Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Review In Progress

A new Dawn, a new day, a new life
Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail Header

Following the chaotic and potentially world-ending events of both Endwalker and its successive updates, Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail promises new adventures in Tural that have a more laid back, summer holiday tone to them. The past week has seen me dive into a little bit of everything that this grand new expansion offers, already racing up to around level 96, for anyone keeping count.

Narratively, Dawntrail follows the Warrior of Light in their objective to aid Wuk Lumat in the rite of succession for what is essentially the throne of Tural, a nation to the west of Sharlayan. This rite comes with challenges aplenty, but also brings with it returning characters we all love, new characters to fall in love with, and – even by the point I’m at in the story – enough twists to round out a decent mystery novel.

The thing I want to strongly stress early on is the relaxed nature of this new story arc overall. This is essentially starting an entirely new tale for the world of Final Fantasy XIV, so it has a slower pace than previously. I’m personally loving the lower stakes at play here, but those coming into this expecting another Shadowbringers will be greatly disappointed. However, Wuk Lamat herself is incredible and I won’t hear anything opposing that view.

By and large, you’ll be running around Tural helping out various NPCs with various returning gameplay mechanics while exploring, such as following folks without them noticing. As and when you get into a scrape with enemies, the combat is much the same as before, though with all of the existing Jobs having been tweaked in small or severe ways. Thankfully my precious White Mage has been changed very little, but your go-to favourite might have had a bigger overhaul.

Then there’s the new Jobs – Pictomancer and Viper. I’ve not been able to spend a great deal of time with either of them, but in my early impressions they feel like completely different ends of the spectrum from one another. Viper is the smooth-brained, push buttons and see swishes accompanied by big numbers one, while Pictomancer is the galaxy-brained one with odd rotations and really long explanations for every ability. Both, however, are amazing additions and I’m looking forward to playing around more with them.

To test out these changes and new Jobs though, we have a bevy of new dungeons and trials, which once again you can tackle with a group of NPCs or – gasp – with other people. These, so far, have been a huge step up in challenge, with some very interesting mechanics to contend with. I can’t claim to be a perfect player of the game by any means, but some of these instances have truly tested my knowledge of my Jobs and their abilities in the game, so more of this please, Yoshi-P.

Visually as well, there has been a significant step up with Dawntrail, especially with the addition of a widespread graphical update with the 7.0 patch. This has made several changes to lighting, textures and character models that will be immediately noticeable to any long-time players of the game. This graphical update has then been leveraged wonderfully in the areas I have visited with some of the most beautiful vistas that have ever been in the game. What’s more, the team know how good this looks, otherwise I cannot explain the reason for the amount of close-up shots of the beautifully upgraded faces in cutscenes.

One area that’s business as usual, in the best possible way, is with Soken’s work on the sound design. Every track in this soundtrack is incredible, especially the song playing in Tuliyollal during the day, which has absolute no right going that hard. Oddly, I love the battle theme in the field this time around too, which I haven’t since A Realm Reborn, but that might say more about me than anything.

So far, Dawntrail is an incredible expansion to an already stellar game. Its slower pace and lower stakes create a calmer and more fun atmosphere to explore, but the increased challenge of the combat instances balance that calmness out with frenetic (and panicked) action. The new Jobs are great additions and the changes to previous Jobs (that I’ve seen so far) haven’t broken anything substantial. It might not be the absolute pinnacle of the Final Fantasy XIV experience, but it’s a joy to behold.

Now, onto the next dungeon I go.

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