Monster Hunter: World seems hyper-aware that it’s toeing a fine line between satisfying long-time, dedicated Hunters and accommodating players like myself that are completely new to its beastly challenges. As your Hunter enters the New World, so too does the series, and while I can’t speak to past iterations, it largely succeeds in every way imaginable.
Monster Hunter is one of those series with a reputation for being opaque and impenetrable to new players, and the remnants of these issues can be found scattered here and there in World’s quest-giving systems and in some of its late-game tasks. But many of the issues that we complained about in previous Monster Hunter reviews seem to have been wholly rectified without sacrificing the challenge and depth that longtime fans seem to appreciate.
At this point, I’m going to stop comparing Monster Hunter: World to its predecessors, because my perspective is as one of those coveted new Hunters to whom World seems to be appealing, and Monster Hunter: World—besides being the next Monster Hunter game—is simply a deep, addictive action-RPG experience that takes place amidst a lush, imaginative world.
The story is fairly simple. You play as a Hunter and a member the Fifth Fleet of hunters, handlers, and scholars that is embarking on a journey to a New World so that you can gain knowledge for the illustrious Guild. But on your way to the New World, your ship is sidelined by a mountainous, magmic elder dragon named Zorah Magdaros who has no business hanging out around these parts. Zorah Magdaros’ arrival means a complete disruption of the local ecosystem, and it’s the Fifth Fleet’s job to not only find out what those disruptions are and why they’re happening, but to restore the monster food chain to its normal, sustainable system.
The story might not be particularly deep, and the only semblance of character development you’ll see is the level of gear your player-created Hunter forges. However, it’s kind of refreshing to play a game in which you’re fighting monsters that aren’t necessarily evil. What these monsters symbolize is nature, and hunting them is the same as culling deer. Of course, there are elements of the timeless world-saving trope thrown in there to give the narrative a simulation of having actual stakes, but the main focus is on the thrill of discovery and knowledge, uncovering more and more information about each of the dozens upon dozens of species found in the New World, information you can then use to craft more powerful, cooler-looking gear.
What Monster Hunter: World’s narrative doesn’t lack is length or an escalation in difficulty. Monster Hunter: World’s main story took me about 55 hours to complete, and that accounts for only pausing to complete a couple of side quests that helped me level up my gear. I wouldn’t recommend plowing through the main missions, however, as taking down the last three or four monsters required an almost inhuman amount of effort with the somewhat powerful but still limited equipment and resources I’d acquired by that point. The best way to experience Monster Hunter: World is to take your time, grind some monsters, level up your gear, and simply explore the game’s richly detailed and intricate locations.
Earning better gear and carving out your own narrative is at the heart of Monster Hunter: World. I’m a sucker for good character customization, and not only can you create your ideal hunter, but you can also customize your Palico, an often bipedal feline helper that will aid you during your hunts by attacking the monsters with you and providing you with health items and other useful, potentially life-saving tools. The specificity and flexibility of the character creator—for both my Hunter and my Palico—solidified an instant personal connection between myself and my avatar, so much so that I was a little disappointed there was no real way for me to interact with my Palico other than asking him for help. Either way, the character creator alone, coupled with the charm in the animation, gave me enough motivation to hunt monsters, because I felt like my characters deserve the best gear in the game.
And you’ll be hunting a ton of monsters. Besides the 25 main story missions, there are an almost innumerable amount of side quests you can take on. Some of these are semi-narrative optional quests that you’ll receive from NPCs around World’s central tradeyard (which you can also repeat anytime you’d like), but the vast majority of these side quests are investigations that you can choose to accept or ignore. Not only will these investigations net you whatever materials you’d usually get from slaying or capturing a particular monster, but completing them will also reward you with bonus materials that you won’t earn in the main or optional quests. Investigations can be repeated a limited number of times, but there are so many investigations that you won’t run out of opportunities to hunt a particular monster whose claws you need to level up your weapon or your armor.
The entire point of hunting monsters boils down to forging and upgrading new and better gear that will allow you to more efficiently hunt more difficult monsters. Different types of armor stitched together from the remains of different types of monsters will defend you against different elements like thunder, water, ice, fire, and dragon, and different types of weapons are more effective against different monsters whose weaknesses you’ll discover as you fight them and search for clues about them. You could technically compare Monster Hunter: World’s gameplay loop to something like Destiny, but where you can blink and miss Destiny 2’s main campaign, Monster Hunter: World’s main story takes time, giving you ample opportunity to get lost investigating and hunting monsters on your way to taking down the final, most powerful monster.
Thankfully, the monsters themselves are incredibly satisfying to hunt. Early on, the fights between you and the thirty-odd large monsters in the game are battles of attrition against gigantic, beautifully designed, imaginative beasts. The challenge in the hunt is two-fold: not only do you need to learn the monsters’ attack patterns and figure out the time to strike, but you also need to master the weapon you’ve chosen out of the fourteen base weapon types. These range from katana-like long swords to gunlances (i.e. lances that also fire off charges) to bowguns, which require their own considerations like which ammo they can use and how fast and accurately they can fire. Each of these fourteen weapon types will completely change the way you approach fights and adds a level of experimentation and longevity to hunts that will give you enough motivation to keep playing long after you’ve finished the main story.
Aside from the uniqueness of the weapons, combat is the one area where Monster Hunter: World might earn its reputation. If you’re expecting a fluid, responsive experience, you need to change your expectations right now. Melee combat requires precision and patience, even going so far as to not allow you to change directions in the middle of a combo. Likewise, you can lock the camera to monster, but that doesn’t mean your character will automatically swing at the monster: you have to line up the hits yourself. If Monster Hunter: World wants to appeal to a more mainstream audience, it’s certainly not following the trend of pretty much every action-RPG out there. Even The Surge, despite its other shortcomings, had the decency to lock on to its enemies for you. Of course, Monster Hunter players will be used to the series’ style of combat by now, and many new players will surely find the high level of preparation and weapon mastery necessary to make it through the game refreshing. And, when it’s all said and done, if melee isn’t your thing, you can simply head out with a light bowgun like I did for most of my playthrough, which felt a lot more fun even if I wasn’t maximizing my damage output.
Another thing that makes hunting monsters so fun are the environments themselves. All told, there are five main areas where you will be hunting monsters, each with their own visual themes and interactive, environmental traps that you can use to turn the tide of the battle. Capcom has made much ado about Monster Hunter: World’s new, seamless worlds, but if you hadn’t played a Monster Hunter game before, you might be confused. While each of the five main areas (plus the two hub worlds) are self-contained, transitioning between the dozen or so zones within each of those areas is a seamless process. For modern players, this would seem like a no-brainer, and luckily Capcom figured it out, because each of the environments are lushly and thematically detailed and as imaginative as the monsters themselves. The Ancient Forest, for example, feels like a scene straight out of The Lost World, while the Elder Recess shimmers with crystals and lava. Each of these areas will house monsters that seem to have naturally evolved there, and the rest of the lifeforms seem just as organic. Monster Hunter: World does a great job at approximating nature, especially when two giant monsters cross paths, leading to epic territorial battles that can either help you on a hunt or create some unwanted attention.
I took on the majority of the monsters I hunted solo, but multiplayer is another way that Monster Hunter: World keeps things fresh. In fact, some of the weapon types seem specifically geared towards a more cooperative playthrough, like a bagpipe that doubles as a heavy weapon and as an instrument whose notes will buff you and your hunting group. Joining up with a squad is a process that takes several steps, but it’s easy enough on investigations and optional missions: just visit a quest board, post a quest, invite your friends to that quest, and depart together (as long as your friends are at or above your current Hunter Rank).
Story missions, however, are a little trickier. You can play story missions together, but in most cases friends won’t be able to join you until after the last cutscene of a story mission ends, which is usually when a new monster appears on the scene. Expeditions (i.e. free roam) are equally annoying to embark on with a friend. The only time I went on a cooperative expedition felt like a fluke rather than a feature. I basically had to trick the game into letting my buddy join me on an expedition by firing an SOS flare (which any player can respond to) and then hoping my friend could find my flare on the quest board. To be fair, the whole point of expeditions is basically to give yourself time to pick up plants and mine mineral ores, so there’s no real reason to have a friend with you for that. Slaying monsters seems impossible during expeditions, as they’ll simply run away, but the annoying thing about that is the game never even attempts to explain this rule. It’s almost as if the open-world nature of Monster Hunter: World and it’s cooperative multiplayer—you know, the two things that would appeal most to newcomers—are not endemic to the very DNA of the series, and it’s in these instances where Monster Hunter’s reputation for perplexity carries over to World.
If you’re not playing with friends, multiplayer can be a bit of a mixed bag, at least in my experience. If you want to play with other people on your server, you can choose to either actively join a random, non-password protected player’s quest or allow other players to join your quest. The tradeoff with multiplayer is that, ideally, you can slay more monsters in a shorter amount of time in exchange for a cut of the currency you earn, but each time one of your squadmates falls in battle, your reward is lessened, and if your party dies a total of three times, you’ll fail most missions, whether it’s your fault or not. My experience was mostly positive, but that could be because the only other players on the server were other game journalists who tend not to troll and are pretty good at communicating. Even then, a few of the other players that joined my quests ended up costing me a good chunk of change through their own carelessness. Playing with strangers has even more potential to be a mixed bag, but taking on giant monsters with a group of four is exhilarating and hilarious nonetheless.
When you aren’t hunting monsters solo or co-operatively, you’ll most likely be hanging out in New World’s main hub, Astera. This is where you’ll upgrade gear, stock up on supplies, eat some food, and generally prepare for your next quest. There are a ton of different NPCs to visit each time you return to Astera, whether it’s the botanist that will harvest craftable materials for you or a seafarer that will bring supplies from the Old World. While the amount of different consumable and craftable materials might seem overwhelming at first, Astera doesn’t seem to live up to Monster Hunter’s reputation as incomprehensible. Sure, it’s a lot to learn, but the game gives you enough information to make the right decisions. There are also two types of currency—zenny and research points—which you can sometimes use to purchase the same things (like meals at the canteen, which are a must before every hunt), but for the most part you’ll spend the different currencies on specific, separate items. Besides, if you get lost, Monster Hunter: World has an elegant solution for tutorials: show them once, and then make them accessible through the options menu. It’s all much more intuitive than Monster Hunter’s reputation led me to expect, which can be said for most of the game.
Monster Hunter: World succeeds (for the most part) at making its series’ formula easily accessible to newcomers, but it’s a deep, immersive, and addictive experience that should surely appeal to longtime fans, too. Even after playing the game for over fifty hours, there’s more gear I want to earn, more weapons I want to upgrade, more monsters I want to hunt. Those who are willing to take the time to learn its mechanics and systems will be rewarded with hundreds of hours of intense battles and the satisfaction of having the best stuff.
Monster Hunter: World has found a way to lower its barrier of entry for newcomers while still delivering an immersive experience that long-time fans of the series crave. The combat has a bit of a learning curve, and multiplayer could use a few tweaks, but no matter your experience level with the series, this will be time well spent for all hunters ready to pick up a sword, bowgun, or gunlance.
T – Teen
|Monster Hunter: World is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Code/hardware was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|