Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail Review


I need to know

What is this? The fifth expansion for Square’s MMO and the first following the conclusion of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga.
release date July 2, 2024
Expect to be paid $40/£30
Developer Square Enix
Publisher Square Enix
Rated on Intel Core i7-7700, 16GB RAM
Steam deck Possibility of playing
To combine Official page

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Endwalker was the culmination of ten years of worldbuilding and storytelling that ended with the threat of the end of the universe. It was a moment in the MMO era where the Warrior of Light was pushed to its limits and the saga of Hydaelyn and Zodiark came to an end. Now comes the next expansion for Final Fantasy 14. Will it live up to the expectations of fans?

No. It can’t. But honestly, what could? There’s no continuing to save the world and fight the physical embodiment of universal despair. Instead, Dawntrail boldly follows its own path of fresh beginnings and recent adventures. It occasionally stumbles across recent continents of Tural along the way, but (mostly) it lands.

(Photo source: Square Enix)

The first thing you notice about Dawntrail, before you even get on the boat to Tural, is how good everything looks. This expansion brings a major graphical update to the game, greatly improving the look of characters, materials, and lighting. It’s such a substantial step forward that I spent the first hour of the game marveling at the smallest details, like the fact that my character now has airy shadows under his eyes that give his face real depth. The bottle and cabinets in my house have defined texture, and the vegetation now seems so full. Everyone really brightened up.

After inviting you to join her troop during the recent Endwalker update, the cat Wuk Lamat largely drives the story of Dawntrail. She is the reason you travel to Tural—you are there to aid her win the right of succession and claim the Dawnservant throne over her siblings. This is a true family story about meeting expectations and balancing the boundaries of love and rivalry. Wuk Lamat and her brother Koana, an incredibly wise Miqo’te, are the adopted children of the current Dawnservant—a giant, two-headed lizard-like Mamool Ja called Gulool Ja Ja. She also has a legitimate son, Zoraal Ja, who will stop at nothing to win the fight for the throne. And they are joined by a fourth contender—Bakool Ja Ja—another holy two-headed Mamool Ja.

Things start off pretty slowly as you explore the forests and swamps of Kozama’uka and the Urqopacha Mountains and get to know the people who live there. There’s no real threat to contend with, just sibling rivalry and the inevitability of being compared to your family. As a Warrior of Light, you’re there in a mentoring role to guide Wuk Lamat as she confronts her shortcomings and discovers her strengths. She’s a very honest and believable character who clearly isn’t ready to lead until she starts to find her footing. Unlike her rivals, who she’s not as wise or powerful as, she takes the time to spread out and learn about all the cultures and delicacies she comes across.

(Photo source: Square Enix)

She’s adorable as you watch her overcome her own insecurities and grow in such a low time, but she’s also prone to too many speeches about getting to know people and working together. It’s cute the first and second time, but it starts to grate on the fifth—like our hand is being held a little too tightly. Yes, we get it, working together to overcome our differences is great.

The landscape of Shaaloani is great—dusty and full of oddly shaped cacti just waiting to attack you—but it’s also full of formulaic and unconvincing performances.

Eventually, the succession ritual comes to an end, and things take a strange turn with a surprising Wild West chapter. At first glance, now that everything is settled, you’re taking a little road trip with your senior friend Erenville to visit his hometown, but instead you find yourself in a strange pocket of cowboys, gunfights, and saloons. That’s the only major drawcard in Dawntrail. The Shaaloani landscape is great—it’s dusty and full of oddly shaped cacti waiting to attack you—but it’s also full of leads and unconvincing performances. The change in tone feels so out of place, and one Scion appearance was so astonishing that I couldn’t aid but laugh at its absurdity.

However, the ponderous pace and relative dullness of the events did have one advantage – it made the final part of the story hit like a truck. Finally, a real threat emerges – one that can’t be fixed by talking about it and overcoming differences. To say more would spoil the surprise, because in the final zones everything really comes together. The final zone in total limbo is particularly worth playing through, and it’s honestly one of the best areas I’ve seen in the entire game. It also sets up some really invigorating possibilities for the future of FF14.

(Photo source: Square Enix)

Ultimately, the game is an exploration of family bonds—whether it’s the way siblings compare themselves to each other, trying to connect with their parents, or the conflict of still loving someone who did something unforgivable. It also explores different approaches to finding your birth parents, dealing with grief, and creating your own found families with friends. It may not do it perfectly, but there are plenty of deep, touching moments that will resonate no matter what your family looks like.

Despite the odd plot hiccup, exploring Tural is wonderful. Every town you come across feels so unique, with its own history and customs, from the feathered Hanuhan’s reliance on reeds and ceremonies, to the giant Yok Huy’s belief in the afterlife. You explore each one with a surprising amount of detail that helps ground this sprawling fantasy world, making it feel material and real. The forests of Yak’Tel are a particular highlight, as you navigate the simmering tensions between those who live in the brilliant, upper forest and those who live in near-darkness in the lower half. The descent from sunlight and swaying leaves to gnarled roots and the tender blue glow of luminescent plants is as dramatic as it gets.

The whole adventure is reminiscent of Final Fantasy 10. It’s one long route, supporting Wuk Lamat on her journey much like Tidus supports Yuna, but without the doomed, secret kisses in the glowing forest. Final Fantasy 11 fans also get a feast of Easter eggs and musical flourishes in the final quarter.

(Photo source: Square Enix)

Sadly, Endwalker’s obnoxious stealth sections return (one right after the other, ugh), but thankfully with a facelift that makes them easier to follow. There are also a few missed opportunities – many of the story quests simply involve talking to someone who then sends you back. There are a few excellent solo quests, but they feel few and far between. Some recent quest types could have really spiced things up. Fortunately, the combat is the best it’s ever been.

Some recent quest types could really spice things up. Fortunately, the combat is the best it’s ever been.

As a healer, the recent dungeons made me sweat. Each boss has a recent mechanic that really mixes things up, layering them on in unexpected ways. Now, in addition to having to dodge telegraphed attacks, you’ll also have to weave between obstacles and watch the edges of the arena and projectile paths carefully. Despite having so many recent mechanics to play with, the game is still immediately readable—you just have to try harder not to get hit. Two post-game dungeons in particular combine inventive designs with cheeky references and mechanics that get your adrenaline pumping. They set a recent bar for invigorating combat.

The two recent professions, Pictomancer and Viper, fit in nicely with the lineup, with Viper carving out its own super-fast niche and Pictomancer providing a great alternative to Black Mage. Viper is basic to pick up on the surface level, so you’ll be safely destroying enemies from the get-go, but it takes more skill to master. Pictomancer, on the other hand, seems a bit complicated at first as you build up your attacks, but it soon clicks into place. While most other professions transition smoothly into the recent level, Black Mage players struggle with the increased emphasis on dungeon movement when trying to pull off certain spells.

(Photo source: Square Enix)

Elsewhere, crafters and gatherers have plenty to eat thanks to recent materials and recipes. There aren’t any major changes to how things work, but there wasn’t really a need for them. Delivery quests are great for filling out Tulliyolal’s culture, and are worth doing to get more goodies.

Much like the family bonds explored throughout the game, Dawntrail feels cluttered. But while there are disappointments and low points, it’s also full of heart. It’s best in the compact moments of joy and discovery you share with those around you. Wuk Lamat’s journey may not be to everyone’s taste, but the game’s world and combat combine to make up for the story’s shortcomings and round everything out into one hell of a package.

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