Monster Hunter: World's Rich Ecosystem is its Best Feature

When you're tracking down that Anjanath, don't forget to stop and eat the bugs.

Last week, Mike and I went a-hunting for monsters during USgamer's lunch hour stream. We had a good time when we weren't getting our asses punched in by the Tobi-Kadachi we tracked down.

Still, engaging in Monster Hunter: World's miniature boss-rush made me realize something important: I enjoy the game most when I'm not obsessed with tracking and killing a monster. I'm happiest when I'm just farting around in Expedition mode, collecting materials, and showing irate Great Jagras who's the dual-wielding blade boss in Capcom untamed jungle world (it's me).

I don't think I've ever frolicked in game environments that feel as rich and alive as the biomes in Monster Hunter: World. As someone who worked a great deal with animals and within nature before health reasons forced me to quit, every expedition I undertake is almost painfully nostalgic.

I can't wrestle with monsters made of solid rock anymore. My back isn't what it used to be.

It took me a while to "train" myself to play Monster Hunter: World properly, i.e. I learned to treat every monster encounter as an actual hunt. In time, I realized there are no sealed-off arenas where I trade blows with colossi until one of us dies. Rather, wounded monsters act much as hunted animals do: They stagger off to find a place to recover—or die. Sometimes they utilize clever camouflage when they're in crisis mode. They might try and blend in with their environment or submerge themselves in water or mud.

Initially, I felt a little bad chasing down these poor brutes as they struggled to just get away from the tiny naked ape(s) causing them agony. I suppose it was my own "Conflicted Vegetarian" moment. But I need to admit I feel a little thrill when I'm stalking across the environment, picking up tracks, observing how smaller wildlife is riled up by the passing of the neighborhood's wounded behemoth.

Monster Hunter: World can teach us a lot about how our ancestors hunted prey many times our own size. Our forebears' methods weren't dissimilar from what happens in the game: We wounded our quarry, chased them until they dropped of exhaustion, then tried to finish them off. If the meal scurried away—as it often does in Monster Hunter: World—the cycle was repeated as many times as necessary.

"I can eat anything I want off the ground, and my mom isn't here to stop me."

But as in life, there's little joy in jumping from slaughter to slaughter in Monster Hunter: World. This is a game that encourages you to slow down and observe your surroundings and landmarks in between hunts. You pass a good deal of interesting flora and fauna when you chase down a wounded monster, and you're meant to go back and fill in those mental notes you took during the flight. When you do, you'll notice the teeming ecosystem is stuffed with materials to help make your next hunt a little easier. You might see natural traps or pitfalls, bugs and herbs that can make potent potions and ammo, and small mammals that clue you in on the location of secret trails.

Everything you use to your advantage truly feels like it's a natural part of your environment. Even your quest marker—a staple for action-adventure games—isn't an arrow or a step counter, but rather trained, glowing fireflies that travel in a swarm towards your main quarry but break off in smaller groups to hover around markings and collectables of note. Some critics aren't fond of the guesswork defines the Monster Hunter experience (no health bar will tell you how close you are to killing your prey, for instance; visual cues like panting and drooling tell you how far the monster is from being done in), but I dig that authenticity.

Oh whoops look at that I lured two apex predators into each other's territory and now they're fighting. Totally an accident.

For all the care Monster Hunter: World takes to feel like an actual hunting experience (and for all it succeeds), it still needs to be noted it's still not the real thing. I've never been hunting, but I understand it's gorier, colder, often dangerous, and sometimes you wait hours only to come home empty-handed save for the stink of the deer pee you dabbed on yourself.

Monster Hunter: Word's generous dollop of fantasy is what keeps me coming back, though. We all have instincts, and it's good to have the option to sate them safely, and within your limits. I would never have the stomach or endurance for actual hunting, but I'm a champion at stalking dinosaur-ferrets through the forest underbrush. I'm fierce. I'm a warrior. I'm in tune with nature, and its symphony sings through my blood. Just don't you dare forget to call me downstairs when the pizza arrives.

Tagged with Analyses, Capcom, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

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