Monster Hunter: World Review: A Sublime Safari

Monster Hunter: World Review: A Sublime Safari

Get ready: the next generation of Monster Hunter has finally begun.

Monster Hunter: World wants to do for Monster Hunter what Resident Evil 7 did for Capcom's venerable horror series. While it doesn't present a drastic change in format like RE7 does, World represents a drastic change in thoughtfulness. The core gameplay and loop haven't changed a lick, but Capcom performed a major overhaul on Monster Hunter's many moving parts by removing any traces of tedium held over from past installments. Monster Hunter has generally done a fine job of pruning away unnecessary elements with each sequel, but World isn't afraid to completely scrap legacy features for the sake of making the overall experience more approachable than ever before—especially for newcomers.

Why Monster Hunter Works

If you're new to the whole Monster Hunter thing, the appeal isn't hard to explain: essentially, it's a loot-focused RPG built around a series of boss fights against large (and fictional) dinosaur-type creatures. But the sheer amount of depth Capcom applies to this basic idea explains why it's so easy to sink hundreds of hours into any single Monster Hunter game. Since you'll be fighting the same creatures over and over again for the sake of building the best gear, battles involve more than mindlessly mashing buttons. Monsters each have their own specific behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses, and since you'll be attacking them with unwieldy weapons, even an action as simple as, say, swinging a ten-foot sword requires some degree of planning. Mastering each weapon is akin to mastering a fighting game character: each weapon type features multiple combos and special moves that aren't always apparent.

And "planning" is basically the name of the game in Monster Hunter. One of the reasons it's such an addictive experience can be found in how well it rewards you for thinking ahead. You not only have to think about which weapon and armor will aid you best in a hunt—you also need to keep in mind which of the many, many items available may help you fight a specific monster. But it's not just how you fight monsters; it's also where. The diverse environments of Monster Hunter offer their own advantages and disadvantages, and the complexity doesn't stop there. The area you attack on the monster in question—and the weapon you attack with—determines the loot you get, which gives you smaller objectives within the overarching one. Each (typically 5-to-30-minute) battle contains so many variables that even your third consecutive fight against the same monster can bring some new surprises.

Room to Breathe

Though they each feature their own unique content and improvements, the last two paragraphs can basically sum up the appeal of any Monster Hunter game. As a player who's been with the series for five years, I could reflect upon the many huge changes in tedious detail, but I'd likely lose anyone who doesn't share my experience—plus this review would likely drone on for 2000 extra words. That said, learning how to play Monster Hunter with past games ideally required a literal teacher due to the many unnecessary extra steps basic actions would take—steps that could easily be automated. And Monster Hunter always had a bad habit of throwing up arbitrary restrictions that could make for tedious and frustrating moments. Oh, did you forget one item you needed for this quest? Well, you better cancel the quest and go back to the hub, idiot.

After playing Monster Hunter: World for 60 hours, it's a wonder I could have ever tolerated those issues over the course of 300-400 hours of Monster Hunting. Now that they've mostly been eliminated, it's downright amazing how fresh Monster Hunter: World feels, despite being a much prettier version of a core experience I've already had several times. The most noticeable amount of streamlining can be found in how returning to the hub no longer stands as a mandatory requirement before undergoing a new quest. The areas where you do the actual hunting now feature a great deal of the functionality once limited only to the hub, like accessing your stockhold of items, equipping new weapons and armor, cooking, and signing up for new quests. And this change really speeds things up when playing with other people; instead of running around in circles in the hub until everyone is ready, you can jump right to the quest area and do all of your prep there.

This level of thoughtfulness can be seen in just about every element of Monster Hunter: World, though series veterans will definitely appreciate it more. The items needed to mine, catch insects, and sharpen your weapon—all items you had to purchase and keep on-hand in past games—now come permanently equipped to your character (and without wasting inventory space). Above all, now that the game is freed from the tiny resolution of older portables, Capcom now has the space to make visual elements much easier to read. Menus have received a complete overhaul, and crafting weapons now gives you a clearly outlined tree of possibilities so you won't have to do any outside research. In fact, Monster Hunter: World seems pretty devoted to making sure the player has little—if any—work to do outside of the game itself. World even contains what amounts to an in-game wiki that gradually unlocks everything you need to know about the monster in question, meaning you won't have to divert your eyes to another screen to pull up this basic information.

A Whole New World

The biggest change for Monster Hunter—and possibly the inspiration for its "World" subtitle—comes in the form of large, open areas replacing the segmented collection of "rooms" found in past games. Instead of running from room-to-room until you inevitably stumble upon the right monster, World now has you tracing the trail of your target by examining tracks, claw marks, the bodies of prey, and other telltale signs. Assisting you with this is a collection of trusty "scout flies:" basically, a glowy, green trail that leads you to the next piece of evidence or a chosen waypoint. These flies also highlight collectable items in the environment as you pass them, which keeps these resources from getting lost in the photorealistic backdrops. Chasing after a glowing trail might not seem like the most engaging experience, but it definitely aids in navigating World's complex, multi-level environments.

Again, after spending nearly 500 hours Monster Hunting, World's refurbishment of the same experience shouldn't feel so revelatory. For one, the fact that the gameplay is no longer broken up by tiny loading screens certainly helps, but the way the monsters interact with the environments adds so much to battles. Being used to the fairly static backdrops of past games, I couldn't help but have several "holy shit" moments as a monster came tearing through a huge rock formation or some other seemingly indestructible barrier. Even after playing in the same area for the twentieth time, I still managed to find new interactions: an ill-timed attack from a monster destroyed a rock dam, causing both of us to shoot to a different part of the map via a huge, natural waterslide. Monsters even interact with each other in unique and interesting ways, rather than just presenting an extra threat to the player. Sometimes, it's just fun to sit back and let a much bigger creature shave some life off of your target before they inevitably get bored and wander off.

More Mobility

Monster Hunter has always featured a mechanical-yet-reliable control scheme, one built around very precise button inputs. The latter hasn't changed, but now, moving your character feels almost effortless. There's a real emphasis on speed with this installment, to the point where World completely eliminates the stamina meter (which fuels running and other actions) when you're not in combat, making it so you don't have to stop and recharge every 20-30 seconds in your search for or chase after a monster. World also features slopes in its environments, which automatically put your character into a sliding state, from which you can then launch a powerful jumping attack. Overall, World goes far beyond the somewhat flat, boxy arenas in past games and delivers complex environments with lots of verticality that have you sliding, climbing, jumping, and scrambling for dear life.

Of course, the real meat of Monster Hunter's gameplay comes in its variety of melee and projectile weapon types and their many different uses. Previously, you'd have to go online to look up tutorials, as even some weapon types' basic functionality wasn't always obvious. This time around, Monster Hunter provides a much-improved tutorial area where you can try out all 14 varieties of weapons with on-screen prompts to walk you through both basic and complex attacks. Outside of the training area, a small UI element in the upper-right corner of the screen shows you what all of the most essential buttons do in your current context. It's extremely helpful, to the point where after 30 hours I noticed I'd been neglecting one of my long sword's most powerful attacks. With past games, the tiny screen could barely contain the most important information; now, Monster Hunter gives you all the information you could ever need, and without looking like a visual mess.

Much-Improved Multiplayer

"Baby steps" would be the kindest way to explain the online functionality of past Monster Hunter games. Capcom clearly added it to past games out of weary obligation, and the best thing you could say about online play is that it worked... most of the time. In keeping with its general theme of streamlining, Monster Hunter: World makes online multiplayer simple. Instead of going to a separate hub (with separate and often redundant quests), you can now create or join an online session as soon as you start the game, and be on your merry way. If people jump into your session while you're off doing your thing, you can easily post a quest and have them jump right into your current area—or, they can help you with the quest you're currently taking on (albeit with fewer rewards). Again, this may all sound very basic to Monster Hunter newcomers, but these improvements come off as nothing short of astounding to series veterans.

The improved multiplayer falls in line with the many "it's about time" upgrades to Monster Hunter: World, and it's easy to see how Capcom looked at other multiplayer games and made it their goal to reach that same standard. Granted, the servers were quiet during this pre-release period, but the dozen-or-so matches I had between the final game and the beta felt perfect. Of course, easily accessible voice chat certainly helps, but even if you don't use this feature, it's incredibly easy to pull up basic messages without typing them, or communicate through visual icons. Monster Hunter: World even features a clans system, in which you can create one persistent group of players, though you can belong to several. The pre-release period didn't feature enough players for me to bother using it, but once World is live, I expect clans to be a useful tool in easily finding my Monster Hunting friends.

The Next Generation of Monster Hunter

When reviewing a game like Monster Hunter: World, it's hard to know where to begin—or end. After coming this far, I think I've covered all of the essential elements, but World is such a densely crafted game, covering everything would bring this review into novella-length territory. That said, Monster Hunter: World stands as the ideal version of Monster Hunter I've always had in my head since I got hooked on the series back in 2013. Every obvious tedious element or arbitrary restriction that nagged at me in the past has been eliminated completely, but the core complexity remains fully intact. In fact, I got a good laugh out of World's opening, which features an (admittedly gorgeous) Uncharted-style cinematic gameplay experience, only to immediately dump players right into the dense, mechanics-and-systems-driven world of Monster Hunter.

I've been preaching to the world about Monster Hunter since falling in love with 2013's 3 Ultimate, but the series' initial learning curve has always proved too steep for many folks with a genuine interest. That curve still exists, but now, Monster Hunter gives players the tools they need to understand it—all while streamlining as much as possible for the most accommodating hunting experience yet. This dense-yet-approachable gameplay, along with the fact that World just might be the prettiest game I've ever played—especially on a PlayStation 4 Pro—could finally get Monster Hunter the audience it deserves. Regardless of whether or not you're a newbie or someone the series has pushed away before, don't sleep on Monster Hunter: World. Without a doubt, it's the definitive Monster Hunter experience.

Monster Hunter: World is launching on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 26, 2018. The PC version will be launching on Fall 2018.

Monster Hunter has been in need of a big change for years, and this reboot-of-sorts could have easily gone wrong. Instead, Capcom took a careful look at Monster Hunter's design and cut all the fat while leaving the series trademark dense gameplay completely intact. All the changes, from the broad, sweeping ones to the granular alterations, only serve to improve an already winning formula. The next generation of Monster Hunter has finally begun, and, with Monster Hunter: World, it's off to an incredibly good start.


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