Video games are often illusions and convey the imagination of control and power, even if your significant influence is minimal. Monster Hunter: World, Capcom's third-person action game, is all about imagination. It pulls you out of reality and puts you in the domains of exotic imposing monsters that you have to hunt. In this game, the sense of achievement and pride that falls is anything but an illusion.
In every Monster Hunter game, you'll work for your success, learn about your quarry, track it, study its moves and attacks until you are finally able to make the most of it. The dragon may have size and strength, but you have a brain, nerves, and some potions made from herbs and mushrooms. These games are about both the thrill of hunting and hunting. Your battles only work because you know these beasts could eat you for lunch.
I've been waiting a decade for Monster Hunter to finally become popular outside of Japan since a flu-ridden weekend at the university a decade ago when my only company Monster Hunter Freedom Unite was at PSP. There have always been entry barriers: a bad camera, boring early mushroom picking quests, flash-moxing controls that required you to physically deform your hand, non-existent tutorials, confusing menus, and graphics for portable consoles.
I've been waiting for a decade for Monster Hunter to finally become popular outside of Japan.
Each new edition of this series has gradually improved the franchise's shortcomings, but all have been built on an engine that hasn't changed much since the first PlayStation 2 game in 2004.
Monster Hunter: World is the first real, major makeover of the series. Little has changed in the set-piece battles that have always been the main attraction of Monster Hunter, but with God everything that surrounds them is much better. There are no new weapons here, and none of the fan-friendly battles that the Monster Hunter generations introduced in 2016 thrive, although there are many new monsters. (Only a small number of series favorites such as the kite duo Rathian and Rathalos appear in the main story.)
It's just you, your chosen weapon, big beasts and their thriving habitats. And what habitats they are. Monster Hunter: World looks fantastic, especially on PC, Xbox One X or PS4 Pro. With the enhanced versions, you can prioritize either the resolution for 4K displays or the frame rate for a particularly smooth fight. But even without these improvements, you can see the slave trader fall from the jaws of an exhausted Rathian and admire the dust motifs that sparkle in the jungle in the sunlight on the Internet. The Coral Highlands – a pastel-colored marvel of an environment with otherworldly tendrils of pink and lilac plants that envelop mountains of corals – opens up about half the story and is breathtakingly beautiful. My mouth was open the first time I saw him.
For years I've been describing epic battles to friends who don't play Monster Hunter when they actually saw a muddy-looking little guy standing up against a dragon that doesn't fit on a tiny screen. Now it finally looks as great as it feels to play.
There is still a lot to learn. It would fill thousands of words if you really went into the basics of Monster Hunter – the trifles of collecting, tracking, bounty and research, investigation, monster carving, and weaponry. Little of it is well explained while playing, although written tutorials and a handler character that gives useful clues when you're actually in the field make a courageous attempt to help with the basics. You still have questions that can only be answered by Google or a more knowledgeable friend. Fortunately, the Monster Hunter community is generous with their extensive knowledge, but it's still ridiculous to have to consult wikis or guides to find out what the hell your weapon stats actually mean.
Here's the thing though: This isn't actually as big a problem as it first seems. Monster Hunter: World explains the basics pretty well, and all the rest of the knowledge gradually accumulates from playing, talking to other players, exploring, and hunting. You can easily get through the whole story without knowing anything about skill spells or weapon affinity. In the meantime, find out where to find useful plants, beetles, and ores by spending some time out in the wild and gradually filling a map with symbols that tell you what's out there. The more time you invest, the more knowledge you will gain. After 30 hours, I still don't know much. I still haven't found one of the many campsites hidden in the four vast surroundings.
The challenge with previous Monster Hunter games has always been so far that you want to learn more. This is where the world is most clearly improved. The older games were slow starters. However, World doesn't waste time plunging into impressive creatures, and it looks so nice and controls so well that it's easier to invest. A quick search becomes two. If you respond to an SOS torch, you will receive a quest reward that opens new armor. They spend about another hour looking for the elusive last material to forge a new loading blade. Then you want to try it in another fight. It is extremely bingable.
The things that were simplified were things that were first of all unnecessarily time consuming. New Monster Hunter: World players will never experience the pain of handcrafting 10 picks from bones and stones, and then having them all broken during a single 20-minute mining quest. You won't know the meditative pause while patiently waiting for seconds of animation to play every time you collect an herb. I don't miss this nonsense a bit. What hasn't changed is hunting monsters with nicely balanced weapons, and that's always the point.
The secret of Monster Hunter's fight is that you don't feel like a clown, even if you don't really know what you're doing. The inexperienced hunter could still land a few hits with a big weapon like a greatsword, even if it takes 45 minutes to kill a monster. Better players can do things more efficiently. The game rewards dexterity, and watching a top player work in a monster hunter is likely to motivate you to improve. If you see an experienced gamer working with a glaze or two swords who dodges a dragon's tail for a split second before sweeping it off his feet and then retaliates with a five-hit combination … choreographed it out positively.
The things that were simplified were primarily unnecessarily time consuming … What hasn't changed is hunting monsters with nicely balanced weapons, and that was always the point.
I'm done with Gunlance and Switch Ax: a massive lance that fires shotguns from the top, and a morphing ax that becomes a sword and, with its most complicated combination, can trigger a close-up explosion. For this new game, I've decided to learn some new weapons.
As the hours passed and I familiarized myself with the nimble glaive and the powerful hammer, I noticed how my shabby little opportunistic combos became fluid sequences of strikes that were perfectly matched to the gaps between the attacks of bad-tempered dinosaurs. I felt like an asshole, jumped on the head of a fire-breathing T-Rex and blew it up with an ax. My teammates muttered "niiiiiice!" into their headsets. If your skills, weapons, and armor improve, you can slaughter monsters that scared you earlier in ten minutes. It is such a satisfactory development.
Monster Hunter enumeration: World features don't say much about why it's so easy to love. It's silly and stylish at the same time, weird without being aware of it. In the canteen in the center of the game, a one-eyed cat cook serves a sizzling meat platter with a pirate boast and theatrically puts the last side on a freshly caught fish. A little pig follows you as you stock up on provisions and bounties, and a tutorial prompt mysteriously promises that "something good" could happen if you picked it up and carried it around like a baby. The customizable guild cards of other players show how they mock back in extravagantly ridiculous armor and how their feline companion imitates the pose.
As in previous Monster Hunter games, you can hunt monsters with up to three other players. If you are hunting alone, you will be accompanied by a cat buddy who is a constant source of entertainment and bravely beats, meows, and occasionally on the back of a smaller dinosaur or on the back of a smaller one with a ukulele-shaped weapon against the legs of a wyvern Mounted dinosaur appears in a small inflatable boat.
The ridiculous armor sets are a strong reason to play Monster Hunter: World. "I look like a crappy Groot cosplayer," said a friend dismayed when he finally finished his Barroth set. I spent half of the early game in stupid sunglasses that amused me so much that I kept improving them rather than forging new, more powerful armor. One of my favorite monsters, the floating, fluffy Paolumu, delivers a faux fur outfit that is so tempting that I immediately wanted to fight it again to make a swollen hat for my cat buddy.
New players will find the game's main story mode a healthy challenge. For players who have made it through a few Monster Hunter games, the story quests are unlikely to kick your ass. There were only two that I exhaled slowly as I looked at the Quest Failed screen and shouted triumphantly when I landed the last blow. The story itself is pretty much nothing; The cutscenes are stylish, but the storyline lacks substance, and the more cinematic climatic mission was a complete disappointment compared to the freeform expeditions that led to it.
Once this final cutscene is played, you will realize that the whole story is really a warm-up for high-level quests where the toughest monsters lurk alongside the power-up versions of the beasts you sent off earlier. I'm in no hurry to hurry through them.
World has already added millions of people to the group, and with Capcom's extensive planned support, it is a game that could run all year round. There are issues with online functionality that Capcom can fix in patches: matchmaking and ad hoc quests with random players are easy, but if you want to hunt a particular monster, diving through menus is annoying to be precise to look for the quests you want. If you want to invite players to your squad to play regularly, you need to be online and in the same session at the same time, which requires a lot of coordination outside of the game.
Monster Hunter is not much better than ever. It is much easier to estimate now. What once felt like a well-kept secret among players who had enough time and energy to overcome the entry barriers is now easier for everyone else to enjoy thanks to a major makeover that made Monster Hunter: World the most beautiful and exciting game in the series.
The depth remains, but many of the fiddly irritations that have held back this series have been swept away. As a longtime Monster Hunter player, it is a wonderful thing to witness.