Baby’s First Hunt: Monster Hunter World
Kalvin Martinez / Feb 13th, 2018 No Comments
Certain video games have reputations that are bigger than their own popularity. Games that inspire vitriol and fervent fanboyism often transcend playing the actual game. Monster Hunter is one of those series. It is a franchise that is beloved by its ardent supporters and immensely popular, yet it has also been written off as a mindless hack-n-slash game.
Regrettably, I’ve been guilty of being in the latter camp even though I’ve never dug into the series. But that wasn’t from lack of trying.
PS Plus gave me Monster Hunter Freedom free on PSP, daring me to try it out. I didn’t play it. I paid cash for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U. I went so far as to break the shrink wrap, place it in my Wii U, and play through the intro only to stop and never think of it again.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t get past my own Monster Hunter prejudice. However, my silly resolve has weakened in the last six months. I gave Monster Hunter Stories a shot, which was like dipping a toe into a baby pool. Then, I jumped headfirst into Monster Hunter World.
Spin a Yarn
What I loved about Monster Hunter Stories was its emphasis on character and story. A sense of place and society helps give importance to hunting monsters or, in Stories’ case, bonding with them. From the limited time I played Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, the little bit of story felt rather flimsy. It all felt like pretense to give you a hub space to go hunt monsters, which is fine if all you’re into is whacking a monster with a bigass sword. However, if you want a reason for whacking a monster with a bigass sword, you need more.
Monster Hunter World provides players with a reason for hunting down monsters. Being the fifth main game in the series, your hunter is part of the fifth fleet to make its way across the sea to the new world. As your hunter begins to get comfortable in this setting, the boat starts rolling and rocking and then capsizes when a humongous monster emerges from the deep.
Escaping from the hull of the ship, you’re thrown onto the back of Zorah Magdaros, an elder dragon covered in molten hot magma. While you try to find your footing, things go south and you get knocked out cold. Next time you wake up, you’re in the New World with an imperative: figure out where Zorah Magdaros went and help bring it down.
Though the narrative thrust is straightforward, its simplicity opens up other opportunities for depth. One way it does that is by building the history of the New World through the mention and introduction of prior fleets and how each one differed from the others. Another way is by populating the different hubs with fascinating characters that fulfill typical throwaway NPC jobs like blacksmith and cook. The cinematic approach and gorgeous graphics further bring the world to life and makes hunting feel more intense and dangerous.
How to Tame Your Dragon
While the narrative gives more purpose to the hunt, Monster Hunter World still comes down to hunters goin’ hunt. Make no mistake, if you came to this game not looking to whack monsters of various sizes with comically large weaponry then you’re going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if that is what you came for then you’re in for a treat.
When booting up Monster Hunter World for the first time, you create your own hunter with a ton of options to tailor it to your personal style. You also get to customize your own Palico, which is a cat companion that battles alongside you, heals you, and can find items for you during hunts. There are a lot of customization options for both your character and your Palico that continue with your armor and weapon choice.
The meat of the game comes from taking on missions, which mainly involve hunting monsters. However, these missions have a specific purpose relating to the overall plot. For example, you may have to clear out monsters to set up camp or kill a flying monster that is attacking an airship. Whatever monster you fight early on probably relates to your tracking down Zorah Magdaros.
Hunts are relatively straightforward. You track the monster, then attack it in hopes of killing or capturing it, and you must do all of this within a set time limit. Tracking monsters typically involves finding footprints, markings, scales or any other clue about the creature’s movement. Once you’ve locked into a monster’s trail, your scout flies will show you a path to where the monster is. And that is when the real fun begins.
Once you’ve located your prey, it is time to start hitting it with a big weapon. From the outset of the game, you can try out any weapon you want, and it is recommended that you do so because finding a playstyle to your liking is important.
Each monster goes through stages. Your first goal is to wound the creature and break off some of its body parts. Doing so weakens it and makes it more vulnerable to your attacks. Once it has taken enough damage, the monster will run away, forcing you to track it down again, but also giving you time to heal or sharpen your weapons.
Tracking the monster is easier this time. You are essentially chasing it down while continuing to deal damage to it. Eventually, it will reach its last legs, which is indicated by a skull over its icon on the mini-map. That is when you can finish it off.
While hunts are straightforward in execution, hunting monsters takes a lot of savvy. You will die easily if you fail to recognize how a monster attacks or how it becomes more aggressive as it takes damage.
Simply mashing different attack buttons won’t be enough to take down a monster. There is much more depth to combat. Players can access specific combos and ways to maximize their offense. Experimenting and learning as you go is a big reason why the game is so addictive and fun.
There are optional fetch quests that help you add more meal options at the canteen or help out botany research, but the real attraction is the hunts. Luckily, as your Hunter Rank increases, your optional quests get more difficult (i.e. hunting two monsters at the same time). You can also take on bounties as you complete quests or go on expeditions. These are secondary objectives that can be completed as you explore the world, which net you useful bonuses and experience.
Unlike missions, expeditions allow you to enter a locale and fight whatever monster that appears. It gives you the flexibility to complete bounties, hunts and anything else in that area without ever having to worry about fainting too much or running out of time. For those looking to fight monsters untethered, this is the option you’ll find yourself loving.
A Social Experience
Monster Hunter World can be played solo, and it is perfectly fine, but its social play is where the game shines. Playing with a dedicated team of hunters that you know greatly improves the experience.
In a party with fellow hunters, you’re able to organize hunts and develop strategies. You can get your team on board with completing the missions you want to take on. Comparing Monster Hunter World to Destiny is apt because they both predicate on a level grind and dedication, but any individual hunt in Monster Hunter feels more exciting than the daily grind in Destiny.
However, social play is not as strong if you don’t have a group of friends to jump in with. Random matchmaking is a crapshoot. You might get lucky and get into a room with other players doing the missions you want to complete or you could find yourself in a game where all the players are doing their own random thing without the help of others. With no guarantees on what missions will be taken on or that other players will be willing to join you on your hunt, it is easy to be unsatisfied with matchmaking.
Epiphanies are rare in video games, but playing Monster Hunter World felt like my third eye opened for the first time. Everything about it, from its presentation to its gameplay, is on point. For the first time, the appeal of the series sucked me in.
If you’ve written off Monster Hunter or you have yet to give the series a try, Monster Hunter World is the perfect place to start.
It is out now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One with the PC version coming later this fall.
tags: capcom , Monster Hunter , Monster Hunter World , opinion