Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Review: 2 Final 2 Fantasy


Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail

By: Jason Siu


8 min read

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Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review, FullCleared

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Quick Verdict

All Aboard

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review gallery, FullCleared

Despite having Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail as my most anticipated game of 2024, I had tempered expectations for the expansion as the long-running MMORPG starts a new era. With the exception of 1.0, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and its expansions are generally regarded as exceeding expectations. Heavensward introduced the idea that an MMORPG could have proper storytelling with memorable characters. While Stormblood is a divisive expansion and is largely considered the weakest, it still delivered an experience better than most expansions from popular MMORPGs. Shadowbringers solidified Final Fantasy XIV as one of the best storytelling games ever, not just in the MMORPG genre. For many, Endwalker surpassed Shadowbringers as the team concluded the Hydaelyn vs. Zodiark saga, and expectations for Creative Studio III have never been higher.

However, ever since its introduction, Dawntrail has been touted as a summer vacation for our heroes. With no world-ending threat looming over our Warrior of Light, it was time to embark on an adventure again, seeing new areas of Etheirys as Emet-Selech demanded of us. Very few games give you that real sense of adventure like a new Final Fantasy XIV expansion, with its combination of excellent music, cinematics, narration, and characters. Dawntrail also benefits from introducing the game’s first major graphical update since its launch, giving the game a fresh coat of paint—just in time for the Pictomancer job.

A New Family

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review gallery, FullCleared

Dawntrail is a bit like a new season of a TV show, introducing a new cast of characters and setting up a new region to explore. By now, Creative Studio III is an expert at proper storytelling with an almost formulaic method for character development and worldbuilding. Much of your enjoyment of the expansion comes down to how well you connect with Wuk Lamat, who is the main character and protagonist for the 25 to 30-hour adventure. This isn’t the first time the entire spotlight wasn’t on the player character, but this expansion might be the longest where the Warrior of Light doesn’t feel like the main character. The spotlight isn’t even shared, as much of what happens in the story has your Warrior of Light doing their best Estinien impression. That is, stepping in when there’s something that needs to be beaten silly. This could be jarring for some because one of the big reasons Final Fantasy XIV feels different from World of Warcraft is that your character is the hero of the story.

Not surprisingly, Dawntrail starts off as a story of friendship and companionship, which has always been the heart of Final Fantasy XIV. It’s fair to poke fun at every expansion’s “power of friendship” plotline, but this is arguably the core of every Final Fantasy game. Overall, I enjoyed the new cast, especially Gulool Ja Ja, and found Wuk Lamat to be more tolerable as time went on. While she’s probably one of the weaker main characters to be introduced in Final Fantasy XIV, she at least gets proper character growth that doesn’t magically get tossed out the window for story reasons—I’m looking at you, Lyse. The expansion as a whole, however, focuses on a singular topic: family. Vin Diesel would be proud.

In Search of Discovery

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review gallery, FullCleared

With the long saga out of the way, Final Fantasy XIV starts its new era with back-to-basics storytelling. I found the first half of the story rather predictable, and it felt like a filler arc from any random anime series. It follows a rather flat plotline focused on the rite of succession and Wuk Lamat’s character growth with few surprises. It serves as a feel-good story that sets up the second half of the expansion, which is a lot more interesting and exciting. Unlike Endwalker’s rollercoaster-type storytelling, where the high points were followed by boring low points, Dawntrail plateaus early and stays steady for about 80 percent of the expansion. While the best of the expansion doesn’t reach the same heights as Endwalker, the worst parts aren’t as low as Endwalker’s multiple sequences of annoying filler quests. I found the highest points of Dawntrail are on par with Shadowbringers, but it really does stick to a familiar script. It’s fair to say it reskins elements from all the previous expansions.

My biggest disappointment with Dawntrail is that there was never a memorable moment that introduced something novel to the game. For example, one of my favorite spots in Endwalker was being able to do a dungeon with Emet-Selch, Hythlodaeus, and Venat, or when you get to do your first eight-man Trial with all the Scions. Shadowbringers’ surprise was putting you in the shoes of an NPC, like being able to control Thancred. Stormblood added swimming, and Heavensward introduced flying. I never experienced that memorable moment in Dawntrail that I’ll be talking about for years.

The Shape of Peace

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review gallery, FullCleared

What I did find memorable were the dungeon and Trial mechanics, as Dawntrail tallied the most dungeon deaths during the MSQ of all the expansions. Despite having NPCs to follow for certain mechanics, I found myself surprisingly overwhelmed by some bosses. Unfortunately, the dungeon format remains the same, which is something the team at Creative Studio III needs to figure out. After all these years, a newcomer to the game likely can’t tell the difference between a Dawntrail dungeon and an ARR dungeon, aside from the complexity of boss mechanics. Many of the dungeon boss mechanics in this expansion focus on “order of operations” mechanics, where you’ll have to pay attention to what’s happening first, second, third, etc.

Although Final Fantasy XIV is working on becoming much more playable as a single-player experience, there is still one eight-man Trial that must be completed with other players in Dawntrail. The rest of the expansion’s experience can be completed solo with the Trust system. I love that they’re continuing to build on the system with some characters taking on multiple roles, and it’s always fun to count how many NPCs are around to figure out who might be joining you on the next Trial.

Blowing Smoke

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review gallery, FullCleared

As for the graphical update, it’s rather interesting. If you’ve been playing the game as long as I have, you’ll notice that things are different, but initially, it doesn’t feel like a night-and-day difference. As a Lalafell, the changes are much less noticeable, but some races are significantly improved. There are some moments in Dawntrail that will make you stop and take in the sights. The biggest difference I found on PC is how much better distant objects look. It also helps that Dawntrail is the most scenic and picturesque expansion we’ve gotten, particularly one zone. I took nearly 100 screenshots during my MSQ adventure, and you can view most of them in the gallery below—spoiler alert!

It was also the smoothest expansion launch I’ve been a part of. I wasn’t around when Heavensward went live, but I endured the early days of A Realm Reborn and Raubahn (Savage) in Stormblood. We won’t even talk about Endwalker’s rough launch, to the point that Square Enix stopped sales of the game as queues reached hours for some servers. During the Dawntrail Early Access weekend, I experienced one disconnect, which seemed to have impacted multiple servers, and the longest queue I had was about 35 minutes. I know other people on other data centers had different experiences, but Excalibur, for the most part, was very smooth.

Pick up the Pieces

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review gallery, FullCleared

It’s a bit facetious, but Dawntrail can really be summed up as, “Do Stormblood, but better.” The story of Wuk Lamat will remind players of Lyse Hext, although it is fundamentally different. As you get deeper into the MSQ, it starts tackling the topic of life and death while heavily focusing on familial bonds. I know it’s not an excuse, but the end of Dawntrail makes up for the expansion’s slower start. Pacing remains an issue, especially with the odd intermission between the two main arcs. I do hope Creative Studio III decides to change things up a bit with the MSQ structure, although I understand being consistent ensures a level of quality.

When I went through Endwalker, I often found myself thinking, “Oh, if they do this, it would be the coolest thing ever!” and they did, like the aforementioned dungeon with Emet-Selch, Hythlodaeus, and Venat. With Dawntrail, I found myself thinking, “I really hope they don’t do this,” and they did. The expansion surprisingly takes very few risks when arguably this was the best time for the team to try out new ideas. It really is unfortunate Creative Studio III played it safe with Dawntrail.

Dawn of a New Tomorrow

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review gallery, FullCleared

Final Fantasy XIV may truly be a victim of its own success. Every expansion will be unfairly compared to Shadowbringers and Endwalker, even though any sensible person knew Dawntrail wouldn’t deliver that level of storytelling. Still, I expected more risks and changes to the formula, especially when much of the MSQ has boiled down to an interactive visual novel. Dawntrail’s MSQ has very large gaps between combat—it seems like hours can pass without you having to use any of your actual abilities on your hotbars if you’re not stopping to do FATEs.

Despite these criticisms, Dawntrail still delivers a better experience than most MMORPG expansions. Once again, Soken and the team craft another S-tier soundtrack, and there is enough of an emotional payoff to make the adventure worth your time. Similar to the message Dawntrail delivers, we should consider ourselves fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy games like Final Fantasy XIV. Like life, it may not always be perfect, but it’s still very much worth experiencing.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail official release date is July 2, 2024 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. This review is based on a purchased retail copy of the game on PC during the Early Access period, which started on June 28, 2024. While FullCleared does have affiliate partnerships, they do not influence our editorial content. We may, however, earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Review Gallery (spoilers!)

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With over 20 years of online publishing experience, Jason Siu is currently the Content Director at VerticalScope and used to spend most of his time writing about cars. His work can be seen on websites such as AutoGuide, EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, and more. As the former co-founder of and West Coast Editor of Modified Magazine, he has also authored two books for CarTech Books. In his spare time, he founded FullCleared to indulge in his passion for writing about games. Although Jason is a variety gamer, he generally prefers RPGs.

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