A Hunt Worth Going On
This generation, entries in long-standing franchises like Final Fantasy and DOOM wants to appeal to seasoned players while opening themselves up to newer ones. This isn’t explicitly stated every time Monster Hunter: World is booted up, but the trend is apparent in the mix of traditional and streamlined game mechanics and a neutered difficulty. Does the newest title live up to the franchise’s high standards, or did these accessibility tweaks ruin the core gameplay that made Monster Hunter a cult hit?
This series has always been about exploring vibrant worlds and finding out all you can about the different monsters inhabiting them. For each hunt, up to four players team up to track, fight and capture a specific creature. This core gameplay loop has hooked players for over a decade.
The game starts with an in-depth character creator before sending you off to the New World. As a member of the Fifth Fleet, you are the latest team in a decades-long expedition to document the monsters of the continent. On the way over, your ship is attacked by an incredible monster: the Elder Dragon Zorah Magdaros.
Upon being rescued by the Expedition, you're ordered to explore the surrounding lands and figure out why Zorah and the other Elder Dragons migrate to the new world every ten years. The plot is World's weakest point, but you’ll be too busy fighting monsters to care too much.
Every battle in this game is a treat. From the small-but-vicious Kula-Ya-Ku to the towering Diablos, you're sure to have a story to share regardless of the fight. My first introduction to the Bazelguese was during an Anjanath battle. While dodging around the oversized T-Rex's fire breath, I saw a giant hawk-like shadow fall over us from the sky. Next thing I knew, explosive scales were raining down on both of us, sending us scrambling before the giant bird landed. It chose to ignore me completely, only to slam into the Anjanath and send it flying like the thing only weighed a few pounds.
Running away wasn’t an option, as each mission only gives you 50 minutes to hunt. I was using the Insect Glaive, a weapon which allows me to leap into the air and “mount” monsters before knocking them down for extra damage. I used this to dodge between the two and do my fair share of harm before the Bazelguese retreated, leaving the weakened Anjanath for me to finish off.
Monsters are unpredictable and will switch up their attacks on the fly. Sometimes, it looks like they're running away from you. As you give chase, they'll suddenly turn backward and charge, possibly even killing you in one hit. Some attacks don't have tells, while others provide you with plenty of room to prepare.
Fortunately, World provides players with a variety of tools to take on these monsters. Traps, bombs, and buffs need to be carefully considered before each outing. Any given run through a map will provide you with tons of crafting materials to merge into one of nearly 100 items. Alongside you is your Palico, a miniaturized cat that fights, gathers items, and heals you mid-battle. I couldn't tell you the number of times she threw me a healing item when I was stunned and seconds away from death or distracted a Rathian before it swung its poisonous tail at me.
Setting up traps and luring creatures in by pissing them off is exhilarating and my favorite way to pile on the damage. Using a flash pod to stun an Ogodaron so I can leap on top of it never loses its thrill, and lining up bombs around a sleeping Rathalos to blow its armor off is an entirely viable strategy. You're only as limited as your imagination.
On top of these buffs, each monster has specific strengths and weaknesses that reveal themselves as you fight and track them. As you experiment, you’ll learn more about which of the 14 weapon loadouts are best to use, leading to a Witcher 3 level of preparation for each hunt. You can either trap or kill a monster. Either way, you’ll get a heap of their parts to meld into different armor and weapon sets.
Improving your gear is addicting. Your character doesn't have skill trees nor do they level up in any way. Instead, you are only as strong as your loadout. I have pushed off doing main missions just to hunt the same monster to get that final scale to forge a new weapon. Nearly every monster has an upgrade tree for all 14 weapons, not to mention their respective armor pieces as well.
Different armor sets come with different elemental resistances. If I’m having a tough time with the Tobi-Kadachi’s thunder attacks, it will help for me to switch from my fire resistant Anjanath set over to the lightning resistant Barroth armor instead. Each piece of gear stands out from the others, clearly representing which monster you beat to craft it. It’s hard to resist building a set for every encounter, and players can spend hundreds of hours fleshing out their armor collections alone.
Monster Hunter: World’s gameplay is an outstanding accomplishment in many ways. It takes a long-running franchise known for being hard to grasp and opens it up to a new audience, while still having enough complexity for long-time fans. It successfully introduces new ways to play that blend well with the series’ traditional mechanics.
On top of all this, there is one more significant reason for praise. In an industry at war with itself in providing the largest game possible with the most to do, games are rife with microtransactions and other ways to take money from its players, Monster Hunter: World ignores all of these trends. It focuses on precisely one thing: hunting monsters, and it does so incredibly well. There are no optional-but-not-really side games or tacked on features to artificially extend playtime.
That’s not to say the game is lacking in content. The lengthy main story could take anywhere from 30-60 hours depending on how much side content you tackle. There is an endgame to rival most MMO’s, with tougher and multicolored versions of monsters to discover for your guidebook, an arena with multi-creature challenges, and months of free DLC planned for later this year. Every piece of content in this game contributes to you getting better at fighting monsters, and that is something worth taking note of.
World isn't perfect, however. Though it has some stunning locales - the multi-layered ancient forest and gorgeously oversaturated coral reef being my favorites - they can be overly challenging to maneuver. I spent nearly as much time battling monsters as I did figuring out which layer of the area they're currently on. This is the first Monster Hunter game to focus on verticality, leading to more complex levels than ever before. While this leads to a more visually appealing game, it doesn't always lend itself well to fighting giant monsters.
Creatures often clip through floors, making it harder to hit them. When chasing after a fleeing monster, it isn’t always clear how to get to their new destination. I’m sometimes forced to run a long way around an obstacle to get to a higher layer when a Rathian flies away. Some players may prefer these elongated hunts, but when I’m crunched for time in a mission, I’d prefer to be spending those last precious minutes fighting instead of running.
This is helped in part by scout flies, World’s replacement of the traditional paintball trackers. These creatures will show you the way to monsters as you find their tracks and other markings. In theory, they should provide a simple way to keep track of the beast you’re fighting. In reality, they often bug out and lead you away from the monster, or on a more convoluted path to get there.
Also, I can't help but feel the game is too easy in the beginning. I've had multiple friends hype up Monster Hunter's difficulty, though I found myself winning most fights with little effort. It wasn't until the endgame where I was met with a challenge, and I don't feel that the game prepares you enough for it. I went from beating missions in ten minutes to suddenly taking fourty to beat them. Monsters I could take multiple hits from were now killing me in one hit. These changes happened with almost no build-up, and it was somewhat off-putting. When I'm beating most missions in ten minutes with no deaths, and then suddenly dying from one-hit attacks and hitting forty minutes of the fifty-minute time frame, I figure there would be some build-up between that.
Multiplayer, a longtime staple of the series, is frustrating to start up. Whenever I want to join a friend's session, I'm forced to go back to the main menu to get in. For some reason, World doesn't save while accepting an invite. If I haphazardly hit accept before saving, I can lose hours of progress. Story missions must always be started solo, and cannot be joined until the in-game player views all of the cutscenes, even if they’ve done the previous mission. There were multiple nights of trying to set a game up with friends that ended with us playing separately while in party chat due to these frustrations.
That said, if you can get your full crew on a mission, you're in for a treat of a co-op experience. You can have one friend with the Insect Glaive and task them with consistently mounting monsters. Another friend can rain fire from afar with the Bowgun, while a third can be attacking its legs with their Switch Axe. Blending your strengths to cater to a monster's weaknesses will almost always lead to a satisfying victory.
Playing on Xbox One, I experienced sub-30 frame rates on a regular basis, with the occasional spike to 60. In the hub areas, there was constant frame tearing and random flashes of color every few seconds, though this thankfully never carried over into the hunting areas. In-game, edges are blurry and lead to a gross haze one must view the world through, though cutscenes receive a graphical upgrade.
Friends reported better frames and slightly better visuals on the One S, while the One X and PS4 version allows players to choose between prioritizing performance, graphics, or resolution. Based on reports, the standard PS4's average stays closer to 30 than the standard Xbox. Xbox One is the least optimal way to play, but the experience is more than worth putting up with these issues.
With most recent entries landing on portables, the leap to consoles could have proved fatal for the Monster Hunter series. Changes had to be made, and there was the risk of alienating the original fanbase in favor of the mainstream crowd. While it isn't flawless, Capcom handled the transition with grace. Not only did the team successfully open the franchise to newer audiences, but they did so in a way that older fans can appreciate. By bucking most modern trends and keeping the gameplay first, Capcom released a title worthy of Game of the Year discussion, and one you won't want to pass up.
Our Monster Hunter: World review was conducted on Xbox One with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4, and a PC version is currently in development.
- Incredibly Fleshed Out Gameplay
- Heaps of Content
- Wide Variety of Monsters
- Frustrating Multiplayer
- Lackluster Story
- Spikes in Difficulty