Eureka Anemos First Impressions

As much as I play FFXIV, it might come as a surprise that I don’t actually care much for its core gameplay. I dislike its global cooldown-centered combat system, and I like the now traditional safety dance style of encounter design even less. I’ve always preferred RPGs to action games because of their slower pace, so when it comes to MMOs, I vastly preferred Final Fantasy XI for its slower, auto attack-based combat to both World of Warcraft and FFXIV, despite playing the two latter games for years each. Obviously, I can enjoy action-styled games (and MMOs) enough to play them as long as enough other things click. For FFXIV, I’ve stuck around because of the game’s stellar presentation, glamours, relics, and the fact that, in a lot of ways, it’s the hypothetical game I used to talk about in my WoW days: somewhere between FFXI and WoW.

But for many years now, I’ve felt that advancements in the genre have left me behind. The fun of FFXI for me was never in its low-APM combat (on average, a melee in FFXI used an action every 30-45 seconds, compared to our ~2.5-second GCD in FFXIV!), but more in something that I’ve always struggled to define. FFXI was more a game about being an adventurer in the world of Vana’diel than it was about enjoying well-crafted action sequences of encounters. FFXI invited you into its world, but in many ways it wasn’t a world that was built for you: the world was hostile, travel was inconvenient, quests were vague and undefined, and if you took a wrong turn you might find yourself face to face with something levels above you that would K.O. you in an instant, quite possibly making you lose hard-earned progress in the process. In Vana’diel, it was almost always dangerous to go alone, even when you were carrying all of the necessary tools like Silent Oils and Prism Powders to avoid enemy detection.

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As MMOs have modernized in the post-WoW landscape, their emphasis has largely shifted to focus on providing exciting moment-to-moment gameplay, often with a strong focus on proper execution, both of ever more involved “rotations” and ever more complex encounters in which we respond to mechanics, and things in the MMO landscape have changed dramatically. It’s now standard to be transported to an instanced—largely on rails—experience by clicking a button in a menu and waiting for the game to provide you with the number of people you need to attempt whatever piece of content you’ve selected. Only rarely does it take any real effort to get to a destination even in the open world—in FFXIV, all we do is open another menu and click, to find ourselves there mere moments later. In many ways, these things (and lots of other smaller changes) shift what an MMO is at the core: many modern MMOs aren’t about being (or role-playing) an adventurer in a world, because the worlds they represent are better thought of as lobbies you wait in while you’re in line for the latest theme park attraction (which is, of course, where the theme park style of MMO gets its name).

While I’ve managed to find something of a home in FFXIV, I’ve always been dogged by a very real feeling of being an adventurer out of time: these games aren’t really made for me anymore, and because of the shifting landscape in the video game industry, they probably will never be made for me again on any massive scale. And that brings me to FFXIV’s latest theme park attraction: the Forbidden Land of Eureka. I talked about my hopes for Eureka not long ago, and I am simply overjoyed that not only does Eureka fulfill basically all of those hopes, it’s fulfilled hopes I didn’t know I had.

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At its core, Eureka Anemos is more or less a love letter to FFXI, taking design cue after design cue from it, much as Diadem and the Palace of the Dead did before it. Gameplay in Eureka is largely not focused around the mechanical nuances of FFXIV‘s combat gameplay. Instead, Eureka is about adapting to a hostile world, learning how to survive in it, and ultimately, overcoming that world both by leveling up in a traditional way, but also in learning how it all works. It’s likely going to seem boring to folks who really like FFXIV‘s content style and look for ever more complex boss fights to challenge their mastery of execution and heighten their reflexes.

But as someone who was never here for any of that in the first place, I have found the first thing in FFXIV that truly feels like it was made for me. Sure, we had the long and grindy Zodiac and Anima questlines that mimicked some of FFXI‘s reward structures in skeleton if not in feel, but those always felt more like a nod to the old ways. Eureka instead feels like an homage to them. All throughout, Eureka Anemos calls back to FFXI in much the same way that Deltscape and Sigmascape called back to FFV and FFVI, respectively. A number of Notorious Monster FATE bosses are named and patterned after Notorious Monsters from FFXIV‘s predecessor. The Valkurm Emperor returns as the Emperor of Anemos and drops the Emperor Hairpin that served as one of many pillars of FFXI‘s RMT problem; the Lord of Onzozo appears again as the Lord of Anemos and drops a minion that dual wields the mythical Kraken Club (which could attack 2-8 times per round!) as its special emote; Serket appears in the flesh and drops the Scorpion Harness, a nod to the Venomous Claw it dropped in FFXI, which was used to make the Harness there. There are tons of other little references, like the Wind-Up Mithra and Wind-Up Fafnir, too, of course.

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But even the gameplay itself is a throwback to FFXI. The whole of Eureka is hostile to you, and if you wander too far or you aren’t properly prepared (which takes the form of having the right Magia Board settings here), higher level monsters can take you out in one swipe. Notorious Monsters have spawn windows, and they’re “popped” by killing monsters associated with them (which isn’t precisely how it worked in FFXI, but it’s a close approximation for the modern age). Because the world is dangerous, you’re encouraged to group up with others to find safety in numbers. There’s even the possibility of finding an XP camp and chaining enemy kills for greater and greater XP rewards.

While adventuring in Eureka, you’ll learn to dodge aggro in ways FFXIV doesn’t normally encourage by watching monster facing and weaving past them when they turn the other way. If you mess up and a monster gives chase, you can pin it down with Bind or Sleep effects to get away. If you die, once you hit a certain level, you can lose hard-earned experience points, much as you could in FFXI, but thankfully, FFXIV is slightly more forgiving, as befitting for a more modernized experience. As long as you receive a Raise effect from another player before the 10 minute timer is up, you keep your experience. In many ways, this places an emphasis on survival, with all of the need for awareness and caution that entails. You’ll be doing a lot of this on foot, as the use of mounts is locked behind a quest I don’t have access to as of writing, despite enough time spent in Eureka to have hit Elemental Level 10—halfway to the level cap of 20.

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But as you go, the world slowly becomes less threatening. Once your Elemental Level is high enough, weaker monsters leave you alone, just the way enemies that were “too weak to be worthwhile” ignored you in FFXI. As you gather more Magicite, you can multiply your damage dealt or reduce your damage taken to extreme degrees, which is quite reminiscent of the way Atma in FFXI‘s Abyssea greatly increased your capabilities as you progressed through those otherworldly zones. Once you’ve got some familiarity with this small island world and its systems, you’ll find that you can control it in certain ways: Notorious Monsters can be forced to spawn by knowing what enemies to target, greatly increasing your acquisition of experience points and much-needed Anemos Crystals (which are used for upgrading artifact equipment). And because the systems inside Eureka encourage it, even strangers are likely to work together for the benefit of all, helping to spawn Notorious Monsters, tossing out Raises left and right, and pointing folks to quest objectives (which crucially have no quest markers—only general directions from dialogue with quest NPCs).

All of this combines—if you let it—to create an experience of what I have often called immersion. In Eureka, if I want to, I can stop and look around or to take a breather, in a way that I can’t while running through Hells’ Lid or some other dungeon as quickly as possible to get that mandatory Tomestone check every 20 minutes. While Eureka certainly has similar elements (most MMO content is going to need those carrots-on-sticks, after all), because the content emphasizes safety and systems mastery over speed and execution in important ways and has a core gameplay loop that is many ways relaxed and rhythmic as opposed to one focused on frantic excitement (like you might find in a raid boss), it can lull the right kind of player into the game in a way that the time spent becomes less important than the experience itself, especially when that experience is shared with others.

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That mention of the “right kind of player” is deliberate: Eureka is not designed for everyone who plays FFXIV. That might seem strange on its face to say, because we’re so used to content being stratified by its difficulty, which naturally excludes some players. Normal mode raids in FFXIV are meant for the general population, Savage raids are meant for a fraction of that population, and Ultimate raids are meant for a fraction of that population. But similar things are actually true for a lot of FFXIV‘s other content—glamours and minions and Gold Saucer events and maps and Deep Dungeons and relic quests all target different types of players. The difference with Eureka is that, more like a Savage or an Ultimate Raid, the content isn’t likely to have a lot of “crossover appeal.” I think that’s just fine: after all, Ultimate Coil was never meant for me (despite my having a strong desire to see the content, since Coil was and still is my favorite series of raids in FFXIV). It’s nice to finally get content that’s focused on what I find fun, and not just as a bone thrown to whet the tongue of my love of long grinds as with the Zodiac and Anima questlines, but as something that truly seeks to create a sense of adventure for the player.

The developers have made attempts in this vein before: the original Diadem (which I talked about somewhat at length when I wrote about my impressions of the Diadem redesign) shared a lot in common with Eureka. That content suffered from a lot of design flaws, though—flaws that the Diadem redesign largely addressed while abandoning much of what made Diadem enjoyable in the way that I find Eureka enjoyable. Even the first Deep Dungeon, Palace of the Dead, strove to capture some of that feel (and it was one of my favorite parts of Heavensward because of it), but it patterned itself after some of FFXI‘s own forays into instanced content (which seem to have largely been precursors to the modern MMO “dungeon”), which put it somewhere in between the old and the new.

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With Eureka Anemos, I think the team has finally managed to get this right. I’ve never had as much fun in FFXIV as I had in my first couple days of exploring Eureka, and I think I could spend the rest of Patch 4.2 in Eureka and not regret a moment of it. I look forward to the continuation of the story (which I haven’t gone into here because I want to avoid spoilers), the continued evolution of the Eureka gear, and on never having to queue for Expert Roulette again unless I want to, since Eureka provides just enough Mendacity to hit weekly caps if you can get groups together to focus on Notorious Monsters.

This isn’t to say that I think the content’s perfect (even if, admittedly, I think it’s pretty close to it). A few more quests would be welcome to break up the somewhat lengthy grind (and I echo the sentiments of some folks I’ve seen suggesting the addition of daily quests or objectives in the zone, though I think I’d prefer to see weekly objectives to avoid the daily chore syndrome of things like Expert Roulette). The gear rewards are structured a little oddly, in that despite the content being delayed so that we would have time to collect Sigmascape and Tomestone gear from Patch 4.2, the current final stage of the gear is only marginally stronger than Sigmascape gear at present (thanks to the possibility of 5 guaranteed Grade VI materia melds).

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For some reason, there are also not two, and not three,  but four steps for every gear upgrade, with the initial upgrades largely meaningless to anyone who has, as the team wanted, gathered Sigmascape and Tomestone gear. Having two steps for each upgrade would have made more sense to me: one step to gain the dyeable version of the gear for glamour (so that glamour focused players don’t have to slog through as much of a grind they’re uninterested in), and a second longer step to get gear that will be useful moving forward. Personally, I’d also like to see Eureka gear have some benefit (perhaps zone-specific item level scaling, much like PvP gear once provided) inside Eureka itself, so that even while its lower item level has less of an impact on content outside than things like Tomestone gear, it can provide a more tangible sense of gear progression for the content it’s most heavily associated with.

But most of these things are, in my eyes, minor quibbles. Much as was the case with Palace of the Dead, it should be possible to adjust things like drop rates of Protean Crystals to make the grind a little less intimidating and add things like daily or weekly objectives to allow people to more easily “dabble” in Eureka without damaging the overall soul of the content. I desperately don’t want to see another repeat of the Diadem fiasco here: Eureka has, to my mind, largely addressed the things that went wrong with the original Diadem, and I don’t want to see it become a poor imitation of what it is now. Eureka has surpassed all of my hopes and expectations for the Forbidden Land, and I simply can’t wait for more of it.

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