Let me begin this review with a bit of transparency: I am no Monster Hunter veteran. The following is from a person who played about 40 hours of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U, and no other entries in the series. If that’s what you’re looking for then fantastic; if not, you might find a fresh set of eyes on such a legendary series refreshing. That, or you can laugh at how much of a scrub I am.
Monster Hunter: World is, to say the least, a departure from what the series has been known for these last few years. For the first time in several iterations the beloved franchise finds itself not only grounded on home console, but also not on Nintendo hardware. One could argue that portability practically made Monster Hunter the worldwide phenomenon it is today, as the series wasn’t known to sell well in it’s early PS2 years.
So when fans were greeted with World‘s mesmerizing HD graphics along with the realization that they wouldn’t be playing it on Switch or 3DS, feelings were understandably mixed. Combine this with the fact that Monster Hunter XX hasn’t received a localization here in the West and it seems World is the only step die-hard fans can take. If Capcom’s goal was to make the series more “accessible” to newcomers, they certainly succeeded in some aspects. If their goal was to stay true to what makes Monster Hunter great, I would say they knocked it out of the park.
The game begins with some story beats which hurl the player into the Ancient Forest after being marooned by the volcanic dragon Zorah Magdaros. Monster Hunter: World boasted a more story-focused experience than previous entries, but don’t expect anything close to standard RPG-fare. The cutscenes are beautiful, sure, but they’re relatively few and far between. What makes Monster Hunter: World‘s story so captivating is, surprisingly, the pacing of it all.
You’ll find yourself watching a cutscene with some huge monster saying to yourself, “Man I wish I could fight that right now.” Before you know it the cutscene has ended without you realizing it and it’s chunked your health bar. There’s absolutely no fluff, no filler, and no more god-awful mandatory gathering quests. If anything, what’s here is an excuse to get out there and hunt monsters, and that’s all it needs to do. The player is shuffled from zone to zone gracefully, with encounters slowly ramping up from pillow-fights with a giant dreadlock lizard to a life-and-death battle with an electrified unicorn the game decided to call a “dragon”.
On the note of introductions, Monster Hunter: World definitely tries its best to introduce new players to its abundant systems and mechanics, and although the mind-numbing tutorial panels helped to a degree there’s really nothing like 30 hours of experience to figure out how things work. I’m serious; this game is almost like learning another language if you’re new, which isn’t so bad except when there’s an NPC yelling in your ear about the next quest while you’re trying to figure out which subspecies of beetle you’re running low on. But what I expected would be a huge gripe of mine (it’s now a little gripe) ended up being a lesson in self-discipline. Did I eat at the Canteen before I departed? Did I pick up my harvest from the Botanical Research Garden? Have I upgraded my armor? If no to any of these little bullet points I made for myself, I would be feeling the hurt in the next quest. The menus and systems can seem daunting at first, especially to a new player, but when everything finally clicks and the hubtown of Astera is running like a well-oiled machine it all feels worth it.
These little lessons weren’t limited to figuring out exactly what an “exhaust phial” did (I’m now a die-hard Switch Axe user), but also carried over to the field. For example, when I first noticed trees with vines could be made into makeshift net traps, or that Paratoads could be kicked to make a paralyzing mist, I felt like a true series veteran might when using everything to their advantage. There’s no shortage of quirks to learn, and the beautiful environments of Monster Hunter: World are packed with little nuances that are ready for exploitation. Once I became more comfortable I was luring one monster into the den of another and watching the fireworks while sitting back and barbecuing some steak.
But for every tool the player has at their disposal the monsters have another, meaner one. Every monster’s den has some sort of feature for them to use entirely against the player. Diablos, for example, has a pouring wall of sand at the back of his arena that he can charge from at random (think Phantom Ganon from Ocarina of Time). The Odogaran, which looks like a skinned hellhound, has the ability to climb high upon the walls of its nest, pouncing at players from afar.
These designs do wonders to make the player feel truly out of their element, and turn the tables when the monster is at its most desperate moment. A minor complaint would be that despite the large maps, monsters tend to favor a few spots at specific health “checkpoints”. This is great for planning routes, but not so much for spicing things up hunt to hunt.
The level design in Monster Hunter: World is much more vertical than previous entries as well. This is great for hunters trying to land aerial hits or “mount” monsters (which is a glorified quicktime event, albeit a satisfying one), but does the monster AI no favors. Often times when I found myself in a bind I could simply abuse ledges or cliffs where monsters may have a hard time reaching me, and they almost always did. The pros of this verticality outweigh the cons, as being able to use the glider mantle to quickly ascend large mountains using updrafts and swinging from vines through forests is hard to beat.
Although I experienced the story and Low Rank quests solo, multiplayer is as easy as (literally) pressing a button. Just send out an SOS flair if you’re having trouble with a monster and hunters will come to your aid in a flash. For those who are unfamiliar like I was, Low Rank refers to any quests below five stars (indicating difficulty). After completing a preliminary story, players are dropped back into the world in High Rank mode. This offers a plethora of new armor and weapons to craft, a whole new upgrade system in the form of decorations, and harder versions of old monsters including some brand new ones.
The feeling of “That was it?” was quickly swept away when I was immediately told to get back into the world and was swiftly handed my supple loins by a previously easy monster. If Low Rank is a fast-paced crash course in what Monster Hunter: World has to offer, High Rank is a full-fledged degree. Once I saw all the new upgrade paths for my weapons and armor, I was sold. This game has its hooks in me and it’s not letting go any time soon.
From the flourishing ecosystems which rival even the most ambitious of open world titles to the bustling hub town and beautiful vistas, Monster Hunter: World is a fantastic lesson in game loop theory. Never did I find myself getting bored of hunting a monster “one more time” for that elusive piece I needed to complete my armor set, nor did I get overly frustrated when learning battles (except when Rathalos just Wouldn’t. Come. Down). Grinding can hardly be called grinding when it’s this much fun, and the constant tug of Monster Hunter: World’s reward system is all anyone could need to pull them back in again and again. Regardless of what 2018 brings us, I can see myself playing Monster Hunter: World for a long, long time.
This review is based on the PlayStaion 4 version of the game, which was provided to us by Capcom. Monster Hunter: World is also available on Xbox One.
Monster Hunter: World is a balancing act of accessibility and classic appeal. Novice fans will enjoy the reasonable streamlining and fluid combat, while veterans will relish in the seemingly endless challenges hiding in High Rank. Whatever 2018 brings, I'll be playing this game for a long, long time.