Monster Hunter has always been one of my favorite series, in theory. The series' primary theme of human triumph over a hostile wilderness is intriguing. I've had an appreciation for the depth of strategy it demands of the players for years. Yes, you can go smack a dragon in the face with a hammer but you also have a wealth of tools, environmental hazards, traps, status afflictions, and element damage to account for, whenever you go into the heat of battle. Though it can feel overwhelming in the beginning when it all comes together, it feels good. In ten years of playing Monster Hunter, MH: World is the best iteration of this formula.
And still woefully mired in its bullshit.
A Beautiful Terrifying World
Monster Hunter World has an unparalleled sense of self. From the early moments of the game, there's a sense of vitality around every corner. When I was walking around the hub world, I noticed NPCs leaving and returning from expeditions, a researcher reading his book, the canteen was filled with activity. When I went into the first area, the Ancient Forrest, I was shocked when I saw a Great Jagras come crashing out of the forest, killing a Aptonoth and swallowing it fucking whole. Monster Hunter is a game of many a "what the fuck" moments. I've seen this one animation where one monster gets picked up by its scruff and thrown around over 10 tens and every time I'm just as stunned as the first time I saw it.
But the true genius is that all of these moments are not just for shock value. When you see a monster do something, it changes the way you deal with them. Once you realize there's a dam near the Rathian nest in the ancient forest, the next time you hunt her, you can get her to destroy the dam and deal massive damage when she gets washed over the ledge. Once you know the hierarchy of monster battles you can lure a weaker monster to a stronger one and watch as the stronger one beats the crap out of it for you. The unexpected outcomes, become expected and you begin to realize how things go. Every time you go out on a hunt you come back knowing more and being the better player for it. MH doesn't have player levels, your progress is measured in your knowledge and your ability to anticipate the outcome of a situation and turn that around on your prey.
Along with the environmental sounds, the music, and the stunning graphics, Monster Hunter World is a fully realized game world. One that I find myself thinking about even after I've put the controller down. It's something to be applauded and an example I can see myself holding up for years of how to make an "immersive" game world. It's mesmerizing.
And The Damn Kitchen Sink
Monster Hunter World is what some would refer to as a "feature rich" game and they ain't wrong. Capcom takes the kitchen sink approach when it comes to Monster Hunter World. Let's take weapon damage for example. In Monster Hunter there are several basic types of damage slicing, piercing, and impact damage. On top of that blunt weapons have the ability to stun monsters. There are 16 weapons each with their own types of combos and special abilities and weaknesses certain weapons. This is important because certain types of damage are more effective based on the area of the monster hit. A great sword can cut off a monster tail, for obvious reasons, a hammer can't. Aside from basic types of damage a weapon can deal one of five types of weapon damage, and they may even have a chance to poison, paralyze or put monsters to sleep.
You need to have the right weapon for the job or you'll end up at a vast disadvantage when battling fierce opponents. You can cheese your way through most of the game, I used the sword and shield for most of the story but, when I branched out into more strategic play, things immediately got easier. This is just one of a few things hunters are expected to master there are a plethora of items to craft and traps to make and materials to gather. It's interesting to get to learn all of this information and apply it in the field but to learn it you'll spend a fair bit of time in the hub world reading, and crafting, and thinking through a plan of action.
Subjectively, I am a nerd. I like strategy games and I love this kind of crap. It's how I finally fell in love with the series in 2013. But objectively, Monster Hunter World does a drunkard's stumble down the line between complexity and overly complex. A good portion of it the mechanics more tedious than fun to learn and it's a lot to expect of a player to hang in there rather than finding another more inviting game to play. But if you stick in there for a few hours, that sweet, sweet effort starts to pay off.
Finding the Fun
Monster Hunter's gameplay is cut into two halves. One is spent in the hub world, fussing with equipment, upgrading weapons, crafting, and prepping for the second half of the game, the hunting. There are ways of getting into the field one is taking on specific objectives from the quest board and the second is going on an expedition. When taking on specific objectives, you goal is to reach your goal in a set amount of time. Expeditions operate like an open swim, you can go to any one of the environments and fish, hunt, and gather your heart out without worrying about time limits.
Hunting monsters is where all of that research and fussing comes into fast-paced, satisfying actualization. Your first task is to find the trail of your target, usually tracks or skid marks, until you have enough info to track them via your helpful companions, the scoutflies. Once you find your mark, the chaos begins, and suddenly all of that information you filed away comes into play. Successful hunts require the hunter to use precision, hitting the right spots with the right weapon to deal massive bonus damage. They'll push monsters into traps, off of cliffs, and keep the monsters from gaining momentum.
The greatest thing about the combat is that it always feels as though you are fighting an uphill battle. Monsters are always at least double your size with the ability to hit you for tons of damage if you don't utilize your blocks and dodges. Combat is a defensive affair and more tactical than in most action games and it culminates in a feeling of desperation and pure adrenaline.
Old Dependable Norms
Imagine this, you are moments from dying and time is ticking away, you're facing down a gigantic monster covered the bones of his enemies and you know you have to pop a potion. You spend a few seconds tabbing through the myriad of items you've collected and you get to the potion, as you dodge the monster's advances, then it locks you into a several second animation while you drink it. If you don't finish the animation, you heal nothing. While you're doing this, the monster runs you over and you faint.
Monster Hunter has a lot of combat design choices that just aren't fun. Unless you're using the sword and shield, you can't use an item without sheathing your weapon, yes every time, and you can't sprint with your weapon out. Your weapon's sharpness degrades and you'll need to, in the middle of combat, kneel down for a several second animation to sharpen your weapon including hammers and hunting horns. If Capcom was truly aiming to make a modern feeling Monster Hunter there are quite a few systems which remain as archaic as they've ever been. Like the camera which is loose in the way Monster Hunter cameras have always been but far better now the game has found a home on consoles with two full analog sticks.
This being said, though MH: World's combat tries its very best to be anti-fun, the combat is still really good and that's a hill I'd die on. Because despite all of these quibbles, I treasure my time with MH World. I really do and it's a game I really take pride in becoming good at. Every time I learn a new trick to improve my mobility or nail a new mechanic, I get the biggest grin on my face that I can't shake. Monster Hunter makes you feel like you've accomplished something every time you take a monster down.
Some Quick Multiplayer Bits
Monster Hunter World has an obsession with multiplayer and it shows. Players can easily join their friends in killing monsters together, which is really frigging fun. It means that you can play the weapon you want because the next player over has the weapon to make up for your deficiencies and allows for more complex cooperative play. It also makes getting help easy by using "SOS flairs" to open up any mission you're on to helpful strangers.
And yet, the game once again finds a way to spite itself by arbitrarily restricting co-op to missions to only after the owner of the quest has seen all the cutscenes. And for the clan-like system, Squads, you have to be in the same online session to add your friends meaning you have to coordinate outside of the game. I love playing with my friends and it enhances the experience a great deal, I just wish Capcom hadn't, once again, made things more difficult than they have to be.
Though I've spent a fair bit of time indulging my issues with Monster Hunter World, I really do adore it. I've played 40 hours and I've had some of the most delightfully odd and endearing moments I've had playing a game in the last few years. When I've finished this review, I'm going to play more of it because I know there's far more to see than I've seen right now and that's the sign of a good ass game. It has a strong recommendation from me.
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