Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail feels like a steadying step for the game's next 10 years

Let's get it out of the way; while Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail looks to upgrade Final Fantasy XIV in a ton of ways, with upgrades to the glamour system, the graphics update and not to mention the new jobs in Viper and Pictomancer - players should make no mistake, Dawntrail is less of a reinvention of the game we all love, and more a steadying step as the team begins to decide which direction the MMORPG should head in the next 10 years. If you've been an existing Final Fantasy XIV player, Dawntrail will feel familiar to you - with many jobs having only minor changes to their rotations, and the overall gameplay loop remaining by and large the same. That isn't to say that players don't have good reason to be excited for the expansion's launch later this month, however.

During our 7+ hour session with the game, we had the chance to play around with the new and returning jobs across two of the game's new zones; as a Tank main, I took it upon myself to play around with the new kits and was quick to discover that the devteams claims that most of the game's jobs wouldn't be seeing major changes this expansion weren't an overexaggeration. Dark Knight has seen a new attack tied to Living Shadow, but the overall rotation and burst window is - if anything - more restrained this go around, as the existing gap closer no longer deals damage. Warrior gets some much appreciated new attacks tied to its rotation; landing all 3 Fell Cleaves during Inner Release grants an additional follow-up attack, while Primal Rend also has its own follow-up. All tanks now have an upgraded mitigation that seem ridiculously strong, offering 40% damage reduction alongside a unique effect depending on the Job. 

During an interview that we had with Yoshi-P, he elaborated that the team hoped to surprise players with the high-end raids planned for Dawntrail, especially with how many mechanics have become standardized over the year. Considering how DSR and TOP - Endwalker's two Ultimate Raids - went, seeing the upgrades to Tank mitigations makes me at least a little concerned for what us raiders have in store for is in the coming weeks and months. It also makes me speculate if this might be the reason why jobs have seen few major changes this go around, outside of outliers such as Astrologian.

Speaking of Astrologian - it's another day that ends with the letter "y", and Astrologians' card system has once again been entirely reworked. Gone is the RNG entirely, and now drawing cards operates like a pendulum, with players drawing 1 of 2 presets of cards everytime, and the results predetermined. You'll always draw one hand, then the next, throughout an entire encounter. While it makes Astrologian's kit much easier to plan around, I can't say I'm the biggest fan of the change - though I'm sure the new version will have plenty of fans. It reminds me of how Summoner got reworked heading into Endwalker.

As for the two new jobs, I'm excited to test them out in harder content. Viper weirdly feels like if Dancer was a greedy DPS, and with less RNG. As someone that loves to play Dancer but hates how much my fun felt dependent on when certain actions would activate - I'm all for another take on the rotation. Pictomancer, on the other hand, felt like a tougher nut to crack. There's so many options to play with - but at least what we played, I felt like some of its attacks should've been oGCD when they were part of the regular cooldown instead. For such a dynamic set of abilities, it felt oddly static in how you played. Maybe I'll feel differently once I've had more time to play with it, and I'm sure before long players will figure out how to make the most out of its toolkit.

There's only so much more I can talk about with what I played, considering that more or less all flavor text outside of FATEs had been scrubbed from the build we played. I spent some time grinding a few of those in an effort to see what I might find, but it wasn't like I was able to spawn one of the expansion's major world bosses - at least, not intentionally. During our session we did manage to take down an A-rank hunt, and later I managed to find a certain Toad that also appeared to be one, before it disappeared shortly into our fight. Later, Square Enix suggested that what I had actually discovered was one of the expansion's S-ranks. Neat!

Truthfully, much of what I'm excited for with Dawntrail are elements that players won't have a chance to play with until months after launch, and it's hard to parse exactly how the story will play out from such a limited slice of the game. The dungeon was fun, with some neat gimmicks of course - but I can't kid myself that most of what the returning players will be interested in simply wasn't a part of the preview. At least the graphics update was nice, though I still want to see how it shapes up on my system at home - and how it has impacted existing zones - before I come to any real conclusions.

Which sums up my thoughts in general; while I walked away from my early time with Dawntrail excited, so much of what the expansion will have to offer we simply won't be able to make a judgment on it until we've all had the chance to really dig deep come launch and beyond. There's nothing wrong with that, but at least for now this "Summer Vacation" really is feeling like the calm before the storm.