Wisdom of Nym: Spoiler-free impressions of Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail’s leveling dungeons

    
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Level up, loser.

The funny thing about Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail’s story is that in some ways spoiling it feels pretty minor. Like, it’s not unconscionable to spoil. It’s not full of huge revelations that shake the world down to its very foundations. If I told you exactly where it went, front to back, it’s not like Endwalker in that regard. But it is similar insofar as the places where the overall story goes are just so unpredictable that it feels wrong to spoil, that there are so many surprises even once you know the overall arc.

So I am going to be keeping things spoiler-free for a while yet, and that means that right now I am going to be talking about the leveling dungeons. In the interests of keeping things vague, I will be referring to the dungeons purely by the level they require rather than name, and I am also not going to be referring too much to the environments they take place in; my goal here is to discuss them from a mechanical standpoint, not a lore standpoint. And as this column might imply, I still have a lot to say there.

River!

Level 91 Dungeon

I obviously got to play this dungeon during the media tour, so you got a whole writeup of what I thought about this dungeon at the time; that having been said, it’s a different experience when you are playing with friends who are at their desks fully immersed in the experience compared to a lot of other journalists trying to assess the dungeon. (Which is not to denigrate the other people at the media tour, y’all were great.) If anything, it helped really underscore the fact that this dungeon is spicy right out of the gate.

It’s not that any one of the mechanics here is wildly unfamiliar or has never shown up in the game before so much that they just have a lot of overlapping points and can really mess people up who are expecting an easier ramp into the expansion. This isn’t exactly a shock after the Tower of Zot in Endwalker, but it serves as a nice reminder that the leveling dungeons here know you have played a lot of this game. The devs are not going to take it easy on you at this point.

That looks tall.

Level 93 Dungeon

The cutscenes leading up to this dungeon made me expect or hope for something we didn’t actually get; thematically it feels appropriate enough, but it does make the progress through the dungeon seem a bit more like this is something we have to go through because gosh darn it we had some weird critters to fight and we weren’t going to be able to fit them in anywhere else. And sure, some of that was always going to happen; maybe I got spoiled because we didn’t get a dungeon like that in Endwalker until Level 87, and then it still made sense because were invading Weird Boss Fight Building.

Still, the actual mechanics of these fights is fun, and the gear rewards are downright gorgeous. If I had to choose a weak link, it would probably this one, but the fun level of the fights and the environments make up for it being just on the right side.

Keep your cat in a box.

Level 95 Dungeon

So one thing I kind of like about this dungeon is that it feels a bit like a callback to the Qitana Ravel, but in the opposite way. The Ravel was interesting because instead of starting in the wilds and slowly entering a deep, dark mesoamerican temple, you started in the temple and eventually emerged into the wilderness. Here, you start in what feels like temple ruins and then go into even weirder spaces. (And yes, I’m aware that another dungeon calls back to that dungeon as well, but it’s not a leveling dungeon.) This is where you get the hints about something you probably knew from the trailers, but it’s also something of a misdirection about where you’ll head next.

One thing I definitely did notice is that the aesthetics of the gear here feel… kinda disjointed. Like, they feel like they fit a cargo cult around the ultimate destination, but they don’t quite match any distinct aesthetic. I suppose that’s not really a big deal, seeing as we’re doubtlessly going to have several more aesthetic sets to get through, but it did stand out in my mind at least. The bosses seemed as if they were tuned a bit harder than the last dungeon, which is both a blessing and a curse.

welcome to the FUTURE

Level 97 Dungeon

I love this dungeon. It’s easily my favorite dungeon of the leveling set. I love the aesthetics, the drops, the musical theme, the boss fights… there are no clunkers in the batch. It brings in such a high-octane intensity that leaves you feeling as if you’re charging into totally unfamiliar territory, and I honestly feel like it’s easy to get nailed by boss mechanics just because of that fact. The first boss alone has fun mechanics, and the last boss not only has two phases without being overly long but also has a number of mechanics that are clearly telegraphed but might get missed along the way. And the second boss has its whole fence mechanic that is just… mm. Chef’s kiss.

About the only complaint I can possibly muster is that the intro section leading into the dungeon should have been playable in some way, but even that is the most minor complaint possible. I think this is absolutely a high-water mark for the expansion’s leveling path, and I think that’s kind of why, well…

going so fast like a... whatever

Level 99 Dungeon

The final leveling dungeon just doesn’t work for me. It would be wrong to say that this is a rehash of the last dungeon. It is distinct in appreciable ways from its predecessor. It even has a subtly different color scheme to help differentiate them! But it just… doesn’t feel all that different. Maybe part of it is that the 97 dungeon is just so sharp that anything was going to be lackluster compared to it, but another part of it is probably that it is not meaningfully all that different. You are facing the same type of enemy, except where the 97 dungeon had you feeling as if you were up against something dangerous and barely understood, this dungeon has you facing enemies that you now fully understand.

Combine that with the fact that you’re about to get a trial fight that overshadows it in music and narrative heft, and this one really just feels like marking time, a far cry from the nearly apocalyptic vibes of Endwalker’s 89 dungeon. This is, more than any other, the dungeon put in a place where you need to have a dungeon, and it stands out for that when the prior expansions have not had that problem.

Do I have thoughts about the expert dungeons? Of course I do! But for now we’re going to leave it here. Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com; next week, we’re going to change tacks and talk about the role quests, which I quite liked for various reasons.

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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