Monster Hunter World Review: Thrill of the Hunt
Ben Sheene / Feb 20th, 2018 No Comments
Monster Hunter World is an exhausting game.
At 50 hours in, I climbed the volcanic mountain sitting on the back of Zorah Magdaros, hoping to tire the beast before it plowed through the New World. On top of that mountain, I fought Nergigante, an elder dragon with black spikes that regrew each time I bashed them off. I was only able to make this journey because I was wearing the skins and parts of other wyverns and beasts that had been cobbled together into powerful gear by the smithy in Astera. Every character in the story gave me the impression this was the apex of my journey, and that solving the problem of the towering Zorah Magdaros would wrap things up. I wasn’t fooled.
For 100 hours, Monster Hunter World has been feeding me content. Every few hours, a new tutorial pops up, explaining some new mechanic that has been unlocked or presenting another option for me to become more invested in its gameplay loop.
This is a game riddled with complexity, giving you the tools to feel like a strategic mastermind capable of felling some of the most challenging bosses available in a video game. Though it may seem easy to drown in all the systems at play, it is easier to be swept away by Monster Hunter World.
Cheers to the New World
Capcom’s storytelling with Monster Hunter World is quite on the nose. As this is the fifth major Monster Hunter release, players are coming from the Old World to the New World as a part of the Fifth Fleet. Clever, isn’t it?
Part of your job is to understand more about the Elder Crossing, an event where elder dragons migrate to the new world every 10 years. In the first half hour of the game, the Fleet is upended by Zorah Magdaros rising from the depths of the ocean, and players are chased by a winged T-Rex-like creature known as Anjanath into the safety of the hub world Astera.
The story that follows is mildly aggressive, driving you through major plot points to help introduce the hows and the whys of encountering increasingly nasty beasts.
World attempts a poetic approach at man’s place in nature and how our involvement affects the flora and fauna of new lands. Four fleets have already come to the New World to set up shop and scour the lands for research. Zorah Magdaros rudely interrupts the moderate calm, so something must be done about it.
Understanding Monster Hunter World’s story is an easy enough task and one that is a little disappointing. Previous Monster Hunter games lacked a sweeping narrative, and Capcom’s attempt here obviously is meant to instill some broader appeal to newcomers. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t compelled by where the story took me over the course of the game. However, much of that is due to the fact that I wanted to feast my eyes upon a new area or stumble upon an undiscovered monster that gives way to a brief, action-packed cutscene.
To go into Monster Hunter World’s story expecting cinematic moments would be a mistake. Flying over Zorah Magdaros hooked onto a wingdrake is one of the handful of “soak it all in” moments where the game does something on par with an Uncharted or Devil May Cry. Peppering these moments in more frequently during the natural course of the story would have been a way to liven up the time between grinding out hunts. In total, I would say that there is under one hour of cutscenes. One positive outcome of this decision comes from the fact that control is rarely stripped from the player, offering up agency befitting of a game with such an extensive character creation system.
Had Capcom taken a similar approach as FromSoftware did with Souls lore, the journey through the New World would have been a bit more satisfying. For a place teeming with life, it is a shame that we get to know so little of it. Monster Hunter World is mostly devoted to telling you everything you need to know about monsters to help you kill or capture them.
Players are constantly told throughout the game that research expeditions have been conducted to further understand the inner workings of how all life in the New World ticks. Our Handler companion eats at a table piled with books, and one of the NPCs even sits on a throne of the written word. Yet, the game doesn’t dive into landmarks, lore, history, or even the backstories of its characters, which is exemplified by the Handler asking your silent character a few times why they decided to come to the New World.
The reason why this lack of a lore is disappointing is because Monster Hunter World feels so grand and deep. This is a world where cats run a canteen and goblin-like creatures tend to a botanical garden. The development team has crafted a world with such care that it is impossible not to love.
In the hub area, players can pet a small pig named Poogie and get it to like you enough that he will sniff out objects when you carry him around (your controller vibrates when he does this). Yes, that sounds crazy, but it makes absolute sense in a Monster Hunter game. It’s hard to imagine a person who doesn’t accept this charming world and all its quirks. It all seems so inherently Japanese, yet universal in the same vein as a Yakuza or Persona game.
After advancing the story, I often found myself running around Astera talking to various people because each one would offer up a small tidbit of information. None of this was mandatory, but it helped me further engage with this world and add an understanding of it that otherwise would not be present.
To enrich the world of Monster Hunter World, there should be that extra step where players could look at an item and be given a bit of lore in the description, or have an extra section in the Wiki-like Monster Guide to read up on First Wyverians. The campaign simply doesn’t do a great job at laying that information out.
Making up for the lack in actual story are the breathtaking environments and monsters. From the thick woods of the Ancient Forest to the bone-littered decay of the Rotted Vale, each section is a new feast for the senses. The areas that players hunt in are expertly crafted open spaces filled with life both tame and terrifying.
Everything in Monster Hunter World is so fantastical that it defies any expectations of the genre. The 20-plus monsters in the game are designed to interact with multiple environments and multiple creatures. Capcom’s goal was to make these places feel like living, breathing ecosystems where complex AI would carry on without players.
Obvious favorite, the Coral Highlands, imagines an underwater world of coral and plankton brought to the surface. Its doused with pinks, purples and blues to capture the essence of the ocean. There, players can catch electric blue jellyfish-like creatures, dig for coral to use in meals and fight Paolumu, a flying rat with a rock-hard tail who can suck in air and puff up his head like a cotton ball.
The shift from a strictly portable series to one housed on powerful consoles means that player movement isn’t restricted between zones. Once landing in an area, there are no loading times, further allowing players to lose themselves in the hunt.
Zones are deceptively vertical and offer branching paths, shortcuts and secrets. Despite spending hours in each one and memorizing some crucial paths, I’m still finding new things and acclimating to the best ways to move around. After a certain point, players will become familiar with where monsters nest and where they are most likely to appear. There is a random element to how hunts unfold, but also a healthy dose of rote behavior that helps ensure a rhythm can be ironed out.
For the first third of the campaign, players will usually encounter four or five monsters per zone, with a handful appearing in multiple places. It’s fair to worry that there won’t be enough “new” content after visiting each zone. I do think that one or two extra zones could have truly tipped the scales into making Monster Hunter World an impossible game to resist with its breadth. While hunting with friends, I noted how amazing the spectacle of a snowy region dusted with ice would have differentiated itself, especially with the color palette and topography.
Of course, the stars of the show in Monster Hunter World are the monsters, which players will be tirelessly hunting for dozens, if not hundreds of hours. Each monster has its own moveset and loot, working like a kind of boss fight in a game. Players take their weapons and chip away at its health pool until it is dead or weak enough to capture. It’s the name of the game; it’s simple to understand.
Where Monster Hunter World is different is how it asks players to take on these monsters. There are no health bars, there are no doors leading into a big arena, and there’s nothing traditional about these fights. Players start a hunt, whether dictated by the story or by selecting an optional quest. From there, your choice of what to do branches in several ways. Do you craft items? Do you buy items? Do you run up to the canteen and watch a bunch of cats make you a meal? Do you go straight to the zone where the monster is and critical path to it? Preparation is key for any hunt.
Finding a monster is a matter of tracking it using scoutflies. These glowing green bugs swarm around items that you can pick up and detect traces of monsters that have passed through. Investigating footprints, scratches in a tree and dung piles will level up your scoutflies so that they eventually get a bead on where a monster might be and lead you straight to it. It’s a brilliant system that acts as a way to provide waypoints without fulling breaking immersion.
Once a monster is found, any hunter in your party can start chipping away at its health. Since there are no health bars, players are required to use visual cues to see how the fight is progressing. All monsters have parts that can be broken or severed. Don’t want Rathian to fly as much? Attack its wings. Tired of Pukei-Pukei ejecting poison from its backside? Cut off the tail. Breaking these parts will result in different pieces of loot dropping, which are required for crafting gear. Each monster is susceptible to certain types of damage or status ailments as well, and the only way to learn more about the monster is to hunt more of them.
After hunting one monster several times, you will level up your research on it. This enables the scoutflies to track the monster faster and allows players to get more indication on if it is closer to death. However, seeing a monster limping away or stumbling over itself is often a good sign that it is near death and ready to be captured.
During different stages of the fight, monsters change up their attacks. Closer to death or in their nests, monsters will become more ferocious and pull out new attacks. Later on in higher difficulties, you may see attacks that you’ve never encountered before.
Deeper into the game, players face high-rank hunts where everything in a zone gets a difficulty boost. Monster variants appear as greater threats and tempered monsters test even the strongest hunter’s mettle. Accomplishing these harder quests would be nearly impossible if it wasn’t for the incredible gameplay loop offered in Monster Hunter World.
First, it’s important to touch on the weapons players can wield to go on hunts. Over a dozen unique weapons are on offer and each has a complexity that takes hours to tackle. I initially started with the insect glaive, a kind of bow staff that allowed me to do jumping attacks and boost around mid-air. As one of the most mobile weapons in the game, it doesn’t do high damage but allows players to close the distance and mount monsters easily. The insect glaive also comes with a kinsect, a flying bug that can be shot at a monster. This kinsect can target specific parts of an animal to extract three different colored buffs while leaving a cloud of dust behind that can hurt or heal hunters. Mixing and matching these three extracts slightly changes the attack combos players can execute.
Sound confusing? It is. I used the insect glaive for about 10 hours and thought I was familiar with it. Then, while running around to avoid a monster’s attacks, I hit triangle while holding L2 for some unknown reason. I watched my kinsect shoot over to where I had my targeting reticle. I realized I could constantly have the kinsect bash a monster for damage while seeking out a body part to extract a buff. It completely changed the way I used the weapon.
For the several other weapons in the game, I’m certain stories like this exist. I’ve spent some time with the hunting horn, which uses combos to apply buffs to your team, the lance, which can block and parry monster attacks, the bow and arrow that can be coated with different types of ammunition, and the long sword, which stacks damage over time. Though some weapons are better for beginners, none truly feels like it outclasses the others. Four players can go into a hunt with the same weapon and get the same result as a group that used four different weapons in harmony with each other. It’s all a symphony of monster bashing that takes practice and experience.
To refine these weapons, players will need to visit the smithy and invest money and monster parts into an extensive upgrade tree that takes about 50-70 hours to fill. Want lightning damage on your switch axe? Grind out Tobi-Kadachi hunts to complete that tree. Each weapon can take one upgrade path that will result in a number of archetypes. Smartly, players are allowed to revert an upgrade and are refunded their investment to ensure that experimentation is rewarded.
This same upgrade path applies to armor for you and your Palico, your feline companion that accompanies you on solo or duo hunts (and is extremely useful in many ways). Not only are these pieces of gear visually striking and look like the monsters you took out, they offer specific stats that make you stronger or weaker against elements. Later in the game, new gear becomes available that grants additional buffs or passive abilities.
The gear grind in Monster Hunter World is ultimately one of its most rewarding mechanics and the reason why players stick with games in the series for so long. Monsters get harder, which means your gear needs to be stronger, which means you need to hunt until you complete a set that can defend you against that more difficult monster.
Unlike Destiny, players know what loot will drop from what source and can tailor their gameplay toward that path. There is a certain amount of luck involved in getting a few of the monster parts to drop, but it never feels unfair. Break a monster’s face and you get a fang. Rewards are tangible and it’s extremely satisfying.
Some Experience Required
As Monster Hunter World continues to ramp up in difficulty, more and more systems get added onto it. Your will only be successful in hunts with the best gear tailored for that fight and plenty of buffs from items and meals. Some hunts for a single monster can last upwards of 50 minutes, which is definitely not an easy task.
Monster Hunter World asks a lot from players. The series has never shied away from its complexity or its depth. What differentiates World is in how it eases newcomers into the series. Again, I’m 100 hours into the game and have yet to encounter everything. I’m still discovering new things and being given new tutorials. It could be overwhelming, and sometimes it is, but content is slowly rolled out at a pace that allows players to become comfortable. There is no push to master the game rapidly. Players are given bounties and investigations at a slow pace to grind out money and materials that will help them get better while learning the ropes of a weapon.
The sheer amount of content here is enough for any player to appreciate, and the game rewards you in the most satisfactory ways. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than getting stomped by a Diablos, carving up pieces of it, crafting armor out of it, and then coming back to trounce it. This system of rewarding a player’s time is what many time-intensive games desire to accomplish but often fail at.
Adding an increased value to Monster Hunter World’s long list is the ability to group up with up to three other friends online. But this feature doesn’t come without a few hiccups.
Joining an online session with random people is fairly painless. Capcom included several parameters in which you can create or join an online session. However, trying to match with friends is a pain unless you manually join their session or invite them to yours. Creating a guild is a much better option because it allows you to populate the session only with people in a specific guild.
Players are able to create guild cards to send to other players, which result in hilarious poses and chances to show off. It translates into Monster Hunter World being as inviting as possible to any player willing to give it the time of day. Hunting monsters may seem like a dour affair, but its actually a blast and one that is often meant to be shared, even if those monsters get a bit tougher with friendly aid.
Monster Hunter World is an incredibly fun game. It’s fun with friends, even though the matchmaking system is wonky at times. It’s fun even when you are getting your ass kicked to the point of frustration — these moments will drive you to get better. There are few games in recent memory that feel so satisfying to play while also rewarding further investment.
Though I truly wish the story and lore were more satisfying pieces to the overall package, I can’t help but think that the reception Monster Hunter World has received will drive Capcom to inject even more content and life into the series. For years, Monster Hunter eluded me because it was trapped on portable devices. I always heard tales of this series that moved PSPs in Japan and wished I had one myself so I could slay monsters on the go. However, there is no better way to get into the series than with Monster Hunter World.
Monster Hunter World was reviewed on a PS4 Pro using a copy of the game provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
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