There’s honestly not much for me to say about Eureka in Final Fantasy XIV. I can respect what it was trying to do, and there are many parts of it that were, in fact, interesting. But as a whole it was just a failure, and while subsequent areas attempted to course-correct initial problems the fact is that it felt like an ongoing project of trying to steer a massive ship that had way too much momentum built up. It’s clear that most of the attempts at improvement went into Bozja.
This is a bit of a shame, because a lot of Bozja also doesn’t work.[AL:XIV]
Now, I don’t want to come across as being strongly opposed to Bozja, in no small part because I’m not. I actually think Bozja averaged out to be interesting content, but a lot of that interesting content was in spite of Bozja’s overall design, not because of it. So let’s talk about Bozja because while it’s not in this expansion, it may well be in the next one. What’s good, what’s bad, and what’s best forgotten?
Here’s the primary problem with Bozja: While it’s ostensibly new open-world zones and content for players to explore, the open-world part of it is at once the least useful and least interesting aspect of its gameplay.
If Eureka was an attempt to put a Final Fantasy XI filter over leveling in FFXIV, Bozja is putting an early FFXIV filter on. How do you level? You farm FATEs endlessly. Yes, they have a different name, but they are literally the only way to increase your rank. And FATEs are, without a doubt, the most boring form of content possible. They’re swarms of enemies you try to tag as people AoE through the entire encounter, occasionally with an extra step or two.
“But what about Critical Engagements?” Ah, yes, the things you queue up for so they can actually scale with mechanics and the like. Those were, in fact, pretty fun! But they were a minority of your experiences in the zones, and they also didn’t really work as open-world things. That’s not surprising, of course; if they were actually pure open-world encounters you couldn’t have mechanics and/or Red Chocobos that murder entire parties queueing in. But it also lays bare the main problem here wherein the open-world part is actually the weakest element of the game.
You can even see where the inspiration would come from for Variant Dungeons because the whole idea of job-agnostic group-agnostic content was actually the best part of this content. Letting anyone tank on any job or DPS or whatever was really fun; it just reminded you that the actual enemies in the open world were only there to be farmed, and your actual gameplay was farming FATEs again.
This was broken up in the middle with Delubrum Reginae, which itself was a very interesting experience. It’s not just because the content was similarly agnostic to roles and emphasized parties using essences to fill other roles; it’s also because the content was actually set up to be more punishing than normal. Getting hit twice meant you died. This was counterbalanced by the fact that the dungeon was not actually super difficult with a smaller group; you could have a bunch of people drop and still reliably clear, especially with additional actions and items.
But all in all, the end-of-zone raids and Delubrum Reginae both showcased an interesting style of content that FFXIV does not frequently get to use. It was a bit shaggier than normal, but there was a genuinely interesting feel to splitting up into two groups or more to tackle objectives, use essences to improve your overall power, have your performance timed, and so on. It felt like a woolly testbed for things that are, otherwise, kind of anathema to the game’s more rigid structural elements.
It just doesn’t play nicely with the open-world half. You might farm the enemies in the open world a little bit, but that’s only for drops, and that’s all they provide. Instead of having a whole bunch of open-world objectives you can tackle, the zones became farming grounds of boring content in hopes of getting a chance to queue into the content you actually cared about. That is not an ideal situation.
But it does lend itself to the possibility of some interesting development in the future. I don’t think Variant Dungeons have gotten there as an experiment (though at this point we’re judging based on one example), but I do think there’s space for these ideas to work. If anything, the Variant Dungeons have different problems which I’ll talk about in the future. The aforementioned instances were clearly inspirational, and I’d love to see more work done on those ideas and see the content return in an even more refined form.
The open-world part, though… well, therein lies a need for more work.
Here’s the big thing that’s going to be an obvious problem with any open-world zone: FFXIV is not terribly conducive to just making open-world combat gameplay interesting. It’s just not how the game is structured. You can’t make every single encounter a matter of getting resource starved, and if enemies are strong enough to make every single fight a nail-biting encounter, you’ve just ensured that accidentally getting a second aggro is death and encouraged people to simply group up. That’s not to say that the zones aren’t interesting, but they’re interesting in part because they feature stuff to do, and only some of that stuff is killing monsters.
We’ve seen three attempts at “big open zone to explore” that have all crashed against the rocks to some degree based on this same problem. Grinding FATEs just isn’t that interesting, and there’s not a lot of other things to do to inherently make solo combat all that interesting. An open zone doesn’t just have to be populated with enemies and an advancement mechanism; it has to tweak a pretty core part of the game pretty substantially so that it becomes more interesting.
Can this be done? I think there are ways, yeah, and I think the first step involves getting away from using FATEs as a primary mechanism. In fact, I think a better idea might involve chasing the idea used in the Diadem post-Ishgardian Restoration wherein you’re looking at enemies primarily as drop fountains. Imagine if you were hunting against enemies that were balanced to be a little tougher than normal and chasing a “chain” system similar to Final Fantasy XII, assembling steady forms of drops in pursuit of an end goal.
I do want to see more open-world zones being used in the game, and I think it’s an interesting sort of design to pursue in a game that makes its highest intensity combat in an instanced format. But I don’t think that “let’s just slap some FATE farming” is itself compelling design. There are useful bits to be mined out of Bozja, but the open-world part is ironically the weakest one.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, we will be staring down five weeks until the Fan Festival. What are some of the things I’m going to be looking for when it occurs? Well, I’ll tell you.