Tuliyollal in Final Fantasy XIV
Image Source: Square Enix via Twinfinite

FFXIV Dawntrail Review-in-Progress – A New World With Plenty of Promise

Tural welcomes us with open arms and tropical air, but isn't without an emotional rollercoaster.

While the genre of MMORPGs is already a very tight-knit club of only a few stronghold titles, Final Fantasy XIV has stood out for years now as its most unique success story. After getting the proverbial phoenix down from impassioned director Naoki (“Yoshi-P”) Yoshida just over a decade ago, the game not only made an outstanding comeback but has since grown into one of the most beloved RPGs in recent memory, thanks in large part to its spectacular storytelling, a devoted community that’s now over 50 million strong, and an ongoing experience that pays the utmost respect to the entire Final Fantasy universe.

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The previous Endwalker expansion, which dropped right in the middle of the global pandemic, orchestrated an emotional conclusion to the longtime conflict between the Ascians and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, which culminated in an epic showdown with both Hydaelyn and Zodiark that took our Warrior of Light to the furthest reaches of the universe. The era that started it all came to a heartfelt close, and players around the world grew excited and anxious to see what the new era would entail.

View of Tuliyollal in Final Fantasy XIV
Image Source: Square Enix via Twinfinite

Thus, to ring in the summer season, we were formally introduced to Dawntrail and the vast new continent of Tural, ripe for exploration. The expansion became one of the most highly anticipated ones to date, and pre-orders skyrocketed despite players still contending with Mog Station’s finicky transaction issues.

The hype in turn fueled a pre-emptive debate on how the launch of Dawntrail would transpire after its predecessor faced catastrophic server problems that left much of the community struggling to even log into the game for weeks. However, with semiconductor supply chain shortages no longer an issue, Yoshi-P and his team worked tirelessly to prepare extra data centers and expand server space by a whopping 50% to prevent such a situation with Dawntrail at all costs.

When Dawntrail’s Early Access period officially began on June 28, I logged in with cautious optimism, and thankfully it was rewarded with a queue that took surprisingly little time to get through, at least in the morning hours. I did notice that later in the evening and into the expansion’s inaugural weekend, the queue did grow considerably (no higher than 2,500), but still nowhere near the numbers that Endwalker begrudgingly faced. That, in and of itself, was Dawntrail’s first victory.

Wuk Lamat at Tuliyollal in Final Fantasy XIV
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The fresh new storyline kicks off with the Warrior of Light traveling by sea to Tural to uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of Krile’s grandfather and also, of course, to embark on a new adventure alongside Wuk Lamat. Our new Hrothgar protagonist and heroine, Wuk Lamat interestingly takes the narrative spotlight far more than the Warrior of Light compared to previous expansions. She’s brightly spirited, proactive and, despite her young age and lack of experience in politics, her unwavering respect and regard for Tural’s citizens resonates warmly with those she meets.

She’s also in line to succeed her father for Tural’s throne in the capital of Tuliyollal. However, to claim the title of Dawnservant she must first compete against three other contestants.

Koana in Final Fantasy XIV
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The first is her fellow adopted brother Koana, who firmly believes that Tural needs to embrace new-age technology and international trade with Sharlayan to prosper. The second is the brash, two-headed Mamool Ja named Bakool Ja Ja, who thinks strong-arming his way to the crown is the answer. The third and most consequential competitor is Zoraal Ja, the trueborn son of current ruler Gulool Ja Ja who, despite his aloof demeanor, unflinchingly believes that not only is he destined for the throne, but that Tural and the rest of the world must be educated by the horrors of war once more to truly unify and be worthy of the peace they currently enjoy.

This fateful contest serves as the starting point for our new adventure, and our introduction to the various regions of Tural and its inhabitants. As Wuk Lamat seeks out each region’s elector and progresses through the culturally significant tasks they bestow, we also gradually learn more about her competitors as they each handle said tasks differently.

Koana shares in Wuk Lamat’s genuine regard for Tural’s citizens and employs his technological intelligence to reach success, but his strictly objective point of view tends to get in the way of seeing the bigger picture. Meanwhile, Bakool Ja Ja often resorts to reckless violence and cheating to achieve his ends, while the incredibly strong but poker-faced Zoraal Ja plays by the rules, but only because he must.

Zoraal Ja in Final Fantasy XIV
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These tasks are not the only requirement for the future Dawnservant, however, as Gulool Ja Ja also decrees that his successor must also locate and unlock the fabled City of Gold. It’s not entirely clear what such a place is intended to contain, but it stands as the final task for Wuk Lamat and her rivals. While we won’t spoil what transpires later in the story, the consequences of the contest culminate in an unexpectedly emotional and even deeper conflict that takes our Warrior of Light and the Scions to a place where reality bends, deceives, and causes certain characters to unfurl.

As a whole, the story took a far more dramatic turn than I (and likely many of us) expected, considering how Dawntrail was initially portrayed as a tropical getaway adventure, though certainly with plenty of mysteries still to explore. However, the turn it ultimately takes isn’t necessarily to its detriment, and it does well to test Wuk Lamat to her limits while revealing some startling truths about others along the way. There are a couple of lulls here and there where it feels like the flow stumbles a bit, but nothing that I feel hinders it significantly.

There are certain narrative elements that have divided some of the community, notably that Wuk Lamat takes the wheel much of the way through Dawntrail rather than the Warrior of Light, and also particularly how the story plays out in the final two zones.

While those points are up for ongoing debate, I would still argue with absolute confidence that Dawntrail gave us one of the best new villains the game has had in a long time. They filled complex narrative gaps that other antagonists, even Zenos, simply didn’t satisfy.

Pelupelu with an alpaca in Final Fantasy XIV
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Of course, a significant contributing factor that helped provide us with such a riveting story is the game’s newly upgraded graphics. Many of the story’s cutscenes were noticeably more complex and theatrical, achieving moments that the game wouldn’t have been able to in previous expansions.

This helped make the narrative even more compelling, and of course, gave our characters a much-needed glow-up from head to toe. With features like far more expressive eyes and detailed textures to skin, hair, clothing, and armor, the graphic update also gave explorable environments more realistic details and dynamic lighting, further helping to bring FFXIV into a new era of gameplay. It’s something that was sorely needed and we’d argue that without it, the game would begin to lose its luster in more ways than one. However, Yoshi-P timed it perfectly and even offered players a free fantasia to commemorate the changes.

Queen Sphene in Final Fantasy XIV
Image Source: Square Enix via Twinfinite

Dawntrail also gives us plenty of new starter content to sink our teeth into, from combat to crafting, two new DPS jobs, and plenty more is due to drop in the coming weeks, with a particularly big spotlight on the first tier of Arcadion raids. Let’s face it, we’re all itching to do battle inside that giant GPU tower. Beyond that, we have many more things to look forward to, from Shades Triangle’ (Field Operations), to whatever Cosmic Exploration is meant to be, the new Beastmaster Limited Job, the Vana’diel Alliance Raids, and more. Dawntrail will hopefully keep us a lot busier for longer and avoid the infamously wide gaps between updates that Endwalker dealt with.

In terms of post-patch story content, there are many avenues that it can take with still plenty to explore in Tural, and we can only speculate at best where it could possibly go, which is exciting in itself. Tural undoubtedly has plenty more to give us, and thankfully we won’t have to deal with agonizingly long login queues to enjoy it.

We give a heartfelt taco toast to Dawntrail and what it’s endeavoring to do, and while some may disagree, in terms of its compelling story we feel it deserves to sit alongside the likes of Heavensward and Shadowbringers. If it fulfills its promise and continues to offer more dynamic gameplay content, it can further earn that pedestal in all other aspects.


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Author
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Stephanie Watel
Stephanie Watel is a freelance writer for Twinfinite. Stephanie has been with the site for a few months, and in the games media industry for about a year. Stephanie typically covers the latest news and a variety of gaming guides for the site, and loves gardening and being the bird lady of the neighborhood. She has a BA in Writing from Pace University in NY.