The final major patch of a Final Fantasy XIV expansion is an interesting experience. It has to finish setting things up for the next expansion, and there’s usually a decent amount of drama involved in that, but it also can’t quite kick the next story beat off. So players are led practically to the edge of a new jumping-off point, but they can’t quite take that leap and have to wait in limbo for a few months. There’s also the fact that the final major patch is actually split into two patches, with most of the main story content coming in the first half and a few quests that wrap things up in the second half. As a result, the pacing of the final major patch can feel a little off. Something exciting will definitely happen, but you’ll still ultimately come away from it feeling like you’re waiting for the next big plot point.
In a sense, patch 5.5 – Death Unto Dawn is no different. Yet unlike previous .5 patches, I found that I didn’t mind the waiting game nearly as much. It helped that patch 5.55, which concludes the main story, dropped sooner than I expected. But mostly it’s because 5.5 is full of character moments, humor, and emotion, in equal and perfect measure. A beloved character finally rejoins the fold, an old acquaintance is finally freed, and Fordola finally gets some screen time again. There are so many “finally” moments in this patch, and I think it’s brilliant. Tugging on plot threads left standing for multiple expansions is a surefire way to give longstanding players a swift kick in the feels, but it’s also a strength unique to the kind of long-form storytelling that FFXIV does so well. That aforementioned beloved character returning wouldn’t be nearly as impactful if we didn’t have the history with him that we’ve developed over multiple expansions. I finished the main story almost in awe of the connections we’ve formed with these characters and this world over the years, and despite my continued distaste for Zenos and Fandaniel, I found myself eager to see what happens next. That alone is a massive improvement over 5.4 in my opinion.
As with every major patch, there is a new dungeon accompanying the main story. Paglth’an is home to the nomadic Amalj’aa, and it’s the site of an epic battle between Zenos’s forces — known as the Telophoroi — and the Eorzean Alliance. Similar to 4.5’s Ghimlyt Dark, this dungeon features lots of minor skirmishes where you can see various allies wading into the fray. The scenery of a burning settlement is arresting, and a sequence near the end that has you flying over golden fields is one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen in a dungeon. As usual, the bosses aren’t too challenging, but I appreciated some of the different mechanics at play. The story behind this dungeon gets a little dark — the revelations it provides about the various towers Fandaniel has been erecting across the land are as intriguing as they are disturbing. All in all, it’s an excellent final dungeon for the expansion, and the heavy rock arrangement of the Amalj’aa theme that accompanies it is pretty badass.
Patch 5.5 also marks the conclusion of the Sorrow of Werlyt trial series. As you may have expected, the final battle pits you against Diamond Weapon, and the story accompanying this fateful clash is both tragic and somehow hopeful at the same time. The fight itself is pretty decent as far as final trials go, and I feel like the difficulty curve doesn’t drop off quite as much as it did in Heavensward and Stormblood. Victory depends on balancing your party between two flying platforms, and managing the various mechanics while maintaining awareness of the arena can be a bit challenging. Thankfully, there is no long transition between phases this time around, and I think the new arrangement of the Ultima Weapon theme is my favorite rendition since the original 2.0 track. All in all, it’s a pretty decent finale for a relatively strong trial series, and I look forward to seeing what Endwalker has in store for us in this regard.
Another piece of major content in this patch is the final act of the NieR alliance raid. I’m of two minds about this, as I have been since the second act in 5.3. On the one hand, I like the new raid. The Tower at Paradigm’s Breach takes players to a place that should be familiar to NieR: Automata fans by virtue of its name alone. Traversing the monochrome tower and minimalist network space that were so iconic in Automata is a treat, and the bosses you encounter along the way are a combination of foes from the original NieR as well as Automata. Some of the mechanics can be pretty challenging to parse and execute correctly, but the fights are generally still clearable even if players make lots of mistakes, so those worried about a repeat of Stormblood’s Orbonne Monastery can rest easy.
On the other hand, I’m disappointed by the story of this final leg of the raid series. Just like the previous tiers, there’s simply not enough exposition, and while 2B and 9S finally feature prominently, you don’t really get to know them enough to feel like they’re good companions — they’re just kind of there. After completing the raid and seeing the climax of the main plot, you can engage in a weekly quest that deals with the aftermath of these events, which is unusual for an alliance raid. I had hoped that these weekly outings, or the capstone quest introduced in patch 5.55, would make for a satisfying epilogue, but sadly, they haven’t. You’re rewarded with a few lore tidbits that help clarify what happened at the end of the raid, but the final quest is disappointingly vague and barebones. Thankfully, players don’t have to worry about their save data being destroyed or some other equally outlandish Yoko Taro twist.
At this point, I must make a confession. There’s a fairly significant piece of content from this expansion that I haven’t brought up in my reviews: the relic weapon quests. Since Stormblood, relic weapons have been obtained by adventuring in special instanced areas with unique rules designed to allow many players to explore and battle monsters together. In Shadowbringers, your task is to help the Bozjan resistance reclaim their home from the Garlean IVth Imperial Legion. I dabbled in this content when the first chapter launched with patch 5.25, but I didn’t have the drive to continue it in a timely manner, and because new chapters released after major patches, there was never a good time to bring it up. But in patch 5.55, the final chunk of Bozja content is the most significant thing you can do aside from finishing off the main story, so I decided to throw myself back into it. Over the better part of a week, I participated in skirmishes and critical engagements to gain mettle and increase my resistance rank. I finally unlocked and ran Castrum Lacus Litore and Delubrum Reginae, special raids for 48 and 24 players respectively, and progressed the story to access Zadnor, the second and final area added in patch 5.55.
Like the Bozjan Southern Front, Zadnor is a large, wide-open area comprising three zones that you gradually gain access to as your rank increases. The zones are dull to look at, and moving through them can feel painfully slow, even with riding maps. With flight retroactively added to all A Realm Reborn zones in patch 5.3, it just feels wrong to be landlocked again, and it often means you have to go out of your way to avoid mobs you don’t want to fight — because if you do aggro them, they chase you for a ridiculously long time. These travel issues can make it frustrating to reach certain skirmishes because the wonky level scaling can sometimes mean that a skirmish is over lightning fast. Despite these annoyances, I did enjoy learning the mechanics of the new critical engagements, some of which feature familiar Espers from Final Fantasy XII and the Return to Ivalice alliance raids from Stormblood. The Dalriada, which is the new 48-man large-scale critical engagement, is also a lot of fun, and like its Southern Front counterpart, Castrum, it serves as the climax for the Bozja storyline.
Speaking of the story, it’s penned by Yasumi Matsuno (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII), who also wrote the Return to Ivalice storyline required to unlock the Bozja content. While the backdrop is standard “rebellion against the evil empire” fare, there’s a twist fairly early on that spices things up and poses an interesting conundrum to players. Things resolve as you might expect, but an epilogue suggests that we haven’t seen the last of the IVth Imperial Legion. This is fine with me because I’m eager to learn more about them and would love Matsuno to continue his Ivalice adaptation in a third expansion. As an aside, you can collect field notes on NPCs as you complete skirmishes and progress the story; there’s a wealth of lore to be had here, and it’s kind of cool to learn about the major and minor characters you encounter on the battlefield.
As for the relic weapons themselves…be prepared for a lot of grinding. There are several steps to complete, almost all of which require that you gather a multitude of items to enhance and sometimes reforge your weapon of choice. What’s nice about the grind, compared to Eureka in Stormblood, is that you generally have options for how you want to obtain the necessary items. You can get them by doing Bozja content, but you can also do content outside Bozja if you prefer. One step is particularly mind-numbing, but thankfully it only has to be completed once, even if you do multiple weapons. Just be sure to have a good podcast rotation or something else to distract you as you farm materials for your shiny new weapons.
Finally, the release of patch 5.5 also coincided with the launch of the PS5 client beta, and patch 5.55 marked the release of the client proper. While the PS4 client can run on the PS5 by virtue of the system’s backwards compatibility, it was inevitable that a native version that can take full advantage of the new console’s capabilities would be released. The single biggest upgrade is, of course, the load times. Loading into the game from the character select screen takes less than five seconds, and teleporting from area to area is even faster. Another benefit to the PS5 client is higher resolution at higher frame rates. On PS4 Pro, the game could run at (upscaled) 4K, but the frame rate — particularly when things got busy onscreen — was awfully choppy. I couldn’t stomach it and had to play in 1080p. The PS5 client, however, can run in native 4K at more comfortable frame rates. It’s not 60 FPS, but it feels like a smoother experience overall. Of course, if you’re like me and you’re used to 60+ FPS on PC, you may still want to use a lower resolution (1440p and 1080p are available). The last big feature of the PS5 client is support for the DualSense controller, namely its adaptive triggers and haptic feedback. I’m not a huge fan of this, but I’m also used to playing the game with no rumble function whatsoever, so your mileage may vary.
After the main plot of Shadowbringers wrapped up in 5.3, I was apprehensive about where things would go in the future. 5.4 only amplified my concerns, as I mentioned in my review, but 5.5 has surprisingly turned things around. While I remain ambivalent at best about our heroes’ current adversaries, I’m much more optimistic about the story as a whole now. We still have a few more patches to go before Shadowbringers is truly over, but with the reveal of Endwalker and the conclusion of the main story in 5.55, I’m ready to say farewell to the best FFXIV expansion and dive into what I hope will be a worthy contender for the throne.