Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC (Fall 2018)
Monster Hunter often felt like the series that requires a club membership, not because its community isn’t welcoming (rest assured, it is) but because unless you were made aware of its existence by someone who was already entrenched in it, you probably wouldn’t give it the time of day. Sure, the series’ popularity has certainly risen ever since the series shifted to Nintendo platforms, specifically the 3DS, but here in the West, it’s no juggernaut. Perhaps that was one of Capcom’s key pillars when working on Monster Hunter World, the hope that a console release would make even those passing by giving it a glance. However, Monster Hunter World does so much more than simply taking the existing formula that’s worked for years on the 3DS and other consoles and handhelds before it, and slaps it on your living room TV. World marks a true evolution of the series, one that not only makes sweeping quality of life changes that will make series veterans happy but makes the game seem more inviting to newcomers, that maybe had a passing fancy of the series, but never decided to take the plunge.
Monster Hunter through and through
If there’s one thing that had series’ veterans worried regarding a console release of Monster Hunter, especially one that wasn’t numbered, was that Capcom would dumb the game’s many mechanics down in order to appeal to the casual gamer. And while I do firmly believe that World is easily the most new-player friendly entry in the franchise, that’s not to say that the game holds your hand at any point, and for the most part still relies on you to figure its mechanics out on your own.
Unlocking a new mechanic or facility in Astera always greets you with a tutorial that can always be revisited in case you need a refresher, but the game still manages to keep those same mechanics deep requiring experimentation and trial and error. A facility for melding items can seem overwhelming at first but after some time spent within its menus, it becomes clear how it works, and provides yet another secondary outlet for item acquisition.
The gameplay loop is still very much the same its always been: Go out with beginner gear, hunt monsters, craft better gear, hunt bigger monsters, craft even better gear… well, you get the point. Its formula is unchanged since the first title and the fact that it still works and is as fun as ever is just a testament to how well designed it is.
Combat is still king
Aside from eyeing potential sweet armor and weapons that you hope to attain materials for to eventually craft, a bulk of the experience lies in the fantastic combat. Like many other aspects of the game, the combat mechanics for each of the 14 weapon classes have been tweaked and buttoned up, that I legitimately have a hard time telling you what my favorite weapon class is. If you asked me while I played Monster Hunter 3U, it would have been the Dual Blades. In 4U, it was without a doubt the new Insect Glaive. In Generations, given the varied hunting styles, my love of aerial combat allowed me to mount monsters with my beloved Dual Blades thanks to Aerial Style. In World, I still have yet to find a weapon that I don’t have fun using, even the Gunlance, a weapon I told myself I’d never touch.
Much of the reason lies with how the devs took some of the moves from various hunting styles from Generations and integrated them directly into the movesets of various weapons. For instance, The Longsword’s fade slash that also acts as a counter resembles a similar move from the Adept style. Dual Blades have the ability to do a spin attack down the monster’s back, which taken straight out of Aerial style. And then there are completely new moves, such as the ability to course-correct your jumps with the Insect Glaive, that when skillfully performed, could potentially allow you to stay in the air indefinitely until your stamina runs out. Even ranged weapons are much more user-friendly now, allowing you to move while you fire, giving you an experience much closer to a third-person shooter. They still require the most upkeep, as you constantly have to make sure you’re crafting specialized ammo, but in terms of handling and mechanics, they’re just as easy to get into as any other weapon class.
The World, it’s in the name!
While I was first puzzled why Capcom didn’t decide to number the latest entry into the franchise, their reasoning was sound. Why alienate new players by making them feel like they’ve missed out on four past games (even though that’s 100% true) and instead make the entry feel more welcoming by ditching the number and subtitling it World. However, the subtitle goes deeper than that. The game’s world has been meticulously crafted to resemble a living, breathing ecosystem. Each monster, plant, ravine, tree, and body of water has a place in this world, and they all seemingly coexist with one another in a way where if you were taken out of the equation as a hunter, you would still have a world that can exist and function without you. Monsters occasionally rough each other up, and bigger apex predators often show other monsters who’s boss in wonderful animations called Turf Wars. As much fun as it is to unsheathe your weapon and start a hunt, it’s sometimes just as fun to watch events unfold without your interference. Upon taking on the Anjanath the first time (the T-Rex looking monster players could fight in the beta) I thought for sure he’s the king of the Ancient Forest. That is until the Rathalos flew down to where I was fighting the Anjanath, threw some warning fireballs at him, and then ultimately picked him up with his talons, lifted him into the air and then slammed him back down. It was glorious, not to mention helpful since the Rathalos unknowingly helped me out of an almost fatal situation.
The big difference in World’s world is its openness and interconnectivity. Sure, the maps are still separated by a loading screen, so you can’t simply run from Ancient Forest all the way to the Coral Highlands for instance, but the actual maps themselves aren’t segmented into separate areas anymore. What used to be a gameplay mechanic that players would use to their advantage to strategize, not to mention a limitation of the previous hardware, was now gone, and instead, the entire map is now fully explorable without a loading screen in sight. That means running away to a different area to sharpen your blade or chug a mega potion isn’t a viable strategy anymore and keeps you on your toes. Now you have to use your surroundings, such as a nearby bush to hide in and hope the monster loses track of you. Or perhaps use your Slinger to hook yourself on a nearby tree and swing away far enough. Or sometimes just up and run away and hope the monster breaks pursuit. It makes hunts that much more nailbiting since the reliance of loading into a different safe area is now non-existent.
What’s even more impressive is how each area has some sort of meaning behind it. I won’t get too much into the examples since they’re explained in the story, but there’s a reason for the Coral Highlands and the Rotten Vale to exist the way they are. Capcom didn’t just decide on a theme for each map and rolled with it. They exist for a reason, and it’s just another example of how much love Capcom and the Monster Hunter devs pour into their ideas.
Quality of Life improvements in spades
When I said that World is probably the best game for new players to ease into, it’s undoubtedly due to the massive amounts of quality of life improvements the team has made, and they are found in literally every aspect of the game.
Gathering materials while out on hunts, for example, no longer have you crafting and then equipping pickaxes, fishing poles, or bug nets. Now, all of those are just a part of your character. See an ore deposit? Just walk up to it and your hunter will automatically pull out a pickaxe and go to town. Fishing poles and nets are now easily accessible through your items and can be equipped on your slinger, so you can quickly put on a net to catch any of the endemic wildlife you come across. Not to mention bugs can just be picked up now and don’t even require a bug net anymore. The best part? These items have unlimited uses, so you never have to go back and restock. Those of you who played Generations might be scoffing at this change since Prowler Mode already had this, but this time you don’t have to sacrifice playing as your hunter in order to gather some much-needed materials.
Speaking of materials, the game now includes an auto-crafting feature, which will automatically combine items for you as soon as they’re picked up. You can specify which items you want to be automatically converted, such as a Mega-Potion or certain kinds of bullets if you’re a gunner, and as soon as you pick up the required items, they combine in your item pouch and keep doing so as long as you have room for them. Genius!
Boring material quests, such as pick up 10 mushrooms, catch 8 bugs or slay 10 smaller monsters have been ditched completely in favor of the new Bounty system. Here, you can choose up to six bounties to take with you, and complete them while you’re doing more important things, such as hunting bigger monsters or just out on an expedition. Because you’ll be doing this anyway, now there’s an incentive since you’re always awarded Research Points as well as the ever important armor spheres that allow you to enhance your hunter’s defense. That’s not to say that fetch quest like that don’t exist, however, they are few and far between, and are mostly relegated to the Canteen.
Crafting and upgrading weapons has a sleek new interface. Weapons have a new tree layout where you can easily plan your upgrade path and even wishlist upgrades you don’t have materials for yet, and the game will keep track of those each time you acquire them. Even better, you no longer have to worry about locking yourself in a certain upgrade path, since in most cases, you can downgrade your weapon all the way back to its base, and all the materials will be returned to you. The armor UI has been revamped to now easily group up all armor sets in a single row, allowing you with a press of a button to not only wear the entire set and see what it looks like, but also check out its various armor skill and see how they synergize.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to armor which now makes building every piece of a set a bit trivial is attaching a different skill to each piece. Sure, you can craft an entire Pukei Pukei armor set and get the level 1 benefits of all the different skills associated with each piece, but if you want to make some of those skills better, you might need to craft a piece from a different set that has the same skill, therefore enhancing that skill to level 2 and beyond. That’s not to say armor set bonuses don’t exist, however, they’ll usually require you to wear three out of the five pieces in order to activate it, still giving you the option to craft two other pieces from other sets that complement the armor skills you have.
Then there’s the Scout Flies, one of the best new additions to the franchise. No longer are you looking up to the sky in the first camp in hopes of spotting an air balloon and waving to it (veterans will know what this means), or throwing a paintball at a monster so just in case it runs away, you don’t lose track of it. Your Scout Flies learn to track a monster’s scent based on its tracks and other things it leaves behind. Once it can track the monster down, it locks on to it, meaning that if the monster decides to flee, your Scout Flies will be able to guide you right back to it.
The Scout Flies remain their usefulness beyond simply tracking a monster since picking up more and more tracks and info on a monster fills out more info on what is essentially a built-in wiki page. Sure, not as detailed as something you’d find on an actual wiki page for Monster Hunter from previous games, but a lot of useful info can be found there, such as what parts can be harvested from which specific part of a monster, or what parts can be broken off for extra materials.
The Monsters who inhabit the World
There are some wild and crazy monster designs in world, but looking at the grand picture, comparing it to past games, I thought that the dev team could have gone a little crazier with their designs, not to mention diversify the monster roster, so that it’s not mostly just dragons or some version of a dragon. At face value, the tongue wielding Pukei Pukei is quite different from the inflatable and adorable bat-like Paolumu. But upon closer inspection, you’ll notice an almost identical wing design, and their skeletal make-up is also nearly identical. And then you have the multiple big dragon creatures, from the recognizable Rathian and Rathalos, Diablos, Nergigante, Legiana and the Elder Dragons, while all thematically different, they’re all still in the Dragon family. I miss the whacky designs of monsters like the Lagombi, Kecha Wacha, Nerscylla, and Seltas. Capcom has promised more free monster content in the future, starting with Deviljho, so I’m hoping that future monsters end up being a little more diverse.
Another issue is their predictability. Not while fighting them per se, but more so while tracking them and finding them. When going on a hunt for the Great Jagras for example, 9 times out of 10, I can just wait in the first area for him to run up, eat an Aptanoth to fill his belly and then unleash my fury upon him. The Rathian in Wildspire Wastes always seems to be walking around the two same areas until you engage, and only then he’ll start to wander around the whole map. Diablos also chills in his usual spot as well. It’s a small nitpick to have and doesn’t really make or break the experience for me, but I was hoping that tracking the monsters using the new Scout Flies would be a little more exciting since they could technically be anywhere, but instead usually end up following a similar pattern over and over.
With that said, it’s still unbelievably exciting to hunt each and every one of them. Even though they share a common dragon lineage, they still have their own personality and attack patterns that make them fun and engaging. While the first half of the game will eventually feel quite easy for you, things take quite a turn when you enter High Rank.
Multiplayer is still the best way to play the game, even if its slightly annoying
One of the better changes from previous Monster Hunter entries is that quests are no longer separated by a single player and multiplayer quest board. Now, the entire game is merged into one, meaning you can experience the entirety of it by yourself, or with friends, but that latter option comes with something of an asterisk, which I hope Capcom manages to figure a fix for sooner, rather than later. While it is true that nearly all quests can be played with up to three friends, you can’t initially start them that way. For some reason, story cutscenes need to be viewed by a single person only. That means when you unlock a new story quest, it will only allow you to queue up by yourself, as will be signified by the ‘1/1 players’ notification. You then have to progress through that quest enough to view a cutscene, that’s usually followed by a monster hunt. At that point, you or your friends quit out of the mission and join up on the one player who remained in it. Alternatively, if you’re not in the same squad, you can also fire off an SOS Flare and at that point, your friends could join up as well. Expeditions suffer from a similar annoyance. One player has to enter an expedition and then fire off an SOS Flare. Only at that point can the other players join up on them. It’s so incredibly backward and confusing, especially in a game that’s streamlined in nearly every other aspect. Again, it’s not a game-breaking feature by any means, but an annoyance more than anything.
The case can’t even be made that those single player cutscenes require only one person since each player is the ‘main character’ of their respective storyline, because both Destiny games sidestepped this by allowing you to queue up with friends before a mission, and still only featured each individual player in their own cutscene.
However, there are positives to the multiplayer. Granted, once it works, it’s a blast, and taking on monsters with another friend or a full group of four is incredibly satisfying, and World has some built-in features to make it slightly easier, at least when not playing single player story quests. Players can make and join Squads, which is a fancy word for Guilds. Up to 50 players can join a Squad and you’re not limited to be a part of a single one, but instead switch your active Squad on the fly. This makes it incredibly easy to hop on, search for a Squad session and immediately be grouped with people you know.
And while the SOS Flare is annoying from the story quest perspective, it’s an attractive addition to a game that previously locked out players from joining quests in progress. Now, if you’re having trouble with taking down a monster, or simply want some company in your expedition, you can fire off an SOS Flare and wait for someone to join up and help. While I never had random people joining me this way during the review period, I would imagine once everyone has the game in their hands, there should always be someone in need of help or other players willing to help you in a pinch.
My review copy was provided on the PlayStation 4 and considering Sony has a branding deal with Capcom, it didn’t surprise me. I have yet to see the game on an Xbox One so I can’t speak on that system’s performance., but speaking from personal experience playing this game on the PS4 Pro, the game performed wonderfully. I played exclusively in Framerate Mode to get a much smoother experience over crisper textures, but for those with a PS4 Pro, know that the options exist for you.
I do hope that the multiplayer kinks get ironed out, as it would be nice to simply queue up with a full group, regardless of seeing a cutscene or not, granted, this is an issue only those who are playing the story for the first time will have. Regardless, it’s annoying enough to be called out. I’m also hoping for a bigger diversity of monsters with future DLC. While it will be awesome to good ole’ pickle Deviljho in glorious HD, I wanted some weirder monsters to fight. Bring on the Kecha Wacha or the giant spider-like Nerscylla.
As someone who enjoyed and played a lot of the previous games, Monster Hunter World feels like an amazing evolution of a series that was in desperate need of it. Hunting Styles in Generations were fun and gave the 14 weapons a lot of different tricks to use, but in terms of advancing the series, it didn’t come close to what World accomplished. Even with its sweeping changes to a lot of its mechanics and streamlining of systems, it still retains the feeling of Monster Hunter. While playing it, you still get that familiar rush when pulling off an amazing move with a particular weapon, or mount a monster with a perfectly timed ledge jump, or cutting off the tail of an incredibly fast wyvern that would much rather cook you with its fire breath. As a fan, I hope that the presumed difficulty curve doesn’t discourage new players to at least give Monster Hunter World a try. While the game still has a tough exterior of a Barroth, once you bash it enough to don its parts as your armor, you’ll find that the addicting gameplay loop, what Monster Hunter has always been good at, is just as addicting here, if not more than ever.