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FFXIV's Return to Form: Dawntrail Review

Join me for a spoiler-free review of Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail. Discover why I'm thrilled about FFXIV's new expansion as a penman.

Gabriel Sidwell
Gabriel Sidwell
4 min read
Square Enix's FFXIV Dawntrail - Promotional Artwork

The next expansion of the hit MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV, is finally here. I’ve had the opportunity to play during early access and have spent the last few days progressing through the Main Scenario, following the Scions’ journey as they raise their chosen Promises to become better leaders for their people—among them, the Third Promise, Wuk Lamat.

I’ve been eager to talk about Dawntrail’s story for the past week. There are new revelations that have me excited to see what happens next in this expansion, and new foundations are being laid for this new era of FFXIV, which I believe will align well with Yoshi-P’s long-term ambitions for the game. Let’s chat about these changes in a spoiler-free review of Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail.

World-Building is Back in Earnest

Shadowbringers was lauded as one of the best expansions in Final Fantasy XIV, and for good reason. Brought to the world of the First Reflection, players were treated to a new and colorful world on the brink of collapse. We met numerous characters in the First who taught us about Norvrandt’s different cultures, customs, and the importance of coming together to survive the Calamity of Light. The stakes we faced as the Warrior of Darkness made for a thrilling adventure as we fought against the world’s end and the Sin Eaters that threatened it.

The world-building in Norvrandt was fantastic, and many in the community hoped that Endwalker would deliver the same quality of world-building. While Thavnair and Sharlayan provided a fair amount of world-building, Garlemald’s introduction was incredibly lacking.

For a major force that had opposed the Eorzean Alliance since before A Realm Reborn, the amount of writing and attention Garlemald received was disappointing. I felt like the story arc of Garlemald skipped a proper ending in favor of silly Loporrits with their moon, the filler episode that is Elpis, and the ludicrous reason for the Final Days involving Hermes and his flawed creation, Meteion. We’ll talk more about characters later.

G'raha Tia - Enjoy Those Tacos

I am pleased to announce, however, that Dawntrail delivers on the promise of offering a wealth of world-building. The amount of lore and different cultures packed into Tural is staggering compared to Endwalker. The Warrior of Light gets a chance to stand and breathe in the New World and its capital, Tuliyollal. While the second half of the expansion ramps up the tension, I found that the world-building wasn’t sacrificed, as the writers maintained an appropriate pace to sustain the quality of their work.

The Pace of Dawntrail’s Writing

Compared to Stormblood and Endwalker, the pacing of Dawntrail’s writing is much better. This may be a hot take, but I would argue that the pacing is even better than Shadowbringers in some areas. Akin to Heavensward’s pace, Dawntrail starts at a slow and leisurely pace, allowing players to breathe in the New World without the constant threat of danger and world-ending stakes.

That’s not to say that Dawntrail maintains this pace throughout the entire expansion. There are legitimate stakes and problems introduced in the latter half of the expansion, which quicken the pace and lead to a climactic conclusion that felt satisfying. After the constant stress of back-to-back expansions involving saving the world, the return to localized conflict was welcome, even if otherworldly elements were introduced (if you’ve seen the promotional material for Dawntrail, then you already know about Solution 9).

The appropriately paced storytelling adds another benefit to Dawntrail—the chance to get to know and appreciate the characters we travel with and contest against.

Honestly, This World is Massive

The Memorable Characters of Tural

My biggest issue with Hermes and Meteion, as I hinted at earlier, is that there was little to no build-up to their introduction in Elpis. The weak ties between Fandaniel’s madness and Hermes’ sophism made it almost impossible to understand why Hermes opted to doom his world, and I had little appreciation for Meteion deciding to destroy entire planets to prevent suffering, even if the decision was explained with Dynamis.

In Dawntrail, you’re introduced to the key cast of characters early in the story, and this, paired with the story’s pacing, significantly improves the memorability of the new cast. You get to watch the Warrior of Light’s relationship with Wuk Lamat as a mentor grow over time. The antagonists get more screen time than the villains of previous expansions, and I felt much happier with the conclusion of their story arcs than I did with characters like Nidhogg or Zenos.

General Consensus of Dawntrail

I had a chance to poll my Free Company and friends about how they felt about Dawntrail so far, and the feeling was unanimous: Dawntrail is one of the better expansions for Final Fantasy XIV. For some, it was not quite on par with Shadowbringers, while for others, Shadowbringers and Dawntrail stood on equal footing for different reasons.

Now To Post This on Main Servers

Overall, Dawntrail marks a return to form for Final Fantasy XIV, which is an accomplishment considering it is meant to be the start of a brand new era for the MMO following the conclusion of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark arc. If I were to rate Dawntrail myself, I would give it a solid 8/10. I am excited to see what future patches for this expansion will bring in terms of story, content, and roleplay opportunities.

Gabriel Sidwell

Gabriel, also known as the Penman, is a public health worker and enthusiast who never abandoned their creative outlets once they were out in the real world. He moonlights as a professional penman