You’re alone. Standing on the horizon is a massive, imposing enemy decimating the army before it. Swords, magic, and gunfire constantly wear it down, but the foe never seems to show any signs of stopping. You’ve prepared weeks for this moment, and you know you can still barely touch the beast. You grin, pull out your cell phone from your pocket, and open the group chat.
“Ready for the raid?”
Dozens of heroes of all shapes and sizes line up behind you. You all nod in mutual comprehension. The battle begins.
Massive multiplayer games of all sorts have many different takes on this word, but they build them around a similar principle. Raids are special battles where you join forces with a large group of players--more than you can fit into a single party under normal circumstances--and fight against a common enemy. Perhaps you all coordinate your strategies together within a small but intense instance. Perhaps you act independently taking down the same foe. Perhaps all players are separated into isolated instances, with every bit of health you take off draining a single, server-wide HP bar. Whatever the implementation, Raids are a concept that have always fascinated and excited me in video games, in all of their forms. Today, I’m going to take a closer look at three specific forms of Raids and what makes them so compelling.
This can be found in many traditional MMOs, but for a more specific example I’ll pull from Final Fantasy XIV. For players, the premise is simple. Join a full party (or an Alliance of three parties) and fight some bosses. Where things get complicated are the bosses. Each new fight brings its own buffs and abilities that throw a few dozen wrenches into your typical strategies and rotations. If you don’t learn how to deal with these mechanics, you’re probably screwed. This has the unfortunate side effect of leading to toxic experiences for blind players jumping into random matchmaking queues… but what if you have friends or other respectable peers at your side instead?
Mechanics like these spur camaraderie through intense communication and planning on a scale larger than any ordinary fight in the game. Simply adding more players to the instance gives a sense of heightened importance; 4 pals just isn’t enough to kill the Cloud of Darkness, you need eight, no wait, thirty-two heroes to get this job done. But the intricate mechanics heighten the importance of every single player’s involvement in the battle. Everyone must plan in advance for mechanics that force players to move in formation to avoid overwhelming damage. Everyone must watch for deadly debuffs and constantly stand at the ready to resolve them through getting hit by certain attacks. Everyone must know which adds are the larger threats, or perhaps which ones must be carefully kept alive. All of this on top of everyone’s typical roles of party survival and damage dealing. Even a single tank or healer death risks the tides of battle snowballing out of control, and if you’re not keeping up with your DPS, impatient bosses will often melt your faces off with a guaranteed party wipe. Players are constantly observing each other, interacting with each other, communicating with each other, just to scrape by a single victory. A hard-fought, well-savored victory.
The bulk of my experience with this type of Raid comes from Granblue Fantasy. Everyone is still pit against the same boss, but instead of sharing the same combat space, everyone within a Raid room is separated into asynchronous instances of combat. The boss shares a single HP bar for all players in the room, and has the same buffs/debuffs for every player, but the boss only ever attacks your party after you take your turns. Unless a party is overleveled, these bosses are too tanky and hit too hard to defeat single-handedly, hence your backup in the form of other players. So long as someone deals the finishing blow to the boss while you remain in the room, even if your party wipes, you win and claim your spoils.
This is a much more casual Raid than those seen in FFXIV. Overpowered allies have the opportunity to obliterate bosses before they can lay a finger on you. So, what makes these so engaging? For one, there’s the struggle against a boss at a balanced power level. This isn’t likely to happen unless you only allow backup from Friends and Crew. Despite everyone’s bosses doing different things, the boss always follows a single set of rules for what it will do at any given time, and for a balanced Crew, understanding those rules is important to survival. You can coordinate specific buffs or debuffs with each other as needed, conveying a similar, albeit a more casual feel of relying on each other as in the previous Raid type.
Conversely, there’s a gratifying thrill in seeing a bunch of random players racing to pummel the crap out of the boss. Players are rewarded with more Honors and more treasure for surpassing their peers in these Raids, so when you have a few dozen similar-tiered players swarming into a single Raid room, the battle gains a different kind of tension. Now you’re competing to one-up each other as the damage against the boss accelerates faster and faster. Thankfully, the extra rewards you get for being the battle MVP aren’t anything vital, and the bulk of your important spoils comes from simply doing the best you can and the boss being defeated. Thus, the spirit of competition doesn’t mar your sense of accomplishment, and instead comes off as a playful side-bet, like that scene in Kingdom Hearts II where Squall and Leon argue that I'M gonna kill more mooks than YOU. The “race” just becomes another layer of fun atop the premise of cooperating for a shared goal.
I mostly see this type of Raid reserved for mobile games, but the example where I enjoyed it most is Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 (which also puts you into a party of 6 players, though I wouldn’t say Xenoverse’s PvE content fits what I described for the 1st Raid type). Here, your party has no chance of single-handedly defeating your foe. You could have the very best gear and grind away at it for hours and hours, but you probably will never chip away 0.1% of the boss’ health. No one person can. Instead, everyone is chipping away at the boss’ health… as in, literally everyone. Every player’s contribution against the boss is pooled together, turning raindrops into a torrent of damage against the boss’ server-wide HP bar. Even if your party wipes, the boss keeps any damage you inflicted. This type of Raid has less to do with individual accomplishments and is more of a community event. Players are ranked to incentivize being the best and winning prizes, of course, but in order for everyone to profit, the community must help each other by being active in the event.
There is a definitive fail or success state defined by how much everyone as a whole does against this enemy. Generally speaking, if the server deals X amount of damage to the enemy, everyone wins. But if a time limit expires first--usually lasting a day--everyone loses. This approach is one of the closest things you can get to emulating a full-scale war in a PvE oriented game; the notion that battles are constantly being fought, that progress is constantly shifting in one direction or another, that every little effort pools together to achieve some ultimate goal far beyond what you could do alone. That thousands, or millions of players are united for a common goal. It becomes a thrill to keep up with the server’s progress against the boss, watching their HP bar gradually whittle while you chip away at it yourself. Given that the boss grows stronger as they take more damage, the day-long timer can become a tense race against the clock with an uncertain outcome, encouraging players to rally each other into action. The result is a larger-than-life challenge that engages passionate players with their like-minded friends. At least, that’s the sensation I got from playing Xenoverse Raids while I was active in the game.
Despite not having a universal definition, Raids in massive multiplayer videogames all have something in common. They unite multitudes of players, each with their own individual characters, abilities, strategies, and mindsets towards greater challenges. They encourage players to connect with more of their peers than in any ordinary content in the game. Video games have done a lot of good for the world, but one of the greatest things they do is get players together. Raids epitomize that by building content that revolves around even more players getting together for a bigger goal.
I said before that one of my favorite feelings in a game is the idea of being a hero in a community of heroes. That probably has given me a strong personal bias towards the concept of Raids. But there’s few things in massive multiplayer games that give me such a strong sense of camaraderie, belonging, and accomplishment as tackling extremely imposing bosses alongside friends and new faces alike. Raids truly make me feel like I’m among a community of heroes.