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Final Fantasy 14 is in a transitional period. The 2021 expansion Endwalker was effectively the finale to a story that began with 2013's A Realm Reborn way back on PlayStation 3. It was a sort of Final Fantasy meets Avengers Endgame; a story that capped off eight years, four expansions, and over 200 hours of story content in a spectacular emotional rollercoaster of a climax with the fate of the universe in the balance.

But where do you go from there? What do you do once you've crossed most of the t's and dotted most of the i's, once you've battled a foe of unfathomable power hell-bent on wiping out literally everything? How do you top a story as big as Endwalker, itself just the final chapter of an already massive tale? Dawntrail is the next chapter in the Final Fantasy 14 story and it answers that question with a shrug. You don't top it. And what's more, you don't even try to — at least, not right away.

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It's a bold move. Dawntrail dials everything back to zero. This is a story that starts out not with low stakes, but no stakes. You're hired by a Hrothgar (basically, a lion lady) called Wuk Lamat, who is the adopted daughter of the ruler of Tural, a continent largely unknown to the people of Eorzea. She's one of four competitors in a contest to find the fabled city of gold and determine who will take over from the aging Dawnservant when he relinquishes the throne.

And so with little left to do in Eorzea following the events of Endwalker and in dire need of a little bit of fun in the sun, you and a few of your comrades follow Wuk Lamat to Tural to act as her entourage in the succession contest. What follows is a mostly light-hearted adventure in the astonishingly beautiful Tural, helping the endlessly optimistic and likeable Wuk Lamat as she visits the different regions of the continent and takes part in everything from cooking a local delicacy to catching and riding an alpaca.

The opening hours of Dawntrail are charming, and funny, but they're not exactly riveting. It's a massive change of pace from the urgent and frequently dire Endwalker, but then that was probably necessary, and we'd never go as far as to say the opening to Dawntrail is boring. Tural is a fascinating and wondrous place, and the world-building in the early hours of the expansion is mostly excellent. It all just feels a bit frivolous.

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But then about half way through the expansion it all kicks off, and when it does it really kicks off. The story takes some pretty wild turns in the second half of the adventure, and it's one of those where if you tried to guess what the end would be after the first 10 hours, you'd not get it right in a hundred attempts. The emotional beats in the latter half of the story really land because of the work put into establishing characters and locations earlier, and there's even some revelations for some of our old friends too. We really love this story.

It's not just Dawntrail's narrative that landed for us, though. The dungeons in this expansion are the best the game has ever had, featuring numerous complicated mechanics, jaw-dropping locales, amazing music, and awesome bosses. We found ourselves frequently bamboozled by a boss employing tactics we'd never seen before in FF14, and for a game you've played for thousands of hours to still be able to surprise you is a rare treat.

Combat is further enhanced by the new jobs you can play as in Dawntrail. First there's the Viper, a physical DPS (damage per second) class which uses two blades in a similar fashion to Zidane from Final Fantasy 9. Playing Viper means managing buffs to haste and damage, as well as getting yourself into the right position to maximise your offence — certain attacks do more damage from the side or from behind an enemy. It's fast and flashy, but for our money it's overshadowed somewhat by the other new class.

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Pictomancer is the second new job, and it's quite spectacular. The Pictomancer is a magical DPS class that uses an enchanted paint brush to draw attacks and buffs in battle. You initially have three canvases to work with - one weapon, one creature, one landscape. You use skills like you would with any other class, only some of these add something to one of the canvases. Using the appropriate skills to finish the painting of a hammer on the weapon canvas, for example, gives you a comical oversized mallet that you can bop enemies with.

Using the moogle's pom skill causes hundreds of balls to drop from the sky onto your enemies while adding a pom to the creature canvas, and using the moogle's wing skill damages baddies while adding wings to the canvas and finishing the painting of a moogle. You then have access to the Mog of the Ages skill, and using it causes your newly painted moogle to spring to life and blast all foes with a massive spell.

We found Pictomancer tough to get the hang of initially, but once we did it became one of our favourite classes in the entire game. It's all about building up attacks in stages for the big payoff in the end and it's a tonne of fun. Otherwise, there have been tweaks to other, existing classes, but nothing earth-shattering from what we played, and nothing as drastic as the complete Summoner rework from Endwalker.

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Elsewhere, there are changes to how dyes work on clothes, and you can now alter two different colours on most items of clothing rather than just one, which is great news for glamour fans. Spectacles now have their own equipment slot instead of being considered headgear, so you can wear a cool hat and glasses at the same time. There's also a new playable race in the female Hrothgar - a humanoid lion - if you fancy a character change.

And then there's the graphical update. We wonder if you'd notice the graphical update at all if you haven't played Final Fantasy 14 in a while, but for frequent players it's quite obvious. Hair, clothing textures, and faces all look like a step-up from what came before. The new locations, too, make excellent use of the graphical enhancements, with areas looking much less empty than previously seen in the game, and with much more foliage present.

Speaking of locations, there are some beautiful sights in Dawntrail, from dark forests to lush grasslands and majestic mountains. Tural is mostly South American in inspiration, only with a Final Fantasy twist in a similar fashion to how previous expansion Stormblood riffed on Japan. In the latter half of the game the locations you'll visit are aesthetically very different but no less pleasing on the eye.

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Dawntrail also continues Final Fantasy 14's trend of incredible soundtracks. There's a big band track that plays every time you visit the first city in the expansion and it's a real toe-tapper. It's totally out of place as a town theme for while you're wandering around doing your shopping, but it's so good that we just don't care. There are bombastic boss tracks, quiet reflective pieces, and one dungeon theme that we can only describe as a trance banger mashed up with '80s style guitar solos. It's wonderfully bonkers.


Dawntrail is another excellent expansion for Final Fantasy 14. The story takes a while to get going, but once it's finished setting the scene it takes some pretty big swings in the second half that left us captivated. The dungeons are the best the game has ever had, the new Pictomancer class is an absolute joy to play, it's got incredible art design, and a soundtrack that's gorgeous. Here's to another 10 years of Final Fantasy 14.