Taking a tour of the global Monster Hunter World community on PS4

    
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While I’m not nearly the hardcore veteran our illustrious hunter Matt Daniel is, I can at least admit to physically living among the Japanese hunting community. While we both can speak a bit of Japanese, I enjoyed a solid chunk of time playing Monster Hunterface-to-face with Japanese players, plus a smidge of some other MH games being demoed at Japanese game conventions. International communities are certainly different, but what western players (and especially those watching from the sidelines) may not realize is how different the series is in Japan, as it’s largely a portable title that can be played anywhere. Japan’s console market is vastly different and the PC gaming scene is probably as niche as our VR scene.

Monster Hunter World’s Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC announcement was huge since it sent the message that this would be a title aimed at western players, who enjoy the series but not nearly at the same levels as Asian players, who already have two MMO entries in the series. While MHW certainly makes the game feel more accessible for a western audience that doesn’t even have an arcade culture to make public gaming feel normal, I sadly feel like something isn’t clicking with the western Monster Hunter community in the same way the Japanese have taken it.

Individual vs. group play

Something I’ve learned about the series from my first experiences with Japanese players is that we’re not nearly as coordinated in MHW. It’s not that Japanese players are better or even constantly talking, just they’re simply more accustomed to certain kinds of etiquette in this franchise. This goes beyond having basic consumables or even spare trapping supplies. I’m talking about roles, placement, even mount etiquette most new hunters probably won’t learn without playing in a group.

But I’m finding MH “veterans” breaking the basics. For example, hammer users are like tanks: They stand in the front of the monster, they don’t deal a ton of damage, but they have moves/attributes that soften up the target for the rest of the group. That means other weapon types shouldn’t stand in the front of the monster, especially if you have a cutting weapon because you can cut monster tails and the hammer user, well, can’t.

And yet, western “veterans” I play with will break what (to me) seems like very obvious cues: knocking down the monster when someone’s mounted it, attacking a sleeping mob when someone is setting up a trap already, running into teammates during their combos and unleashing attacks that bowl them over. It’s not that Japanese players don’t also do these sorts of things, but I’ve not yet been tempted to speak up about these issues with Japanese players (and to note: I’m talking about solo queue experience).

See, unlike past games, MHW seems quite forgiving in terms of team “attacks.” You can still send your allies flying (on purpose or by accident), but it doesn’t seem to occur half as often as previous games made it. People who break etiquette won’t lose as much DPS as they may have before, but they’ll still cost a group additional loot at the least when they fail to break/cut monster parts their weapon is most suitable for. And that’s just the start of it.

Even veteran hunters like Gaijinhunter have noticed that randoms just die and it may be better to solo at times. Looking again to Gaijinhunter, we see some anecdotal evidence that western players solo more. The idea is that Japanese players focus more on 2-manning monsters.

Duoing is still social and arguably difficult, not just because you have to coordinate with someone else, but because monster stats get boosted at two people in a way that the monster should still be challenging enough for four people. The stats don’t scale for three or four players; there’s currently just the solo and group version of monsters. Western players, for whatever reason, love to show off solo videos. Maybe it’s because we’re more progress-oriented and someone tends to need to “come down” to help a friend until reaching the higher tiers (or need to do massive farming). To put it another way, western players feel like they know how to take monsters down, and quite well, but the Japanese players feel like they can add to a team.

Now, I don’t want to get into a huge debate about individual westerners vs. collective Asians. It’s a stereotype that even shows up in research, but one is not better than the other. They’re simply different, and by degrees. While I may say a lot of negative things about western hunters, I also admittedly was playing ahead of the curve for awhile, and as Japanese players are very passionate about the series, that may have colored my experience. After having slowed down, I see some great western players as well.

However, as someone writing on an MMO site, I find it kind of sad to see how this plays out on the PlayStation community, especially knowing that the Xbox One essentially flatlined in Japan. Considering the total global sales are fairly similar, I can’t imagine the global community is any better on Xbox, but smaller communities can also be tighter, so maybe someone can prove me wrong! That being said, I have noticed more Japanese players in my PS lobbies, especially when it comes to responding to SOS Flares. It’s not uncommon for me to be the only person in my pug of four to have a name written in the Roman alphabet.

New multiplayer experience

At the very least, the newest updates to multiplayer in MHW make the game feel at least slightly more MMO-like (when it works). The biggest time this can be felt is when you’re online (again, assuming it works) and can fire off an SOS Flare. There are certain times (like if you haven’t unlocked a cutscene) when this isn’t allowed, which restricts your encounters to single-player events. Once this is cleared, however, you can send up a flare and people can come join you. I’ve yet to really feel like I needed saving, but Monster Hunter is a group experience for me. In Japan, even when people were too shy to talk to me (or didn’t know how to deal with my terrible Japanese), sitting in the same room with other people who wanted me to succeed really helped make the game.

While SOS Flares don’t change that, having someone come in and mount the monster that’s got me cornered feels epic. Hunting Horn users dropping in to smash skulls right after I’ve cut off a tail doesn’t just save me the effort of going back to change my weapon but gives me the same feeling of being discovered by a fellow player while trying to solo a minor zone boss in an MMO. I still mess up capturing monsters for bonus loot, but Japanese players always seem to have an extra trap ready just when my own has failed (when they haven’t already beaten me to the punch). All of this reminds of why I prefer open-world MMOs to lobby based ones, even though MHW is mostly lobby-based encounters.

See, the thing is, the PS4 community doesn’t seem to sign up for quests. Even in full “lobbies,” I rarely have partners join until after I’ve started questing. Anyone who joins after a quest has been active for 10 minutes gets no rewards, but even on “dumb” collection quests, people will join in once the quest is active.

On the one hand, it’s slightly annoying because you never know if you’re going to solo a quest or have someone else drop in. On the other though, this is exactly the reason why MHW feels so open. You go out and adventure on your own and (if you allow it) you may meet people during your travels.

This wasn’t an option in previous game entries available to western players, but it’s hard to imagine it not being in future ones. While less predictable, it’s oddly more fun to drop in and out of missions, or have people do that for you. It also helps randoms find quests easier, especially since SOS signals aren’t bound by a single lobby and thus increase the odds of finding a quest.

It’s also nice that you get to experience this practically from the start. You can’t join a hunt that’s above your rank, which really prevents you from joining other people early on, but other people can still join you. While previous entries had online and offline missions separated (but still sharing rewards), MHW is basically all missions, always online (again, assuming you can connect).

As you’ve probably guessed, for whatever reason, there are connection issues on PS4, and finding your friends (and joining them) can be a real pain sometimes. Private rooms can’t be joined easily from the PlayStation friend’s list, and joining someone’s main quest is a bit confusing. Even worse, some people have trouble connecting to the SOS Flares in particular, and when that’s compounded with the fact that joining a quest that’s more than 10 minutes in negates rewards, I can see why some people might just quit trying to connect at all. I’ve heard squads (guilds or clans in MHW) help with this, but I haven’t really felt it because I haven’t really played in a squad yet. I wanted to experience the game as a “random” community member first, but finding a squad has been tougher than I expected.

Squads and voice chat

Squads were probably one of the features I was most excited about seeing in MHW. People had already made their own groups outside of the game, either on websites or meeting at Japanese (game) cafes. As in MMOs like Guild Wars 2, you can join multiple squads and choose which one is “active,” but there are no guild levels, simply the option to go to a squad-members-only lobby for easier grouping options. It sounded perfect. The only problem is, I’ve yet to hear people really talk about them.

I know at least three groups of friends playing the game, yet I think only one ended up making a squad. The Monster Hunter subreddit doesn’t have a page set up for squad recruitment, nor does the one devoted to MHW, and I feel like Reddit is where many gamers go to find groups when official forums fail them these days. In-game recruitment thus far has been… nothing, at least for me. I haven’t failed too many quests and have yet to be the guy who gets the dreaded quest-failing third death, but I’ve had to remind a few people who used up two of our deaths that they may want to hang back to make sure we don’t fail.

Part of this could be the lack of communication. I’ve yet to bump into anyone using a keyboard to type out commands, and voice chat is rarely used. I’ve used a real keyboard for an MH console game before and it was admittedly inconvenient to drop my controller to type out “Go heal up!” but the game’s automated messages help with a lot of situations. Voice chat in gaming doesn’t have the best reputation, and our voice chat with strangers poll seems to reflect that.

I’ve bumped into a few English speakers who were willing to talk, but that’s it. Lots of people (for whatever reason) have open mics and don’t talk, but also don’t respond to simple greetings, questions, or tactics, in English or Japanese (and I don’t think I’ve said anything complex enough in Japanese to mess it up). Even the single streamer I bumped into with an open mic (please streamers reading this, don’t be that guy!) wouldn’t talk to me. It just feels like MH players on the PS Network don’t want to talk to strangers, and admittedly, if I hadn’t been working on this article, I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard myself. Voice-chatting with strangers just isn’t comfortable, especially because my experience as a PC gamer has shown me that internet anonymity makes people meaner and dumber than if they were standing in front of the person they’re attacking.

Social experiment results

Monster Hunter World is definitely the most accessible MH game to date. My brother and his friends, all newcomers, make a good impression. Despite some newbie complaints, the game seems easier for jumping into multiplayer than ever before. The auto gathering, auto-crafting, plentiful supplies, variety of objectives, the new hunter’s guide that tells you everything you’d normally use a wiki for… it’s not perfect, but the game feels highly accessible and self-contained.

And maybe that’s why it feels solo-friendly, especially for new hunters who aren’t used to the social nature of the game, especially in Japan. Capcom certainly made the game accessible (when the network allows you to connect to other players), but MH is still a nuanced game. It’s still punishing. There are still “veteran” hunters in the west I’m meeting who love to brag about their skills but do silly things like repeatedly use dung bombs because they forgot to unequip them, or stand too close to the tail cutter with the huge weapon when they should be standing at the monster’s head like the tank-ish weapon class they chose to play. These are things you would learn in a social environment, but without people vocalizing these things or recruiting for squads, we all become forced to deal with it more. Hopefully we’ll see a difference when the game comes out on PC this fall.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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