The latest instalment in the much acclaimed Monster Hunter series is a joy to behold, and benefits greatly from excellent design, intelligent marketing and fortuitous timing to deliver one of the most well-rounded loot cycles gaming has ever seen.
Monster Hunter: World is a RPG in which you hunt monsters and unlock the secrets of mysterious beasts called the Elder Dragons. Nothing crazy complicated. Utilizing a third person camera, and borrowing a lot of features veterans of games like Dark Souls and Bloodbourne will recognise, Monster Hunter: World garnered a lot of sideways glances and apprehensive stares in the run up to launch, particularly as a result of its comparison to both of Capcom’s other ‘hunting games.’ But what sets MH:W apart is its vibrant colours, lovable sidekicks and of course, the monsters themselves.
Unlike the drab grayscale palette that’s used to contrast the crimson red blood in Bloodbourne and the creepy, slow methodical march to your demise that is Dark Souls, Monster Hunter: World is bursting with life and each of its five distinct zones lends itself beautifully to the combat system which has you chasing, and in some cases being chased, around the map to bring down your target.
World is set to be the Monster Hunter game that really makes a dent in the Western market, and it was in fact, the first MH game I’d played. I knew of the series before hand, but its predominantly handheld format in prior incarnations was a real put off for me. To be honest, I like my handheld gaming to be Pokémon and Fire Emblem-esque, with turn based combat where I can take pauses to check on the outside world, as opposed to console and PC gaming which I find more immersive. This instalment – the first of which to come to PS4 and Xbox One – was the perfect chance for me to jump on board.
For those new to the series, Monster Hunter has a well-established fan base and community, and it’s clear from seeing the feedback from said community during the three Beta releases that the developers have gone to great lengths to make the franchise more accessible for first timers and Westerners – a popular concept in the past few years, one trialed by Final Fantasy XV in 2016 if I’m not mistaken. A few of the helpful additions include new tutorials, a training room to help test out weapons and a change up to the multiplayer drop-in / drop-out to bring it in line with other titles on this generation of hardware. It’s all a really nice touch, and while I found parts of it a little over-explained, I’d prefer this than the alternative as it means fewer complaints in the long run.
Of course, the best part of the Monster Hunter experience is actually going out and hunting. It’s a tried and tested formula the game has refined since 2004 and one that is staggeringly simple and unmistakably enthralling. As a new player takes their first tentative steps in the Ancient Forest they begin collecting clues from footprints, saliva, mucus or entrails – all signs that a monster had passed by. All of which leads to the eventual showdown with what the game calls ‘Large Monsters.’ One thing I did notice as I ducked through expertly rendered foliage and climbed tendrils and walls of ivy, was that this build up didn’t feel quite in the same way that a ‘normal’ run up to a boss fight feels. The environment is open, inviting and always has hidden nooks for you to explore, as opposed to oppressive corridors and transparently linear walkways that usually lead up to the hall or area the big bad awaits you in. However, these Monsters aren’t to be underestimated. All this scenery does is lead you into a bit of a false sense of security with the combination of realistic environments and believable creatures. MH:W might as well have been a David Attenborough documentary set in a parallel universe wherein evolution took a slightly different path. I’ll admit, it was a beautiful change to what I’ve been used too. It’s very plausible that if evolution had gone a different way that we could have creatures like the Anjanath and Jagras on Earth today, particularly compared to some of the terrifying – and frankly super weird – creatures that usually star in these sort of games. Maybe that’s just because I went into this straight after playing Persona 5…
Which brings us to combat. Yes, it’s a little clunky, and sometimes the best way to do damage is to actually put away your weapon, but it works. It’s clever, intuitive and forces you to think outside of the rather primitive ‘me hunter, me smash with axe’ mentality that it could have and instead focus on status aliments, element match ups and environmental hazards like poison pods, boulders and other monsters. In fact, the biggest issues I have with the combat in this game are often of my own making. What Monster Hunter‘s combat really tests is your patience. If fights are taking too long and you’re not doing enough damage, it’s mostly because you didn’t farm enough parts to upgrade your weapon, or use a consumable item, or eat at the canteen before you left for the hunt. Yes, there are some odd times where you have to REALLY work for your kill, but that’s part of the game’s charm. Every time you bring one of these things down you feel like you’ve achieved something, and the game is never stingy with loot. Sure, there’s an element of RNG involved but if you know what you’re specifically after, say a mane, you can smash the monster in the head to increase the chances of that dropping. Even in the high ranked ‘intermediate’ part of the game which I’m in now, I’m mostly getting the parts I need after killing a monster three or four times, so while there is an element of grinding, it doesn’t border on tedious. At least, not yet.
However, I don’t want to tangle up my admiration of the game’s combat and loot system for a lack of difficulty, the enemy scaling is done exceptionally well, and you will get firmly squashed if you don’t keep pace and upgrade your gear as and when you can. After all, this is the core premise of the game: kill, loot, upgrade, repeat.
What is particularly attractive about Monster Hunter: World is that it feels like the perfect mid-point between regular RPGs in which you can overgear and overlevel for each encounter if you want too, and more punishing games like Dark Souls where one wrong move means your death. World won’t let you overgear, as you often need to kill something tougher to get better weapons and armour, but at the same time, you don’t need to execute the perfect boss battle like you do in a Souls game. Given that each map is a massive open environment you can actually run away if you find yourself in a sticky situation – and in some instances running away is what you are going to have to do.
In standing as the perfect middle ground between two genres (traditional fantasy RPG game and hardcore ‘R-Rated’ deathwish) comes Monster Hunter’s biggest flaw, at least for myself as a first time player: Where’s the blood? I get it, the game is a PEGI 16+, but you can literally cut the tail off a dinosaur and instead of there being blood or even a damage effect, the tail just comes off and lies on the floor like an uncooked steak in an anime. Admittedly, the target audience for MH has long been teenagers and they don’t want to mess with that market, but I do feel that a ‘gore’ switch, might be a fun DLC or a mod when this launches on PC. For the time being it’s a tiny flaw in what I’m finding to be a very enjoyable game.
Finally, I alluded to above that Monster Hunter: World enjoyed great timing, a point to which may require some explanation. 2017 was a great year for gaming, the Switch really took off and… well, VR was a thing that happened right? That was pretty much it. Keeping up with the trend, 2018’s first quarter looks really quite awful for gaming. The three big releases I had been keeping an eye on in January were Monster Hunter World, Dragonball FightersZ and Dissida Final Fantasy NT. Up next, the REMAKE of Shadow of the Colossus, the REMAKE of God of War and a the PC release of Final Fantasy XV. Can I just say that I’ve had it with remakes, come up with something new already! I’ve played enough Dragonball Z games to know that this one is going to last me about eight hours before I’m bored of the repetitive brawler nature, the Final Fantasy game is a fan service which is just a Heroes title with a different skin and I played both Colossus and God of War on PS3. Do I want to play them again? Not particularly, I still remember what happened the first time and the PS3 wasn’t that long ago. What’s next, are they going to remake F.R.I.E.N.D.S with a brand new cast? Just relax on the remakes already, give us Final Fantasy VII and then stop. #Iknowit’snotgoingtohappen
Yes, you can say that Monster Hunter is repetitive, but for me at least, it’s something new, interesting and a little bit challenging – and thankfully without the button mashing nature of a Devil May Cry game that can cause one’s hand injury to flare back up. 2018 needs to sort itself out gaming wise, but Monster Hunter doesn’t. It’s a great game to pick up for beginners to the series and I imagine the graphical upgrades and the new monsters are more than enough to entice returning fans back into the fold. It’s well-made, innovative and self sustaining. Furthermore, I expect it to prosper in a world in which people come back and play little bits of games each day. Log on for 30mins, do a hunt, then go away for a day. It’s almost like Monster Hunter: World was built for hit and run tactics both in game, and out of it.