four distinct “sub-zones” within the map, places where the aesthetics of the landscape changed notably and which felt different even as they were all part of the same area. There was the beachside area, a more jungle-filled portion, a place that reminds me of some of Thanalan’s layered caverns, and the more savannah-like regions of the map. And none of that is taking into account the simple nature of the areas with more civilization built up, which is a major part of the map just the same.
These are not the first time we’ve seen many of these features, of course; beaches and islands are not new to the game, nor are heavy forests or the like. But having them all meshed together, combined with the unique palette, made the zone feel distinct and interesting just to move through.
The one weakness that the zone seems to have is just that at this point, it appears to be a rather “flat” zone, rather than one of the areas with wildly different enemies and regions that you explore over time. Then again, this isn’t entirely unique; the same was true of both of the areas we explored in the Shadowbringers media tour. I’m excited to get to explore this region on foot and via flight once we gain full access to the expansion.
By contrast, I’m going to be honest… I found Garlemald kind of boring. And I can’t help but wonder if a big part of that was flight.
Let’s start out with the downsides. Garlemald, in contrast to Thavnair, really only has two sub-zones in terms of aesthetic. There’s the snowy fields around the city, which are dotted with some Imperial structures here and there (including a rather elaborate-looking oil rig) but are largely reminiscent of other snowy zones in Coerthas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see that again when we haven’t had a proper snow zone since Coerthas, but it doesn’t feel significantly different.
The other half of the zone is the ruined cityscape that you’ll be exploring, and let’s not mince words: That part could be really interesting. There’s an aetheryte in a subway station, for heck’s sake, and we can only imagine the sort of Final Fantasy VII references possible with that. However… because the tour involved being able to fly through the whole thing and quests weren’t staged, it was difficult to get a sense of what navigation in this area would actually feel like, leading to the whole thing feeling a bit more… perfunctory. I kept feeling like the idea of these densely packed areas and moving through claustrophobic streets was doing more work than the actual map.
This isn’t to say that the map is bad, just that it clearly needs more than just the visuals to really make it feel like a distinct place. I want to be excited about this zone as well, and I am happy that we’re getting a chance to explore. I’m also very curious about an actual zone line that is on the map, since we don’t yet know what it connects to. But in practice, I found it a little underwhelming so far.
Design-wise, Old Sharlayan always had a problem. It has to look recognizably similar to the architecture seen in the Dravanian Hinterlands and in Idyllshire, because… well, that’s kind of where the inspiration for those areas came from in the first place. So it needs to feel familiar. At the same time, it also needs to feel distinct enough that it’s not just a rehash of zones we’ve already visited beforehand, since otherwise it’ll be functional but visually boring.
I’m happy to report that the zone largely succeeds at its goals. While there are clear design lines between the familiar areas and the new one, Old Sharlayan feels very much the more developed, august, and respectable area compared to its younger predecessor. There’s a strong academic sense throughout the entire zone, with libraries, classrooms, and lecture halls scattered throughout the city, reinforcing the sense that the city is like a fusion of a living cultural center and a college campus.
Of course, like a college campus, it has no shortage of places for rest and relaxation through the region. The grounds are scattered with plant live and elegant gazebos along the way, giving the impression of a region that’s been carefully manicured and tended to celebrate learning and cultural diversity. It has a very different character than the other cities in the game, but it manages to have that lovely seaside feel without being anything akin to Limsa Lominsa.
You know, the city that is already a seaside region with plenty of white stone throughout.
Of course, the city is also a place that suffers a lot from not yet having NPCs and areas staged just yet; it’s hard to get a sense for the hubs or the general cadence of the map without all of the things players will be gathering around over the course of the expansion. Still, it’s a lovely city, and while it feels a bit smaller than the Crystarium at a glance, I found it every bit as charming and well-realized.