Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail review — Nothing gold can stay

The City of Gold – is it truly a metropolis made of precious metals? Or a paradise whose citizens never experience loss or suffering? Or perhaps simply a myth? Whatever it is, your adventurous nature says your next journey lies in the City of Gold. The city supposedly lies in the far off western continent of Tural, where the daughter of the current Dawnservent, Wuk Lamat, has invited you to help her win a contest for the throne. The contest involves recreating the Dawnservent’s initial journey in uniting Tural, with the first contestant to reach the City of Gold becoming his successor. Adventure awaits, but the next threat to the realm may be lurking in plain sight.

How exactly do you follow up an expansion like Endwalker, the end of a decade long story? Well, according to Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail, you don’t! Dawntrail is billed as a summer vacation for the Warrior of Light, casting off the shackles of the finale for something of a new start in a new land. As such, Dawntrail’s story is very different from any of the other expansions, with Wuk Lamat serving as the protagonist and you as part of her supporting cast. While I think Dawntrail stumbles frequently in its execution, it has so much heart it’s still hard not to love.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail First Dungeon (Viper) - PC [GamingTrend]

I’m going to try and keep my critiques of the story as spoiler free as possible, seeing as the game is less than a month old as of posting. Though if you want to play completely blind, you may want to skip down a paragraph or two. As previously mentioned, Dawntrail follows Wuk Lamat as she competes against three other claimants for the throne of Dawnservent. First Promise and biological son of current ruler Galool Ja Ja is Zoral Ja, who seeks to expand Tural’s sovereignty across the world through war. Second Promise and Galool Ja Ja’s adopted son is Koana who, after studying in Old Sharlayan, wants to improve the lives of the Turali through foreign technology and innovation, forgoing ancient traditions. Wuk Lamat is Third Promise and adopted daughter of the Dawnservent, and wishes only to continue the peace Tural currently enjoys. Finally, winner of a tournament and rewarded with the chance to compete is Bakool Ja Ja, a blessed Mamool Ja possessed of two heads who seeks to elevate his race above all others. While none of the claimants are ready or even suited to rule, it is imperative that neither Zoral Ja nor Bakool Ja Ja are allowed to take the throne, so the Scions of the Seventh Dawn step in to meddle in foreign politics once again.

I love stories where the main character isn’t necessarily the protagonist, and, like Final Fantasy X before it, Dawntrail fully commits to this idea. Wuk Lamat is very naive and grows a lot over the course of the journey, though there are times where it feels like she’s learning basically the same lesson more than once. The only time I desperately wanted the plot to just move forward was a section where you follow Erenville just before the first trial that goes on for way too long. I just wanna fight a cool thing, dang it. There’s also one point in the story where the quest completed and accepted jingles can really ruin the somber mood.

Dawntrail is a very messy story, with wonky pacing and once you hit about level 97 it feels like it becomes a different story altogether. There’s way too much packed between levels 99 and 100 especially. It’s loosely held together by a theme of understanding and the central character of Wuk Lamat, but I think these two disparate parts could have been blended together much better. As it is, this final act really comes out of nowhere, though it is a highlight of the overall adventure, with some emotional gut punches and touches that feel like they could only be done in a video game.

While I love Wuk Lamat with all my heart, I also think she takes a little too much of the focus. The twins, Krile, and Erenville also join her retinue, but it feels like they’re only there to fill out the Duty Support, with Alphinaud especially taking a backseat. Krile does have a secondary plot thread all about her, which is really great as she’s one of my favorite Scions, but even she feels occasionally forgotten by the plot. Given what happens in the final act, more focus really should have been put on Krile and Erenville and perhaps Alisae as well. I thought the game was building up to something with her, but she’s actually just replaced by G’raha Tia in the final hours for some reason. I like Raha a lot, but it felt like he was just shoved in because he’s a fan favorite. (Also, where’s the objectively best Scion, Tataru? And it’s a huge missed opportunity not to include Gosetsu in some fashion, since he’s on his pilgrimage.)

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Graphics Update Cutscene Comparison - PC [GamingTrend]

Even with all my complaints, I still thoroughly enjoyed Dawntrail’s story. It feels nothing like a summer vacation, but its return to politics after two expansions focused mostly on cosmic threats from beyond the star is refreshing and interesting. I also love the Americas inspiration, with different areas drawing on both South and North American cultures, though the Whalaqee gear set feels… insensitive to say the least, especially given the expansion’s themes of understanding, coexistence, and a particular area that’s somewhat against colonialism or appropriation. I wouldn’t mind Square removing that set from the game or replacing it with something, though the same could still be said for certain cash shop items.

As usual, the music, sound, and voice acting are all phenomenal. The normal battle theme is incredibly catchy and energetic, while some area themes later on surprised me with some compositions and genres I really wasn’t expecting. Somehow, it all fits together perfectly, though I was very confused by certain Shadowbringers and Endwalker tracks making a return during climactic moments. I played as the new job, Viper, for this expansion and, while we’ll get into how it plays in a bit, its attack sound effects are incredibly satisfying and crunchy. Finally, while the voice acting is good to great throughout, with some incredibly odd direction bringing things down overall, none of the performances quite match the heights of that one scene with Lyna in Shadowbringers which I see as the absolute peak of voice acting in FFXIV. Still, I want to draw special attention to Sena Bryer’s performance as Wuk Lamat. She’s rough around the edges, but it fits the character to a T, so much so that I hope the character and actress stick around for the foreseeable future even after Dawntrail’s patches are behind us. She’s just that charming. It’s great to see a trans actress play a (presumably) cis character, and I hope Square Enix will cast more queer people and create more queer characters who don’t just appear in the background.

On the road to the City of Gold, you’ll be doing the usual quest objective for FFXIV. Namely talking to NPCs to advance the story with normal enemy battles, dungeons, solo duties, and trials mixed in occasionally. I think the ratio of talking and fighting could be balanced a bit better, but when you do get to battle it’s still a lot of fun. The dungeons and trials are all awesome, with a ton of visual variety too, though I find it odd that the first boss of every dungeon is the hardest one. While the graphics update doesn’t change much of how the game looks outside of the expansion, Tural clearly benefits from the extra little flourishes. There’s some great solo duties and learning Viper was a blast. So much so it’s probably my favorite job to play now. It’s fast and busy, making it incredibly satisfying once it clicks and you can keep up the offensive even while you’re dodging mechanics. I know SE are currently considering a patch to make Viper less busy, but I implore them not to do so as that’s exactly what makes the class stand out from others. It’s what I loved about Stormblood Bard in a melee job, with buffs and debuffs to keep up while making time for your most damaging skills and hitting all six of the job’s positionals. It’s perfect as it is, don’t change a thing.

While I haven’t spent as much time with other jobs, I think my thoughts from the Media Tour still apply here; most jobs feel the same, Ninja is fun for me now, Monk is confusing, I’ll never remember what Astrologian’s cards do, and I yearn for the random bloodletter procs of Bard’s yesteryear. The other new job, Pictomancer, is still a blast too, even if I haven’t leveled it yet. I’m sure jobs will be changed and tweaked throughout the expansion (and Monk will get completely reworked yet again eventually) but I’m mostly happy with where everything is now. I do think overall homogenization has caused the job fantasy of each class to be forgotten, so hopefully in the future they can regain their more unique traits.

Role quests also make a return here, and while I think those are neat I really miss job quests. The ones for Viper and Pictomancer serve as fantastic tutorials for their classes, and in general I just want to check in with characters we haven’t seen since Stormblood. Some of those stories don’t feel like they’ve reached their proper resolutions, and I think a single quest for each job would go a long way towards reengaging them with their history in the world. I don’t think role quests should be removed, but having just a little thing focused on each individual job would be nice.

In addition to switching to a new job this expansion, I also took advantage of the free Fantasia level 1 quest to switch from Viera to Hrothgar. I like how my character turned out, but I will probably switch back to Viera since I don’t feel as connected to this version of her. Sadly, both races still have to deal with a glaring issue that I’m shocked we’re still dealing with five years later: the lack of hats. I get that it’s a monumental undertaking to rework all the headgear in the game to work with their unique head types, but at this point the team is just making more work for themselves in the future by not adding support for hats after these races and genders were introduced. I know I’m going to keep complaining until it’s fixed, and at this point it just feels more and more ridiculous.

The main reason I’m switching back from Hrothgar, however, is the fact that female Hrothgar only have four hairstyles per face type. Meaning hairstyle is tied to faces. Again. I can’t use any of the hairs I’ve unlocked over the years either. Just like with hats, I’m baffled as to why the developers chose to kick the can down the road rather than fix the problem here and now. I know it took a while for female Viera to get those hairstyles and more, but even they started with way more than fem Hrothgar are starting with here. Again, my only question is why.

Dawntrail may not live up to the lofty standards of Endwaler (sans patch story), but it’s still a great expansion. The story is interesting if poorly executed, the zones and dungeons hold a ton of variety, and each job is a ton of fun.

David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.



Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail

Review Guidelines

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail is very messy, but still greatly enjoyable. Wuk Lamat is a lovable character who I hope sticks around, with a satisfying character arc tying in with the expansion’s themes. Viper is a blast to play, and every dungeon or trial holds something new and unique. While the expansion isn’t the best FFXIV has to offer, it has so much heart you can’t help but smile.

David Flynn

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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