Finally, a whole new world
Chop, cut, mince, craft, boil, eat, repeat. The life of a hunter is hard. Especially if you’re a vegetarian controlling one.
Monster Hunter‘s core since 2004 has been predicated on grinding and discovering its own esoteric rules and principles. That hasn’t change a lot in 14 years, but Monster Hunter: World’s sleekness makes it a whole lot easier.
Monster Hunter: World (PC, PS4 [reviewed with a PS4 Pro], Xbox One)
Release: January 26, 2018 (PS4/Xbox One) / TBA (PC)
Despite some concessions best epitomized by fireflies (known here as scout flies) assisting in lighting the path to your prey, this is still very much the same punishing Monster Hunter. There’s lots of repetition stat-studying and grinding, all so you can get one piece of coveted armor at a time. That’s basically been Capcom’s philosophy on the series for over a decade: give ’em incremental quality-of-life upgrades that are usually standard in other games (lock-on being a highly contentious addition for some reason) and keep the old school base intact.
That’s mostly worked for me, having played most of the series throughout the years, but at some point around Monster Hunter 4 I yearned for a new coat of paint. Most iterations, including the myriad “super” editions over the years, just felt too similar to one another. World finally overhauls nearly everything from an artistic standpoint and brings it into the current generation. The main camp of Astero looks stunning and picturesque, like a fully-realized Rufio camp from Hook. Each location, from the lush Ancient Forest to the desolate Rotten Vale, differentiates itself from the pack. But World doesn’t take itself too seriously — there’s a lot of heart and silliness to it all too, perhaps best encapsulated by the classic absurd Palico (read: cat) cooking sequence.
The shift to more open maps makes everything feel like less of a corridor simulator without moving directly into the rote “map full of icons” open-world setup that’s commonly found in a lot of western games. There’s still going to be repetition in the sense that you’re re-visiting the same areas, but World generally does a good job of mixing up the enemy layouts or times of day to freshen up repeat excursions. Bringing back expeditions, which are free-roam sessions with no time limit or requirements, was a good decision. They’re an excellent way to remove some of the stress of the standard Monster Hunter grind with activities like fishing and capturing, with unlimited lives.
World still has that rewarding conquest loop. I got my ass kicked by a T-Rex, so I basically re-evaluated everything that led me to the moment where he burned me to a crisp. I swapped weapons (which is easy to do since you can downgrade and get your materials back), upgraded a few armor pieces, crafted some more items, grinded out some ingredients for nutrients (potions that increase your max health), and ate some Good Food. Bam! Dude was dead.
Boss fights still range from epic, larger-than-life confrontations against insurmountable creatures to mild tedium. While the larger romps are mostly engaging battles featuring ghoulish designs only the Monster Hunter team could come up with, some of the medium-to-large-sized denizens annoyingly run away and force you to constantly babysit them. This is much easier to deal with when you’re playing with friends, as various ranged and swift builds can catch up with them or cut them off, but going at it solo it can be painstakingly slow. Luckily this sort of thing doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, expect to groan audibly (until you return and start to crush bosses like normal enemies, then it feels incredible; battling them in the arena also eliminates the whole chasing step).
What wows me the most is that it feels like Monster Hunter has finally entered the modern age. Now I don’t mind the old visuals, nor do I require the cutting edge to play something, but the constant re-hashing of engines and iterations was really getting to me. Capcom is the king of re-touching and re-selling the same “ultra” or “super” editions, and the Monster Hunter series saw plenty of “Ultimate” and “Freedom” versions. We’re probably going to get Monster Hunter Universe at some point, this is true, but right now it’s still crisp and hot out of the oven.
It hasn’t shed its skin fully either. The sheer breadth of playstyles is staggering, from the quick dual blades, to the multiple bowgun ranged options, to the tough but rewarding hunting horn. It’s a science at this point, but you can also opt to jump into a stabby or shooty combat style if you want. When you really dig though and start getting to the point where you need to optimize to best some of the bigger beasties, you’ll probably be taken aback by some inside baseball type stuff, like the endless pit of bowgun ammo types. There’s no new weapons in World, which is a bummer, but given how well all of the existing ones mesh together I don’t necessarily need more.
Crafting has become more convenient, not necessarily outright easier. There’s a wishlist feature to notify you when you have the proper materials required to create something, and gathering locations are a little more obvious. That’s no better typified than with the aforementioned firefly highlights, otherwise known as “bread crumb trails” in the industry at large, Monster Hunter World‘s most contentious mechanic.
While some may feel like this “dumbs down” the flow of the game, I dig the idea of gaining research progression (non-traditional experience that can be spent on things like meals) when locating points of interest such as footprints or scents. It adds to the whole “hunt” feel. It’s also a little more inviting when you need to hunt down a certain enemy type over and over when you can track them directly.
This is still Monster Hunter. You’ll hunt, upgrade, hunt some more, and basically repeat until you’re done with the campaign, then you can choose to do it some more with extra quests. Capcom is promising more content for the long haul, but as it stands World feels just as full as any other core release.
As for multiplayer, we didn’t get much of a chance to extensively test it out — so we’ll be mostly reporting on that post-launch. Right now lobbies seem to be stable and the chat/squad system is well-implemented (you can emote/message people even during cutscenes and connect with people through groups), which is a good sign. I had a limited pool of players to choose from, but I could join quests in progress and fire off SOS flares to signal other people that I needed help. This series is still fun as hell to team up in.
If you’ve been skipping out on Monster Hunter games for a while because they seem to blend together, jumping into World is your chance to get in. Just know that Capcom hasn’t really shaken up the formula enough to piss off veterans or appeal to people who don’t welcome grinding with open arms.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]