Last week Final Fantasy XIV released the first half of its final Shadowbringers update, entitled Death Unto Dawn, alongside the launch of its PS5 beta. This is the last major patch before the game’s highly anticipated Endwalker expansion, and it makes for an engaging and challenging burst of endgame content to tide players over until the story takes us to the moon this fall.
When last we saw our heroes the Scions, they were working to fix the harm caused by Eorzea’s colonization and undoing the religious brainwashing (known as “tempering”) brought on by primal summons. They were interrupted by an attack by a madman named Fandaniel and his big purple dragon, Lunar Bahamut. In Death Unto Dawn, we learn that this version of the legendary dreadwyrm Bahamut is not only brainwashing lesser dragons, but enthralling them into service of the Garlean Empire, one of the Final Fantasy XIV’s long-running villains.
As only the first part of the current expansion’s last patch, the amount of main scenario content is fairly light. We enlist the aid of Bahamut’s ex-girlfriend Tiamat (who is also an enormous dragon), enemies are fought in a cool new dungeon, and we’re left with a bunch of questions about where the story is headed. One of the things I enjoy most about Final Fantasy XIV is how similar its narrative structure is to that of a long-running tv show. While some patches feel like action-packed season finales, this chunk of story feels like a season premiere, making room for quieter moments, focusing on the relationships between its cast of characters, and slowly building toward its next major plotline.
But whereas the main story is leading toward new beginnings, the rest of the new content is bringing several side stories to an end. The Sorrow of Werlyt questline has been providing a series of difficult new boss fights for players to master while also giving a compelling redemption arc to A Realm Reborn’s first big bad, Gaius van Baelsar. Since abandoning the Garlean Empire, Gaius has joined the Warrior of Light in fighting against the human experimentation being conducted by the Empire he once swore allegiance to.
Speaking of the Empire, the new boss battle, “The Cloud Deck,” has players face off against the Garleans’ latest abomination, the Diamond Weapon. It’s a dizzying encounter that has you and your party fight a giant flying mecha while teleporting back and forth between the heads of two other giant flying mechas. I ran the extreme difficulty version of the fight with my static raiding group and found keeping alive while zipping to and fro a delicate dance requiring a lot of communication and intentional movement. It felt like a huge accomplishment when we finally beat it.
Elsewhere comes the end of YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse, a 24-person “alliance” raid series and crossover with the NieR franchise. These sprawling dungeons, guest created by NieR Automata director Yoko Taro and scored by Keiichi Okabe, have been consistently stylish and challenging, and the latest, Tower at Paradigm’s Breach, may be my favorite yet. Taro’s eccentricity is on full display in this raid. While the Nier story has wonderfully complemented Final Fantasy XIV’s gameplay, here Taro also manages to totally subvert what the MMO’s players have come to expect, with boss fights suddenly shifting into a simple shooter similar to ones he’s featured in other games.
And whereas the two previous entries in this series had pitted us against the machines and androids of Automata, it was a pleasant surprise to see Tower feature enemies from and homages to the original Nier game as well as Drakengard, the underappreciated, batshit-insane series Nier originates from. A static mate and I went in with a bet that one of the final battles would bear some similarities to the most notoriously difficult story branches of Drakengard and Drakengard 3. Upon finding ourselves to be correct, both of us had a much easier time understanding the mechanics of the fight. When we cleared it after a few near party wipes, it was all the more satisfying.
Overall, Death Unto Dawn offers a small sampling of new content, but what it does offer is engaging with a lot of replay value, especially for players looking to challenge themselves, gear up in anticipation for Endwalker, or who just want to farm for the latest glamour items. It has me very excited for what comes next.
Also there is a new event for Hatching-Tide (Eorzea’s version of Easter that has all the colorful egg imagery with none of the Christ stuff) that gives players a chicken costume. So the day after the patch launched, everybody was dressed like a chicken. Bawk bawk.
Chingy Nea is a writer, comedian, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend based out of Oakland and Los Angeles.