Speaking as a Monster Hunter fan, breaking a newbie into Capcom's highly complex multiplayer RPG offers more than a few barriers to entry.
The intricate controls, the often obtuse rules, and the non-ergonomic nature of holding a flat handheld in your hands while staring at a tiny screen for dozens upon dozens of hours: the many issues Monster Hunter fans have inured themselves to do a fantastic job of pushing newcomers off the learning curve before they can crest it. Though Monster Hunter has carved out a healthy niche in the States, it remains a curiosity made for only the hardest of hardcore RPG fans.
This may all change, though, when Capcom reboots the series with the upcoming Monster Hunter World-effectively, Monster Hunter 6-on January 26 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (with a PC port coming later down the line). Though Monster Hunter started on the PlayStation 2, the series soon found a much better home on portable consoles, where it became an absolute sensation, influencing storied properties from Metal Gear to Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy. With the 3DS on its last legs and the Vita long dead, Capcom has decided to go big by retooling Monster Hunter for modern consoles, giving it a graphical makeover far prettier than its 240p predecessors. But it's not just a new look that will aid Monster Hunter in finding a bigger audience.
Wanting More from Monster Hunter
I fell in love with Monster Hunter thanks to an unlikely release: The Wii U version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate-a port of a 3DS game that was itself an enhanced version of a 2009 Wii title. For a while, this oddball stood as the definitive version of Monster Hunter, with cross-save and cross-play functionality-which hasn't been repeated since-as well as the first truly online multiplayer mode. And even though further releases like 4 Ultimate and Generations only improved greatly upon the experience, I missed getting to play on much larger screen with a proper controller, even if it cut the whole "portability" aspect out of the equation.
To keep Monster Hunter relevant, Capcom needed to bring a major change to the series. For close to fifteen years, Monster Hunter has been constantly iterating and improving on the same basic experience, and while many series have done that and thrived, so much of the series' design is rooted in the limitations of the PlayStation 2 era. World represents one of the first major breaths of fresh air since Monster Hunter's inception; one that applies the series complex design to the possibilities present in hardware developed beyond the dawning of the our current millennium.
Still, Capcom hasn't rocked the boat too much. Underneath the extremely pretty exterior lie the previously established mechanics in all their glory, and anyone who jumps in thinking they can hack and slash their way to glory will soon be dealt a harsh lesson. While the essential actions of Monster Hunter aren't all that complicated-find, attack, and kill or trap the monster(s) in question-the means of achieving this goal present a multitude of options. The game offers 16 different weapon types, each with their own specific movesets, along with other important variables like armor, accessories, and item loadout choices. Planning for a hunt is essentially like packing for a camping trip: you want to be prepared for every possible outcome.
Even if World doesn't back away from the series' trademark complexity, it offers the friendliest helping hand in Monster Hunter history. Of course, as with any other Monster Hunter sequel, World makes previous games obsolete with its many (and extremely granular) quality-of-life improvements that are honestly too numerous and, frankly, inside baseball to list here. World's improved training mode-a very slight feature in past games-goes a long way to help players grow accustomed to using the many weapon types with the help of contextual, on-screen button prompts. Even with (roughly) 500 hours of Monster Hunter under my belt, I never felt all that comfortable using the available assortment with projectile weapons. After tooling around in the training mode with a few of them, I felt much more confident than I did in the past, when I looked up guides online and hoped for the best. This improvement may sound like a minor-if-obligatory addition, but it's honestly been a long time coming for Monster Hunter.
More Than Just a Graphical Upgrade
Despite existing solely on underpowered hardware for an entire decade, Capcom has always done a great job making the most of the technology at hand: their 3DS Monster Hunter entries are far and away the best-looking games on the platform, with impressively huge creatures and detailed environments that couldn't even be matched by developers like Nintendo. Replete with 4K options, Monster Hunter World stands as an absolutely gorgeous game, and this drastic increase in fidelity makes it a much more playable experience than previous games. For one, the play space is much less cramped, making it much easier to keep tabs on your surroundings. The increased screen space also lets Capcom add useful UI features, like a display of what the most vital buttons do given your current context.
The most drastic change to Monster Hunter brought about by more powerful technology comes in just how each map is laid out. Previously, Monster Hunter worlds consisted of interconnected "rooms"-each with their own very brief loading times-that, when stitched together, conveyed the illusion of one large space. World makes every monster hunting arena one large area, though your in-game map still splits it up into different zones for the sake of communicating with fellow hunters. How you track monsters has also changed: instead of running from zone to zone until you stumble upon the target, World allows you to track their movements via tracks, dung, and other telltale signs. Once you find your first sign of the wanted monster, your army of scout flies (essentially, a glowy trail) will lead you in the general direction of the next one. This may sound pretty simple, but it adds an extra angle to the guesswork involved in finding monsters in past Monster Hunter games-and your scout flies can always lead you towards the wrong monster.
Above all, the increase in fidelity makes it easier to know just what's going on at any given second. The monster's tells are easier to read, your teammates are easier to see, and visual elements are much less likely to get lost in background clutter. More importantly, it's much more effortless to get a read on each monster's array of hit boxes, which is very important in a game where you're often aiming at specific parts. And landing a blow on a monster has never felt quite as satisfying as it does in World: special effects, animation, and sound design all combine to make finally connecting an attack so rewarding.
A Fresh Start for Monster Hunter
In searching for a wider audience, Capcom could have betrayed its audience and went the Destiny route by making an extremely straightforward and frictionless experience built on instant addiction. Instead, World retains the series' status as the crab dinner of online RPGs: it takes a bit of effort to dig into the meat, but once you do, it's more than worth it. With about six hours of the beta under my belt, I feel pretty confident in saying this is the best Monster Hunter to date, and one that those intimidated by the series should definitely try. Even without all the addictive systems upon systems all of the hunting feeds into, I couldn't help but jump back into the three hunts the beta offered, each time trying out a new approach or a new loadout. Monster Hunter has needed a shakeup for years, and World looks to be the perfect mix of old and new to keep it relevant for another decade.