Monster Hunter’s dedicated following will be well versed on its intricate systems and the hours of homework required to take down its myriad beasts. However, those new to the series have always found it tough going. Monster Hunter has struggled in the past to welcome new players, but Capcom is hoping to refresh its recipe with Monster Hunter: World, with the series returning to console in the hope of attracting both old stalwarts and brand new players alike. Certainly, after 10 hours it’s definitely worked its charms on me. Not a Monster Hunter fan? World could be the game to change that.
From the very start Monster Hunter: World isn’t what I expected, mainly because it opens by presenting a solid story. From afar I always assumed Monster Hunter was purely about going into the forest, killing beasts, gaining rewards – and then rinse and repeat. Muchio like Dark Souls, where a story loosely ties together hours of solid gameplay. However, World immediately puts forward a compelling story in spectacular fashion.
I didn’t expect to become so quickly hooked into a game built solely around killing giant monsters, but thanks to some beautiful cut-scenes inter-spliced with hand-held gameplay segments, I was all in and ready to slice and dice in honour of the group. On playing a brief snippet of World at a previous event, I wasn’t captured by its visuals. But it looks significantly better on the PS4 Pro; in particular, thanks to HDR. Colours pop and there’s plenty of detail on display in the terrain.
The game’s opening crash course eventually leads to Research Commission HQ, which acts as a hub where players return between hunts to stock up on items, eat food, forge or upgrade weapons and armour, and receive new quests. It’s a beautiful multi-level complex, which very clearly takes its design inspiration from pirate ships and vikings. It reminded me of the movie Hook, only missing Rufio’s douchey hairstyle flying around.
As mentioned before, previous Monster Hunters have been pretty unwelcoming, but here the Research Commission is set up to explain some of the nuances of the game to newbies. Everything you can do within this space is presented in a concise tutorial, but it’s in no way overly handholding – nor will have you hammering the ‘skip’ button in a raging fit. Players are led to each of the bays in which they can interact in a brief guide (this is the canteen, this is the smithy, and so on), before being free to explore on their own.
Interacting with each room and its various sub-menus will lead to smaller, text-based tutorials, but it’s kept to a minimum. I felt clued up within a very short space of time, while also being able to experiment to figure out what each could do to learn the capabilities.
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World manages to navigate some of the pitfalls of action RPGs by disguising some of its number-heavy systems and keeping things on a need-to-know basis. Forging new equipment, for example, is simple – what you need to either improve current or build new items, and the benefits each will bring, is clear. I was impressed by the simplicity of the user interface, even though there was still plenty of information on-screen.
I often hear from Monster Hunter fans how great the series is “after you’ve played it for about 10 hours”, and it seems that Capcom has managed to cut out that learning curve with World’s excellent opening. This is perfect, as you’re now able to get stuck into the best part of the game: the hunting.
Your handler will dish out new quests for you; speaking to her will reveal the beast you need to take down next. Speaking to other people within the Research Commission will also unlock ‘optional’ quests, such as collecting a certain amount of fauna, or killing a dozen low-level creatures – but the main hunt is where the real action lies.
Heading out on the first hunt for the Great Jagras, once again Capcom shows how it’s trying to capture new members by making it much easier to get straight into battle. Finding the trail of the beast is now much easier thanks to your trusty Scout flies. This fluorescent fliers will float ahead of you and pick up any tracks, mucus or scratches left by targets in the environment. If they’re yet to discover animal markings, they’ll find other useful items such as herbs and other healing items that you can pick up.
In time-limited missions this makes the battle much better, and it’s also helped by the clear map that’s divided into numbered zones to help find the way.
It isn’t long before the Great Jagras is found, and it all kicks off. Combat is excellent and fast-paced, and massively dictated by your choice of weapon. Throughout play I tried dual-swords, sword and shield, greatsword and other arms, and each time the battles felt drastically different. Your character’s speed, attack time, damage output – everything is affected by this choice. It keeps things interesting in every encounter.
Eventually, after much effort and plenty of healing items, the Jagras finally went down. Much like Souls games, Monster Hunter captures the thrill of a hard-fought victory. The relief that washes over you when a beast finally hits the deck is excellent. Sometimes, the battle is all your own; at other times you’ll have other people, or monsters, to thank.
World looks to build a living, breathing ecosystem into the game, meaning there will be times you’re chasing one monster, only for it to begin fighting another. In a fight against a Tobi-Kadachi, I was outmatched and on my last legs. Only my trusty Palico – your feline companion, who accompanies you on every hunt – kept me in the game by dosing me up on healing items. Suddenly, the T-Rex-like Anjanath stomped in and battered the Tobi-Kadachi, flipping the odds hugely in my favour.
It’s a great system that works even better once you learn to manipulate it. Leading monsters into each others’ paths in order to make a fight a little more interesting is great. The only downside is that there’s only a limited number of each monster within each terrain, meaning although you never know exactly what’s about to happen, there’s only so much that can.
Then, of course, there’s multiplayer, where you and up to three friends can jump in online and battle against the enemies together. Joining up with people is simple, too: posting missions to the job boards will allow anybody to join your task, or you can restrict it so that only your friends can hop in.
Multiplayer battles against monsters are as chaotic as you’d imagine, and while at first it may seem easier to take on monsters as a group – they only get increased health, with no new attacks or increased damage – completing missions can soon become tricky if the plan goes awry.
Missions are failed in multiplayer if you get three ‘faints’ across the whole group, so you better hope you work well as a team and communicate to avoid AOE attacks – or it could be curtains before you know it. Myself and three others desperately tried to take down the Anjanath, but were always swatted away. I became the weakest point of my group, and felt embarrassed by my efforts. I ran straight up to the Anjanath, naively thinking I stood a chance, but was quickly killed. Blast. I then respawned at base camp, ran back to the Anjanath, only to die with a one-hit kill again. Double blast. But it was still immense fun.
It seems that Monster Hunter: World has managed to walk both paths, appealing to hardcore fans by continuing to offer the depth of both its addictive hunting and crafting systems as well as new players by presenting all this depth in a very simple way.
I never thought I’d become a Monster Hunter fan, but I’m now a convert. Yes, there remain minor quirks that I find odd or frustrating, but overall I had much fun running around its stunning spaces and killing multiple bizarre creatures.