Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail preview — Tural beckons

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Next month, Warriors of Light around the globe will make the trek to Tural for a brand new adventure. Before that though, I had the chance to play an early build of the expansion as part of the Media Tour in Los Angeles. I was able to explore two areas, the hub town of Tuliyollal, and get to grips with jobs old and new. We have a lot to talk about, but before we get into things please remember that this article is based on play of an in-development build of FINAL FANTASY XIV: Dawntrail, and content in the final version is subject to change.

Let’s start with the main things on everyone’s minds: Viper, Pictomancer, and job changes. Overall, I found most returning jobs to feel about the same as their current Endwalker incarnations, so some of these sections may be shorter than others, but there are some interesting changes to be on the lookout for.

Viper

It took me quite a while to finally understand what Viper is all about, especially going into it at level 100 with tons of buttons that all combo into each other, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. Viper revolves around its debuff and two buffs. Dread Fangs can apply a debuff which increases an enemy’s damage taken, Noxious Gnash, Hunter’s Instinct increases the damage you deal, and finally Swiftscaled will reduce your auto-attack delay. Viper has two single target and AoE combo trees you can move between at certain points, allowing you to apply or refresh whatever you’re in need of at that moment. As a general rule, actions with “Dread” in their name will apply Noxious Gnash (damage taken up), “Hunter” actions will give you Hunter’s Instinct (attack up), and anything with “Swift” in the title will reduce auto-attack delay (Swiftscaled). That still sounds fairly complicated on paper, but in practice you mash one combo button, then the other, and after that the dotted combo lines will tell you if a status is in need of refreshing. Any of these combos will end in a fourth action, Death Rattle, for some Off Global Cooldown (OGCD) damage.

Once you’re all set up, you can start focusing on your real damage dealer, the Rattling Coil combos. You have two charges of Dreadwinder, and pressing it or its Area of Effect (AoE) equivalent will proc three other actions: Swiftskin’s Coil, Hunter’s Coil, and the ranged Uncoiled Fury of which you can store up to three charges. These abilities will then proc two OGCDs as indicated by the part of your job gauge with the twin blades. Yes, playing Viper efficiently, from what I could tell, requires double weaving, though we’ll have to wait and see if that will be affected by ping when the game is live.

All of this builds up the Serpent’s Ire Gauge. Once you have 50 points in the gauge, you can pull your Devil Trigger- I mean activate the Reawaken skill. This is your big burst window, similar to Reaper though more restrictive. While Awakened, many of your skills will change to special attacks called First Generation, Second Generation, all the way to Fourth Generation. These deal powerful AoE damage and must be pressed in numbered order for the best results, each action consuming one of the five pips under the Serpent’s Ire Gauge, ending with the Ouroboros finisher. After reaching a certain level, however, you can follow up each generation with its corresponding Legacy action (First Legacy, Second Legacy, etc.) as an OGCD for even more damage.

Viper may be a little confusing to watch and start playing, but once you get the hang of it it is one of the fastest and most satisfying jobs in the game to play well. It doesn’t have as specific of a job fantasy as other jobs, like White Mage, Reaper, or Monk given you don’t really swap between dual and twin blades, but its speed makes me feel like I’m playing a single player character action game. It simply feels good to play – at least with the strong and stable internet connection of the Media Tour.

Pictomancer

Playing Pictomancer feels like becoming a cartoon character. Its abilities are colorful, but what really struck me were the sound effects. It just has such a fun energy to it that needs to be played to really understand. While it is a caster, this sound design gives it a similar satisfaction to a melee job while actually playing like a midpoint between Red Mage and Black Mage.

Playing Pictomancer well actually starts outside of combat. You have three abilities corresponding to the three canvases on your job gauge: Creature Motif, Weapon Motif, and Landscape Motif. Outside of battle, these are instant cast, while in it they take about 2.5 seconds. Each Motif, after being sketched, can be rendered with a corresponding instant cast spell. For example, the Creature Motifs will cast Depiction of Pom, then Depiction of Wings after sketching another creature, and so on. Then, you combine all the pieces for a Moogle Portrait and executing Mog of the Ages, or a Madeen Portrait and Retribution of the Madeen. You work through this combo over the course of a fight, as your render ability for creatures only has two charges with lengthy cooldowns.

The Weapon Motif will sketch a hammer, rendered through the ability Steel Muse which also has two charges. This will activate a combo attack where you swing a giant hammer around – it’s hilarious. These attacks don’t have cast time and are ranged (don’t be confused by the animation, you can smack an enemy from quite a distance), allowing you to avoid attacks while keeping up the offensive.

Finally, your Landscape Canvas can be rendered for a damage buff to yourself and all party members. I’m not entirely sure if that buff requires you to stand in the circle of grass and rainbows, but it’s well worth getting especially for Rainbow Drip. Rainbow Drip is a line AoE spell with an incredibly long cast time. However, by performing 5 Atherhue Actions or Star Prism spells while under the effect of Hyperphantasia you can make this an instant cast. Hyperphantasia is only granted when under the effect of Starry Muse, an advanced Landscape spell. That all confused me a bit in practice, but to put it simply: when you render a night sky, cast some normal spells.

But what are my normal spells, I hear you ask? Well, these are Fire in Red, Aero in Green, and Water in Blue – a combo in that order. Using the combo option these spells will automatically become the next in the combo alongside their AoE versions, making it incredibly easy to perform a combo or even swap between single target and AoE on the fly. These all have a fairly short cast time which can be further reduced under the effects of a Landscape, but generally I think your Motifs take priority. Regardless, these spells will add to your Palette Gauge, both the meter and White Paint blobs around it. At any time, White Paint can be spent to cast Holy in White, a powerful, instant cast AoE, though you don’t want to spend all of them at once. Casting Subtractive Palette will convert one White Paint to Black Paint, which can be spent to perform Comet in Black. Additionally, your normal Aetherhue spells and other actions will be locked off until you complete a separate, more powerful combo in the form of Blizzard in Cyan, Stone in Yellow, and Thunder in Magenta.

Overall, Pictomancer is a ton of fun and perfectly executes the job fantasy of being… well, an artist. It’s mobile enough to get out of most situations but only if you’re paying attention and know when to use its dash ability, while still having significant cast times that you will need to plan a bit ahead. I’ll probably spend time unlocking and leveling it a bit before beginning Dawntrail’s story. I’m actually debating whether to play this or Viper through the MSQ, but with Krile being a Pictomancer I’ll probably go with Viper – though it’s very close. Both of these new jobs feel built around the new combo system while still having a healthy amount of buttons to press.So much so that I suspect this combo system will become the default in the future, with the option to turn it off removed entirely and other jobs designed more with it in mind. That’ll be a controversial decision, but it will probably make every job feel that much better if Pictomancer and Viper are any indication.

Monk

Monk is one of the jobs getting an overhaul in Dawntrail, and I’m really not sure what to think of Monk’s changes. Certain actions will now open up Beast Chakra in accordance with their form: Opo-opo Chakra, Coeurl Chakra, and Raptor Chakra. This is in addition to the Solar and Lunar Nadi as well as the other Chakra gauge. After filling up a form Chakra’s meter, you can execute a certain powerful action like Flint Strike or Elixir Field. The idea is you’re not watching your buff and debuff timers anymore and instead focusing on hitting positionals while you’re making chin music with combos.

To be perfectly honest I just don’t get it, though I’m sure that’s because I didn’t have a ton of time to spend with the job. It does still have a bunch of satisfying animations, and Brotherhood will now allow you to store a total of 10 charges so you don’t go over the cap as easily. I really enjoy current Monk, and this seems to be a streamlining of that playstyle.

Dragoon

Another job that feels more streamlined and satisfying, Dragoon’s purported “overhaul” won’t confuse anyone who’s already familiar with the rotation. The job still revolves around its two combos, weaving jumps and your burst with Geirskogul as well as buffs along the way. There’s no eyes system anymore, so you’ll go into Life of the Dragon immediately upon executing Geirskogul now.

While it’s mostly an improvement on what’s already there, I do have one complaint that will become a bit of a theme with other jobs: Spineshatter Dive is replaced by Winged Glide and no longer does damage. I could live with it simply being a gap closer, but it just doesn’t feel good to use anymore. Spineshatter Dive is immediate and satisfying, with crunchy sound effects, while Winged Glide just slides you towards an enemy with a split second visual effect and sound effect that weakly fades away. Contrast this with Monk’s Thunderclap, which also deals no damage but feels way better to use. Of course this is still a work in progress, but I think a non-damaging jump would go a long way towards making this gap closer feel better to use.

Samurai

Samurai feels almost exactly the same, except its most powerful action, Tendo Setsugekka, now hits four times. No, really, that’s basically it. You have a new Kenki spender to follow up Ikishoten called Zanshin, and a few other abilities that grant stacks of meditation at level 100, but from what I could tell the job plays in Dawntrail as it does in Endwalker. It’s still fun, and feels good.

Ninja

Ninja – a class I have never understood – is finally… enjoyable? I feel like this incarnation of the job is less reliant on Mudra to get anything done, making it play more like the Thief job I’ve always wanted instead. Your buff pinwheel is gone, and in its place is a row of dagger icons called Kazematoi. You fill in these icons by ending your normal three hit combo with Armor Crush, storing up to 5. You use these daggers by finishing a combo with Aeolian Edge, which will be powered up. It’s a pretty simple change, but makes the job’s filler actions a lot more engaging and stops you from watching the pinwheel spin for an entire fight to make sure it doesn’t run out.

As you fight, you’ll build up the Ninki Gauge, which can be spent on your usual suspects like Bhavacakra, Hellfrog Medium, and Bunshin. Activating Bunshin will have it become Phantom Kamaitachi, which will then let you use a new contender for the most satisfying button in the game, Zesho Meppo. This has your character become a spinning pinwheel of death, dealing a ton of damage to a single target.

On the Mudra side of things, all of those abilities remain and function mostly the same save for Huton. Trick attack and Ten Chi Jin will both receive upgrades on the way to level 100, with the latter gaining a finisher in the form of Tenri jindo, while Trick Attack becomes Kunai’s Bane, which is an AoE. All in all, I’m excited to level Ninja this time around when I usually dread it, so consider that a good sign.

Reaper

Reaper, once again, largely feels the same. Its changes are mostly cleaning house, like Plentiful Harvest no longer adding to your blue gauge and instead just allowing you to enter Enshroud once for free. Speaking of, Enshroud has a new ability called Sacrificium, which is basically just a powerful OGCD during the burst you use once. After ending Enshroud with Communio, it becomes Perfectio, an attack you and your Avatar perform at the same time which looks very cool. If you already like Reaper this is more of that, but if you don’t I doubt these small changes and additions will change your mind.

Summoner

Summoner became one of my favorite jobs to play in Endwalker after its rework. I know a lot of people say it’s too simple now, but it excels in manifesting the job fantasy behind the idea of a summoner. Like many other jobs, Summoner isn’t changing much in Dawntrail, but I do find what does change to be extremely underwhelming. The biggest change is a new main summon alongside Bahamut and Phoenix, Solar Bahamut. If your first instinct upon hearing that is to question why there are two Bahamuts, me too.

Solar Bahamut feels kinda shoved into your rotation at weird times. You now start with him instead of normal Bahamut, then go to normal Bahamut, then Solar again, and finally Phoenix before going back to the first Solar. It’s a very weird choice and not particularly interesting, I would have much rather seen a summon like Alexander, Shiva, Siren, or… well, anything but another Bahamut. The light theme is neat and I like his design, but he doesn’t do anything noteworthy other than damage as far as I can tell. Despite my complaints, the job is still a lot of fun, if somewhat muddled now.

Black Mage

I have something of a love-hate relationship with Black Mage. I love the big numbers and explosions, but I’m not great at keeping up its phases, MP management, or remembering to use Xenoglossy, and I will often die in my Lay Lines rather than move an inch. Well, Dawntrail has a few changes in store to make some of those problems a bit easier to deal with. One that became a bit of a meme is the ability to move your Lay Lines with Retrace every 40 seconds, or once per cast. I can already imagine how incredibly useful this will be, so let’s move on to more significant changes.

You’ll now spend less time in Ice Phase than ever before, with those spells being free to cast and essentially refilling your MP in its entirety after casting Blizzard IV. The Thunder Damage over Time abilities (DoTs) are now instant cast as well, letting you get back to blowing things up as quickly as possible. Casts of Fire IV or Flare will fill in arrows on the new Astral Gauge, called Astral Souls. Once the gauge is filled, you can cast Flare Star and send a small sun hurtling at your enemies, making for a very satisfying end to your Fire Phase.

Red Mage

Red Mage, say it with me now, largely feels the same. But why fix what ain’t broke if you can just tweak it slightly to feel even better? Red Mage’s main new ability is called Vice of Thorns, usable after Embolden. It’s a cool looking AoE that furthers the rose motif the job has been dipping its toes into. Manafication, just like other equivalent abilities on other jobs, no longer increases your gauges but instead allows you to use your melee combo for free a single time. Following the combo and magical finishers is a new action called Cineration, which causes the Red Mage to shoot swords into a portal to come crashing down on the target. I find it’s a much more satisfying end to the combo, and who doesn’t love spectral swords?

Bard

Oh, Bard. I used to be a Bard main until Shadowbringers, where the job just stopped being fun for me. In my opinion it was at its best in Stormblood, and we’re slowly getting a bit closer to that high in Dawntrail. With new actions like Resonant Arrow, an GCD usable after Barrage, it’s getting faster and faster. Songs don’t do damage upon cast anymore, though they are still only usable in combat. Your basic rotation is largely unchanged, but Bloodletter is getting an upgrade into Heartbreak Shot with a cool new animation. Apex Arrow now has a followup in the form of Blast Arrow, making those big damage abilities feel a lot better. Finally, Radiant Finale readies an ability called Radiant Encore, making that buff ability feel much more substantial. Again, this has a very cool animation where you use a conductor’s baton to summon a giant pillar of light. I hope Bard moves further into the musical theming for its abilities, because its new relic weapon is a bow with a guitar glued to it and that’s sick as hell.

Machinist

Machinist’s abilities get a few upgrades, but it plays largely the same. It’s big new action, Full Metal Field, becomes available after using Barrel Stabilizer and allows you to fire an entire silo of missiles and two miniguns all at the same time. After using Chain Saw, that becomes Excavator, essentially the same action but vertical this time. Jokes aside, Machinist’s kit is getting more of what already makes it fun, on top of some cool new animations and conveniences like Drill and Bioblaster having two charges.This is the pure damage dealer of the three Ranged DPS jobs, and it’s staying that way.

Dancer

Dancer is my current main, and it does feel a bit clunky in Endwalker. Dawntrail is cleaning it up a bit, with some streamlining like using Standard Step after Flourish automatically executing its effect without the dancing minigame. This will also proc Dancer’s new finisher, Last Dance, giving you yet another button to press during Technical Step for the most damage possible. That may sound like a complaint on paper, but I find it actually makes the whole burst phase feel a lot better somehow. It puts a cap on a chain of abilities like Fan Dance IV and Starfall Dance rather than them just feeling shoved into your normal rotation for that phase. Since I’ve mentioned it a few times already, I’d really like to praise the animation work here as these new actions all look fantastic.

White Mage

It really doesn’t feel like White Mage has changed much since the Blood Lilies were introduced, and that continues in Dawntrail. You’re still spamming Holy or Glare with the occasional Dia refresh for damage, all of the healer damage rotations are extremely simple almost to the point of being boring. You do have one new offensive ability with Glare IV, usable three times after Presence of Mind. It’s not the biggest change, but it does shake damage dealing up a bit and incentivises you to actually use Presence of Mind. Dodging AoEs is becoming a bit easier now though, with a dash forward ability in the form of Aetherial Shift. Tetragrammaton has two charges, making healing the party even easier. Finally, Divine Caress becomes available after Temperance, creating a barrier and, once that barrier fades, applying regen. It’s nice to have a little crossover between the pure and shield healers, but with a full party barrier I do worry that Scholar might not be as useful.

Scholar

Speaking of, Scholar is becoming a bit more independent from its fairy through Seraphism, in which the user adopts an angelic form and buffs some of its healing abilities for 20 seconds. Specifically it changes Adloquium to Manifestation (an instant cast heal and shield) and Concitation to Ascension. In terms of offense, Chain Stratagem now procs an attack called Baneful Impaction, applying a DoT to the target. It really feels like Scholar is the emergency healer, with both Seraph and Seraphism allowing you to heal for a bunch of HP very quickly though on a long cooldown. Scholar is supposed to prevent damage with shields, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful after taking damage.

Astrologian

Astrologian is finally getting unique effects for its cards back! The Balance, The Ewer, and The Spear give the target a damage buff for melee or ranged, The Arrow increases HP recovery, The Spire creates a shield, and The Bole reduces damage taken. Rather than randomly fishing for cards, you now get them in a fixed set of three with Astral and Umbral Draw, which alternate. You’ll also get a Lady or Lord of Crowns along with your set. I’ve never been able to memorize what all the cards do, but I imagine this structure will keep the simplicity of more recent incarnations while giving the job back its identity. As for offense, Divination will now become Oracle after casting, allowing you to deal some quick damage during the buff. The attack is themed after Eorzea’s Twelve gods, so I’ll be very interested in the lore behind it. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things behind this rework and I’d need more time with it to fully understand the job, but from what I experienced it’s more consistent.

Sage

Sage has had some small yet significant changes, my favorite of which is the ability to cast its DoT in an AoE with Eukrasian Dyskrasia. I ran the dungeon on this job with a few other Media Tour attendees, and it was an absolute godsend in removing the busywork of repeatedly applying your DoT to all enemies. Sage also has another offensive skill called Psyche, an instant cast AoE with a cooldown of 60 seconds. Lastly, Philosophia increases healing magic potency by 20% for 20 seconds, and causes all party members to restore HP after landing spells.

Paladin

Paladin’s changes are again very minimal – mostly house cleaning. For example, Goring Blade can now only be used after executing Fight or Flight, something you would want to do anyway for the most damage. Atonement is now a 3 hit combo of different actions, following up the first skill with Supplication and ending with Sepulcher. It’s not a very important change, but it does vary up the animation which is nice. Other than that, it’s the same old job you know and maybe love.

Warrior

Just like Samurai, Warrior hasn’t changed much so i’ll keep this short. Inner Chaos’ animation has been changed to be a lot more satisfying, with your character slamming their ax into the ground for a chainsaw sound ending in an explosion. Using Fell Cleave during Inner Release will now grant stacks of Burgeoning Fury, and once you have three you can spend them all on an action called Primal Wrath, again slamming the ax into the ground but this time sending spikes of earth outwards. Aside from a few upgrades, that’s about it. Just as well since Warrior is currently the best feeling tank to play.

Dark Knight

Dark Knight is a bit of a mixed bag in my opinion, and suffers from the same issue Dragoon now has, sadly, in that its gap closer no longer does damage and feels flaccid to use. It’s probably the best feeling of the three gap closers to change, with Shadowstride teleporting the user towards their target which plays towards Dark Knight’s magical capabilities, but I still don’t love the change. A change I do love is Living Shadow no longer costs meter and is instead on a 2 minute cooldown, allowing you to summon Frey more often for a tag team. The Delirium phase now activates Blood Weapon automatically, with Bloodspiller and Quietus upgrading into stronger actions for a time. I’d need to do a dungeon on it to really be sure how I feel, but despite my gripes I am leaning towards the positive here.

Gunbreaker

Once again, the gap closer is my main issue here with the replacement Trajectory just not feeling great to use. And in general I don’t understand why only two tanks were changed like this. Moving on, Gunbreaker has a new AoE continuation move called Fated Brand, which helps to make AoEs feel more engaging like the single target rotation. Sonic Break can only be executed after using No Mercy, and a new powerful combo string will become available after using Bloodfest. This is modeled after Squall’s Limit Break in Final Fantasy VIII and looks incredibly cool. The job still feels really good to play, so hopefully that one blemish in the form of Trajectory can get sorted out in a patch.

Combo Actions

To end off the Job section, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the new Combo Actions setting. I was wary going into the Media Tour, thinking it would simplify jobs too much, but in reality it’s extremely minimal but incredibly convenient. If you’ve played Dark Knight, it works exactly the same way as it currently does with Salted Earth and Salt and Darkness. This option simply replaces certain actions with counterparts you would be using right after them anyway. Viper and Pictomancer do resemble my fears a bit more, but as I said before it feels really good there. It simply frees up hotbar space, which is sorely needed on a gamepad.

Female Hrothgar

We’ve been able to create female Hrothgar characters for a while through the benchmark, but I spent the majority of my time at the Media Tour playing as one. While I love Viera, I may actually switch over for Dawntrail thanks to their adorable animations. They’re something a of a mix between Viera and Miqo’te, having some reserved and elegant emotes while others are just super jazzed to be there. They do still come with the same caveats of Viera and Hrothgar I’m shocked we’re still dealing with, namely the lack of hats and hairstyles. There are certain pieces of headgear that appear on female Hrothgar and Viera, such as the Viper’s hood, but Pictomancer’s hat does not. This is the third expansion since these races were introduced, and it’s sad that they can’t even get headgear going forward. Hrothgar still have the added problem of hairstyles being attached to face type, so while I love the super long hair of Face 1, because I prefer to use Face 2 I cannot use that hair. If Square Enix is going to add even more races, they should finish working on Viera and Hrothgar first.

The Graphics Update

The build we played of Dawntrail had the most recent version of the graphics update, as seen in the updated benchmark (which has not been released at time of writing but will be out by the time you read this). It’s a little hard to jude without direct comparison, especially with regards to the environment, but what stood out most overall was the lighting. It’s not the most significant upgrade out there, but it does look a lot better while still retaining the art style.

I do find colors look a bit too washed out, but at night you can definitely see the scenery become deeper and darker in color. The difference in shadows, however, is stark with characters casting shade upon themselves much more naturally. I’ve created a small comparison image with which you can easily tell the difference. The foliage is far more dense as well, making the landscape feel more alive.

The environments we were able to explore looked great. One was a more mountainous area, with villages and ruins dotted around, while the other was more of a grassland with colorful trees and lots of water. I did notice that underwater environments look terrible with the graphics update, but again this is a work in progress and I fully expect them to be updated before the game launches.

Finally, I took a lot of time to explore the new town of Tuliyollal and it is absolutely massive.There’s a port with people loading cargo onto ships, small houses out on the water, a bustling marketplace further in, and as you ascend the hill you can see the castle looming in the distance. The castle is already huge enough, containing the jumping puzzle up on one of the balconies which unfortunately had an invisible wall for the Media Tour, but there’s also even more to the east and west!

On top of all this are small scenes of NPCs just living their lives in town. I saw a stable of Alpacas, a small farm and a father and son playing nearby, a friendly duel in an isolated part of town, and a gigantic drum on a clocktower. The team has gone above and beyond to make this town feel like a real place, and it’s to great effect. It feels like Dawntrail will set a new standard in a lot of ways, but we’ll have to play the final game to see.

Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail Collector's Edition Unboxing

As a final note, I want to say thank you to Square Enix and all the fellow journalists and content creators I spoke with at the media tour. This was my first time going across the country, and you all made it a wonderful experience. For more on Final Fantasy XIV and a review on Dawntrail soon after launch on July 2nd, stay tuned to GamingTrend.

David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.

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