Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've got on their minds. Today, Tom goes online and finds lots of nice, friendly, helpful people...
There's a majority of very normal, charming individuals that love video games. Of course, you wouldn't necessarily know this if you spend too much time on social media, where the trend is often to find the worst examples of humanity, quote-tweet, and bemoan the irreversible decline of society. It's human nature, and it sure makes Twitter's algorithm overlords happy.
Also, to be fair, taking this lovely hobby of ours online can sap faith in humanity all on its own. You may end up with someone sending you shocking messages or throwing slurs around in voice chat, driving you to the settings to turn communication off. On top of that, it's undoubtedly one hundred times worse for some gamers than it is for me.
So it's not always a bed of roses in this gaming world of ours. Just like in the wider world, the actions of some can be so reprehensible that it dents our confidence in the majority, which is always a troubling state of affairs. For my part, I've always kept my online activities to a minimum; when not being paid a salary to write about games, I keep a relatively low profile on social media, aren't involved in any groups or clans for online gaming, and generally stick to single-player gaming (with a bit of local multiplayer occasionally). Maybe I'm missing out, though, as my recent experiences with Monster Hunter Rise have emphasized.
There are other lovely online experiences in which I do occasionally partake — Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, mainly, in which being (non-verbally) toxic to other players is actually necessary to win the race, and the slapstick humour makes it more like child's play than grown-ups one-upping each other. But I've only discovered in the last month or two that Monster Hunter Rise has online functionality that suits me — and anyone with similar online habits — perfectly. Putting aside the lack of native voice chat, which makes playing with friends unnecessarily fiddly (and for which we can mostly blame Nintendo), what Capcom has delivered is an uplifting and positive way to co-operate and play online.
I've been playing the MH series since Tri on Wii, truly falling in love with the franchise in its 3DS / Wii U era. I would mostly play solo, however, with occasional (very rare, in truth) online sessions painstakingly organised with a few colleagues and friends. Playing online was a bit of a nuisance, and even if I wanted to play with random players it was a pain to set up a lobby, get everyone on the same page and into a quest; it was like herding cats.
With Rise, then, I spent a lot of time from launch doing the Village Quests for the story — these are offline and you hunt with your Palico and Palamute. Occasionally it would give me a 'challenge' quest to upgrade my HR (Hunter Rank), which I would do, and I kept on playing until I got an ending, of sorts.
The only real criticism I have of Rise is its story progression. I hadn't been reading much about the game, so it surprised me when it said to advance further, towards the 'real' ending, I'd have to do 'Hub Quests' — these are really designed to be done online, but in theory you can tackle them solo. Taking them on alone is a grind, though, especially when you've already worked through many similar quests in the Village area. I'm not sure why Capcom structured it this way, but I knew there was a better ending awaiting me if I worked through the Hub. On top of that, the upcoming 'massive expansion' — Sunbreak — needs you to reach the 'second' ending to unlock it. There was no choice, I had to go online.
The monster, so snarling and confident when I rode in alone on my Palamute, is now scrambling to escape as four players engage in balletic mayhem to take it down.
I hadn't really looked into how it worked in Rise, so I envisioned the painful dance of opening a lobby, waiting for strangers to show up, trying to get them all signed up on a quest and then onwards. However, having clearly learned from the likes of Dark Souls, and continuing an approach I seem to vaguely recall in Monster Hunter: World, it's not like that at all. In fact, in the past couple of months I've found it to be the most seamless and pleasing online experience I've come across in years.
When picking a quest in the Hub area (still offline, no lobby), you get the option to have a 'Join Request'; you prep, eat a meal, etc., and just jump in. When the hunt starts the Join Request opens, but nothing changes and you just start your quest. Then, almost without fail if you play at the right times (weekends, UK mornings to get the impressive Japanese player base involved), other hunters just show up. Up to three other players arrive in the quest, and you can see their little arrows on the map make their way toward you.
Sometimes other players arrive before I even reach the target, or on other occasions my heroic Palamute and I have already started the fight when they arrive in the style of Gandalf in The Two Towers, to turn the tide of the battle. They rock up in awesome armour, often using different weapons to me (you don't see many Insect Glaives), and set about helping you. The monster, so snarling and confident when I rode in alone on my Palamute, is now scrambling to escape as four players engage in balletic mayhem to take it down.
Through all of this Capcom has set it up as a positive experience — some text messages and voice lines are automated. For example, when someone mounts another monster to start a Kaiju-style fight with the target, all other characters say 'Awesome!'. The closest I've seen to negativity is someone who had set their text to say 'wow' whenever someone got knocked out, but 99% of players leave it to the default 'No worries!'.
When the hunt is done there's the next elementary and lovely touch — you can choose to 'Like' the other players, which everyone invariably does after a successful quest. This leads to some in-game rewards, but also means you can find these players in the 'Connect' area should you wish to attempt an invite or jump in and help them on their quests. Then you all go your own way, I drop back into my own hub and eye up the next quest, in which three more strangers will probably drop in to help. It's a brief encounter, 15 minutes of chaotic monster hunting, but everyone there is simply getting pleasure from the game. Maybe the quest is helping them grind specific parts, or they're trying to boost HR like me — perhaps it's just for fun.
It's such a quick, humanity-affirming way to get through the online part of the game, very reminiscent of the aforementioned Dark Souls approach (or the way summoning works in Elden Ring, if you want the more recent example). Wrapping that approach seamlessly into a Switch experience, with that quirky Monster Hunter vibe, is such a lovely thing which came as a very welcome surprise to someone who has actively avoided online modes in the past. I reached the required level a while back to unlock 'Sunbreak', which seemed like such a long shot before I actually explored and gave Rise online play a chance.
And, you know what? I've kept going. Right now I'm most of the way to HR50 which should, apparently, unlock the third and 'proper' ending. Then I'll keep going to HR100 to unlock a particularly tough challenge. Why not? I love Monster Hunter, and doing the virtual equivalent of hunting with and then high-fiving like-minded strangers is a joy. I'm even going through all those Event quests I'd been shunning — one of them played Mega Man music during an Arena fight, because why not?
Sometimes people are awesome.