Yesterday was the launch day for Final Fantasy XIV’s patch 5.35. The patch had a few major bullet point features:
-Bozjan Southern Front, an instanced battlefield zone for the next phase of the Resistance Weapon quests
-Resistance Weapon phase 2, tied to Bozja, but also able to be earned through FATE farming in the world outside of the Bozjan Southern Front
-3 New Housing Wards in each housing zones, offering 720 new housing plots per server available for open purchase to all on patch launch
-Skysteel Tools phase 2, the same idea as the Resistance Weapons but for crafters and gatherers
A small bill of changes, but one that fits the purpose of a minor patch, and finally delivers the full promise of content for the 5.3 patch cycle as was committed to in August. Crucially, these bits of content are longer than they might appear to a non-FFXIV player or someone who has just started. The Resistance Weapons, the Shadowbringers version of the Relic Weapon concept, are always placed as the second-best weapon option next to Savage raid content, but offer that power to even the most casual of players by being long, grindy quest chains.
The Resistance Weapon does this by offering two ways to farm for the items needed for the second phase of the weapon. The first is to play in the Bozjan Southern Front, whose content offers a small number of the “Memory” items needed. In order to get an upgrade, you need 60 total items, 20 of each type of memory. Memories are rewarded slowly through gameplay in Bozja, in ways I don’t fully understand yet. However, the far easier and faster way is to run FATEs in Heavensward zones. Each of the 3 types of memory item drop in dedicated zones for completing FATEs, and my experience so far is that completing a FATE with a gold ranking seemingly guarantees a drop. About an hour of FATEs in each area will get you enough memories to complete the first stage of the quest, after which you simply need to run a few dungeons – either 6 leveling roulettes or 6 level 60 dungeons, which seems pretty straightforward and easy.
This is the first time the relic design has offered parallel progression paths for the weapon upgrades. Before, it was very much a fixed affair with defined content paths for progression. In this iteration, you can do either Bozja or FATEs, and you can choose to do both if you so please. Speaking of Bozja…
Bozja: It’s Okay, I Guess?
So, let’s talk about the Bozjan Southern Front. As a zone, it conveys war very well, but depressingly. The zone is a very brown field enveloped in darkness, crawling with enemies. The idea from a gameplay perspective is to mimic parts of the Eureka experience from Stormblood, but to make it better in nearly every conceivable way. The zone is less grindy, more immediately offering of valuable aids to completing content, partitioned better to avoid issues with leveling of content, and the systems tied to it are less restrictive and involved. The Resistance Rank mechanic reads like Eureka’s Elemental Level, but has no rock-paper-scissors design element or fidgety mechanic like the element wheel. In fact, short of gating access to the later sections of the zone, the resistance rank mechanic doesn’t really seem to do much of anything. Enemies have rank indicators on them, but it isn’t a 1:1 match like Elemental Levels were. Instead, it is simply a difficulty, with a numbered rank of 1-5 in roman numerals and then the Star ranking for world-boss like enemies that requires parties to defeat.
Content wise, the flow is very similar to Eureka but actually has a weakpoint compared to it in my opinion. In Eureka, your goal was basically to set forth on a massacre, killing all that stood in your way for tokens and item drops. You can still do that in Bozja, but crucially, the Mettle (your resistance rank experience points, effectively) only seems to be on offer from quests, FATEs (called Skirmishes here), and Critical Engagements (queued FATEs that require you to accept an invite in the Bozja UI and be selected). This means that you spend some time kind of idling in the zone waiting for Skirmishes and Critical Engagements to populate, and while farming enemies in the open world can still give you the Bozjan Cluster currency, maybe memories for the weapon quest (it was very unclear to me), and fragments for the Lost Actions, it feels very purpose driven, which means if you miss a skirmish or don’t get accepted for a Critical Engagement, it feels like you are missing out on content and it makes the zone flow iffy.
Similar to Eureka, players are scaled to level 80 and item level 430 in the zone regardless of how high they are going in. Unlike Eureka, Bozja is open to level 71 and higher players, marking what I believe is the first occasion in the game where Level Sync goes up instead of just down. As a grindy way to level from 71-80, it seems like it could be valuable (disclaimer, I have everything at 80 so I have no clue how good/bad/meh the experience gain in there is), and it offers a different style of content for you as an option when leveling alt jobs instead of simply running roulettes, hunts, and beast tribes alongside side quests.
The item level sync means that level 80 players with any semblance of current gear lose a fair amount of power, and it can feel bad (my Machinist job felt okay, but a lot slower and the direct critical hit damage of my Drill was cut by around 22,000 by the shift!) but it appears that at some point, mechanics from gear similar to the Kirin’s Osode of Eureka will make their way into the game. Lost Actions make up the remainder of this power gap. Similar to Logos Actions in Eureka, they offer players the ability to kit out with boosts they normally wouldn’t have – Cure spells, Protect, Esuna, Raise, etc. Unlike Logos actions however, they also include a selection of unique potions and elixirs for the zone that mimic some of the Logos Action buffs you could get in Eureka, but these are all available right from the outset instead of waiting until later in the progression chain. These are discovered through fragments found from random drops and can be holstered to use later. You have two action slots that use the Duty Action buttons, but can also pack on a ton of the items to use, all of which offer great buffs. You’ll want these too, because if you play as a healer or tank, you’ll survive a lot but be slow to kill enemies, and as a DPS, you’ll be able to kill stuff at a good pace but have to be very cautious to avoid an untimely demise – the very deficits these items help to make up.
The quest chain is very bare-bones, but is also heavily frontloaded. Eureka paced things so you had a minimal amount of explainer text up front and then were slowly adding mechanics like Aethernet Shards in the zones, NMs, and Logos actions on piece by piece. In Bozja, you spend nearly 40 minutes of questing having NPCs info dump on you about everything in the zone mechanically, and just in case you forget, there is an NPC standing around in basecamp with what appears to be a new quest marker but is actually just a symbol that this NPC is a literal help terminal with a dictionary of all the new stuff you have to know about Bozja. Yikes.
Resistance ranking can take some time past rank 5, and while you can’t delevel (unlike Eureka), you lose a substantial amount of Mettle from dying at rank 5 or higher, and lose even more if you resurrect and then use Return right after to get back to basecamp. Caution is the name of the game as you reach higher ranks – play safe, use Lost Actions and the linked items smartly, and feel out the right pull density you can manage, and you should be okay.
As content? I’m sort of meh on it. Critical Engagements are great little boss fights and very enjoyable, but the design of the zone feels sort of lackluster. It looks visually depressing, which, while thematically appropriate, makes it less appealing than the varied and interesting lands of Eureka. Gameplay-wise, the rest of the zone feels kind of bad. Farming mobs has less value than Eureka, and it seemed to me like the best thing to do is run around on a mount waiting for Skirmishes to pop. This is fine to a point, but it also means that if a skirmish pops across the map and you miss it, it feels bad, and missing a skirmish means not getting accepted by the game’s mechanics to a Critical Engagement, and at the point you miss that, it starts to feel like your time is better spent farming FATEs for memories for your weapon upgrades instead of engaging with the myriad of mechanics in here.
So one more topic, then!
Housing EX Savage: The Design Is Bad
One thing you will hear consistently about FFXIV is that it has a fantastic player housing gameplay setup, locked behind one of the worst designs in the game or genre. After having tried both before and after 5.35 to get a house (and succeeding with the patch, more on that momentarily), I have to agree.
Here’s how the system works start to finish – there are currently 4 housing districts in the game, each tied to a launch capitol from ARR with the fourth tied to Kugane from Stormblood. Each district has 30 plots split into small, medium, and large, with larger plots being substantially more expensive and less common on the map. Each district has an additional 30 plots from creating a separate instance which is referred to as a subdivision in-game. Each division/subdivision pair are tied into a ward, and the game offered 18 wards per housing district prior to Shadowbringers.
In patch 5.2, Square Enix added 3 wards per district, with the catch that only players who owned housing already could buy for a limited period after launch. This is because while each account can only own a single home plot for private use and one for a Free Company, owning a plot allows you to relocate. When you relocate (or when the game’s demolition timer, if active, demolishes a player’s house and evicts them), the game sets a random timer of anywhere from 8-24 hours on availability. This is to prevent players from self-dealing, or marking up plots substantially for direct sale to another player, since you cannot directly transfer ownership of a plot as-is. The 5.2 housing addition was a shitshow, because the new wards were quickly swept up by existing owners and that made any housing potentially open to new players stuck on timers. Which is even worse when you consider that a relocating player doesn’t have to wait for the timer and can buy it up from under new players wanting a house, setting another open plot with a different timer. Ouch.
Housing has thus gained the affectionate and frustrated nicknames of housing Savage or EX, because it is the most challenging PvP content in the game. If you don’t mark yourself busy, a player can spam you with trade requests to prevent you from interacting with the housing placard to buy. The timer is random and not labeled on the placard, so the only way to for sure get a house that someone has left behind is to stand in the plot for hours on end interacting with the placard via either a macro or a set of keypresses every few seconds. The hours spent can all be wasted if a relocating player or Free Company wanders up and finds the house plot to their liking after you’ve been there for hours clicking, buying it up immediately and moving to it.
In short – while the design attempts to meet challenges presented by housing systems, it often falls far short of being a satisfying experience for players who wind up frustrated at their inability to buy a house in a predictable, reliable fashion, and often give up on it, hoping for either a much-easier apartment (there is an apartment building with hundreds of units in each division and subdivision) or to get a private chambers in their Free Company house. Even still, these options miss out on outdoor decorating and the full extent of gardening, as indoors, you can only have two flowerpots for growing items and miss out on the cross-pollination systems and gameplay (yes, FFXIV has a whole-ass gardening system built in). It also, frustratingly, refuses to go fully instanced, as the idea of housing districts is to create neighborhoods where you see familiar players and watch as people move in, decorate and change the character of the area, move out, and the cycle begins anew. And, to an extent, I get that and it is a part of what makes a housing system feel like real housing.
So 5.35 attempted to remedy this in a simpler way. All the systems and cruft of housing that no one really likes is still layered on there, but 5.35 added 3 wards per district and made it so that, unlike 5.2, they’d be open for general purchase immediately. New players with no housing could get in on it as well as transferring private estates and FC houses. Great!
Well, sort of. Housing demand in FFXIV is consistently high, because it offers fun gameplay with high customization and sense of ownership, and the nature of the game’s explosive growth over the last several years means that housing demand has layers of pent-up desire from players across multiple starting points in the game, who missed the first housing launch in ARR, the launch of Shirogane in Stormblood, and the slow addition of wards with limits as was done in 5.2. Because of all of this, basically, if you wanted a house, you needed to log in right at 3 AM PST on patch day and be logged out at the NPC gating access to the housing district of your choice, with a ranked list of plots you wanted and the gil needed to purchase on-hand.
I logged out in Ul’dah at the Goblet gates on Monday night, and stayed up until 3 AM with my launcher for the game being cycled regularly. I got in immediately when servers came up and was still in a queue at around position 265. Luckily for me, I got in, Goblet (being generally accepted as the least popular area) was easy enough to get through to get to my third-ranked small plot, and I bought it. Hooray!
For other players, the experience was a bit more fraught. If you logged in just second later, there were a variety of issues – I saw reports of lobby server crashes causing people to fall out altogether, and queues over 1,000. At 3 AM. On a Tuesday. On Gilgamesh (my home server and one of the consistently most popular North American servers), housing was fully sold out, all 720 new plots, in about 17 minutes. Some players had a strategy that makes things worse, by buying an undesirable plot in the Goblet and then relocating to where they actually wanted, putting the new plot they just purchased on a random timer for resale, meaning that even if you logged in at normal person hours later in the morning, you might see an “available” plot that was on the same timer that has haunted players looking for their first house for months. Oof.
So here’s the thing. My experience was positive, but I work for myself at home and have a weird sleep schedule, a fast PC with NVME storage holding the game, and fiber internet. My setup was basically tailor-made for me to get a house, and it worked out – I got a plot I wanted and got to spend about an hour building up the house and decorating. Fun stuff! However, I can acknowledge that I had to prepare for that, with practice runs through the Goblet to map the fastest route, a planned escape route to progress down my list of desired plots just in case, and backup choices made in all other districts as a last resort.
And that leads me to this – housing as a system in FFXIV is great! But it is also undeniably, fundamentally broken as a system for the first and most vital step – acquiring housing. In a cruel twist of irony, it functions like the real world – the people who came before hoard what they want and control the supply and flow, using that control to make things more difficult for newer generations of players, leaving many of them to abandon dreams of home ownership.
I don’t even know how you solve that problem in FFXIV – instancing would make things work great, but removes the sense of community of having plots and neighborhoods that grow and develop. If you add a large number of housing districts, it requires more server capacity and eventually, will reach a breaking point where some districts will be underpopulated. You could perhaps hybridize a solution, where apartments could have an outdoor balcony at least to offer some outdoor furnishing and gardening, or offer a rooftop garden or community garden option where players can gain access to those features, and bolt that on to the existing housing infrastructure so having an apartment or private chambers feels less limiting. You could make relocating players have to wait out housing timers too, offering new players a chance to get a plot when one becomes available while also still removing scalping (the only housing scalping that currently exists is subreddit boards where people offer to relocate or give up housing for gil in exchange for a current owner to swoop in on the plot, or a Free Company with a house that offers leadership transfer to make the house move to a new owner.
And that neatly summarizes where I am so far with patch 5.35!