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.