Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail Review: A Beautiful Start To A New Era (2024)

It’s Wuk Lamat’s world, and I’m happily living in it.

Where does a hero go after saving a star? On vacation, I’d expect. In Square Enix’s follow-up to the epic expansion Endwalker, Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail promises fans a brand new journey, setting up our Warriors of Light on the next chapter as they march ever forward on their adventure. It was always going to be hard to follow in the wake of a story as heroically scaled as Endwalker, and thus Square Enix Creative Business Unit III made the tactical decision to reel things back for this expansion and set us gently down the path into a new arc. At least, initially.

I’ll refrain from any spoilers, but Dawntrail can be looked at in two halves. Beautifully paired, but with very different stakes. The latter half careening fans into quintessential Final Fantasy XIV territory, poised to win over any that might have had reservations over the expansion’s arguably tamer first half. In my eyes, Dawntrail lives up to its previous expansions by hitting just as hard where it counts. It affectionately hands us something very different with one hand and offers comforting nostalgia in the other. It was everything I wanted and, by the end, I had never been more excited for what the future holds for Final Fantasy XIV. A new dawn, indeed.

A Journey To Distant Shores

The journey begins in full when we arrive on the new continent of Tural, accompanied by Alphinaud, Alisaie, Erenville, Krile and our hopeful Dawnservant candidate, Wuk Lamat. As daughter to the current Dawnservant Gulool Ja Ja, Wuk Lamat, along with her brothers Koana and Zoraal Ja and an additional claimant Bakool Ja Ja, must compete in the rite of succession to be crowned the new Dawnservant — Tural’s new leader. A rite that takes them across the breadth of Tural to aid and understand the continent’s inhabitants, while following in the footsteps of Gulool Ja Ja in the adventure he undertook years prior.

This first half reminded me a lot, in essence, of Final Fantasy X. Parties of eligible candidates race to being the first to reach a certain goal and obtaining an elevated state in the world’s society. In FFX, it was the race to be the Summoner to defeat Sin, thus becoming High Summoner and earning themselves a place in Spira's history. In Dawntrail, it’s the race to break the seal of the Golden City, and in doing so becoming Dawnservant. Along the way, each party visits the continent's many settlements, competing in Feats to earn the seven Keystones, the key to breaking the seal at the Golden City. I was reminded of Yuna’s task of claiming each Aeon in order to perform the Final Summoning. Our Scions, taking a more supporting role this time around, act almost as Guardians for Wuk Lamat. Much like Yuna, her support team is noticeably larger than that of her rivals. And, much like Yuna, Wuk Lamat’s story is one of finding her way in the shadow of her father as she walks along the same path and comes to understand his legacy.

It’s possible that my Final Fantasy X-tinted glasses shaped how warmly I received Dawntrail’s story, but I fully appreciated the more peaceful, slower pace it takes during the first half. Past expansions have verged on being convoluted as far as plot is concerned, but by reducing the stakes Dawntrail offers a more legible plot, aided in part by having great pacing. It also avoids the trap that plenty of follow-up media falls into of simply having bigger, more ridiculous threats to contend with that somehow only you have the power to defeat. I don’t need my Warrior of Light to be the all-powerful Mary Sue of multiple dimensions. I am fully content with having them embark on an island adventure to help a friend realize their own potential. I’d argue I felt more immersed being along for the ride offering some excellent backup to Tural’s true hero, Wuk Lamat.

Happiness condensed into the form of female Hrothgar, Wuk Lamat champions for peace and strives for an understanding of all inhabitants of Tural. She’s a far cry from our usual roster of brooding main characters, but it’s her endearing and refreshing nature that makes her such an apt companion for this new chapter.

The tone changes somewhat dramatically in the expansion’s second half, but given how nicely Dawntrail eases you into its initial content the change is handled in a way that doesn’t feel jarring. In fact, it raises the stakes appropriately and in a way that those yearning for a more Shadowbringers-style narrative can really rally behind. Again, I won’t verge into spoilers as I feel it’s important that players get to experience Dawntrail as organically as possible. That said, where this second half excels is in its emotional payoffs that are wonderfully set up throughout the expansion. There are revelations, moral quandaries, and our age-old Final Fantasy favorite trope of tragedy. We also leave the essence of Final Fantasy X behind in favor of a more overt pivot to Final Fantasy IX, but you’ll want to uncover all that on your own.

By the end of my Dawntrail adventure I felt as though I had played through one of the most well-rounded stories in modern Final Fantasy. Weariness did linger momentarily during the mid-point, where my WoL suddenly found herself in Red Dead Redemption, only with a significantly higher population of cat boys. Sounds interesting on paper, sure. But the zone felt solely like a means to an end rather than anything to write home about. I also felt slightly disheartened by the reskinned variations of creatures and enemies from past expansions throughout all new zones, conveniently explained away by the idea that these creatures just have Eorzean cousins, or something to that effect. One would hope that part of the appeal of traveling to a new land would mean discovering that in which you’d never seen before. Morbol? No, this is the Turali Morbol! Entirely different beast.

Get Good Or Cast Dia Trying

Dotted throughout Dawntrail are the typical offerings of Side Quests, FATEs, and additional activities to work through and complete. The Main Scenario Quest is, of course, only one element of Final Fantasy XIV, but tied to it are new Dungeons that certainly pack a punch. During my preview of Dawntrail last month, I had been given the chance to play through Ihuykatumu, the first Dungeon players will encounter. Challenging, yes, but nothing too strenuous for a player already accustomed with FFXIV's later dungeon offerings. However, an introductory dungeon it certainly is, as each subsequent dungeon appropriately ramps up in difficulty as you progress through the MSQ.

I stepped a little outside of my comfort zone for this expansion, choosing to heal as a White Mage rather than venture into the unknown from my usual DPS bubble of limited responsibility (Dragoon). Like any good Healer I worked through all the new dungeons in Duty Support first to learn the ropes — except for Vanguard, where I went in blind with a friend and spent a good deal of time dead on the ground while she Tanked us to victory.

While these new dungeons had their share of stressful moments, they were exhilarating to play through. Each one more of a challenge than the last, leaving you catching your breath and feeling hardened yet accomplished by the end. As for the final Trial, it felt like the ultimate test of my healing skills in both initiative and perseverance. A successful battle, but one I’m in no rush to return to just yet in case my heart gives out. I can only nervously imagine what lies ahead in the upcoming Arcadion raid series.

Playing a support role throughout the bulk of my Dawntrail adventure felt apt. In Duty Support it meant that, for the most part, Wuk Lamat accompanied the party as a Tank. Given that this MSQ is Wuk Lamat’s journey, not the WoL’s, it felt far more immersive being part of the team rather than leading the charge. There is certainly no right way to enjoy an MMO, but for that extra splash of story participation there are definitely perks to maining Healer or DPS in Dawntrail.

A New Dawn On The Horizon

For fans of the wider Final Fantasy franchise, there’s so much to appreciate within Dawntrail. As Naoki Yoshida told us himself, with the “grand finale” concluded in Endwalker, the team have been able to focus “more on the element of having Final Fantasy XIV as the theme park for the franchise.” This extends far past the expansion’s pre-order and collector’s edition items, presenting strong references, both overtly and covertly, to Final Fantasy IX, X, and XI. A theme park? Absolutely. But Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail still stands on its own as an excellent expansion to this wild ride of an MMORPG. Expertly paced, beautifully challenging, and devastatingly emotional.

It is cutscene heavy — as with all FFXIV expansions, the story remains the primary focus. If you’re willing to take the time, enjoy the scenery, and engage with its story, you will get so much more enjoyment out of Dawntrail than by racing for endgame content. It might not be all that you’re used to, but with the theme of new adventures, new beginnings, all while respecting the ways that came before, Dawntrail is a wonderful branch into a new era for Final Fantasy XIV.

Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail Review: A Beautiful Start To A New Era (2024)
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