The Monster Hunter series has always eluded me. The density of its systems, the endless grinding, and the esoteric style have all contributed to me bouncing off every title Capcom has released to this point. Then comes Monster Hunter: World. I have been enamoured with the game and simply cannot stop playing. I don’t know exactly what it is that hooked me this time around, but I will attempt to describe my experience with the game and why I think it is a milestone for the Monster Hunter franchise.
Just as a disclaimer to all the experienced hunters out there, this review is geared towards new players. Even though I have played several hours of each Monster Hunter title, I still consider myself a new player when it comes to Monster Hunter: World. For veterans looking for minute differences between the games, there are better equipped people who can break everything down for you.
Let’s start by describing what, exactly, Monster Hunter: World is, as both a game and a genre. It is an action-RPG that tasks players with bringing down large monsters, gathering materials, and crafting gear. There are many systems at play which range from the simple, such as gardening, to the more complicated cooking mechanic, all of which contribute to the that primary focus for the player: the hunt. 1 to 4 players can participate in a hunt, with each member bringing their own weapons, armor, and skill. In some ways, the hunts play out like a quest in a conventional RPG. It takes teamwork and communication to succeed on a hunt, so cooperation is the name of the game.
Monster Hunter: World does the best job in the series of onboarding players to the various mechanics and systems of the game. However, it still does a bad job of teaching you how to actually play the game. The tutorials are there, but are mostly large walls of text which don’t teach the practicality of things like choosing the right meal before a hunt, or determining what weapons work best with the skills provided by different pieces of armor. That being said, there are many quality of life changes that help the experience be as streamlined as possible.
Gear will be the most intimidating system in the game as one can fall down a deep dark hole when it comes to equipping a hunter. With all 14 weapons available at the beginning of the game it can be difficult to chose, and some weapons are quite complicated. Thankfully, there is a training room to test out each weapon, so the first thing to do is to practice and get a feel for 1 or 2 weapons. Armor is the inverse to weapons in complexity. The early game is easy and doesn’t have too much of an impact on your hunter but late game is all about finding the right combination of gear to compliment your playstyle. Unlike previous games, Monster Hunter: World doesn’t limit a hunter’s weapon selection by armor choice, a nice change to simplify one of the more complicated systems.
A new and much appreciated addition to the game is the Hunter’s Guide; an in-game wiki of sorts that is full of useful information. It starts out empty, but quickly fills up with knowledge gained from the monsters you find on a hunt. Gathering up feathers, scales, mucous, and analysing track marks all contribute to the Hunter’s Guide entry on a specific monster. Once a certain threshold is hit, a new rank is gained and a tasty morsel of information is given about the studied monster. These can range from elemental susceptibility, weak points on the body, or specific tips on how the monster acts. I know it sounds small, but this guide makes collecting information actually interesting and the reward is teaching players how to be a better hunter.
The other addition of note is the Scoutflies. Each hunter in Monster Hunter: World is equipped with a cask of glow bugs that help track down monsters. The scoutflies pick up on scents fed to them from the previously mentioned clues you find around the map, and then provide a breadcrumb trail to the monster. Gone are the days of painting a monster and trying to track it across three zones all strung together by loading screens. It may seem like a small change but it saves so much time, especially for new hunters like myself who can get lost in the large maps. Tracking is fun, and contributes so much to the anticipation of the hunt; a feeling which is rare in games and I haven’t seen emulated anywhere else.
My favorite take away from the game has to be the living and breathing ecosystems in Monster Hunter: World. Level design doesn’t even begin to describe what goes into these maps, as they take into account far more than ledges to climb and the layout of the land. The environments are all extremely different, but are all full of life and ready to explore. Each requires varying amounts of preparation where gear loadouts specific to the region can be paramount to survival. The monsters are not always the only threat here; sometimes the environment itself is a danger to your hunter.
Within these wonderfully large maps, the creatures act on their own. Without hunter interference, the interactions between all of the organisms is beautiful. The Atropos drinking from a stream is peaceful and serene, until a Great Jagras swallows a young one whole. It is akin to watching an episode of Planet Earth, see the example below:
One of the more breathtaking encounters I witnessed was an Anjanath having a turf war with a Great Jaggras. As the Anjanath took the upper hand and tossed the Jaggras to the ground with its jaws a giant wyvern named Rathalos swooped in and snatched the Anjanath up in its claws. It was a devastating sight, but a perfect example of how the ecosystem is alive in Monster Hunter: World.
The core gameplay loop of Monster Hunter: World consists of three main tasks that you’ll be repeating over and over: track, hunt, and craft. Grinding is often the word used to describe this kind of repetition, but it is more than that here. Repeating hunts is necessary to get materials to craft specific gear, but more importantly, it provides the opportunity to study the land and the monsters. It is to the benefit of the player to repeatedly head into unfamiliar territory to learn shortcuts, speedy traversal, and environmental traps. Armed with that knowledge, the player must then watch and engage the monsters to learn their mannerisms, patterns, and attacks. This doesn’t come from a single foray into the wilderness, but from venturing out multiple times. It is the natural flow of the hunt; the feedback loop Monster Hunter is built upon.
Some of the appeal of Monster Hunter stems from player agency. The game allows players to set their own goals and decide where they go and what they do. Sure, the story mode is there, but it acts as a set of training wheels, easing the player into the Monster Hunter ethos. Hunt. Craft. Repeat. Those are the rules, but the rest is up to you. In designing Monster Hunter: World (and every other Monster Hunter) in this way, it brings longevity to the game. There is no raid to gear towards, but simply the goals you set for yourself each time you log in, which is why people will continue to play years after release.
Monster Hunter: World isn’t perfect, but it has the recipe for captivating a widespread audience. It is odd for a longstanding series to go this long without a resounding success outside of its core demographic, especially since Capcom hasn’t really changed the main crux of the game. The quality of life changes go a long way for both veterans and new players, making it easier to get in and learn how the intricacies of the game work, and fewer friction points lead to less players bouncing off. If you have been watching Monster Hunter from the sidelines, curious as to why people are obsessed with the franchise, then this is the perfect time to get in. You will be surrounded by helpful veterans and new hunters, like myself, who are ready to foray into the New World.
Now in true co-op fashion I’m going to turn it over to a partner hunter, Jason Love, who has a nice perspective on the co-operative experience through some great anecdotal examples.
The Co-Op Experience
When Left 4 Dead arrived in 2008, much of what I heard around that game, and experienced for myself, were the stories. Those moments when one player pulled the crew out of a dire situation, or when your whole squad successfully fought off a horde of regular and special zombies without a casualty, elevated the title to something more than the first-person zombie shooter premise belied. As I’ve put more time into Monster Hunter: World and gone on more and more hunts with friends, I can’t help but feel the same is true here.
While it’s true that when compared to previous titles in the Monster Hunter franchise, World is the most accessible and easiest to get into for newcomers, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still issues and confusing design decisions. For instance, you can create a “Squad” (a kind of dedicated online lobby) for you and up to 15 of your friends. While missions max out at four players total, this allows you to create a space with a bunch of people you know so you can have a regular/dedicated playgroup. The catch, though, is that only the person who created the Squad can invite people into it and if they’re not online/around, then your mutual friend can’t get into the Squad and easily join the mission you just posted. They can join if you fire an “SOS Flare” in the middle of the mission, but that also opens things up to players around the world and there’s no guarantee your friend will find your particular mission in time before it gets filled up.
There’s also the utterly confusing way that the story (aka “Assigned”) missions are handled. Two players at the exact same point in the story with the exact same objective cannot play the mission together until either A) one player completes the mission on their own, or B) both players fail the mission and can then join up. Even in the first case, players can’t team up right away as the hosting player has to advance to a certain point in the mission and see all the cutscenes before it opens up to others. Finally, the “free-roam” areas (Expeditions) that allow players to explore one of the main mission areas do not have an option to just hop in with a friend. The most reliable method we’ve found to group up for these is to do an easy Optional or Investigation mission in that area, and then choose “Go to Camp” once the mission is done. It’s not intuitive or sensible, and at times it feels like it actively discourages co-op play with your friends.
During one of our first streams of the game, Mike and I saw a difficult monster enter the area, the Rathalos. Neither of us had been playing for long and definitely did not have gear that would be good for taking down a threat like that, but we both decided, “what the hell” and went after it. We died a bunch, but we also laughed, whooped, and hollered through it all. We had a blast doing a silly/dumb thing.
A few nights ago, Locke and I wanted a challenge and decided to go after another difficult foe, the Diablos. It took us the better part of an hour to finally get one to appear (it was a lot of hopping into, cancelling, and then re-accepting an easy optional mission), and then it was an intense 25 minute battle. We were luring the Diablos into rock columns to temporarily stun it, scrambling up ledges so we could hop onto its back and bring it down, and trying to time our use of special items in key moments when it meant life or death for one another. It was incredible.
In our most recent “Let’s Play Co-Op” stream, we closed things out by going after the one monster that I despise the most, the Odogaron. My first (and solo) encounter with this creature was a long, unpleasant fight that I had no desire to repeat anytime soon. Tackling that same beast with Locke and Mike, though, proved to be a completely different experience. Early on in the hunt, the Odogaron got into it with another monster, the paralyzing Great Girros (and its lesser Girros brood). We knocked the Odogaron down and just as we were closing in to unleash our deadliest combos, the Girros, which were just hanging around at the periphery up to that point, swarmed it. I stopped mid-combo to just watch them repeatedly bite and attack this much larger beast, and couldn’t help but think of nature footage I’ve seen of animals in our world acting in a similar fashion. A more threatening predator on the food chain is in a weakened state so the lesser predators take advantage of that opportunity.
Eventually, they inflicted the Odogaron with paralysis, thereby leaving it vulnerable to even more of our assault. Once it recovered from the ailment, the Girros scattered and lurked just outside the main fracas, waiting to see if they would have an opportunity to strike once more. They would undoubtedly attack us if we strayed too far from one another or the Odogaron, but for now, we were allies. It’s an experience I’ve not had in a video game in a long time, it cemented in my head that, despite its many flaws, Monster Hunter: World is not only an incredible co-op title, but an incredible game on the whole.
Like Locke, this isn't my first Monster Hunter game, but so far, it's the only one that's snagged me. For me, it has less to do with the decreased barrier to entry than it does with the fact that Monster Hunter: World is in the gaming zeitgeist. Previous games were either on consoles with limited online functionality or portable games that were primarily geared towards the kind of ad-hoc play that Japanese PSP owners enjoyed during their train rides.
The mere fact that I have my entire friends list on PS4 playing Monster Hunter at the moment gives me ample opportunity to get a crew together and hunt!
As someone who has played a few of these before, the quality of life changes are super nice. The lack of loading barriers between areas on the map is a huge one, as are the Scoutflies that help you track your prey. Whetstones becoming an unlimited use item is a wonderful change as well. Basically, anything that reduces the collection grind and ups the ability to play with friends is A-OK in my book.