Eorzea Diaries: Fixing the Hunt

It’s been a little while since our last report from Eorzea, the setting of Square Enix’s spectacular rebooted MMO Final Fantasy XIV, and so it’s about time we checked in.

Last time we spoke, you may recall that there was some controversy over a new game system added in the 2.3 Defenders of Eorzea patch, known as The Hunt.

Loosely inspired by the similar mechanic in Final Fantasy XII, The Hunt challenges denizens of Eorzea to track down and defeat numerous powerful monsters in exchange for a new type of currency: Allied Seals. This currency is in high demand because not only does it allow access to some attractive vanity gear and exclusive minions, it also indirectly allows players to acquire Sands and Oils of Time, which in turn allow them to upgrade item level 100 “Weathered” weapons, armour and accessories into their item level 110 counterparts.

There was a problem, though: the attractiveness of these rewards meant that there were suddenly swathes of people zerg-rushing the monsters for The Hunt, which caused all manner of other problems.

Now that patch 2.35 has been released, incorporating a few fixes to The Hunt, is the experience at least playable now?

Not an unusual sight: a large group of players gathering to take down an A-rank hunt monster.
Not an unusual sight: a large group of players gathering to take down an A-rank hunt monster.

To answer that, we need to look at the problems The Hunt launched with. So let’s do that.

Heart of the Swarm

By far the biggest problem with The Hunt — at least on Western servers — is the aforementioned zerg-rushing that goes on. For those unfamiliar with the lingo, this simply refers to large hordes of people — frequently into the triple-digits — all piling on top of one monster in the hope that they’ll get some of those precious Allied Seals.

This causes several problems in turn. Firstly, it simply means that it’s not possible to fight the monsters as they were designed. The original vision for The Hunt was that solo players would be able to take on B-rank monsters and have a challenging fight; four to eight player parties would be able to fight A-rank monsters and, likewise, enjoy a stiff challenge; and meanwhile, the S-rank monsters would require multiple parties to defeat.

This design is apparent in the way these beasties fight. B-rank monsters use largely close-range attacks rather than large areas of effect (AoEs) because there’s little reason for big AoEs when a solo player is fighting save to make them dodge every so often. A-rank monsters, meanwhile, make use of similar mechanics to the dungeon boss monsters they were inspired by — there’s one in Coerthas that uses all the same attacks as one of the bosses in the Stone Vigil dungeon, for example. Finally, the S-rank monsters are more akin to the previously existing Odin and Behemoth encounters in that their attacks cover a large area and can frequently cut through a huge number of players who aren’t ready for them.

The trouble, then, was that you’d regularly see upwards of 50 people showing up to a B-rank monster and promptly obliterating it in a matter of seconds. A-ranks didn’t fare much better, either, with the norm in the community rapidly becoming for people to wait until hundreds of players were standing staring at the monster, and woe betide anyone who dared “pull early” on the apparently mistaken assumption that open-world gameplay is free for you to approach as you see fit.

S-ranks created their own issues in turn. By having specific spawn conditions that the community had to spend some time trying to work out, players who had no interest or knowledge in The Hunt found themselves on the receiving end of abuse from those who were doing nothing but The Hunt. This was most commonly found where Hunt enthusiasts believed that performing specific actions in a FATE — most commonly failing rather than succeeding at it — would trigger an S-rank spawn. The issue got so bad that the developers eventually had to step in and outright say “look, no, this is not how you spawn that monster, stop being dicks to people”.

...and before long, there's nothing but pyrotechnics all around. The ability to turn off other players' effects is often welcome here!
…and before long, there’s nothing but pyrotechnics all around. The ability to turn off other players’ effects is often welcome here!

Adventurers Wanted

Japanese servers suffered their own issues, too. While the overall behaviour of players in The Hunt is much better, more polite and more considerate, the sheer number of people doing them for the (arguably overly) generous rewards meant that dungeon populations took a nosedive. That meant that those who wanted to acquire Allagan Tomestones of Mythology and Soldiery — the former of which is essential for progression through the “Relic Reborn” questline to upgrade your weapon, and the latter of which provides access to what is currently some of the best-in-slot equipment in the game — were faced with a choice: Hunt, or go “hungry”.

This is less of an issue on the Western servers — you can still generally get into a dungeon pretty easily, particularly if you’re a tank or healer class — but there are still occasional, related problems, most notably the issue of people ditching in-progress dungeons to go and fight an S-rank a member of their linkshell or Free Company called out, leaving three players high and dry while they wait for a replacement.

Something had to be done, clearly. But what? They couldn’t just remove the rewards; that floodgate was already open, and attempting to close it would just lead to widespread anger — perhaps justifiably. Instead, what was needed was a change to the structure of the rewards — and some alternative means of progression for those who simply couldn’t deal with the tempers that frequently flared during hardcore hunting sessions.

It may be chaotic now, but things are somewhat more civilised than they were when Hunts launched.
It may be chaotic now, but things are somewhat more civilised than they were when Hunts launched.

Go There, Kill That

Amid all this chaos was an underutilised system: Daily and Weekly Hunts. The former challenged players to hunt down and destroy several enemies that normally appeared in the world as well as a couple of FATE bosses, while the latter challenged players to kill one specific B-rank monster per week. The trouble was, the rewards on offer were so pitiful that they weren’t a viable alternative to swallowing your pride and joining the zerg.

So that’s where Yoshida and the team started with attempting to address the issues after it became apparent that simply buffing up the various hunt marks’ HP levels wasn’t going to be enough.

Post 2.35, Daily and Weekly Hunts are much more useful, and a viable alternative to those who don’t want to get involved in zerging. Whereas a single Daily entry was once worth 1 Allied Seal, it’s now worth 4; a single Daily FATE was once worth a measly 2 Allied Seals and is now worth 10. Weekly Hunt Marks, meanwhile, have increased their rewards from 20 to 50 Allied Seals. In total, if you do nothing but Daily and Weekly Hunts, you’ll get over 250 Allied Seals per week, allowing you to get an Oil of Time in two weeks and a Sands of Time in three. This isn’t anything close to the rate you’ll acquire them if you get hardcore into The Hunt, but it’s significantly better than it was.

That’s not the only change that was made. B-rank Hunt marks now no longer give any rewards to players who don’t have them as their Weekly Hunt. They’re also no longer aggressive, and once killed they respawn elsewhere in the zone every five seconds, making them much easier to track down and kill without worrying about anyone either yelling at you or stealing your credit.

When it works, The Hunt is fun; you get the chance to fight some interesting enemies in environments other than dungeons.
When it works, The Hunt is fun; you get the chance to fight some interesting enemies in environments other than dungeons.

Did it Work?

Kind of. Zerging is still a problem with A- and S-rank Hunt Marks, with groups going so far as to do what they call an “A-train”, where they track the amount of time since an A-rank last spawned, go kill it, then work their way through the rest of the complete list until they’re all dead. Efficient, sure, but still unfriendly to those who don’t have regular groups to Hunt with — and the monsters are still not being fought “as intended”, since most mechanics and attacks can be almost completely ignored in many cases thanks to the sheer amount of people present overwhelming the monster quickly.

The changes to Daily and Weekly Hunts, meanwhile, had a much more positive impact. There was suddenly a very welcome sense of cooperation, with players calling out that they’d seen a B-rank not to summon the zerg, but just in case anyone needed it. Solo players could enjoy a tough but fair fight and get rewarded for it; groups could concentrate on the more lucrative A- and S-ranks like they were always supposed to.

Not everyone loves the changes and there’s still a long way to go before the system is working in the way Yoshida and his team apparently hoped. But it’s a start — and, moreover, it’s another in the long line of signs that the Final Fantasy XIV developers are keen to listen to their fans, take on board feedback and attempt to implement fixes to common problems. Those fixes may not necessarily be perfect right away, but in a game with as many people playing together as this, it’s important to feel like your voice is being heard and that your play experience isn’t being actively hampered by other people and mechanics that allow them to do so.

Personally speaking, I won’t be Hunting much at peak hours, since it’s still a stressful experience at times. It’s a shame; I was looking forward to it and it turned out to be a bit of a letdown — though that said, a bit of Hunting before North America wakes up can be both lucrative and enjoyable. Still, it’s not as if there’s nothing else to do at any given moment… the Realm is a big place, after all.

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