Welcome back to our Game In Progress review of Monster Hunter: World. This week, we’re wrapping up with thoughts on the game’s second half and its daunting shift into high-difficulty, High-Rank questing.
It’s depressingly easy to get a well-trained video game player to repeat a task; dangle new toys or, god forbid, an achievement in front of our faces and we’ll grind out any damn thing, far past the point of fun. The genius—and Monster Hunter: World is a certain kind of genius, albeit one that doesn’t usually get much credit—lies in keeping that repetition paradoxically fresh, even as obsessed players are churning out something that’s fundamentally more of the same.
The second half (and beyond) of Capcom’s latest entry in its long-running dino-killing series begins to lean into that repetition out of necessity; new monster designs don’t grow on trees, after all, and by the time players have unlocked the increasingly difficult High-Rank hunts that make up the game’s back end, they’ll have seen (and subsequently taxidermied) a healthy chunk of its roster of angry T. rexes, ridiculous puff-bats, and loogie-hocking poisonous frogs. So while World isn’t entirely out of fresh tricks, including one absolute motherfucker of a late-game beast who combines the aerial maneuverability of an eagle with the payload and destructive intent of a B-52 bomber, it’s also reached the point where players are inevitably going to be tracking down beasties they’ve beaten at least once (and probably more) before.
The game deploys a series of tricks and strategies to allay the potential boredom of these repeats; the first, and least elegant, being a sudden, unavoidable spike in difficulty. The move to High-Rank quests—mandatory if you want to continue World’s plot and progression loops—comes with serious stat boosts to every monster in the game, from rampaging quasi-gods all the way down to the same giant lizard you’ve been kicking the crap out of since your very first hunt. The sudden upping of the game’s aggression is your clue that blindly attacking is no longer a viable strategy, especially if you’re feeling under-equipped because some fire-breathing lizard is greedily hoarding the last bit of bone you need to complete a much-needed weapon upgrade. Bombs, buffs, and various traps and dirty tricks—including an increased reliance on the game’s vibrant ecosystem, which offers all sorts of nasty pitfalls or opportunistic scavengers to help you trip up a foe—go from unnecessary complications to mandatory life-savers, and learning these higher-level strategies helps your 20th Anjanath fight continue to go down smooth.
There’s also the equipment itself; High-Rank is when the game’s customization system opens up, and not just in terms of fashion. (But also, yes, in terms of fashion: few games in recent memory have made the experience of just seeing a new set of inventive, bizarre, or just plain cool armor, let alone crafting it and wearing it out into the world, feel so exhilarating.) Beyond basic defenses, every piece of armor in Monster Hunter: World allows access to one of dozens of skills, which can range from the very basic (increased attack) all the way up to the incredibly niche (speeding up how long you want sheathing your sword to take). Between gem slots on weapons, craftable necklaces, and the armor itself, it’s possible to drastically change how your character plays, tuning them to the one particular way you love to hunt. (Or more than one; the game supports multiple saved outfits.) And all of those upgrades are powered by new, frequently rare monster bits, the carrot-shaped answer to High-Rank difficulty’s occasionally punishing stick.
Then there’s the lure of camaraderie. World is mostly subtle about pushing players into multiplayer—going so far as to make story missions a serious pain in the ass to launch with friends—but it slowly builds up the impulse, often by issuing missions that would be punishingly unpleasant to do alone. (These usually involve fighting multiple monsters, because nothing gets you enthused to solo an iron-skinned lava fish like throwing yourself against a massive armadillo with boulders jutting out of its back, first.) This particular draw is less appealing than might be hoped; it can be tricky to find a proper balance with the game’s multiplayer, especially when playing with strangers. (There’s something distinctly unsporting about watching four uber-powered super-hunters surround and beat a suddenly helpless monster to death with weapons built from the carved-off pieces of its family.) But the fun of coordinating a hunt with friends, setting each other up for combos, tossing out buffs and healing, and working as a team against a much larger foe, can’t be denied. Not to mention the “we’re in this together” feeling of knowing that every defeat on your own part sends the quest a little bit closer to failure. Guilt can be a powerful motivating factor, too.
All of these motivators are merely ancillary, though. World’s greatest, most enduring draw comes from a much more simple place: The vast majority of these monsters are just damn fun to fight, time and time again. Monster Hunter combat has always flirted with the precision of a Dark Souls, asking players to, say, read a Rathian’s body language and learn its attacks and patterns. In the past, those attempts have been fuzzy and off-putting, with shoddy hit-detection and unfair strikes all over the place. In World, though, that all-important feel finally clicks into place, whether you’re dodging out of the way of a tail swipe that would have carted your hunter for sure or spotting the perfect moment to wind up a staggering hammer hit right on a dragon’s skull. That’s what keeps you coming back to the hunt over and over again, even when the external novelty wears off and the fancy boots have all been crafted. These creatures have been expertly built to push back, but not too hard, to create tension but rarely frustration. (Except for that fight-crashing, bomb-dropping Bazelgeuse. Fuck that guy.)
Monster Hunter has always been interesting when viewed as a simulation of hunting fantastical beasts or a semi-mindless series of loops to build up outlandish equipment. But this is the first time that it also acts as a really great action game, and the power of welding those three dynamics together can’t be overstated. It’s easy to make people grind. By hiding the simple pleasures of a satisfying fighting engine at the heart of so many systems that are so well-designed to support it, Monster Hunter: World pulls off the much harder trick of getting them to enjoy it, too.