Bold and newly beautiful, this RPG demands to be played on its own terms.
Game subtitles so rarely tell us anything about what’s inside the box. How can warfare be infinite, who was actually doing the reckoning in Kingdoms of Amalur, and what the hell is a ‘Breath of the Wild’ anyway? It’s almost a shock, then, to discover how perfectly “World” sums up Capcom’s achievements with the newest Monster Hunter.
Its hunting grounds feel expansive, each a separate ecosystem that would tick along nicely by itself without your involvement. It presents a near-overwhelming world of possibilities for customisation and specialisation. Most importantly, it’s somewhere in which you could end up spending so much time you might as well be living there.
Monster Hunter has always been a series that offers much and more. Its games are, broadly speaking, action-RPGs built around a single gameplay loop. Like in many modern crafting games you begin with nothing but a flimsy weapon and the chainmail on your back, but as you take on monster-hunting quests you harvest materials from your prey and the environments they live in, use them to build stronger gear, and then use them to take on stronger monsters to get even more gear. The beauty is in how many ways it offers for you complete that loop.
High-Rank’s “post-game” content essentially doubles the amount of gear to lust after.
Each of 14 weapon types makes combat feel like an entirely different game, from the grace and familiarity of a sword and shield, to the explosive pummel of an ammo-switching Bowgun, to the downright oddity of the Hunting Horn, a massive hammer that plays stat-buffing tunes.
Monsters themselves come with a wealth of strengths and weaknesses and many, many materials to harvest, all of which can be used to create tens of possible items. You also have an adorable cat companion called a Palico which can be outfitted with its own gear, all offering different bonuses for your character. And when it all seems like you’ve got it sussed, along comes High-Rank, Monster Hunter’s “post-game” content, which changes some monsters, adds new ones, and essentially doubles the amount of gear to lust after.
The deeper you look, the deeper it all seems to get – and that sheer level of complexity has historically been what stops Monster Hunter from offering mainstream appeal. But let’s get something out of the way: there’s been an assumption among the waiting audience over the past few months that – despite the protestations of Capcom itself – World would simplify the series’ more obscure ideas to help court a western audience. After just the first few hours, it becomes abundantly clear those concerns are unfounded.
Monster Hunter has always been opaque, its menus pebble-dashed with byzantine statistics, and its combat purposefully designed to be methodical and challenging in a way that feels strange next to modern action games’ fluidity. Practically none of that has changed. This remains a game where learning is as important as doing, from potion recipes to intricate combos.
World is decidedly not a my-first-Monster-Hunter experience.
What’s changed in some ways is how they’re presented. Quality-of-life improvements have smoothed off a few rough edges, making crafting simpler, armour skills more abundant, and introducing quicker, more efficient looting. But many difficult-to-grasp aspects still remain (it’s still crazy to me that weapon tutorials are still so meagre), and few have been made with the first-time player in mind. Playing in a party alongside new hunters, I’ve been bombarded with questions ranging from the simple (“Where can I change my weapon again?”) to the slightly more specific (“Why does my glaive come with a huge insect buddy, and what does the dust it leaves behind after sucking the juices out of a lizard do?”). The bottom line is that World is decidedly not a my-first-Monster-Hunter experience – this is full-fat, waterfall-of-information Monster Hunter. In that respect, it’s the same as it ever was.
Those coming in looking for an all-encompassing adventure story will find World a little lacking, too. The central plotline – of travelling to a new continent in the wake of a migrating Elder Dragon – is a neat one, and pleasantly naturalist in tone (well, as naturalist as you can be in a game about killing mythical creatures to make shoes), but it’s nothing more than a pretext for the near-endless hunts ahead.
But as far as opportunities for new experiences go, World just never seems to stop providing them – and I love that feeling. 50 hours in, it’s still regularly throwing crafting possibilities, monsters, even entirely new systems at me and expecting me to put time into learning how they can benefit my character.
One of the most consistently exciting, satisfying, and gratifyingly absurd games I’ve played.
But no matter how much I or any other fan tries to convince you, there’s a chance that a game that requires this much management alongside its maiming simply won’t be for you. I urge you to at least try. Find an experienced friend to guide you or sit down for a few video tutorials, because Monster Hunter: World is one of the most consistently exciting, satisfying, and gratifyingly absurd games I’ve played since, well, the last Monster Hunter game.
A disclaimer: though I’ve completed the story quest, I’m absolutely nowhere near “finished.” Side quests are clogging up my menus, I haven’t touched the majority of the weapons, and even the end of the campaign opens up a second, much more difficult half. This isn’t an admission of guilt, it’s a demonstration of what kind of game we’re dealing with. Above and beyond anything else you can say about World, there is a lot of it. It’s still stupendously generous with content and, better, matches that with consistently making your time feel well-spent instead of wasting it on empty-feeling grinding.
World’s mechanical changes are near-universally designed to make that loop even tighter.
Capcom’s series has worked toward perfecting its rewarding gameplay loop since the mid-2000s: World’s mechanical changes are near-universally designed to make that loop even tighter. Weapon upgrade trees feel more labyrinthine, forcing you through a wider gamut of quests to get to what you want. Take how I earned my Rathian Charge Blade, a frankly ludicrous combination of sword and shield that transforms into a poison-dripping axe: I had to scavenge monster bones to build the base model, carve up several Jyuratodos (giant, furious walking fish) for a mid-tier upgrade, and then slice the tails off of several flying Wyverns to harvest their poisonous barbs for the final version. It’s not just fun – every weapon you make becomes a document of the quests you went on to make it, like a map of memories.
In the process, you’ll amass leftover rewards and carved-off materials that can be used to make armour sets, with each piece now offering extra skills that can turn the tables on a previously tough fight. The Jyuratodos materials I didn’t need for my blade soon became muck-resistant mail, letting me take on the mud-spewing Barroth without much fuss. The Barroth’s materials, in turn, allowed me to make lightning-resistant armor for my next campaign quest – and so the cycle begins again. The entire game is precise, clockwork engineering, sending you ticking from one task to the next, crafting better and better equipment, gradually building a toolbox of murder weapons tailor-made for World’s increasingly dangerous enemies.
Perhaps the most fundamental change is in how you find the monsters in the first place. In previous games, tracking big game was a matter of wandering between zones, hoping to spot your prey and chuck a paintball at it to illuminate it on your map. The new bioluminescent Scoutflies are an excellent replacement for that sometimes-tedious task, at once more useful and more grounded in the fiction. At first, your flitting, neon swarm leads you to trackable markings left by monsters in real time – footprints, scratches, globs of mucus – and, once you’ve gathered enough evidence they’ll catch the scent of the target monster itself, leading you straight to it with a marker on your map.
Tracking a monster essentially unlocks its wiki page.
It’s satisfying and, in another beautiful piece of mechanical thinking, remains consistently useful even after you’ve tracked a beast. The more you track a specific monster – even if you’re not specifically hunting for it – the more you’ll be told about it. Meet a monster for the first time and your Hunter’s Notes will give you a vague description of it; after that, you learn what parts of the monster can be broken off for extra rewards, then its overall weaknesses, then how likely those rewards are to drop. You’re essentially unlocking a Wiki page (and thereby reducing the traditional Monster Hunter need to go look at actual Wikis as you play). That’s somehow far more exciting than it should be, and it’s a system that makes World’s looping grind even more rewarding.
The major work, however, has clearly come in Monster Hunter’s move from handheld to console (and PC, in August) where the graphical spectacle can finally match the design. World’s hunting grounds have shifted from particulate zones connected by loading screens into huge, seamless maps. Hunts feel far less self-contained and interrupted, and give Capcom’s undersung artists a much larger canvas to work with. The results range from beautiful to breathtaking.
Hunting grounds range from beautiful to breathtaking.
The opening areas – Ancient Forest and Wildspire Waste – turn familiar woodland and desert locations into intricate webs of overlapping biomes, each filled with creatures large and small going about their business. But it’s once you reach the Coral Highlands that it becomes clear how beneficial this shift in hardware has been. It’s a fantastical barrier reef grown on land, replete with seahorse-like hummingbirds, floating jellyfish, and a giant bat with an inflatable neck, and my hunter’s been seriously injured several times because I got distracted by how pretty it all is. The screen is absolutely saturated with detail – landmass, particle effects and creatures all interacting – ending up feeling pleasingly overstuffed, as if the frustration of working with handhelds has led to a flood of ideas that couldn’t have been possible previously.
Without the restraints of realism, Capcom has made one of the most stunning locations I’ve come across – not just in the Monster Hunter series but in gaming as a whole. It’s clear how the experience of making the older games’ bite-sized zones has fed into the art and level design teams’ new work – there’s a gorgeous vista or change of scenery around every corner.
Their work stretches everywhere. There’s real joy in seeing weapons I’d played with on 3DS turned into 4K beauties – the absurd Metal Bagpipes hunting horn I’ve tooted so often has been turned from a jut of jagged pixels into the offensive instrument it should be, its rivets shining in the sun, it’s puffbag (not the technical term, probably) showing signs of wear. The New World setting – our hunters have travelled across the sea tracking a giant Elder Dragon’s migration – also allows for a glut of new monsters and often-insane armour that can be made out of them. Freakish, skinless mega-dogs, tar-covered wyverns that make armour out of other monsters’ bones, and a chameleon-bird that pukes poison – there’s a lot to be discovered. Plus, the sunsets in each area’s day-night cycle are ridiculously beautiful.
It’s not World’s looks that benefit most from the technical upgrade, but the AI.
Somewhat incredibly, then, it’s not World’s looks that benefit most from the technical upgrade, but the AI. Monster Hunter’s stars have always been the monsters themselves, thanks to their gorgeous knots of fantasy illustration, breathtaking animation, and inspired game design. Battling them is closer to a dance than a brawl, knowing your moves – from the Hammer’s slow, stomping strikes to the Insect Glaive’s aerial acrobatics – and learning their steps in return. You’ll be clumsy when you begin, watching helplessly as a graceful Legiana freezes you and buffets you off a cliff, but fight more and you’ll soon be severing tails, breaking off scaly armour for valuable rewards, before watching your prey limp away, indicating you’re close to the kill. Every battle mixes the in-depth learning of a fighting game with the grandeur of a classic adventure game boss fight – it’s Monster Hunter’s stock-in-trade.
But World adds a new variable: personality. With multiple monsters now sharing the same seamless space, Capcom’s had to find ways to make them interact with both you and each other. You’ll quickly begin to learn which monsters are territorial, and which aren’t; the relatively weak Great Jagras might just roar at you to suggest you leave its cave home as you creep past, but try the same trick with fire-breathing, T-Rex-like Anjanath and you won’t get the same polite treatment.
Every area has a clear food chain in which monsters (mostly) know their place.
Every area has a clear food chain in which monsters (mostly) know their place. But that can be disrupted – watch what happens if an egg-eating Kulu-Ya-Ku steals from the nest of a mother Rathian. It’s not pretty. Even more interesting is when those food chains are messed with. Just as you’ve got a handle on every area’s intricacies, World begins putting monsters in unfamiliar locations, leading to new match-ups and territory disputes.
Honestly, the direct benefit of knowing how monsters interact is limited – at most, they’ll kick off a ‘Turf War’ canned animation, doing some of the damage in a hunt for you – but the effect of it is something else entirely. I’ve spent half-hour Expedition missions just watching these animals move around, learning where they prefer to hunt or nest, watching their fight-or-flight reflexes kick in, simply because I enjoyed getting to know them.
But for a real hunt, multiplayer is the way forward. Monster Hunter has always been best played in a group, upping the challenge to allow for titanic battles while players swap tips and secrets. World makes a much-needed change, combining the series’ traditionally separate single and multiplayer campaigns into a single string of quests. It’s a step in the right direction, but also creates its strangest problem: to play a story quest, all players must have watched any cutscenes it include (and their absurdly poor lip-syncing) first.
You can’t easily drop into a friend’s server.
This doesn’t just mean that a single party can’t play the campaign from start to finish together, but even stops friends dropping into a match together until everyone’s seen the same canned video. Coupled with small party-joining issues (for instance, you can’t easily drop into a friend’s server without an invite, a Nintendo Friend Code-like string of digits, or using the console’s home menu) and multiplayer is where we see the worst remaining hallmarks of old Monster Hunter. That said, once in a hunt I’ve spotted no major network issues, and the seamless areas and Scoutflies only make hunting as a party more exciting.
There’s too much else to talk about. Capturing tiny creatures to keep as pets in your house (which has become an all-consuming hobby for me), the resource-gathering Palico Safari, the ‘special arena’ area littered with overpowered siege weaponry – World once again lives up to its name by feeling practically boundless. I know I have many, many hours more to play from here, and I feel nothing but pleasure at the prospect.
Debate will likely rage between Monster Hunter purists as to whether this is the best game in the series. As with any hardcore audience, attempts to streamline – particularly in how individual armour skills now disincentivise building full sets over hours of grinding – may be looked at with derision. A lack of ultra-tough G-Rank challenges might also leave some wishing for even more. Like sports games, the definitive verdict will likely be impossible until we’re hundreds, rather than tens of hours in.