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Final Fantasy XIV Media Tour Hands-On Dawntrail Preview

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail screenshot of a beautiful vista with jutting mountains and waterfalls.

Editor’s note: The following impressions are based upon a pre-release build that has not undergone final adjustments. All content is subject to significant change. It also contains a few spoilers for Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail.

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Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker is an almost impossible act to follow. Bringing a story ten years in the making to a close, with some of the most emotional and poignant storytelling in the genre, along with all the rest of the excellence we’ve come to expect of FFXIV, led it to be our runaway Game of the Year in 2021, and, at least in my eyes, it was more than deserving. 

But no one would disagree that Endwalker is a lot. It’s dark, tense, and filled with pathos. Our Warrior of Light has certainly gone through it. So, what did Yoshi-P and his team decide to do with the next expansion, Dawntrail? Take us on vacation. That’s certainly a change of pace, and one that I’ll admit I’ve been concerned won’t live up to what the team has built with this game.

After getting the opportunity to go hands-on with Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail for several hours, my biggest takeaway is this: I’ll be there day one, piña colada in hand, ready to hang out with my best video game friends on the beach.

To start the event, Yoshi-P discussed adjustments for Dawntrail with us. As exciting as it was to meet him in person, Yoshida didn’t have much new information to share. He mostly covered information we’ve heard before, but he did highlight that the team is making changes to maintain the “long-term health” of the game, specifically commenting that while some previous expansions have focused on bolstering the single-player experience, Dawntrail will instead focus on the “MMO” in MMORPG. He didn’t comment much on what that means, but we know there will be new content in the patches for the relic grind, à la Bozja and Eureka. After a somewhat disappointing and bare patch cycle for Endwalker, I’m excited to see what they do to keep me logging on every day to play my favorite game.

Dawntrail‘s Vibrant World

After the talk, I dove into Dawntrail, and the first thing that struck me was that it looked gorgeous. The updated lighting work was especially impressive on the characters themselves and in the different environments we explored. I know some have expressed disappointment after the Benchmark (which was just updated this week), but they’re continuing to work on how things look. Yoshi-P also assured us that work is ongoing to refine Dawntrailuntil release, so it might look even better once the full game drops. Oh, and the ability to apply two different dyes to gear is finally here, and the results look great. I know many of my friends will get lost for hours with the new glamming possibilities.

It’s a good thing they’re updating the graphics, too, because the new zones, towns, and dungeons are detailed, colorful, and, most strikingly, massive. We were allowed to explore three previously announced zones: the new hub town Tuliyollal and the areas Urqopacha and Kozama’uka. Each zone was full of FATES and hunt marks, and we had access to every combat job leveled to 100, allowing us to see their full kit. Finally, we could run the new level 91 dungeon: Ihuykatumu.

Outside of their scope, one thing that is consistent between all the places I got to see is that the feel is very cohesive, bolstered by the music at various points; Soken continues to impress with his range, even going for a fun, jazzy blend with the tune for Tuliyollal. It makes sense because Tuliyollal has the feel of a place where many different people and cultures come together to create something whole and unique. The space itself is easily the largest hub town in terms of pure land mass, and it almost feels like there are different neighborhoods as you stroll through the various streets and housing structures. There’s really nothing like it in Final Fantasy XIV yet, and I can’t wait to meet the people of this space.

That same philosophy extends to the two explorable zones, too. Usually, I’d try to break them both down separately because of their different feels, but honestly, there’s just so much packed into both Urqopacha and Kozama’uka that I can’t name a single “feel” for any of the spaces. There are tiny towns tucked into the sides of mountains, massive rising towers off to another side, and lush, beautiful trees off to the south of another. This variety is only enhanced by the sheer verticality of each zone, with each layer having its own character and voice, ready to be filled with unique people and tribes. Certainly, this isn’t the first time the developers have put multiple tribes in the same space. But in Dawntrail, each area of each zone feels so unique and distinct that I think we’ll actually see how these people live not just through quests, but by how they design their space. What’s most impressive is how all of this ties together into a cohesive space, held together by its tropical stylings and stunning music.

However, the developers may have impressed me the most with the new dungeon: Ihuykatumu. The best word to describe it is just…fun. Sure, I’ve had a blast in plenty of dungeons over the years, but it’s the conceit of the dungeon itself that really distinguishes it. While I don’t have much context, it’s clear from the interactions throughout Ihuykatumu that the contest at the center of Dawntrail‘s narrative is already in full motion, with other contestants trying to foil your progress throughout, even some of your old friends. It never feels overly serious, and frankly, the word “fun” seems to extend to the members of the party. They seem to be having a blast, and I think you will, too.

Ihuykatumu also gave me the opportunity to see the only real new mechanic I noticed in Dawntrail: messages that display during the fight that indicate new mechanics that are about to come up. I know, it sort of sounds like a cast bar, and honestly, that’s essentially how these messages seem to function so far, but it’s worth keeping an eye on how the developers use this feature going forward.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Job Changes

As interesting as the new zones and dungeons are, if you’re anything like me, you’re most interested in job changes. One thing I’ll get out of the way early here is that, outside of a couple of jobs, I’m no expert. It would be smart to seek out other, more detailed rundowns of the changes from people like Mr. Happy if you want that. What I’ll be doing is giving you a general overview of the job changes, but I’ll keep it pretty broad.

One significant change is how job actions can often be assigned to the same buttons, but honestly, this wasn’t as much of a wholesale adjustment as I expected. The way it works on most jobs is that if one job action makes another job action available, the button you used for the first will also activate the second. For example, once you use High Jump on Dragoon, the icon will update to Mirage Dive. This is a setting you can turn on and off, and some jobs will use it more than others, but it helps prevent your hotbar, especially if you’re a controller player, from getting too busy. However, while I think some expected this change to extend to the basic 1-2-3 combo actions, they don’t in most cases. You’ll still need to have your basic combo actions on different buttons. I’m not sure why they still haven’t gone all-in on this change, but I think this is inevitable in the future.

Otherwise, there seem to be two approaches to job changes in Dawntrail: either it will extend and slightly expand what the job is doing if they thought it mostly worked in Endwalker, or they’ll sand some of the edges off of the jobs that might have been too busy or complex while still maintaining their basic identity in other cases. This latter approach is most apparent in jobs like Astrologian and Ninja, two complex jobs that still basically feel the same as in Endwalker, but are now much more approachable and less prone to mistakes.

Maybe the best way to explain these two approaches is with my two main DPS jobs: Reaper and Dragoon. Reaper is in good shape in Endwalker, with a solid, approachable rotation that provides some opportunities to optimize with skill. Outside of adjusting one ability gauge gain to prevent overcapping on a resource, Dawntrail really only adds two actions: one as an additional OGCD to use during Enshroud, and another that builds on the Enshroud finisher under certain circumstances. Otherwise, the job is mostly as you remember it. Dragoon, on the other hand, is sometimes considered too busy in Endwalker, so they’ve eliminated one buff (Dragon Sight), eliminated a jump, added a gap closer, and made your burst (Eye of the Dragon) fire at the beginning of the fight. There are a few added combo actions to your jumps withoutadding additional buttons, too. It still feels like Dragoon, but managing all the double weaving is a lot easier.

Regardless, the goal seems to be to raise the floor on some of the more challenging jobs while also allowing the more “hardcore” players to focus on their burst phases in a more approachable way. To me, that’s a good thing for the game’s long-term health, and while it won’t keep everyone happy, I think it’s the right approach.

Of course, there are also two brand new jobs to play in Dawntrail: Viper and Pictomancer. Both of them are clearly built with the new button-sharing mechanics in mind. There are relatively few buttons on your hotbar, many of which transform into different actions as you move through your combos, helping to keep things tidy and also helping inexperienced players (like me) know what to do.

Of the two, it was an enormous shock to me that I most enjoyed Pictomancer, and not just because of my love for Final Fantasy VI. It just feels so complete right out of the gate. With Pictomancer, you flip between two gauges, one that relies on basic spells and another on painting different “motifs.” As you build your base magic gauge, you can fire off more powerful white and black magic spells, and filling the canvases lets you summon more powerful spells, like Madeen, to push out massive damage. Honestly, I only got a solid feel for one gauge in my time with Pictomancer, but while it has elements of both Black Mage and Summoner, it feels unique with its own identity, which is impressive at this late stage in the game’s life.

That’s actually where I felt Viper fell a little short. Viper focuses on flipping between various rotations with both your attached and unattached swords, some of which are designed for speed buffs, others damage buffs for you or debuffs for the enemy, and building your gauge toward big damage. That’s really about all I can say about the job. It feels like it has the speed of Ninja at times, the stance and rotation flipping of Monk and Samurai, and a burst that feels an awful lot like Reaper. None of that is a problem, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to do anything beyond “quick flashy DPS” that apes other jobs’ most unique features. Of course, I only had a short time with Viper. So, while my opinion might change, I’m a bit underwhelmed in the early going.

Put simply, Dawntrail couldn’t feel any different from the last two expansions in style and tone. That might sound like a bad thing to those of us who love what FFXIV has accomplished, but it’s time to give our Warriors of Light a break, and that break looks like it’s full of a ton of fun and character, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect. The new direction of the story, mixed with the further refinements to the already excellent gameplay, makes Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail look like a vacation worth taking, if for nothing else than to see what Estinien wears on the beach.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail releases for Windows, macOS, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Xbox Series X|S on July 2nd, 2024. Pre-ordering the expansion from Square Enix moves that date up, granting early access on June 28th.

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Zach Wilkerson

Zach Wilkerson

After avidly following RPGFan for years, Zach joined as a Reviews Editor in 2018, and somehow finds himself helping manage the Features department now. When he's not educating the youth of America, he can often be heard loudly clamoring for Lunar 3 and Suikoden VI.

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