The Monster Hunter franchise is near and dear to me. I pushed myself through the barrier any newcomer has (or up until now, had) with Monster Hunter Tri Ultimate on the Wii U. I switched weapons and truly lost myself in MH4 Ultimate on the 3DS, and I fell in love with a fantastic roster of new monsters in Generations.
To say that my shit was well and truly flipped when the Monster Hunter World trailer played at E3 last year is an understatement. The trailer revealed a Monster Hunter I had only dreamed of: a large open map, beautifully rendered environments, and monsters that finally looked as good as they were to hunt.
With the reveal came a lot of unknowns though. The hunting didn’t quite look like what fans had come to know, and there was a focus on stealth and the use of gadgets. It was enough to split fans of the franchise, with one group adament that Capcom were merely showing off new features. The other group were worried that the change in name meant something decidedly un-Monster Hunter was on its way, and there could be no further proof of this than the move away from the 3DS and onto the non-portable consoles.
The beta allayed a lot of fears. It was exactly what fans of the series had come to love about earlier Monster Hunter demos. A focus on taking down 3 varied monsters and little else. Almost no instructions for newcomers, and while this may have scared off people looking to start a relationship with the series, it proved to many that this was 100% the sequel for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
If, by chance, you’re not one of the 6 million proud owners of Monster Hunter World, and you’ve never ventured into the fantastical worlds created in the previous MH iterations, let’s talk about the gameplay.
It can be hard to really pinpoint the genre that Monster Hunter falls into. It’s a hack and slash. It’s a third person shooter. It’s a loot-based RPG. It’s a skill-based game that’ll break you down and dare you to try once more. It’s a game built off 30 – 45 minute boss battles. It’s challenging in ways no other game is. Monster Hunter World starts by letting you not only design your character (and his furry Palico companion) but also which of the 14 types of weapons (s)he will be using. Normally when a game lets you choose from such a large number of weapons combat is restricted to allow gamers to switch without feeling like they have to relearn the controls. With Monster Hunter, Capcom have created a unique move set and controls for each and every weapon.
Hammers are slow and powerful, and you can power up a charge attack. Dual Blades do less damage but are fast and precise, and with the ability to push your character into Demon Mode opens up a new move-set and damage multiplier. Charge Blades let you slash away with your sword, store built-up energy in your shield, and combine the two to let out devastating attacks with both now in axe form. Hunting Horns attack in a similar fashion to hammers, but with the right button combination can create songs that buff yourself and any party members you’re hunting with. Each weapon is this unique, and if you want to try something new, it’s as easy as equipping one and giving it a try.
Just to add to the complexity, each weapon style has a huge selection of weapons that can be purchased or upgraded. While you may think it’s best to focus your attention on a specific set of Dual Blades that give an extra boost of fire damage, it’s simply not going to be as effective against certain fire-based monsters. So maybe you’ll need a fire-based one, and a water-based one….. and then maybe a thunder-based one and a poison-based one…. maybe one that gives extra dragon damage, and maybe another that gives the possibility of paralysis to what you’re attacking. Look, you’re probably going to have a selection that you’ll slowly upgrade, and each one requires the body parts of the monsters you’re hunting. Add to that similar protection values of the armour sets, that also require monster parts, and you’ll start seeing the path that this game takes you down.
Monster Hunter is a real challenge. You might not come to close to death for the first few hunts, but you will take damage, and you will be wondering if you’ll ever see the monster go down. When it does, there’s a satisfaction like no other. 35 minutes have past, and you’ve taken out what felt insurmountable at the time. You progress to the next assigned quest, or delve into the optional quests that arrive on the quest board, and you’re met with something bigger, something angrier, and something that somehow feels more impossible than the last. No matter how well you get to know your weapon, you can count on one thing, every fight will be a challenge. The progression of difficulty always stays one step ahead of you which makes every win satisfying while every loss is a reason to anaylse how you’ve gone wrong.
Where other games might give you XP to spend on upgrading your character, Monster Hunter serves only to help you get better at the game. Take off the fancy armour, and equip a low level weapon, and the only thing separating you from others will be how well you can read the monsters and avoid damage. While that first Anjanath (the t-rex looking Monster from all the trailers) hunt took you almost until the timer ran down, hours later you can take down without any effort at all. You know how it attacks, you know where it’ll land when it leaps,
The big difference in Monster Hunter World is that it feels more like you’re venturing into their domain instead of having one or two monsters nearing a village you’re trying to protect. Animals, insects, and monsters all just seem to be living their life. Maps are enormous with a rather intimidating level of verticality to them, and, for the most part, monsters stick to their own areas of the map. It’s when a hunt begins and you end up driving a monster into another’s area that things can get interesting. There’s a clear pecking order in each of the environments, and that can easily be interrupted if you happen to annoy one while hunting another. No longer can you run to the next region (via a loading screen) to get away from the fight. Now you’ll be chased until you run out of stamina, be tracked by multiple monsters, and fear for your character’s life.
Despite the big change to how the environments (and their fauna) act it’s still Monster Hunter. In fact, with all of the quality of life changes being made, it could easily be argued that it’s the best Monster Hunter to be released. No longer do you have to craft pickaxes, bug nets, and fishing poles to extract resources from each world. You don’t have to stop and forage for a few seconds to grab a herb or berry. Using a health potion only slows your movement instead of stopping it completely, and being interrupted doesn’t lose you the potion and health restoration. There are a lot of ways that make this game easier for newcomers, yet due to the complexity of the game, a number of newcomers are still finding it hard.
Thankfully, all of Monster Hunter World is online, and you and 3 others can (at any point) go on any of the missions together. There’s some funkiness when it comes to inviting others into hunts that are part of the story, but for everything else it merely takes an invite. One of the best new features is the ability to shoot out an SOS flare so that other gamers known you need their help. But we all know that the true way to progress in Monster Hunter is to take out the monsters by yourself at least once, right?
The biggest letdown in Monster Hunter World is unfortunately the boss fight the story is driving you towards. Without going into detail it’s simply one of the least exciting fights I’ve experienced in the whole series. The verticality of this specific fight is confusing, and I somehow managed to complete it and succeed without doing a lot of what I was meant to do. Thankfully, Monster Hunter World is less about this specific fight than it is the circuitous nature of the difficulty level, and once this is behind you, you’ll likely never go back to it….. unless you just NEED that specific armour set.
One smaller gripe, and one I’m sure Capcom are already preparing to resolve, is the much smaller roster of monsters. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate had over 100 monsters ranging from the smaller ones that scavenge and pester through to the elder dragons you’ll grow to fear. Generations took some of the best of the series and added another handful of favourites including the great Glavenus. With Monster Hunter World the number has dropped significantly to a little over 50, and the majority of them are new. New monsters are great, but newcomers don’t know what they’re missing out on… for now. The feared Deviljho will be making its appearance via a free update, and knowing Capcom and their schedule of free updates for previous games, I’m sure we’ll be looked after for months to come.
Look, I could simply talk about Monster Hunter all day, and that’s IF I can be pulled away from the game itself. But all you newcomers need to know is that the best thing about being new to any Monster Hunter game is that when you think you know what you’re doing, when you think you’ve seen all there is to see, you’re reminded that you really don’t know the game at all. And if you’re finding it start to wear, change your weapon and get to learn a whole new game.