It’s been a long time coming, pushed back (understandably) by the global pandemic, but the first proper instance chapter of the Blades of Gunnhildr has finally arrived, added recently alongside Patch 5.35. Following on narratively from the story-rich first chapter, this one continues on with the strong focus on both characters and narrative Yasumi Matsuno is known for, nestling the story in new content built on foundations laid first on the two Heavensward versions of Diadem Exploratory Missions and further developed throughout the four zones of Stormblood’s Forbidden Land of Eureka.
Eureka—and the wide-ranging community feedback regarding it—is the clearest influence on the new Bozjan Southern Front. While the Southern Front’s predecessor was fraught with design direction that clashed with the expectations of many within FFXIV‘s playerbase, over its lifespan from Patch 4.25 to the end of Stormblood, the development team responded rapidly to feedback, ultimately turning Eureka into the success story the original versions of Diadem were never able to achieve.
With Southern Front, it’s clear that the team hopes to build on that success, further iterating on concepts first introduced in Eureka with both feedback and play patterns of the community in mind. Where Eureka was a dangerous but often laid-back experience focused on exploration and self-directed play—inspired most heavily by first-generation MMORPGs (like FFXIV‘s predecessor, FFXI)—the Bozjan Southern Front is a high octane battlefield, where the next battle is often only minutes away.
Moments to appreciate the Front’s grey-brown landscapes that feel like they could come right out of any number of military shooters are in short supply as a result, but many players will likely find the more frantic pace more engaging than the the hills and valleys of Eureka’s activity cycle. As is typical for the results of content streamlining in FFXIV, the Southern Front is laser-focused: gone are most of the side activities from Eureka and Diadem, allowing for a far more focused and directed experience centered around the Bozjan equivalent of FATEs and new Critical Engagements, which are a bit like FATEs tailored for a specific number of players (which allows tighter and more complicated layering of battle mechanics).
This setup allows the experience to hone in on interesting encounter design that previous iterations of this content style could not provide, given the tendency of large scale engagements to quickly be overwhelmed by player numbers. This focus is not without its drawbacks, however. Running a full three hour “lockout” of the Southern Front can be a positively draining experience, since there’s little ebb and flow to the availability of FATEs and Engagements, which leaves little time for scenery gazing and makes the completion of the included quest content feel like something of a drag, especially since it features cutscenes of length to sometimes rival the game’s Main Scenario Quests.
Even the presence of the Blades of Gunnhildr weapon quests is heavily muted in the instance proper—drop rates for the necessary items are quite low, meaning that it can often feel a bit foolhardy trying to complete one’s weapon upgrades while also tackling the new content. In exchange, a second avenue for upgrades is available this time, involving FATEs and dungeons from Heavensward in the vein of the older Zodiac and Anima weapon quests. This method is far more efficient to an almost unbelievable degree, leaving one to wonder why the quest was tied to the quest to reclaim Bozja Citadel in the first place (especially when Patch 5.0 seemingly set up the shard of Geroldt to upgrade the original Shadowbringers relic weapons and artifact armor, the first of which remain in their “weathered” states a year and a half into the expansion.
To replace the weapon quest, players can instead earn experience points for jobs level 71 and above within the Southern Front, offering up a replacement for the role played by the Deep Dungeons of Heavensward and Stormblood—a welcome addition, but hardly the carrot on the stick the new content needs to make it desirably long-term (especially since the rate of XP gain is passable, but nothing to write home about for the time invested). There are also new Resistance armors, earned via the the special Castrum dungeon that becomes accessible at Resistance Rank 10, but given the time investment and their proximity to Patch 5.4 (which will almost certainly offer both crafted and raid gear 15 item levels beyond the Resistance gear on day one), these rewards have questionable value outside of glamour usage. Even Tomestone rewards are far lower within the Southern Front than they were for Eurekan zones.
This consigns the Bozjan Southern Front to the same purgatory of cosmetic and other vanity rewards so much of FFXIV‘s content falls into and suggests that it likely won’t have the staying power of Eureka Anemos before it, since the primary draw of the content is the well-written (and well-received, judging by fan reactions I’ve seen, though I’ve not gotten to the real meat of it myself yet) story by Yasumi Matsuno. Outside of the presumed need to maximize Resistance Rank to be prepared for the story’s next chapter, there’s little reason to dive into the fray for the longterm unless one finds the cosmetic rewards to their taste.
And that leaves me feeling a little sour, personally, even when I recognize that the team has done a stellar job building on Eureka’s success with great care paid to so much of the community’s feedback on Bozja’s predecessor. While negative feedback on Eureka was numerous and vocal, I was one of those players who loved Eureka the way it was—and in my case, its most reviled zone, Eureka Pagos, was my favorite. All of Bozja’s streamlining of the experience, from constant battles to the importing of quest markers from overworld quests largely remove so much of what I loved about Eureka, and without the relic to really drive me into the content, I find myself struggling to invest in it the way I did with both Diadem and Eureka previously.
But at least this relic quest has varied stages once more. That will keep me busy!