The initial trailer for Monster Hunter World during Sony’s E3 2017 press conference was the first time in a very long time I’ve felt compelled to try an entry in Capcom’s blockbuster franchise of my own free will. It’s not that I consider the games “bad” or anything, of course — I’ve enjoyed titles like Monster Hunter Generations enough to give them a hearty recommendation when assigned them for review, and I’ve watched with envy as others close to me (most notably, my brother, who played Tri religiously on Wii) have an absolute blast with the series.
No, my problem has always been that the central mechanics just never clicked with me; there’s a stiffness to the movement of the hunters that put me off, and since Capcom has seen fit to reuse what feels like pretty much the same engine for the last decade or so, I haven’t willingly picked up a Monster Hunter game for myself in about the same length of time.
If that trailer made me excited about a revitalization for the series’ dated mechanics, the behind-closed-doors demo I saw just about guaranteed that I’ll take a crack at Monster Hunter World when it comes out. Completely gone are so many of the things that I’ve found questionable in recent entries: see ya later, segmented maps; adios, bizarrely stiff and clunky movement; and (most of all) ta-ta to pretty much requiring multiplayer to get anywhere.
Yes, if there was one thing that stood out as particularly impressive about the 20-minute demo, it’s the fact that the player was able to take down the target monster all by his lonesome — and using a number of very different strategies that ensured things never got boring (in fact, I have to admit it was one of the few times I’ve found it just as enjoyable to watch a game as I probably would have playing it).
What are some of those strategies? Well, the most intriguing by far is the new “rope” mechanic that allows hunters to swing up on top of their quarry and ride them, causing damage from atop their bodies. I have to admit, I almost gasped when I first saw this performed in the trailer, and seeing it done several times during Capcom’s demonstration only hammered home just what a departure this is — getting airborne in such a fluid way, and being so flexible and mobile, is practically antithetical to the way traditional Monster Hunter games operate.
The player during the demonstration also saw fit to show us a number of the weapons available, including sticky projectiles that attach for delayed explosions; a good old-fashioned rapid-fire machine gun; and one curious gun that requires you to be in comically close range to connect (but does a ridiculous amount of damage to make up for that). Oh, and if you’re crafty, you can even use the environment to your advantage, cutting vines to drop huge boulders of pain from above or luring your prey into a stronger enemy monster’s nest to have the bigger foe beat it up for you.
This latter bit marks what seems like the most necessary change for a franchise that’s showing its age in 2017. This Monster Hunter game carries the moniker “World” because, in addition to ditching the aforementioned “segmented” design of the maps, everything in the areas has been carefully designed to act like an actual ecosystem — one that can be dangerous if you’re careless or extremely helpful if you know how to take advantage of it. In one particularly spectacular display, as the player’s hunter character was innocently traipsing through an open field, we watched a big monster devour one that was about half its size; many of us couldn’t suppress our laughter and surprise at watching the thing’s mouth open so wide …. and watching its body expand to accommodate its meal! If World really does fulfill the potential of moments like this, it could be just as fun to observe its world as it is to hunt in it, which is a far cry from the very deliberate, almost arcade-style map designs of the traditional games.
Of course, these sweeping changes to a beloved formula may be some concern among longtime Monster Hunter fans — the admirable folks who, unlike me, have somehow managed to find their way around the wonky interface and sluggish-feeling combat to enjoy the series’ addictive action. And ultimately, the only consolations I can offer are a) that we should really wait and see how longtime fans feel about all this once they get their hands on controllers, because the changes might actually be well-received; and b) that the upcoming Monster Hunter XX on Switch seems to be a viable alternative for those who enjoy hunting in the classic style.
For me, and hopefully for many others who have felt totally left out of the mega-popular franchise, though, Monster Hunter World represents an important opportunity for Capcom to connect the games with a new audience — particularly an expanded one here in the West, where the vast majority of the 60-million-PS4 installed base is established. For games as skill-driven as Monster Hunter, I’m aware that many people see increased accessibility as a threat to the depth of the mechanics … but if the demonstration I viewed was any indication, World is only making things deeper and more exciting while simultaneously opening the doors to a lot of hunters who’ve been waiting in the wings for their opportunity to join in on the fun.