In 2018, Capcom wants you to start paying more attention to Monster Hunter. The action-RPG franchise is widely beloved in Japan, and has, for a long time, found a cult following in the west. From its debut in 2004 on home consoles to its strong presence on Nintendo handhelds in recent years, Monster Hunter found a niche western audience among those appreciate its deep crafting and distinct, repetitive gameplay — Gathering and crafting resources and stalking monsters across large levels, building anticipation for a long, drawn-out battles. The newest entry in the series, Monster Hunter: World, brings the game to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for the first time (and PC later this year), bringing the series to a bigger stage and a garnering attention from a new audience (at least in North America).
World is not as much of a sea change as outside observers might have expected, but definitely feels like a step forward. The series’ consummate depth remains, but streamlines some of its outdated action-RPG mechanics, thanks to the advantages conferred by more powerful hardware. Monster Hunter: World is the most approachable entry in the franchise, by far, and is easier to play.
By mitigating some of the grind, introducing meaningful mechanical changes, and convincing new players to stick around by getting straight into some epic battles, Monster Hunter: World emphasizes the series’ its biggest strength — the colossal showdowns.
Commence the hunt
Like its predecessors, the story in Monster Hunter: World revolves around a group of researchers and hunters striving to learn more about the giant monsters who thrive in untouched parts of the world. As a hunter in the Fifth Order of the Commission, you travel to the “New World” to help uncover the reason behind the migration of the Elder Dragons — the largest beasts known to man.
Monster Hunter: World tightens the series’ traditional gameplay loop, tightening your focus on a string of tough-as-nails boss fights. Where past games often forced players into fetch quests and other not-so-exciting errands early on, Monster Hunter: World tasks you to slay a Great Jagras — basically a massive Iguana — in your very first mission. These large-scale battles continue, largely unabated, throughout the game’s 30-40 hour campaign. World removes much of the bloat between missions, letting you embark on massive hunt after massive hunt, with little filler in between.
The basic progression of the hunt, however hasn’t changed at all. You get 50 minutes to track your prey, following footprints, drool, monster carvings, and other clues, then either slay or capture the target. These hulking creatures range from dinosaur-esque beasts to fire breathing dragons to otherwise indescribable monstrosities, each with its own set of attacks and weak points. You must heed caution when engaging these powerful targets. Their devastating attacks can send you to your grave in not time if you go in without a plan.
‘World’ carries the series’ tradition of massive boss fights, but removes the knots, letting you embark on massive hunt after massive hunt, with little filler in between.
Monster Hunter did “Soulslike” style combat before Dark Souls. Armed with one of 14 weapons — each of which demands a unique play style — you need to attack at opportune moments regardless of whether you favor light or heavy weapons. World favors deliberate slashes over button mashing, and the methodical pace of your strikes makes the moment-to-moment experience very tense, and every action consequential. You have a greater sense of control of your weapons than in previous entries thanks to more fluid animations, which eliminate much of the clunkiness that comes with animation priority based combat systems, where your character is locked into each action until he or she completes it.
The game is “Monster Hunter,” though, not “monster fighter” — Each match is a prolonged affair. Your target won’t always wait around to get beaten — Weakened monsters will scamper away several times throughout a fight, forcing you to track them down again. In the past, this process had the potential to grow tedious, but thanks to its larger, more ecologically diverse maps, this aspect of showdowns feels more valuable.
Each monster has a resting place and circles around several specific hangouts. The terrain and your surroundings come into play throughout the fight, demanding you take a different approach depending on your current locale. You can use the environment around you to your advantage, and even lure monsters into fighting each other, alleviating some of the burden from yourself.
The daunting scale of these fights creates an actual hunting experience where you actually feel as if you’re at war with a monster that should, based on size and strength, overwhelm you. Fights can last upwards of the entire time limit, but when your foe has fallen, it brings a much greater sense of accomplishment than your average action game.
Considering its challenging difficulty, Capcom has thankfully intertwined the single and multiplayer components into one experience. Each and every mission, for the first time, can be completed alone, or with a party of up to four players. If a mission goes sideways on a solo run, you can even send out an SOS to call for help from other hunters online. While designed around an always-online system, the game can be played solo offline.
World still has a steep learning curve, mainly because of the grueling length of the fights. The game initiates new players by throwing them into the thick of battle early, teaching them how to recognize patterns, conceive strategies, and then abandon them, for every monster they meet. New players will struggle, but if you’re willing to experiment, you will find your footing as you plow through the first few fights.
Something, Something… Research… New World… Something, Something
World’s more combat-forward structure does come with some strings attached. There’s a relatively fleshed-out story built around World’s campaign. While that story lends the game the look and feel of a AAA console game, it is not especially compelling unto itself.
The narrative plays out over a series of cinematics between missions, as well as through still images with unvoiced dialogue. It’s awkward, to be sure, especially since some of the story’s most pivotal moments don’t earn the proper, animated treatment they deserve. Then again, the cutscenes feature corny voice acting that doesn’t always line up with the text and rigid animations, so it may not be much of a loss.
To be fair, better cutscenes would not be enough to prop up Monster Hunter: World’s narrative. Sadly, your created character acts as an empty, nodding vessel. He or she becomes the hero of the story, but had no backstory or discerning personality. The notability of the Fifth Order remains unexplained throughout, but you wind up as the last hope. Not to mention your “Handler,” an enthusiastic young woman, believes in your abilities so unfailingly, yet the trust between the pair is never established nor earned.
For fans, at least, a poorly crafted story won’t detract from the thrill of the hunt. Monster Hunter has always been about the boss battles, and that remains true in World. The bottom line is, however, that there’s nothing wrong with tapping furiously to speed through dialogue and get back into action.
Conventional is sometimes good
While Monster Hunter’s general vibe remains, some common-sense mechanical changes make World more accessible. Most notably, and bafflingly, the switch to a home console, and a controller with dual analog sticks, means you can control the game’s camera for the first time in the series.
The drawn out, epic scale of the fights makes you feel at war with a monster that should, based on size and strength, overwhelm you.
In previous Monster Hunters, the camera was either fixed, or had a mind of their own, leading to awkward perspectives and frustrating deaths. In combat, having control of the camera completely changes the way you use some weapons. Projectile weapons, like bow and arrow and bowguns, no longer feel needlessly cumbersome. In fact, projectiles became our weapon of choice thanks to the camera fixes. It’s huge quality of life improvement that will feel like a breath of fresh air of veteran players and removes one of the series biggest longstanding barriers to entry series for new players.
There are also a litany of smaller design tweaks further strengthen World’s accessibility. You can now eat at camp mid-mission to gain stat boosts, as well as change gear. Each map has numerous camps, which serve as fast travel points to ensure you can move around the map quickly. The map tracks all of your resource discoveries to ensure that you won’t forget where you found useful goods. You’ll also actively see how much damage each attack deals, clueing you in on spots where you should aim your blows. Modern games in the genre have included some of these conveniences for years, so it’s nice to see Monster Hunter get with the times.
The hunt never ends
As always, Monster Hunter keeps on giving long after you finish the main objectives. World brims with content. Endgame objectives with gradually increasing difficulty keep opening up after the story credits roll, acting as a sort of second main course.
And for those who want to savor the campaign before getting to the real challenging stuff, there’s plenty to distract you from main objectives.
An abundance of side quests ranging from standard slaying or capture missions to scavenger hunts offer different challenges. World adds two new forms of mission, “Investigations” and “Bounties.” Unlocked gradually throughout the game, Investigations are limited-use activities that dole out bonus rewards based on difficulty. By the time you play through the campaign, you will have unlocked dozens of these, while Bounties act as secondary goals to finish while working towards a mission’s main task.
These sidequests are optional, and they feel like it: They frequently revolve around a remix of already completed missions, and are really meant for players who have completed most of the game’s other content and want to prep for World’s toughest endgame hunts.
Acquiring and leveling up all of Monster Hunter’s best weapons and gear could easily take hundreds of hours. So while the lengthy campaign will surely be enough for some players, those who relish in the grind will have more than enough to do to keep them busy for a long, long time.
Monster Hunter: World feels like the best of both worlds. It manages to be accessible to new players without compromising the deep mechanics that drew fans to it in the first place.
Even if it doesn’t always look cutting edge, World takes advantage of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hardware both in terms of its larger areas and in streamlining and refining its action RPG systems for the better. World features a nearly endless loop of hunting and grinding. Even though the story falls flat, Monster Hunter: World surpasses its predecessors by a mile.
Is there a better alternative?
No, the Monster Hunter series is a one-of-a-kind action RPG and Monster Hunter: World outclasses each entry that came before it. For those who want a deeper story with similar gameplay, Bloodborne may be a better option.
How long will it last?
The campaign took us roughly 40 hours, including a few optional quests and Investigations. With endgame missions aplenty, World, like other entries in the series, features at least a hundred hours of differentiated content, and much more for those who fall in love with it.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you like action RPGs and aren’t afraid of a challenge, Monster Hunter: World stands out and you should definitely give it a try.
Monster Hunter: World was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 retail code provided by the publisher.