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FFXIV Dawntrail Media Tour Overview: Much to See, More to Come

What's there was great, but what's promised sounds better

Victoria Rose Updated: Posted:
Previews The Eorzea Prospect 0

Dawntrail, the upcoming expansion for the now-decade-old “rebirth” of Final Fantasy 14 has a lot riding on it. 

In some ways, there’s less weight on it than the prior one, Endwalker. This one not only came during a massive spike in FFXIV’s population, but also played out the end of a decade-long primary story arc featuring the primary antagonists since 1.0, Garlemald, and the following of the anti-god of legends, Zodiark. 

But from the outside you’d never know that rift in stakes, given palpable excitement in the community—and especially at Dawntrail’s Media Tour. 

The last and only other time I’d attended an FFXIV Media Preview, known more widely as the Media Tour (as it makes multiple stops around the world), it was remote and online. We’d been virtually ushered into Discord, where we were allowed to chat with other FFXIV creators, and had access to a virtual client, from which we’d have our videos and photos sent later. It was exciting, but as much as we understood the caution behind the move there was something odd about it being virtual. 

Even without having gone to the other in-person iterations, this Dawntrail Media Tour felt like a proper return to form. The renowned Director and Producer Naoki Yoshida seemed almost relieved to be in the room with everyone, like it was entirely possible he would never see this happen again, and the room was equally glad to see him. 

Since the pandemic started, and even since I started playing in the back half of 2019, Yoshida’s gone from being a recognizable community icon to achieving almost a rock star status in the gaming industry and wider community (in spite of any off-color comments made during his Final Fantasy 16 tour). He’s been at the helm for over a dozen years now, since before the iconic meteor crash of the 1.0 edition, leading a comeback that’s considered unprecedented given both his modest career prior and the trajectory of most MMORPGs. 

And that’s barely praise from me, to be honest—that’s just to emphasize how much attention he captured at this event anytime he was in the room. They even had a few moments for us to get pictures with him, probably anticipating that hype. (Obviously, I obliged.) 

That shift in community attention has also put a lot more eyes on the development team and process in a way that’s usually reserved for games with far more “hardcore” communities like Destiny 2, Path of Exile, or even, arguably, Star Citizen—or, really, itself in its older days. And yet, the development team seems actually willing to at least listen, even if something can’t always be done. During a Q&A session, Yoshida actually named several creators in attendance who had prior criticisms relating to that session’s questions, vocally reminding the room that the team does, in fact, pay attention to its media and creators. 

All that said, everyone was equally as excited to focus on the demo itself, and I was excited to explore this early build of Dawntrail. (We’re going to skip over the parts where I, once again, remade my catgirl in-game and ate a ton of tortilla chips in real life.) 

Getting Hands-On 

In regards to what we could test hands-on, we were fairly limited, as usual. At the very least, I was able to poke around at the dye and blacklist systems, though they were still in development—but as they had Japanese text, I couldn’t fully navigate them, so I apparently missed a few features. We had access to all Level 100 combat jobs as well, but not Blue Mage nor any of the crafting/gathering ones. Still, as you can likely see already from the slew of content online, including here on MMORPG.com, people had plenty to experiment with and report on. 

Anyone looking for serious hints about the expansion’s storyline will be disappointed, as they do a pretty good job hiding those, especially in this expansion. But those of you who want to see a stunning multicultural landscape in the tropics are more than in luck, as the new hub of Tuliyollal and the open areas Urqopacha and Kozama’uka are absolutely beautiful. At least for the lead-in for Dawntrail, it seems like the team wants us to feel like we’re in a getaway, and that’s accomplished here. 

That said, the tension of any upcoming plot is lost in the Media Tour preview, including in the first dungeon. “Ihukatumu” takes us through what appears to be a trial or race of sorts, with both new and familiar faces joining in to both help and giddily interfere. Even the enemies and boss fights feel low-stakes, endearing rather than menacing. If there’s a deep, underlying political tension in this expansion, the Media Tour build shows no hint of it. 

But again, this doesn’t mean it’s a land not worth exploring. I’m relatively limited in my knowledge about the lands of South America and even Southeast Asia that these areas reference, but Urqopacha is reminiscent of Peru’s mountainsides, and if Kozama’uka were a real place, there would be serious jungle tourism. These are lands not only bolstered, but perhaps impossible without the graphical update’s brush and foliage implementations, giving the lands a lush feeling. 

Speaking of the graphics updates, I played this build at “Maximum” graphical settings, and it’s odd to go back to my little FFXIV client at home, even if the build was lacking the fresh rendering of the new Benchmark. Not at the very least, the clothes are rendered in such a beautiful new way that I ended up making a whole video compilation of it - look at 2:03 and 8:00 for the velvets on Astrologian and Red Mage, respectively. 

The buildings and world, too, feel slightly more brought up to the current age of graphics we’re in. It still suffers from being in a dozen-year-old engine. There continues to be harsh sharpness at the edge of structures, giving that cartoonish, unreal feel as you navigate around them. Plus, you still have that classic texture collision issue where stepping on stairs or uneven surfaces breaks the immersion from a flat surface, and such surfaces are still rendered with repeating textures, which brings some of that “cheap” feel back. But if you were already forgiving of these issues in the ten-year-old MMORPG, it shouldn’t matter too much, especially with the lighting changes doing so much already. 

Regardless, it’s a game I’m much more excited to constantly be looking at. Sometimes I’ll leave my client on overnight, either on PS5 or PC, with a view such as Old Sharlayan or the Crystarium as a “living wallpaper,” spots that already push the limits of FFXIV’s aesthetics. I’m excited to see how old spots come back to life. 

Our day’s group also stumbled into one of the world “hunt” bosses, which someone promptly started gathering a group for. As we fought and died a few times, the Square Enix staff went around and let people know what we were doing, and we ended up with about ten to twelve attendees fighting this target and making calls. Through both Media Tours I’ve attended, this has always been a highlight worth mentioning, and it always reminds me of the wit and camaraderie of this game’s players. 

Mixed Momentum 

The Dawntrail Media Tour gave me exactly what I expected and a bit more, and yet I’m underwhelmed—perhaps because it’s far more evident this time around that Creative Business Unit 3 is hiding a lot up its sleeves, on top of the content we’ve been promised. For instance, we now have full promotional splash art of Solution 9, the other new hub, which is a full-on science fiction city boasting shockingly normal inhabitants. (I’m still clinging onto my jokes that this is the American expansion, and Solution 9 is just Austin or Dallas, Texas.) 

And again, we’ve been promised a ton of other content already. But Dawntrail promises so much more than that, and by nature of the Media Tour’s demo being a development build, we don’t get to see those things: housing changes, Cosmic Exploration, more Deep and Variant Dungeons, more crafting and gathering… Like, can you imagine the fishing? Yet even during our media preview, unless prompted during an interview—and we were only given a 30-minute slot, shared with an interviewer from Massively OP (who I’ve had great chats with since)—we had very little insight into the other content that was coming during this expansion’s lifetime. 

As for it not being in-game, I don’t really have a solution for that except that gif of Eric Andre shouting “let me in!”, because the Media Tour was exactly like every other Media Tour, and that’s fair. We only get eight hours with the PCs, throughout which some people really grinded out their content, and only barely got done. I can’t imagine people trying to dig into even just the Beastmaster, or trying to find the new fish, or especially Cosmic Exploration. 

I’m thrilled for everyone digging into the class updates or the new jobs and/or new systems in the wake of the Media Tour. I’m personally excited to see some confirmation that I can have ex-friends nuked out of orbit on my client. For those obsessed with what the Media Tour always offers, the Media Tour was plenty. But on the scale of what I feel like Dawntrail will offer, the Media Tour felt like being let into the gates of the Wonka factory, only making it to the door, smelling the chocolate, and not even having the chance to glimpse the mad chocolatier himself. 

More to the core of my thoughts about Dawntrail moving forward, I worry that between the high bar of at least consistency set by the movement from Shadowbringers to Endwalker and the slow nature of Dawntrail’s promotion so far, Dawntrail has the potential to either be received as far better than people expect or underwhelming to a myriad of degrees, and few will want to consider the middle ground of “it’s fine.” I know it sounds like that for any game, but it’s a lot more of a tangible suspicion this time around, from a community that increasingly enjoys being polarizing. 

I don’t think the world will end if Dawntrail is “fine.” Both in story and content development, FFXIV has set its own bar extremely high for its players and kept its releases at least close to that, which is impressive for a decade-old MMORPG. My hope is that it hugs closer to Stormblood, if anything—a serviceable story at least, and fantastic side content that keeps me coming back. 

I’m not expecting a whole new game from Dawntrail, nor anything high-octane like the seven-act dramatics of Endwalker, where you did everything the expansion promised by the third act—which admittedly left me sitting at 4:30 a.m. rubbing my face, jaw dropped, figuring out what could possibly be bigger than the death of the biggest "god" we've encountered yet. 

I guess I’m just excited for something to do again in one of my favorite games. The momentum sort of died in Endwalker, as I’ve previously pointed out, and an MMORPG without fresh, engaging content is like a drying river. Here’s hoping Dawntrail brings the Amazon’s worth.


Victoria Rose

Victoria's been writing about games for over eight years, including small former tenures with Polygon and Fanbyte. She mostly spends time in FFXIV, head-deep in roleplay campaigns or stubbornly playing Black Mage through high-end raids. Former obsessions include Dota 2 and The Secret World (also mostly roleplaying). Come visit their estate: Diabolos (Crystal DC), Goblet, Ward 4, Plot 28.