Let me know if this story is familiar: it’s the waning days (or hours) before Final Fantasy XIV‘s weekly reset, and the tolls of the workweek or school week or whatever-week have taken much from you, including precious gaming time. Upon logging in, your mind may turn to a slate of options in the Duty Finder, all bestowing the latest and greatest Allgan tomestones to exchange for new gear. The prospect of slamming a dozen Expert Roulettes or other such combination draws a pinch of dread. “However,” you decide, “should I participate in a few hunt trains, I could handily cap the amount of tomestones this week.” And surely, the week is saved.
This habit of procrastination is one I’m reluctant to share, but I lay my sins bare knowing full well many others flock to what has become a player-run institution.
If you’re unfamiliar with Final Fantasy XIV’s hunt system, it was established in the patches following A Realm Reborn‘s launch back in 2013. Of course, things were a bit more rough-going back then, what with the game still in service for PlayStation 3 consoles… more on that in a bit. Hunts come in various ranks, with the easiest manageable as a solo affair, and the highest ranks requiring throngs of players and a modicum of coordination between them. “A ranks,” the type that are most typically sought in these hunt trains, reward Allagan tomestones and other tokens you can use to exchange for useful items like materia. In weeks past, I’ve made a tidy sum from selling materia; maybe not as much from investing the time and effort into crafting, but enough to make it worthwhile.
A-ranks will respawn after a given number of real-world hours, and offered to players a somewhat reliable expectation of when to seek them out. Players would share scouting reports, initially within free companies or clandestine linkshells, but as time went on some of these hunters would become inactive between updates. Those left, these players in micro-communities, splintered and re-formed around the cycle of hunts, often coordinated through Discord and open to all. This new subset within the community came with its own designated roles including “scouters” that scour zones when the respawn timers were up to share the location of where hunts respawn, and “conductors” run the actual train itself — coordinating the scouters’ data, and setting up a route. That route is shared publicly, and the train departs the station.
With the advent of cross-world travel in the Shadowbringers expansion, hunt trains conducted in each World are vastly more accessible to join, with a few caveats. In general, if you have a lower-end machine or shaky connection that struggles in densely-populated areas, you might run into a few barriers as a swarm of players descend upon a singular target. One remedy is to limit the amount of on-screen characters to display, but even in ideal circumstances that may not work. Conductors will typically advise to dismiss companions and minions out of deference to these ill-advantaged players, and I’ve seen to it that I oblige. There’s also a cheerful pageantry about it, and I think part of that’s due to how these scouters and conductors enjoy their roles, not dissimilar to the feeling of participating in player-run holiday events or roleplaying sessions. Of course, being a massively multiplayer online game, elements of chaos creep in. “Sniped” hunts, botched routes, and catty bickering may at times derail the train, but not so much as to keep me from coming back every week.
“Bring out your dead!” one conductor shouts mindfully, on instinct, as the train battles the Mudman of Il Mheg, known for dropping many players caught unaware of its deadly mechanics. “We’ll hang out here for a while to give more people a chance to show up” advises another, attempting to allow as many players as reasonably possible to participate.
One of my most lasting impressions is probably the simplest: the sight of a massive amount of players gathering, then streaking across the skies of Eorzea and realms beyond. New players seem to get a kick out of them too, often taken aback when they first see the hunt trains beelining overhead.
Between the large-scale updates following each expansion, player-run hunts have saved my bacon for many weeks now — and in a game that features much of it’s content in instanced duties, is a welcome reprieve if not a sight to behold.
Final Fantasy XIV is now available on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and Mac. It is compatible with PlayStation 5 and is planned to come to Xbox platforms in the future.