Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail's first dungeon is a breathtaking, unpredictable rollercoaster ride

 Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail.
Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail.

When Final Fantasy 14: Dawntrail launches on July 2 (or June 28 if you’ve pre-ordered for early access), one of the things I’m most excited about is the new dungeons we’ll get to experience as we progress through the new main scenario content. During the recent Dawntrail Media Tour, I was able to get a taste of this with a few playthroughs of the expansion’s first dungeon, Ihuykatumu.

Accessible at Level 91 - positioning it as the first dungeon of the expansion - Ihuykatumu is a wonderfully tropical adventure that, as we’ve come to expect from Final Fantasy 14’s best dungeons, packs in tons of location and set piece variety into a compact 15-20 minute experience.

A rocky start?

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail
Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail

I’m going to praise Ihuykatumu a lot here, but I have to get a major complaint out of the way before diving into what makes this dungeon so special. It’s that the opening segment of the dungeon starts off on a bit of a weak note, locking the party onto a single platform while groups of enemies rush in, one after the other.

I have to get a major complaint out of the way before diving into what makes this dungeon so special.

It’s not an uncommon way for Final Fantasy 14 dungeons to begin. We’ve seen it with Endwalker’s Lapis Manalis and Shadowbringers’ Anamnesis Anyder. It’s by no means terrible, but the whole set piece makes for a slow start to an otherwise excellent dungeon.

Thankfully, the set piece overall is nonetheless stunning. The party is aboard a large, sturdy raft, barreling down a river in monsoon conditions. While the initial pace of the dungeon may be slow, the background elements and weather conditions do a fantastic job of simulating a rapid pace. After dispatching a few waves of enemies, we run into another boat that forcibly knocks us off course. We make an emergency docking and are greeted by the first of three bosses.

This boss, the Prime Punutiy, takes the form of a large seal-like creature that’s somehow able to float off the ground. The boss itself doesn’t really feature any mechanics we haven’t seen before, but it sets a strong first impression thanks to its presentation. The creature has a massive set of lungs on it, allowing it to call forth severe winds that send obstacles like trees and boulders crashing onto the arena, which you’ll need to avoid. It’s an area-of-effect (AOE) dodging-heavy encounter, meaning you’ll need very careful positioning in order to avoid all the dangers.

Clearer skies

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail
Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail

After dispatching the Prime Punutiy, the weather clears up and we get welcome sunlight peeking through the overcast skies. But we can’t enjoy the nice weather for too long, as we’re thrust into a network of caves that do a wonderful job of showing off Final Fantasy 14’s new graphical update - particularly with its enhanced lighting.

Patches of flora and vegetation add a touch of greenery to these cave networks, and natural holes in the ceiling allow sunlight to shine through. Clear care has been taken to really spruce up what could’ve been an otherwise dull, straightforward cave environment.

As we progress further, we surprisingly run into a new character, Koana, alongside our erstwhile companions Thancred and Urianger. Rather shockingly, though, Thancred uses his blade to cause a cave-in, forcing our party to take a rather unsafe detour. It’s likely, then, that the divide in the Scions’ ranks teased by director and producer Naoki Yoshida, could be set in motion very early into Dawntrail’s main scenario.

As a result of Thancred’s betrayal, we run into what’s easily the most creative enemy Ihuykatumu has to throw at us. A group of multicolored slimes morph to take on the shape of the Warrior of Light and their party members and engage us in battle. The enemies themselves aren’t really mechanically unique, but seeing amorphous versions of ourselves shuffle toward us like zombies definitely caught me off guard.

This is something we see come back during the second boss fight, against a large sleepy creature named Drowsie, who’ll summon these slime homunculi as additional enemies to engage with during the fight.

Besides that, this boss’ main mechanic involves large vines sprouting from the earth, which will pick a direction (marked by an arrow) before slamming into the ground after a few seconds. This first attack is fairly easy to avoid, but the vines then grow in size, creating much larger AOEs on their second slam. This is a little tougher to dodge, and you’ll need to quickly identify a safe spot in the arena to avoid being clobbered. Again, it’s a fun and interesting boss encounter, but we’ve yet to reach the dungeon’s best part.

Beetle Mania

Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail
Final Fantasy 14 Dawntrail

We exit the network of caves to be greeted by sunshine and soon notice that those once overcast skies have now largely cleared up. We have one last trek through dense forestry, fighting off the dungeon’s largest mobs yet, before reaching its final boss, which we first catch a glimpse of as it descends onto the field to snack on some animal carcasses.

When we get to the boss arena, the boss properly introduces itself as Apollyon, a towering emerald-hued beetle that packs a lot of nasty mechanics. While not massively difficult, the boss nonetheless surprised me with its level of challenge in relation to dungeon bosses from previous expansions.

The first notably challenging mechanic is a set of two overlapping AOEs that cover most of the arena. You’ll need to wait for the first set to go off, before quickly running over to one of the few safe spots that have been revealed. This is swiftly followed up with a large circular AOE that appears above each player’s head. Each party member will need to then spread out so as to not hit each other with these.

However, the nastiest mechanic the boss has is a tornado it summons partway through the fight. The tornado travels across the arena without stopping, eventually firing line AOEs in eight directions. Players will have to constantly adjust their positioning while the tornado is moving, and it was quite tough to focus on my job’s rotation while keeping the tornado’s movement in view. And if you do get hit, you’ll be applied with a nasty damage-over-time debuff which will need to be healed through pronto. Overall, Apollyon is an excellent dungeon boss who does something slightly different and presents a challenge slightly greater than what I was expecting.

Overall, I think Ihuykatumu is a very strong opening dungeon, despite its slow start. Moving between exterior and interior environments while the weather changes almost in real time was a real visual treat. On top of that, its enemies and bosses offered plenty of surprises. If I had to rank it, I’d place it above Endwalker’s first dungeon; The Tower of Zot. However, I don’t think anything is quite going to be able to beat Shadowbringers’ Holminster Switch and its horrendously bleak setting. But that’s always going to be a tough act to follow.

While my experience with the Ihuykatumu dungeon came from a pre-release build of Dawntrail and so is subject to change, if this taster is anything to go by, then I’m seriously excited to see what kind of wild rides the rest of Dawntrail’s dungeons take us on.

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