These encounters are not instanced -- or -- they do not take place in separate locations for each party. They are on the same world as every other player, leading to conflicts, jolly cooperation, and everything in-between.
They're also one of the most fun things I've ever played in a game.
Here's how hunts work in A Realm Reborn's patch 2.3. There are three sets of rare monsters that can spawn in each individual world map zone -- B rank, A rank, and S rank. B ranks spawn roughly every half an hour, A ranks spawn roughly every hour, and S ranks spawn at an unknown rate, estimated to be three days or more (similar to prior world encounters like Odin and Bahamut).
The developer's ideal situation (as explained by them) involves players cooperating together to only find out where these monsters are located, but eliminate them as a server-wide team. Let's see how it actually plays out.
When I first joined monster hunts, I completed the quest to unlock them, and found two special objectives -- daily and weekly hunts. These are "marked bills," set forth by in-game NPCs that task you with killing certain enemies within a specific timeframe. At first, I was completely taken aback at the fact that these monsters seemingly did not exist. I searched far and wide, used all of the clues given to me by the game, and went completely on my own. It wasn't very fun, and I listened to many people in world chatrooms sharing that sentiment.
Then I found out how to really hunt.
Over the course of three days, I experienced a crash-course that could only be possible through a group think-tank of some of the most talented MMO players in the genre. Through random chance, I decided to check out a learning party for Ramuh Extreme -- the new boss fight that arrived with the patch. As the group started to fill, the leader suggested that we all get into a Mumble channel (a third-party voice chat program like Skype) to coordinate our efforts.
Apprehensive at first, I meandered my way into the channel, and was greeted by one of the nicest people I've ever met online. I had very little intentions of shooting the breeze outside of speaking specifically about Ramuh, but this merry band of players made that conviction impossible. As the group started to learn more and more about the fight, a seed was planted -- someone suggested that we leave, and start doing hunts.
Thinking that they were a pain, I begrudgingly accepted the invitation because I liked the group, and set out to, in all likelihood, not have any fun. But then something amazing happened -- I found out I was doing them all wrong. Thanks to the skills of one of the players in particular, we were educated on the process, slowly picking up the ins and outs of hunting as we went.
You see, you don't have to pick up the bills and look for certain monsters. You can freely roam the world, coordinate with others, warn them of enemies, and take them down together as a group to reap the same rewards. The bills are merely a suggestion. Instead of aimlessly wandering or camping certain areas hoping things would spawn, we actively searched each area, often in tandem, scouring the zone for rare hunts as we discussed life, politics, religion, the game, and many more subjects.
Slowly, we decided to create a Linkshell (an in-game chatroom) to facilitate the process for people who weren't comfortable speaking, or didn't have mics. That Linkshell grew so large that it actually filled up -- something I didn't even know could happen. Our small eight-person group soon grew into a small army, all coordinating together by way of voice chat. We were all picking up new tips along the way, sharing them together, learning together. Then the "others" came.
Of course, there are people who don't share the same ideals as others. It's inevitable, and not exclusive to gaming. There were people who didn't want to coordinate. They would find hunts and not tell anyone, killing them in secret, or grab them before everyone could get to the enemy, starting chaos, finger pointing, blacklisting, and gossip.
You see, there were two fundamental styles with hunts. "Team wait," and "team go." We were team wait -- we all decided to give everyone an equal chance at hunts, waiting as long as possible for as many people as possible to arrive before we killed the target. Team go's philosophy is "if you wanted the monster, you'd get here within a certain timeframe." That number was of course arbitrary, but the idea is that you can't wait for everyone, because you'd be waiting all day -- which is absolutely true.
Because of these two fundamentally different ideologies, conflicts arose. People who killed enemies early were blacklisted from certain Linkshell hunt groups. People who pulled early were shamed, called out by in-game shouts like "LET IT BE KNOWN! PLAYER [X] PULLED EARLY!" It was absolute chaos, as hunts were completely new, and the unpredictable nature of humans was hard at work making a mess of things. One of those "trolls" was even in our group, and was mistakenly identified as someone who was screwing with people, despite the fact that he was helping us.
This chaos went on for a few days, but on day three, something else happened -- more coordination was born. Instead of waiting or going, both groups came to a compromise -- we would wait for each other. Our Linkshell grouped up with another Linkshell, who grouped up with the server's largest and most influential guild, and roughly 200 players were now one. Why did we try so hard? Because the rewards for max-level characters are immense. There's also no weekly cap on said rewards.
It was insane. Three days. That's how long it took for our group leader to broker a truce between the other groups, a process we jokingly referred to as "uniting the clans." This might sound absolutely mental to some of you who don't play MMOs, but throughout the entire process, I was having a blast. I wasn't playing a shooter with random people online, round by round with players I would never see again, much less have a meaningful conversation with.
I learned a lot about essentially everyone I interacted with on that virtual level. I learned about people's lives, their philosophies on certain issues, how they cope with specific events, and the many ways to solve a problem -- from the perspective of a 15-year-old kid to a wisened 50-year-old with grand-kids.
At the end of the day, we were just a bunch of people hanging out, with completely different backgrounds. I met a woman from Boston who currently moving to Australia, and is probably one of the funniest people I've ever talked to. I've met schoolteachers, ex-professors, people who are expecting children, and those who have many of them. I've talked a lot in the past about MMOs can often bring out the best and the worst in people, and no matter what side of the fence you're on, you can't deny that they are one damn interesting social experiment.
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