Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail’s relatively smooth early access isn’t a sign of doom

With strong eye contact.

On Sunday evening, I had to log out from Final Fantasy XIV to take care of an errand. This is not unusual. It is, in fact, incredibly usual, but this was during early access, and if you have played the game for a while, you know what that means. So when I got back, it was well in the prime time for players, and I prepared myself for the login queue that I knew would occur. And it’s true. When I logged in, there was a queue.

Specifically, a queue of 32.

I think there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to how Dawntrail’s early access has gone, but I think it’s important to take the queues – and how small they’ve been for many players compared to past expansion launches – as the biggest bullet point. That’s especially because a lot of people have looked at low queues and concluded that nobody is playing at all and that the sky is falling, which does not appear to be the case, and is definitely a case of looking at good news and assuming it must be bad.

Now, as I’ve frequently said in the past, the Steam charts for a given game are not terribly indicative of a game’s overall player count when it comes to MMORPGs. A decided minority of people playing games available via stand-alone launchers are doing so on Steam. What the charts are useful for is looking at trend lines. So in the case of Dawntrail, this should be really easy to do. Zoom out to see the peaks of Endwalker and compare it to Dawntrail, right?

And it is easy to do. It’s so easy to do I already did it. The peak around Endwalker on Steam was slightly higher, but on the order of maybe 4,000 players. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a significant difference. Extrapolating out how many players are here now vs. then is beyond the scope of this (or really pretty much any) article, but the bottom line is that the expansion has a broadly comparable player count.

So… uh… what the heck is happening? How can we have basically the same number of players but acceptable queue times most of the time for most players? The answer is something already stated: Yoshida and the team has been working hard behind the scenes on cloud server tech for additional space during the expansion rush. Combine that with server visits and… yeah. It actually has distributed the load, and it’s working.


This is not to pretend that there have been no issues. I know Xbox players ran into some issues, and there have certainly been data center issues. And if I claimed there were no queues anywhere, I would be lying. I’ve had friends get stuck in queues of 800-1200 before, and Square-Enix itself has apologized for long queues during primetime on specific servers. That’s not nothing!

But compare that to Endwalker when logging in during prime time could easily top 10,000, and I think it’s pretty night-and-day. This expansion’s early access has been remarkably stable, nothing has had a hard gateway like Raubahn EX, and by and large people have experienced a steady play environment aside from facing lengthy dungeon queues if you’re trying to level solo as DPS.

Which… of course that was going to happen. Come on.

I don’t want to share too many of my thoughts on the story as a whole or on the mechanics until I have seen more of it (as I write this column, I am not through the story just yet… getting close, but various things have slowed me down, so it’s the first time I haven’t finished an expansion by Monday in a while). However, I do think the structure and characterizations remain on-point. Wuk Lamat takes her starring role with grace and aplomb, and the story takes time to invest her with character and pathos while also keeping her entertaining.

And while I was a bit worried about some elements of tone – especially when the expansion seemed poised to give us multiple different “short comedy relief” races – it turns out that most of the comedy does work pretty naturally. Especially in the first half of the game, there is a strong feeling of humor without the things that are happening being a joke.

It’s also impressive to me how little the media tour actually showed off. I really was not prepared for pretty much anything beyond the first trial, and it went places I was not expecting in the best of ways. This might have been more annoying if they weren’t all delivered so well, but the expansion takes so much time to look at unusual but interesting new cultures that I can’t be upset about it.

As for the graphical update, I don’t know what I can say. The two dye channels are interesting, but there are unfortunately a number of places where the actual choices of second channels feels a bit more questionable and/or makes it just as easy for outfits to clash with one another. Some of that was always inevitable, sure, but it stands out all the same.


But the game looks gorgeous even in older areas, where you can see the improved heft of things like wet surfaces. And because the queues have largely been manageable after the initial rush on Friday morning, if you believe your character needs a touch-up with a Fantasia, it doesn’t look like the worst thing ever, which I greatly appreciate.

It definitely seems as if it’s been an unusually long time since the last expansion, and in a way it has; Dawntrail took two and a half years, after all. But the game seems more lively with the launch, and I think most crucial is that it doesn’t feel more lively at the expanse of actual reliable performance. I don’t dread logging off because I might not be able to get back on. And while I have what I think is a pretty good idea of where the story is ultimately going, it got there organically. We’ve definitely found new places to explore, new parallels, and a wide open world that feels like the logical place to take our story following the last one.

More to come this week when I write my first impressions, obviously. Please look forward to it.

So, all told, I am very happy with how the early access period has shaken out. It hasn’t been flawless, but it has handled the strain much, much better than the last time around. That alone is worthy of respect. I look forward to seeing the end of the main story and exploring more of the expansion because as always, there is just so much that I know I’m going to have things to do for a while now. Which, you know, was always the hope.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to log back in and keep playing. There’s a whole Tural out there to explore, don’t you know.

Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I want to take a more in-depth look at some of my experiences in the expansion, starting with my mechanical impression of the dungeons along the leveling path. I promise, no spoilers yet.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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