What did you spend most of your time doing in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate? I spent the majority of my 200 hours farming the different Rathian and Rathalos variants in the game.
When I began playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I decided I would move away from the Sword and Shield and try my hand at the Bowgun instead. Like a lot of Bowgun beginners, I started with the Jaggid Fire—made out of Great Jaggi parts—and then moved on to the Royal Launcher (which is made of Royal Ludroth parts). Eventually, though, I found my way to the Valkyrie Fire, a Rathian Bowgun whose pellets “cut down foes in the Queen’s name”.
Valkyrie Fire was an instant hit with me. It could rapid fire Normal 2 shots (meaning you shoot three bullets for every Normal 2 shot you fire), which made you feel like the master of any given arena you fought in. Carrying a Valkyrie Fire gave you this sense of control over the game—as though any monster, no matter how powerful, would eventually succumb to its barrage of Normal 2 shots, provided you were smart and knew how to play the distance game. Even better, both Rathian and Rathalos were fun monsters to fight, which meant that farming them over and over again to upgrade the gun was something I could conceivably do without growing bored of the game. Partway through 3 Ultimate, I began learning to use Switch Axes, but I never completely dropped the Valkyrie Fire weapon tree. Any time I felt like playing Monster Hunter but didn’t have any real goal in mind, I would either go out on a Free Hunt or farm some variant of the Rathian/Rathalos, trying to amass as many of those rare Rathian Rubies as I could.
Ideally, I would have liked to do both together. Free Hunts + farming monsters would have been a fantastic combination. You would still have the surprise of not knowing which monster you would encounter next, and at the same time you would be able to gather a few materials for your next weapon upgrade. Unfortunately, while fun, Free Hunts in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate weren’t really worth the trouble. It was great that you could run out into the wild and fight monsters more casually, but at the same time you got very little in return for your effort. Rewards were scant during Free Hunts (outside of whatever you managed to carve off a monster’s corpse), and this made doing them feel like a giant waste of time. I recall my biggest hope at the time was that Monster Hunter 4 would have a more rewarding Free Hunting system. Luckily, it does.
Free Hunts in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate are performed through something called Expeditions, which are separate from the quests given to you by the Guildmarm. Expeditions take place in an entirely different area called the Everwood, which is unique in that it is randomized. Every time you go on an Expedition in the Everwood, the layout of the place is different, which is one of my favourite new features in the game. Similar to Free Hunting in the Moga Woods in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, you can encounter multiple monsters in the Everwood while on an Expedition. Every Expedition has one or two monsters that you need to hunt to complete it, but if the hunting environment is unstable, you can encounter up to five different monsters. Even better, you’ll get proper rewards at the end of the Expedition for every monster you defeated, just like in regular quests. (Although, perhaps not quite as many rewards.)
So, what makes Expeditions different from regular quests? For starters, the fact that the Everwood’s layout constantly changes will keep you on your toes. One Expedition may have you travelling through larger arenas linked together by narrow passages, while another might include an area consisting of giant pillars that you can jump between, almost as if you were playing a Tomb Raider game. I love that you never know exactly what the Everwood is going to look like the next time you enter it. The other major difference is that Expeditions don’t have a time limit the way regular quests do. Instead, monsters have a tendency to run away, and in order to complete the Expedition you either need to slay/capture the monster or make it drop a shiny so you can present that to the guild as evidence of your adventure. No evidence, no reward. (Obviously, actually killing the monster results in more rewards.)
Beyond these, there’s one last major difference between Expeditions and regular quests, and that is Rusted equipment. While you’re out in the Everwood, you can mine ore spots, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find Rusted equipment that can be taken back to town, polished, and then used. Rusted armour and weaponry is often based on the regular equipment you can craft, but with randomized features. For example; the regular Barro Barrel (Light Bowgun) that you can craft back in town does 182 damage, has no slots, has mild deviation (ewww), and slow reloading. During an Expedition in the Everwood, though, you might find a Rusted Barro Barrel that does 195 damage, has a slot for an armour sphere, no deviation, and below average reloading. Even better, it will probably look slightly different from the regular Barro Barrel. Like the Everwood itself, the Rusted equipment you find within it can have randomized traits.
This is why the Free Hunting in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is so addicting—because it feels like every time you go out on an Expedition, you have a chance of discovering something cool, whether it’s a monster you weren’t expecting to run into, or the map layout being different in a way you haven’t seen before, or a cool piece of Rusted equipment. Psychologically, it feels different from a regular quest because there’s no time limit, and you can choose to end your Expedition whenever you like. Let’s say you were asked to slay a Velocidrome and you did. Great. Now, you can either find the Guild Caravan and report your kill to them (thus ending the Expedition) or you can run around the Everwood a little longer, mining and gathering resources, until another monster turns up.
In my experience, Expeditions have been the primary cause of “just another ten minutes” turning into “holy crap, look at the time”. They combine Free Hunting with grinding for materials, and on top of that, add the chance to find some completely new equipment as well. Sure, chances are that your first 20 times mining for Rusted equipment will result in a Rusted Ludroth Helm that’s only slightly different from the one you found yesterday, but maybe—just maybe—the next time will be different. And hey, it isn’t as though you just wasted an hour of your time doing nothing… you did manage to hunt a Rathalos and get the two scales you needed for that Great Sword. Mission accomplished either way.
Beyond that, there’s even more to Expeditions should you care to really sink your teeth into the feature. At the end of an Expedition, there’s a chance that you’ll receive what is called a “Guild Quest”. These fall somewhere in between regular quests and Expeditions—they take place in the Everwood, but they do have a time limit and once you slay the monster in question, the quest ends. However, since they take place in the Everwood, you can still mine for Rusted equipment. In fact, once you’ve registered a Guild Quest, you’ll be able to access it again whenever you want, and each time you complete it, it will level up. As it levels up more and more, the rewards for completing it will be greater. At higher levels, you can find some absolutely fabulous Rusted equipment, and that’s in addition to the rewards you get for completing the quest.