Stormblood Retrospective: Eureka (Part One)

We’re just a few months away from the release of Final Fantasy XIV’s third expansion, Shadowbringers, but before that we’ll have the end of its second, Stormblood. The final chapter of the latest Main Scenario Quest is upon us, paving the way for the game’s next major release. As I did before at the end of Heavensward, I want to look back at some aspects of Stormblood, with some emphasis on the ways Stormblood built (or didn’t build) on the solidified foundation provided by Heavensward. I want to start my Stormblood Retrospectives with this expansion’s take on longform weapon quests, which will naturally also mean talking at length about Stormblood’s main addition to FFXIV’s themepark: Eureka. Part one of this Eureka retrospective will cover the content as a successor to Diadem, and part two will focus on Eurekan weapons and armor, Stormblood’s take on the longform weapon quests that have long been a core part of FFXIV.

At the time of writing for my Heavensward retrospective on Diadem Exploratory Missions, we knew Eureka was coming, announced as it was alongside the reveal of Stormblood itself. While Diadem would launch during Heavensward’s first raid tier (as part of Patch 3.1), however, Eureka was delayed until Stormblood’s second, launching in Patch 4.2. This delay, combined with the fact that Eureka was designed to house Stormblood’s take on the expansion’s longform weapon quests, meant that players had to wait a long time for this expansion’s third endgame progression path. After their struggles with Diadem, however, the developers wanted to be sure to get Eureka right, and it would be hard to blame them for taking their time to deliver a more polished experience.

Eureka Anemos, the result of that long wait, provided an experience unlike most anything else we had seen in FFXIV up to that point. Combining the collaborative and explorative elements of Heavensward’s redesigned Diadem with a relic quest re-purposed to add more attractive incentives to Eureka that Diadem had sorely lacked, Eureka Anemos could perhaps best be described as the theme park attraction version of a first-generation MMORPG in a second-generation, “theme park” MMORPG. For me—someone who first fell in love with MMORPGs at the tail end of that first generation—Eureka Anemos showed that aspects of first-generation design could be re-imagined for the current age of MMORPGs and suggested that perhaps the genre hadn’t left me behind so drastically as I had once imagined. Anemos itself, though, could charitably be thought of as incomplete. It laid the foundation for Eureka zones to come, introducing the Eurekan story quests, the Magia Board, crystals, Notorious Monsters, and—of course—Eureka gear and weapons, but seemed to lack a certain amount of depth that would only come in later installments of the series.

Eureka Pagos, which launched a few months later—importantly, too soon to properly incorporate player feedback from Anemos—seems to represent best the team’s original vision for Eureka itself, absent as it was of the need to be rushed out the door (since Anemos was already several months late). Pagos, in its initial state, leaned harder into first-generation MMORPG design than any other chapter of Eureka, serving up a harsh and unforgiving landscape in which to complete a back-breaking grind (one that I found enthralling while recognizing that it was unlikely to survive in the modern era). Adjustments came quickly, with massive changes to the speed of progression inside Eureka Pagos, but it is telling that even after several rounds of adjustments in the same vein, Pagos remains the most biting zone of Eureka in terms of the old school grind. Unlike Anemos, Pagos possessed something of a first-generation MMO “endgame,” with a secondary grind for the zone’s special weapons, special loot from Elemental Conflicts and rare warped lockboxes, and even exceedingly scarce gear to be won with special Eureka-only bonuses. These elements, while welcome, were largely overshadowed by Pagos’s unforgiving nature.

Even so, they would be solidified as core components of the experience in Eureka Pyros, the next chapter in the continuing saga. Pyros was developed with the advantage afforded by the wealth of feedback from both Anemos and Pagos, resulting in a much more polished experience, and one far better suited to the expectations of FFXIV’s player base. Pyros did receive some adjustments during its time as current content, though none so severe as those necessary for Pagos, signaling the development team’s growing experience in designing this sort of content. Like Pagos before it, Pyros also expanded Eureka in its own way with the addition of Logos Actions, unique Duty Actions that allowed for jobs to perform off-role tasks such as tanking or healing, avoid enemies with stealth, or even outright kill anything (with a low chance of success, naturally!). Continuing on from the unique gear with Eureka-only bonuses, Pyros also added rare (and therefore valuable) items that could be used to expand the Magia Board that serves as Eureka’s central mechanic.

All of this culminated in the final chapter, Eureka Hydatos, which builds on everything learned from the three Eureka zones before it. The zone itself is reminiscent of the wide-open space of Anemos, but the treasure hunting of Pagos and the Logos Actions of Pyros are mixed in to round out the experience. By the launch of Hydatos, it was clear that Eureka had developed its own formula, one that took all four zones to perfect. Hydatos is noticeably more player friendly than any of the previous installments (in keeping with the trend of each expansion’s final “relic” stage generally being more of a victory lap than a lengthy grind), but it does add its own twist with the Baldesion Arsenal, a punishing special dungeon unlocked through the course of play not unlike the Emergency Missions from Heavensward’s Diadem. Building on the idea of an endgame first seen in Pagos, the Arsenal provides unique cosmetic rewards as well as items needed to upgrade Eureka gear and weapons with powerful Eureka-specific bonuses. While the Arsenal is not without its problems, requiring a level of coordination that has made it difficult to engage with now that the fervor of the initial launch has passed, the general idea of more difficult content for players to tackle has been well-received.

Across four separate zones and over the course of almost a year of development time, Eureka has remained popular and active, likely solidifying the place of similar content in FFXIV’s future to come.  Yoshi-P has already signaled the team’s plan to create new “exploration content” like Eureka, and I think it’s likely that any such content will build on what we’ve seen in Eureka, just as Eureka attempted to build on the initial ideas presented in Diadem. Eureka did a lot well, even considering the stumbling block of Pagos, and especially when compared to its predecessor from Heavensward. The developers took the unprecedented action of removing Diadem from the game during the last expansion to rework it, and Eureka required nothing so drastic. As with anything, Eureka is not perfect, but with swift adjustments tailored well to player feedback, Eureka’s imperfections are minor and many of them come down to preferences rather than fundamental issues that leave the content broken and unappealing.

With its general success, Eureka proves that the original concept for “exploration content” can work in FFXIV when proper incentives are there to fuel it. The draw of a powerful weapon but also—for the first time in FFXIV—competitive armor pieces outside of gear from Allagan Tomestones and Savage raids created enough of a proverbial carrot to keep player engagement with Eureka high. Diadem, which did provide the potential for competitive armor (and in the reworked Diadem, a weapon), largely failed to drive long term engagement due to the quality of those rewards being too volatile, constrained as they were by randomized stat arrays. Eureka repurposes this sort of random stat generation for the weapon in a much more palatable fashion, with the ability to lock in additional stat rolls over time, raising both the minimum stat values and the maximum potential of the weapon. As a result, a powerful weapon never feels quite out of reach, driving an interested player to keep going in a strong contrast to the randomized Coven weapons of Diadem, which were so vanishingly rare that they could never serve as a primary motivation to explore the zone’s floating islands.

High tier weapons and armor are usually enough to ensure player engagement in most of FFXIV’s content, but there’s still more to be had from Eureka. Notorious Monsters, in addition to Eureka-specific items, also reward premium, weekly-capped Allagan Tomestones, providing a rather laid-back method of ticking off that checkbox, adding some much-needed variety to the weekly grind that’s been FFXIV’s bread and butter for years now. Aspiring treasure hunters can also acquire rare vanity items, some of which, like rare emotes or hairstyles, can fetch a pretty penny on the Market Board. Items to enhance the Magia Board or acquire rare Logos Actions have significant value, too. The Baldesion Arsenal—a special instance within an instance not unlike the Emergency Mission of Diadem—even adds content for those seeking challenging content to master and offers rare vanity items of its own as well as tokens for nostalgic armor pieces from Final Fantasy XI that offer powerful bonuses inside Eureka zones. All these things combine to keep players interested in several different ways, which is something that Diadem never truly managed, plagued as it was by an over-reliance on randomly generated stats for its gear rewards and little else in the way of meaningful things to chase.

Through all of this, Eureka also fosters an environment where player cooperation is far more encouraged than it is in most of FFXIV’s other content. Though the greater penalties for player death clash somewhat with player expectations in more recent MMOs, they lend a definite strength to adventuring in number, since safety (and resurrection spells to avoid penalties from death altogether) prove so valuable. Like the times of old, you’ll even find players going out of their way to raise those who die on the way to quest objectives in dangerous areas or while looking for buried treasure. Working together in groups also makes it easier to earn full rewards from Notorious Monsters, and it’s also the best way to make sure that the more powerful Notorious Monsters spawn, since the enemies that spawn them are quite difficult to solo. Gathering aether for one’s Eureka weapon in Pagos or Pyros is often easier in groups, too, since you can tackle stronger enemies (which matters quite a bit, since aether gains are in part determined by experience gains). Subtler things, like the relative lack of meaningful quest markers for Eureka’s story quests, encourage players to share information with each other, too. All of this is a breath of fresh air for FFXIV, which so often focuses on anonymously matched parties in its Duty Finder that the more social aspects of MMOs are often muted compared to older titles in the genre.

Now, as Stormblood comes to close, it’s clear that FFXIV’s development team has well and truly learned from the design problems that plagued Heavensward’s exploratory missions in the Diadem, even if took around three years’ worth of iteration to get things right. Eureka has proven to be one of the most successful ventures into new content design ever seen in FFXIV, rivaling the original Deep Dungeon of Heavensward in terms of player engagement and surpassing most every other new addition. While it may have been popular to complain about Eureka at times, FFXIV’s players never abandoned Eureka to the extent that they did Diadem. Ensuring its success took a lot of effort from the development team, including a rather significant delay of the content, and it also took the marriage of FFXIV’s longform weapon quests to its exploration content. Combined, its likely that the two will continue to serve as a bolstered third pillar of FFXIV’s endgame moving forward into Shadowbringers and beyond. With that said, part one of this look back on Eureka comes to a close. Part two will focus on the content’s other half and how Stormblood’s “relic” quest compares to those of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward.

Thanks to the support of Fashion Ninjutsu’s patrons, I’ve been able to put more time and care into this expansion retrospective, with special thanks going to current $5 patrons David Haig, Francisco Galicia, Nomolun, and Zayla Rose. If you’ve enjoyed this retrospective and would like to support future ones or other content like Mog Station Reviews, you can offer support of your own on Fashion Ninjutsu’s Patreon.

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