Eorzea Diaries: The Hunt Begins

Final Fantasy XIV’s third major content patch Defenders of Eorzea is here at last, bringing with it some significant new story content, some great new dungeons and a bunch of new game features.

One of the most anticipated new features in Defenders of Eorzea was the new Hunt system, a Final Fantasy XII-inspired activity that tasked players with several things: tracking down daily Marks from among the regular enemies that wander the world; tracking down a single weekly Elite Mark in exchange for significant rewards; and taking on any other Elite Marks you happen to stumble across in your travels.

While a sound idea in principle, so far The Hunt has had a somewhat questionable introduction to the people of Eorzea, even going so far as to make quite a few people disappointed, upset or even angry.

Let’s look in a little more detail at what’s up with The Hunt.

It's nigh-impossible to get a good screenshot of The Hunt right now, so here's my character sporting one of the new hairstyles added in 2.3.
It’s nigh-impossible to get a good screenshot of The Hunt right now, so here’s my character sporting one of the new hairstyles added in 2.3.

The principle is certainly sound: offer a new type of non-gil endgame currency token to anyone who chooses to participate in The Hunt. There’s no Hunt “quest” as such — aside from the one to unlock it — so it’s something you can engage with as much or as little as you like. Indeed, if you find it to be not to your taste, you can simply ignore it completely and continue playing as you have done since launch.

The main issue with The Hunt is the fact that it offers a significant reward for those who are most dedicated to it: an item which sometimes drops from Elite Marks, known as a Blood-Spattered Mark Log, can be exchanged with an NPC in Mor Dhona for either Sands of Time or Oil of Time items. These valuable items, previously only available in the hardcore endgame raid The Second Coil of Bahamut, allow you to upgrade a piece of “weathered” equipment to its original form. In mechanical terms, the stats improve significantly and the item’s level increases from 100 to 110.

As you might expect, the prospect of obtaining items roughly on a par with those gathered from the hardest content in the game is very appealing to a large number of players, particularly those sporting an entire item level 100 “weathered” ensemble. As such, The Hunt has so far proven to be astronomically popular — to such a degree that it’s almost unplayable.

Elite Marks come in three classes — B-rank, A-rank and S-rank. B-rank Elite Marks can be soloed — possibly with your chocobo Companion fighting alongside you — while A-rank Elite Marks require a few people to take down. S-rank Elite Marks, meanwhile, not only require specific things to happen before they’ll even spawn, but are designed for an even larger group of people to take on.

If you're yet to get a full set of item level 100 gear, the new Crystal Tower raid Syrcus Tower offers some tasty loot. You'll have to contend with Xande here, though.
If you’re yet to get a full set of item level 100 gear, the new Crystal Tower raid Syrcus Tower offers some tasty loot. You’ll have to contend with Xande here, though.

Here’s the problem: The Hunt has seen the rise of groups of players that trawl each of the game zones — sometimes assisted by third-party “radar” software that is specifically against the game’s terms and conditions — and then call all their friends to assist when they come across one. In theory, this should be how The Hunt works anyway, but the number of people who end up converging on a single Mark tends to mean that by the time a general call to arms has gone up outside of the people who initially found it, the Mark is already dead, particularly if it’s a poor B-rank. The community has come to refer to this as “Zerg rushing”, for reasons that StarCraft players will be well familiar with.

Another issue is that The Hunt also awards Allagan Tomestones of Mythology and Soldiery in varying quantities according to the rank of an Elite Mark taken down — with varying rewards available according to your contribution to the fight as a whole, much like the existing FATE system. This has made these important endgame tokens quite easy to come by if you’re lucky enough to be there at the start of a confrontation with an Elite Mark, which in turn has led some players to believe that the Animus and Novus weapons they’ve spent so long working on — a process that requires a considerable amount of Mythology tomestones in total — have been somewhat devalued.

This is to be expected in any MMO — as new content is added with better and better rewards, the overall expected item level of players gradually creeps up — but the main criticism here is that it’s not all that long since the questline to upgrade Animus to Novus was added, and it’s already seen a significant reduction in the amount of hard graft needed to complete it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s understandable that those players who did things “the hard way” are perhaps feeling a little short-changed.

The current Zerg rush on Elite Marks shows no signs of subsiding as yet, but it’s still relatively early days for the new patch. In all likelihood, things will calm down in a week or two when the initial rush for Sands and Oils of time has subsided. If it doesn’t, Yoshi-P and the team need to take a very serious look at how the system can be reimplemented, since although it’s a different system to the Notorious Monster system found in Final Fantasy XI — a system whereby players could “tag” a monster and lock others out from receiving the credit for killing it — it still needs a rework.

Depending on your chosen class, you should be able to solo B-Rank Elite Marks if you come across them. You may wish to bring your chocobo along for support, though, since they're not easy fights by yourself, even with good gear.
Depending on your chosen class, you should be able to solo B-Rank Elite Marks if you come across them. You may wish to bring your chocobo along for support, though, since they’re not easy fights by yourself, even with good gear.

So how could it be fixed? There are a number of different ways, each with their own pros and cons. The most obvious and simplest solution would appear to be to make the Elite Marks have a higher pool of HP, or allow them to scale to the number of people who are fighting them, similar to some of the existing encounters in the game. The rarely-spawning Odin and Behemoth events in the world work like this, for example, and while they’re hard to get full credit for unless you’re working together with a party, they both present a significant challenge even if there are hundreds of players present.

Another solution could be to instance the Hunt encounters similar to how the main scenario quests instance certain major battles. You’d come across a hunt mark and, upon approaching it, you’d be put into an instanced arena until either you or the Mark was defeated. This could work well — and effectively turn the Elite Marks into boss battles outside dungeons — but also runs the risk of breaking the flow of gameplay somewhat, not to mention going against the main point of adding The Hunt in the first place: giving players more to do and more incentive to explore the open world rather than teleporting everywhere.

Another solution still could be to make use of a similar system to the treasure maps already in the game. Upon reaching an Elite Mark’s location, perhaps guided by a treasure map, a player or party could spawn it somehow — maybe through special items acquired through the more mundane daily hunts, which currently offer fairly miniscule rewards in comparison to the Elite Marks — and then begin battle against it. Outside players could perhaps even be allowed to assist if necessary, but the main credit would go to the party that discovered and spawned it in the first place.

It will be interesting to see what approach — if any — Yoshi-P and the development team take to tackling this problem. There are already a significant number of questions about it in the official Letter From the Producer Live threads, with the broadcast itself set to take place on July 21. Fans will doubtless be anxiously awaiting at least some word from the team on how The Hunt will change in the future, because at present it’s pretty clear it’s not really sustainable in its current form — it’s too easy for those who are using cheating tools, and it’s completely impossible for those who were hoping to engage with it in their own time.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of other great content in 2.3 to enjoy in the meantime, but that’s a tale for another day. Until then, happy adventuring!

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