A New Age of Hunting Monsters
Monster Hunter World smooths over some of the rough edges while maintaining the core of what is enticing about Monster Hunter and proves that this franchise should be on console.
The appeal of Monster Hunter has always been kind of a tantalizing mystery to me. As someone who is a big fan of the Soulsborne series, I am no stranger to franchises with a bit of an initial investment cost. This is my third monster hunter game but the first one on console and (maybe more importantly) the first one I spent more than ten hours playing. I’m still a fresh eyed young’n by most veterans of the series but I have played enough to appreciate what this newest entry adds and changes.
Monster Hunter World is an iteration; even though it is a major iteration that smooths over rough edges while keeping the core intact, what appeals about it is ultimately no different than any of the other games. The satisfaction of the game comes from preparing, execution and victory (which amounts to some sweet ass armor and weapons). Broadly, the anticipation, the grand battle and the eye catching rewards. Monster hunter is like a boss rush. (Though maybe a boss “crawl” would be more accurate.) You take time to prepare for your fight by picking one of fourteen weapons and selecting from an assortment of gear and items. Then you methodically track down your target just to have it run off on you midway through the battle. You crawl towards each objective, working your way through each encounter in a game built on epic fights against giant creatures. Loosely the game breaks down into three phases that make one big loop.
Your first real choice will be choosing which of the fourteen over sized and often bizarre weapons (and myriad of sub types) in the game to bring with you into battle. You will also want to pick your armor and combat partner, a large cat known as a Palico. And yes, dressing one up in the carapace of slain foes is as fucking awesome as it sounds. The next important step will be choosing which monster you are hunting. Certain monsters are endemic to certain areas and you will have variety of quests and objectives to choose from that will see you hunting different kinds. Helpfully through the beginning of the game your story quests will have you encounter most monsters in an (roughly) ascending order of difficulty to get you acquainted with them. Then comes the feasting. every time you plan to go hunting you can go to the canteen to choose a stat buff. This handy buff is provided to you by a crew of chef cats (which is even more amazing than it sounds). It can sometimes be a bit of a chore but the boost can be the difference between victory and defeat. Finally you choose the items to bring with you that can grant a huge variety of effects from curing poison to healing, restoring stamina to increasing your attack. You tailor which items you will bring because your inventory space is limited. That said, it’s usually pretty easy to come up with a suite of items that are your staples.
Monster Hunter World greatly streamlines the majority of prepping for an encounter, which can now be done at the central hub or out in the field at your campsite. Depending on your experience with the series you may or may not be aware just how big of a deal this is. Gone are the days of accidentally forgetting to get your food buffs and being forced to sit through another loading screen, or realizing that you probably should not have brought a hunting horn to a solo Diablos fight.
Once all that is set you can start the mission; spirited away to one of the large (but scant) maps.
From the starting camp you head out searching for the tracks of a monster with your Scoutflies are a new addition. They take the form of small green lights that follow you around illuminating flora, fauna and tracks, lighting them up as you pass by. As you explore you can harvest and collect materials from around the world to use for items and equipment later. The actual fights are a tense back-and-forth of striking at opportune moments and dodging or blocking when monsters retaliate. You have to keep an eye on your health and stamina bars, and if you over play your hand you could be caught flat on your ass or taking a timeout to drink a potion (which isn’t an instant affair). Loosely there are three types of monsters: ones that are smaller and agile, ones that are big and more armored and ones that fly. Each monster has weak points like the head and tail and parts that you can break off throughout the fight. As you fight the monster, it may begin to run away forcing you to give chase. Once you land one final blow the beast will go down and you can carve it up for some parts of its hide.
Now that you have slain the beast you will be rewarded with items and money that you can use to craft new and better armor and weapons back at the hub world. Which you can use to hunt bigger and badder monsters.
So that’s the loop; in essence it’s pretty simple. So much so that it may seem odd that the game has been such walled garden in the past. What's so bad about wrecking big baddies? Well, The combat takes patience and trying to run in and swing wildly will see you dead fairly quickly and having to prepare all over again. it runs counter to a lot of gaming sensibilities especially of the prior decade. Encounters are long and the game’s pacing is a constant ebb and flow of slow moments of preparation that shift into fast paced but anticipatory action.
A big issue that carries over to Monster Hunter World is the sheer abundance of options. There are over thirty monsters to hunt in the game, each with their own patterns and nuances. The game starts you out with every weapon possible and just expects you to pick one without context. So you end up looking online at video guides to help give an inkling of what to pick (which may turn a player off right away). Test each weapon in the training room for an hour or two and pray to whatever gods you believe in that you actually understand how each one works despite not being shown. Or, pick at random and feel inevitably unhappy with your choice because you don't actually understand the nuance of how it works.
When I first started playing Monster Hunter World I was pleasantly surprised to find that it gave clear and specific tutorial windows the first time I tried to interact with most things. This was a huge improvement over previous titles which had done some of the same, but in a more limited capacity. As I progressed, windows stop showing up but many mechanics were left unexplained. The nuance of the mechanics tend to get left by the wayside and aren't even available in game if you go searching.
there is no leveling in the traditional sense. The game locks you into lower level equipment for its first half. This ends up being a blessing and curse. It allows you to focus on learning monsters rather than trying to “level up” but on the flip side makes progress feel painfully slow. As the game goes on, some of this is alleviated until you are hit with the midpoint of the game. high rank. where the game becomes far more punishing.
So why is it appealing?
Simply? Earned Satisfaction. The thing is, despite all the frustrations, when it all clicks boy does it feel good. If you can find a weapon that matches your play style and really start to figure out how to use it, you will find yourself an incredibly rewarding experience. What the game lacks in traditional leveling and “experience” it makes up for with literal experience. Understanding a monsters movements and taking down a huge behemoth twice as fast as you did before not because your numbers were bigger, but because you understood what it's tells where and how to appropriately use your weapon… it’s truly a wonderful feeling. I can't speak for you but I like to win a fight because I was skillful not because I had higher stats. Monster Hunter (and specifically Monster Hunter World) actively rewards you not just for getting the new shiny that has the omega stats, but for paying attention and honing your skills to more effectively face your foes..
What Monster Hunter World fixes
So far a lot of what's been said is true of Monster Hunter through the ages but what does Monster Hunter World do to improve from prior games?
It isn’t the first Monster Hunter game to be on console but when contrasted to the more recent titles which have been on handhelds (or restricted by them), it really shows just how much more these games can do when given the resources. Maps get maybe the biggest boon. For the first time in the series the areas aren't broken into discrete loading zones and are instead one big contiguous map. This gives the sense of the maps actually feeling alive rather than little slices of world. Watching a Rathalos soar in from the highest parts of the ancient tree (or jumping 400 feet down to stab him the face) is such an improved experience. To compensate for the increased size there are camps located around each map that can be fast traveled to at any time.
The game benefits from small Improvements all around. Mechanically there are an uncountable number of small improvements like potions being usable while moving, pivotal items like whetstones being a fixed infinite use item and stamina running out slower and no longer being used for attacks. Maybe the best is the addition of gathering materials on the fly. Gathering in past games has been a PAIN IN THE ASS. it used to be anytime you wanted to gather some honey for example you would have to stand still and collect it for a few seconds which doesn't sound so bad except you will need to do it hundreds of times throughout the game and it brings an already slowly paced game to screeching (well more of a timid moaning) halt. This time around you can just press X as you run by resources and they are instantly added to your inventory.
There are bigger over hauls too. As mentioned earlier tracking monsters is now done (and made far easier) via scoutflies. as you find tracks that a monster has made it is marked on your map. Its a change necessitated by the size and holistic approach to the maps. Along with your new glowy companions comes The Slinger. A new fancy doo-dad added to Monster Hunter world which can be used to lob various types of ammo at monsters and grapple hook on to monsters and ledges. A huge addition is of items called mantles which are little cloaks that have limited time abilities that recharge. The abilities can be huge helps in combat like having more air time or doubling your health, choosing which one to take with you is an added layer of personalization and choice in how you approach monsters.
I have heard a lot of people feared that Monster Hunter World would “westernize” or “remove what's good about Monster Hunter” by trying to streamline the game. As far as I am concerned from my time with it compared to past entries, the changes don't remove the core experience. They just get rid of things that wasted your time. Monster Hunter World has sought and for the most part succeeding and lowering the barrier to entry. The rest is up to us to decide whether we want to invest the time in it. I'm not sure I will ever truly fall in love with the series but after this go around; I think I finally get why people do.