As Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (MH3U) just launched in the US and is on the verge of launch in Europe, I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog for anyone who is on the fence about picking it up, or anyone who has picked it up and is fighting with its steep learning curve. As a note, I wrote this primarily before the wonderful review dropped today on destructoid so much of the content is somewhat repeated.
MH is probably my favorite console franchise, (tied with Dark Souls, really) so I figured I would do my part and try to make up for some of the shortfalls of the game itself. It’s incredibly rewarding, and most people get a ton of good play time out of it as long as they can get over the initial “hump.” I hope this post makes that hump a little less foreboding.
Who Would Like MH?
Well, the game appeals to a few different types of ‘drives’ to play games. The first is the desire to improve your skill as a player. Monster Hunter is one of the few games with light RPG elements which rely so heavily on skill that there’s a huge gap between what a new player can do, and what even a moderately experienced player can do with the exact same character.
The second is the desire to customize and build your character. While Monster Hunter has no levels or experience, it does have equipment (weapons and armor) which does progress (the light RPG elements). If you like the idea of building a character and doing actual customizing in both effectiveness and appearance, MH will probably be enjoyable.
Ultimately, both of these aspects are tied very closely to each other. You won’t be able to improve your gear if you can’t effectively kill monsters, and as you progress, being able equip your character with better equipment makes the progression significantly faster. A good litmus test is Dark Souls. Monster Hunter shares many similarities, though ultimately has a bit steeper learning curve and you can’t fall back on grinding out levels. Also, there is no PVP in MH.
Getting Started - Tutorial
One of the common complaints about Monster Hunter is that it is slow to get started. This isn’t a problem for everyone (some people love to explore the little environments) but particularly in single player, it can feel like a bit of a slog for the first hour or so and additionally the way the ‘tutorial’ stage of the game is delivered is through small, annoying text boxes which pop up in the very corner of the screen.
It should be noted that the tutorial stages of the game can be completed VERY quickly. In around 40 minutes if you are driven and know where to go, but tackling it in an hour should be easy even for a new player.
Without going too much into what each stage of the tutorial entails, the best way to keep on track even if you’re skipping all the irritating-to-read text boxes is to go into the menu (press the - button) and look at “Quest Info.” It will tell you your one line objective like Mine an iron ore, or deliver a raw meat to the Chieftain’s son. If you stay on track, and don’t get sidetracked trying to gather and mine everything, it will go very quickly. If you try to harvest the whole world, you are going to both run out of space, and slow your pace way down. So if you’re worried about the game starting too slow - Stay Focused!
Getting Started - Equipment
MH3U graciously is the best game for a newcomer to the series to get into for a few reasons. One of them is the fact that you start with one of every weapon along with a full set of leather armor (which is great for gathering!).
MH3U has 12 weapon types (more than Tri) which all play dramatically differently. Choosing a weapon is largely down to player preference, and honestly there is no ‘bad’ weapon types. If anyone is interested I’ll write another blog post on weapons and their differences. I fear doing so in this one would make this less readable.
Ultimately the most important thing to consider is your personal playstyle. Try all the weapons, pick a few that you like best, and focus on upgrading and learning the ins and outs of those weapons.
You don’t have to become an expert in every weapon. Some of the best players use one weapon type exclusively. Every weapon can kill every monster, so no matter what you choose you won’t be hurting yourself in the long run.
As far as armor goes, MH3U also is quite gracious in that it gives you a base defense of 50 instead of 0 in previous games. This means you can take a lot more hits from low level monsters before you die, but you will still need to upgrade your armor to do well against even the later large monsters of the first ‘tier of quests.
There are two ways to improve armor - upgrade existing armor with armor spheres, or to craft entirely new pieces out of the monsters you kill and items you gather. Ultimately you have to do both.
Again, going into armor in too much detail would make this post far too unwieldy, but if anyone is interested I will make another post to go into more detail on equipment and the armor skill system.
Getting Started - Combat
This is the other primary complaint from new players - the game’s ‘clunky’ controls. However, it’s probably the most polarizing topic because most experienced players regard the combat as extremely tight, while it’s one of the common reasons new players would quit playing entirely.
Trust me on this one though, the controls are good even if the layout is less than ideal.
The thing people need to put out of their mind is playing Monster Hunter like it is some run of the mill action game like Ninja Gaiden or God of War. In those games the boss often has ‘tells’ which indicate stuff like “attack now!” That is fine for those games, but combat in MH is much more deliberate. Not only is timing important, but equally important are positioning and anticipation. To excel at Monster Hunter you need to know where the monster WILL be when your attack ‘lands.’ This is even more true with the Hammer and Greatsowrd and Hunting Horn. Being able to time hits to the face is critical to using those weapons. But if you wait until the monster’s head is in range to press the attack button - you’re gonna have a bad time (to use a meme).
The important thing to consider is where the monster will be rather than where he is right now. If he is mid attack, trying to hit him is pointless because you will either miss, or you will get hurt yourself. What you need to do is try to anticipate where he will be when his attack finishes, and put yourself in position there, ready to get a hit or two off while he’s recovering from his attack. This applies to EVERY weapon. Even the weapons which attack quickly.
Another thing about MH is that many players want to go into full “combos” every time they attack, but MH simply isn’t the type of game where your first hit staggers an enemy and then you rely on the follow ups to deal a bunch of damage. The long and short of it is this: Don’t try to do long combos unless you know you have time to do so, i.e. the enemy is exhausted, trapped, stunned, etc. Focus on getting one or 2 good hits in on the enemy, then moving out of the way of their attack. Going into full combos will often get you into trouble.
Backswing is a big deal in MH which prevents you from instantly going into a block or roll. It will only be available after the full animation, or at certain points in the animation if you interrupt it properly.
Dodge Rolling is the most important and effective defensive tool in MH. Critical in that is the ability to cancel animations. It lets you get in more hits, or get to safety after an attack. To do this, essentially you mash on the “dodge” button (b) while pressing the direction you want to go while the animation is playing. There is a small window to cancel the animation, so if you wait too long, you won’t be able to roll out of the backswing, and if you press the button too early, nothing will happen - which is why I say mash it, until you can time things perfectly.
It’s worth noting the camera in this section as well as it’s also a common complaint, particularly because MH3U doesn’t have a lock on like many other action games (including Dark Souls). The camera controls and controller layout are my biggest gripe of the game. However, MH3U introduced a “target cam” feature that lets you mark a monster, then center the camera on it with the press of a button (L by default). This can really help players line up their hits, particularly when the enemy is immobilized. Pressing the target camera button and then pressing forward on the left analog will ensure you are walking directly toward the monster. Perhaps it’s pedantic to mention this but it can really help when you’re learning the game.
Getting Started - Co-Op
In my opinion, MH is one of the pinnacle co-op experiences in modern gaming. The way the game makes you rely on your teammates along with the benefits you get from playing with other people makes it exciting and rewarding and well balanced compared to the single player counterportion of the game.
Also, Monster Hunter is a game which has an incredibly deep amount of information that can help players. For these two reasons, it’s highly suggested that if you get the game you should find someone to play with who knows their way around the game. Not only will you benefit from their knowledge as a starting player, you will be able to see what it looks like to play the game well (or at least better than you can as a beginner) and you will have a slightly easier time taking down monsters due to being able to rely more heavily on a friend.
If you can, it's worth it to seek out someone more experienced to play with.
Ultimately, Monster Hunter is truly one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming, and that stands for both single player and multiplayer. It is definitely not a game that holds your hand though, which when combined with the fairly slow start, and the tedium of reading all the little text boxes can drive a lot of people away.