There have been many series’ over the years that have failed to really connect with a western audience. From the days of Keitai Denju Telefang (Google it) all the way to the modern release of titles like Yomawari and Rhythm Heaven: The Best+, some series just don’t manage to find a decent foothold. Despite these difficulties, certain series’ just don’t want to give up the attempts. It took the Dragon Quest series years to get a major release in the West, and games like Fatal Frame keep clawing for a purchase in the industry (something of a sore spot for the series’ many hardcore fans). This is very much the position that Monster Hunter finds itself in. Despite having a huge following in Japan and a rabid cult following in the rest of the world, the series has never broken into the mainstream outside of its native country. That is something that Capcom is hoping to change with its latest entry in the series, Monster Hunter: World.
As with many games in the Monster Hunter series, you start out as a lowly hunter with only the barest of equipment and a friendly cat-person compadre, and you must slay, capture and harvest your way up the monster-murdering food chain. You are part of the Fifth Fleet, a group of monster hunters who’ve been sent to the new world in pursuit of ancient dragons who seem to be converging on the mysterious continent. Your job is to uncover the mysteries of this exotic land and figure out why these ancient creatures are so drawn to this place.
The series has a reputation for being difficult to get into, partially because it is front-loaded with new stuff to figure out and doesn’t convey much to the player, expecting them to figure most things out on their own. This is pretty apparent once you clear the amazing opening scene, after figuring out that those graphics are not even pre-rendered, and are presented with over 15 different weapons to choose from, each with their own move-sets and play-styles.
Normally, this would be the point that many players would be turned off by the overwhelming number of options available to you. Luckily, the developers have very simply and smartly figured a way around this problem. Firstly, each weapon has a rating of how easy it will be for a new player to pick up and understand, and secondly, there is a training area right next to the box where you change your weapons.
The true mark of genius is this training area. Unlike in previous series entries where you would have to journey through several areas to go out on an expedition to try out each weapon type (I’m looking at you, Monster Hunter Freedom), you can now just go through a single loading screen and go into an area to try out your new weapon. On top of all that, the game also tells you how to pull off all of the combos that are available with each weapon, meaning that you can come to grips with each play-style really quickly.
Once you’ve tangled with the different weapons on offer, and while you’re waiting for the rest of the game to install, you can explore the hub area where you’ll spend your time between quests. The game is filled with handy tutorials which pop-up the first time you interact with anything out in the world. At first this might seem like a pain for series veterans or for the more hardcore players, but they’re really non-intrusive. You can close them immediately as soon as they appear without even having to scroll through them, and then you can re-read any of the relevant tutorials in your pause menu.
The game’s graphics are also truly stunning, to the point where it wasn’t immediately clear if cutscenes had pre-rendered or they were in-game graphics. As it turns out, the graphics were in-game, and they just looked so good that it was difficult to tell. It’ll almost make you forget about the grey-brown era of gaming of the mid to late 2000s. It’s so filled with an array of vibrant colours and interesting environments.
There is an insane amount of stuff to do and learn in the home area, which is possibly why it’s one of the most thriving and alive-feeling entries to date. There is the smithy where you’ll create new weapons and armour, several merchants to buy items and tools and a variety of stations to get bonus missions and research upgrades. The research upgrades are important because they affect how much you know about the monsters you’ll be hunting and how easy they are to track out in the world.
Now we come to the real meat of the game: the hunting. You can embark on a variety of timed quests or go out on a completely free expedition to explore the world and kill some monsters. You take your weapon of choice, whatever armour set you have and a bunch of items out into the world with you and must use them all together to have a chance of not only surviving but of beating the monsters that you come across.
The creatures of the world are separated into several categories. Firstly, you have ‘Endemic Life’; these are tiny creatures that don’t pose a threat but that do have an effect on the world. You can capture these guys by using the net or fishing rod that you have by default, and they’ll make up the bulk of your bounties and delivery missions. Next up are the small monsters, these are basically creatures that you can take down without too much prep. They’ll only last a few hits or so with the right weapon before crumpling into a pile of gore. These guys usually come in packs with several of the animals traveling in groups and providing pretty common crafting materials to make weapons and armour out of. They are also a primary source of food which you can use on expeditions to keep your stamina up.
The last category and also the main event of the game are the large monsters. These are the creatures who are the main focus of most story missions and who can survive a great deal of punishment before finally going down. They’re also your main source of rare crafting components for the different advanced weapons, and they provide the biggest challenge out in the world. They can range from the size of a small elephant up to mountainous horrors who threaten to squash you in a single step. These creatures can take a great deal of preparation to defeat, and this will be where a lot of your game time will be spent.
Combat with these monsters is where the true fun of the gameplay is to be found. Once you’ve got your preferred weapon picked out and you’ve tracked down your prey, you can engage whenever you’re ready. You string combos together using triangle and circle, and you can sometimes perform special attacks depending on the weapon that you’re using. Each weapon is incredibly different, some being very slow and capable of doing massive damage but leaving you open to retaliation, while others allow you to dart in quickly, doing little damage in the process, but enabling you to get out of the way before you’re mashed by a monster’s foot. Finding your style of play is an incredibly fun and integral part of the game, and learning the advantages of your chosen weapon is vital if you hope to survive.
As well as simply swatting at your enemies, you have a couple of other tricks at your disposal. On your arm is a tool called a ‘slinger’ which fires different projectiles at enemies. These different projectiles can be found almost everywhere in the world and can produce a variety of different effects and strange interactions with specific types of monsters. You can pick up fire-based projectiles which can cause great damage to the right monster, paralysing seeds which give you a huge opportunity for uninterrupted attacking and bog-standard rocks which can be used to distract monsters or trigger certain monster behaviours. Sometimes if you get the drop on the monster, you can also land directly on them and stab them repeatedly, Shadow of the Colossus style. If you manage to do enough damage and avoid getting thrown off, then you can send the monster to their knees, offering you ample opportunity to knock off a huge chunk of the monster’s health.
The combat is thrilling, tense and exhilarating, which is aided by the monsters’ huge sizes; however, there is another facet which helps with the tension but may actually hinder the gameplay: the camera. Actually, the camera itself is not much of an issue, it is reliable enough when you’re controlling it to do what you want when you want it to and doesn’t seem to spiral out of control much. However, the lock-on system is far less than perfect. It can be very fiddly trying to lock onto a specific monster, let alone swapping between a few when others come to join in on your fun. Having said that, you don’t really need to use it, the camera is fine for tracking monsters manually, and most of the time you’ll be keeping your thumb over the right stick anyway.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 26th January 2018