I love Final Fantasy 14 but the Dawntrail expansion needs to do better

Erenville accompanies the Warrior of Light to the New World
(Image credit: Square Enix)

The last Final Fantasy 14 Online expansion, Endwalker, left a fantastic first impression when it was released back in December 2021. The initial content was very strong and offered a tear-jerking conclusion to a narrative arc ten years in the making. 

However, the regular patch content players have received since the launch of Endwalker has not been up to the usual standard. Though they included the typical slew of story updates and new dungeons to which fans had become accustomed, the updates suffered from a few key problems. 

Despite boasting strong character interactions, patches 6.1 to 6.5 have told a meandering story, out of step with the cosmic climax of the Endwalker expansion proper. On paper, preventing an invasion of the world by shadowy Voidsent creatures should feel dramatic and gripping, but what stakes there were just felt muted in the shadow of Endwalker’s scale and ambition. Thanks to this, the latest arc explored in these recent patches often seems like a side plot rather than the main event.

Island Sanctuary is a nice little time-killer, but as it’s so isolated from the rest of the game it doesn't make up for what’s missing

Alone, this wouldn’t be much of a point of contention. After all, even the best JRPGs often have filler arcs to give their characters room to breathe. However, the lackluster storyline this time around comes part and parcel with a wider problem: a lack of casual-friendly, community-oriented endgame content. 

While Endwalker has added a soothing farming and construction sim called Island Sanctuary, the gentle resource gathering and material crafting occurs in a vacuum, away from the wider Final Fantasy 14 community. I could count the number of times I’ve been to a friend’s island on a single hand. Island Sanctuary is a lovely little time-killer, but as it’s so isolated from the rest of the game, it doesn't make up for what’s missing.

Elegant weapons from a more civilized age 

The Warrior of Light wielding a relic weapon

(Image credit: Square Enix)

The last major expansion, Shadowbringers, offered an event chain called the Bozjan Southern Front to keep more casual players occupied. This more open-ended content plan had large groups of allies fight their way across a war-torn battlefield, taking on world bosses and group content together. Bands of friends could take to the trenches alongside solo warriors - all of whom could benefit from the rewards on offer. Battles were accessible, fast-paced, and fun, encouraging players to drop in and out as and when they wanted to. 

This immense, dynamic battleground also came with opportunities for fun in-game rewards. In addition to the usual slew of mounts and cosmetics, the Bozjan Southern Front also allowed players to build powerful Relic Weapons - a gorgeous set of special armaments that gets added with each expansion. 

Battles were accessible, fast-paced, and fun, encouraging players to drop in and out as they saw fit

Rather than follow up with another large-scale multiplayer offering, Endwalker brought no analog to the Bozjan Southern Front, leaving fans of accessible, community-driven experiences in the lurch. Moreover, Square Enix also opted to tie the latest round of Relic Weapons to the divisive 'Hildebrand' chain of side quests, rather than to any more communal content.

Hildebrand Smiling

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Furthermore, the quests are, for the most part, single-player only and aren’t an adequate replacement for the accessible and moreish group-based action provided by the Bozjan Southern Front. Once you complete these quests, actually getting the resource to make the Relic Weapon simply comes down to repeating existing raids and dungeons by collecting weekly rewards. There’s no novelty, just grindy repetition. Casual endgame players are left in the lurch, with far less community-oriented content to occupy their time than in Shadowbringers.

The sun rises 

Amalj'aa explore the jungle

(Image credit: Square Enix)

That said, the upcoming expansion Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail provides an opportunity for Square Enix to reverse this course. Unlike expansions that have come before it, Dawntrail offers a chance for a soft reset on the long-running MMO. 

Not only does the latest expansion promise the start of a new story arc for the central characters, but it’s also set to come with a visual update that improves the game’s lighting and textures. These two features alone make it the closest thing to a ‘Final Fantasy 14 - 2’ we’re likely to get. Dawntrail is already a turning point and, with it, comes ample opportunity for Square Enix to not only reintroduce accessible, casual endgame content but to improve it with quality-of-life improvements and modernization.  

Dawntrail is already a turning point - it's up to Square Enix to make the most of it

At the Final Fantasy 14 London Fan Festival 2023, director Naoki Yoshida did hint at movements in this direction. Though the details have not yet been revealed, his keynote address teased "expansive new lifestyle content" which, contrary to Island Sanctuary's solo offerings is "something you can enjoy with a lot of people." Yoshida did make it clear, however, that we will likely have to wait for Tokyo Fanfest in January 2024 for more details. That said, even this small teaser bodes well and signals a potential return to form.

In a later press conference, Yoshida acknowledged a bias toward single-player content in recent patches. "When we look at the span between 6.0 to 6.X, the concept that I had in mind was to put a critical focus on solo content with low numbers of players, and I think some players probably felt that [sic.]." Though Yoshida is still attempting to calibrate the game for players who "traditionally might not be so open to playing MMOs", there is still a refreshing degree of self-awareness from the director - indicating that the development team is aware of the potential issues raised by the latest patch cycle.

The Warrior of Light looks out over the ocean

(Image credit: Square Enix)

The best MMORPGs live and die based on their sense of community, and, though Final Fantasy 14 has plenty to offer in terms of player-driven housing districts and even nightclubs, open-ended content like the Bozjan Southern Front is a powerful engine for generating and maintaining player interactions. These sorts of accessible group-based endgame experiences are the lifeblood of MMOs, helping players to form relationships organically as part of the game world, leading to the formation of the emergent communities that make the genre so special in the first place.      

If Final Fantasy 14 wants to do right by its community and thrive for yet another decade, pivoting back towards this sort of design is a must. The beloved MMO must move away from the arbitrary Relic Weapon grind of Endwalker and towards a more community-centric endgame approach. The signs from London Fanfest suggest that the development team has its sights set on exactly this sort of shift. Despite the game's issues, I remain optimistic for the MMO's future and for Dawntrail's release next year.

Looking for more great writing in games? Check out our list of the best story games. Alternatively, if you’re looking to team up with friends, our list of the best co-op games will set you on the right track. 

Cat Bussell
Staff Writer

Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.