Stormblood Retrospective: Eureka (Part Two)

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 Main Scenario Quest has come and gone, paving the way for the game’s next major release. As I did before at the end of Heavensward, I’m taking this time before the expansion to look back at some aspects of Stormblood, with 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. Last time, I looked at Eureka as the spiritual successor to Diadem, and this time it’s all about the aspects most important to me: the Eurekan weapons.

The developers of FFXIV undoubtedly consider Eureka a success, and a very welcome one after the troubled history of the Diadem Exploratory Missions that preceded it. Where Diadem largely failed as more open-ended content in the sea of linear experiences FFXIV has on offer, Eureka succeeded, thanks to a clarity of purpose granted by its housing Stormblood’s longform weapon quest for Eurekan weapons. Built on this new foundation, Eureka provides a more open experience, complete with secondary objectives and special Logos Actions that would be broken anywhere else in the game (except perhaps in Deep Dungeons, which have rule-bending mechanics of their own). Alongside all of this, the heightened danger of Eureka—more akin to the dangers of an older game like Final Fantasy XI than those of FFXIV—successfully encourages players to cooperate outside of fulfilling the basic party roles expected of them by FFXIV’s more traditional dungeon and trial content.

But most importantly, Eureka marks the first time in FFXIV that an expansion’s “relic” quest has instanced content all its own. Both A Realm Reborn’s Zodiac weapon and Heavensward’s Anima weapon quests focused almost entirely on existing content, outside of a handful of special cutscenes for various steps along the way. For Eureka, FFXIV’s developers sought to create a weapon quest centered around a piece of flagship endgame content, taking another nod from FFXI, which currently has several classes of ultimate weapons, each with its own associated content (though all of them involve additional content as well). In terms of comparisons, Eureka most resembles Dynamis (the home of FFXI’s original Relic weapons) or Abyssea (which birthed its powerful Empyrean weapons). While FFXIV’s previous weapon quests borrowed much of the spirit of FFXI’s weapon quests, with long or sometimes convoluted steps to be completed along the way, Eureka streamlines the process, distilling most of the quest down to the acquisition of Eurekan crystals or aether (more often referred to as “light” by the community, after the light gathering Nexus stage of the Zodiac weapon in A Realm Reborn).

Each zone of Eureka rewards associated crystals, which form the backbone of the quest for Eurekan weapons (and the associated armor), with each stage requiring some number of them to complete. Completing the final stage for each zone requires additional items dropped only by that region’s zone boss. Pagos adds on an additional grind for aether to complete the final stage, and in Pyros, grinding more aether allows the player to “customize” their weapon’s secondary statistics (mirroring similar customization stages for Zodiac and Anima weapons). Since those statistics are determined by appeals to the random number generator, however, Eurekan weapons lack the capability for true personalization available with FFXIV’s previous legendary weapons. Pyros also throws the collection of logograms into the mix, with a certain amount needed to advance the weapon to its next stage at one point (though this requirement can largely be circumvented by way of the Market Board). In practice, since Notorious Monsters are the best (and sometimes only) source of Eurekan crystals, a moderate source of aether, and by far the best source of Elemental experience points needed to level up and complete the Eurekan storyline, most of one’s time in Eureka comes down to defeating as many Notorious Monsters as possible, with some detours for aether or logograms along the way.

Consequently, Eureka’s weapon quest never evolves significantly beyond the FATE grinding stages of the Zodiac and Anima weapons of the past. Both of these questlines incorporated a wide array of gameplay types, covering almost every aspect of FFXIV itself, including FATEs, dungeons, currency collection, open world targets (both regular enemies and Hunt marks), levequests, treasure maps, Beast Tribe quests, raids, trials, and even crafting and gathering (for the Zodiac weapons, anyway). These varied activities were spread across the length of the quests so that each new stage felt different from the last, and with the wide array of things involved, the weapons of previous expansions felt grand in scope. By contrast, the comparatively narrow focus of the Eurekan weapon quest quickly becomes repetitive, which has the unfortunate side effect of increasing the “weight” of the grind. Even the addition of Eurekan gear to the mix does little to counteract this, as you acquire the gear in much the same way you do the weapons: by collecting Eurekan crystals.

This narrowed scope permeates the entirety of the quest for Eurekan weapons. Where Zodiac weapons gained ever more impressive auras as their power increased, and Anima weapons took on more new forms than ever before, Eurekan weapons have fewer aura effects than Zodiac weapons and fewer models than Anima weapons. In fact, most stages of the weapons are simply “dummy” stages, completed with no fanfare or cutscenes through the simple act of handing over yet another batch of Eurekan crystals, with the upgraded weapon dropping into your inventory unceremoniously (and usually without a new model or aura). Previously, completing each weapon stage was a momentous event, accompanied by new story cutscenes, triumphant poses, and victory fanfares. While the path to a completed Eureka weapon still has some of these, the ones that do exist treat the entire experience as rote and tired, as if the developers themselves are tired of the whole process. Instead, the bulk of the real cutscene and story work for Eureka focuses on Eureka’s separate story line quests. While this story was interesting and culminates in a moment unlike anything seen in FFXIV before it, all the development time spent on a largely unrelated story leaves the quest for Eurekan weapons feeling hollow, especially when compared to the previous relic weapons. Eureka even robs the quest of any real sense of progression, since the instances themselves are item level capped, meaning that even when you do upgrade your weapon or get your new gear, it has no appreciable impact in the content most associated with it. While the special “hardcore” stage involving the Baldesion Arsenal does reward Eureka-specific bonuses for Eurekan weapons and gear, these bonuses come at the very end of the process, making them mostly useful if you’re looking to tackle the special super-boss inside the Arsenal itself.

Despite this overall narrowed scope, the Eurekan weapon quest is more expansive in one key area: the number of players needed to complete it. While both previous quests mostly focused on solo play (or content handled primarily through Duty Finder, which allows players to avoid the hassles of forming groups), Eureka’s weapon quest is difficult to tackle entirely solo. Eureka’s dangers highly encourage (and arguably require) working together, which has positive results when it comes to player cooperation, but negative ones for any player used to forging their personal weapon with a smaller play group or even alone. As an added complication, with the whole quest spread across distinct instances, the earlier Eureka zones are generally less populated than the later ones, making both group formation and catching up to more current stages more difficult. While there is some generous scaling for Notorious Monsters based on the population of a given Eureka instance, this scaling doesn’t apply to the enemies needed to spawn the NMs themselves. In the present, player engagement Eureka remains high enough to mitigate these issues to some degree, but completing a Eurekan weapon (or picking up Eurekan gear) for glamour after the launch of Shadowbringers will could prove a daunting task without significant changes to the content itself, most especially for anyone who might have missed out on Eureka the first time around.

Changes with an eye toward solo play will likely come for the Eurekan weapons in some form or another, but this narrowed scope for FFXIV’s longform weapon quests may be here to stay. Eureka’s streamlined version of the questline only follows on from what began with Heavensward’s Anima questline—which had a greater emphasis on currency gathering compared to the original Zodiac weapons—making these long  form weapon quests to feel a little less legendary with each iteration. Moreso than either the Anima weapons or the Zodiac weapons, though, Eureka weapons feel like an afterthought rather than a core pillar of FFXIV’s endgame. Even the special title associated with Eureka—Eurekan Explorer—comes from completing the story, rather than one of the weapons, as had been the case for similar titles in both A Realm Reborn and Heavensward.  In Eureka, the storied history of ultimate weapons in Final Fantasy games serves mainly to prop up content that wouldn’t otherwise be rewarding enough on its own. This runs contrary to the original pitch from the Stormblood announcement, which positioned Eureka as content specially for the expansion’s relic quest, not as a secondary aspect of new exploration content.

With Shadowbringers on the not-so-distant horizon, there’s no telling what either future exploration content or relic quests will look like, since all we know at this point is that new exploration content is coming. Much as Diadem served as a basis for Eureka, however, it’s likely that whatever exploration content the expansion brings will look like Eureka in at least broad strokes. In an interview at this year’s Tokyo Fan Festival, Yoshi-P did mention that the team has yet to decide the method for creating the legendary weapons of Shadowbringers, citing competing feedback on Eureka from FFXIV’s various regions of operation, with some players preferring the older style of quests. Not surprisingly, he also mentions boredom on the part of the development team with the design of the Zodiac and Anima weapons, which lead to trying something new with Eureka. Without a doubt, the Eurekan experiment has been one of the team’s most successful forays into new tentpole content for FFXIV. Even with Eureka’s success, however, the team can make improvements, and with luck, Eureka’s overall success won’t blind them to the potential for both better exploration content and better relic quests in Shadowbringers.

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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