Welcome to our Game In Progress review of Monster Hunter: World. This week, we’ll cover the basics of the latest installment in this long-running dinosaur-fighting series.
Capcom’s Monster Hunter games have never been as straightforward as that simple title suggests. For every minute spent smashing a rampaging dinosaur with a giant hammer, MonHun players have traditionally been forced to spend five fiddling in their menus, researching their quarry on the internet, or screwing around with instant headache inducers like online accessibility. No more, though; the series’ latest offering, Monster Hunter: World, is marketing itself as an accessible Monster Hunter game for a new generation of consoles and players, and it largely lives up to that hype.
Charming and bordering on plotless, Monster Hunter: World puts as few obstacles as possible between you and the joyful act of stabbing its dazzling menagerie of hostile beasties in their various softer bits. At its heart is a very basic loop, one that compels even when it carries a whiff of mindless grind: Hunt the monster; use the monster’s parts to build new stuff; use that stuff to hunt a bigger monster; repeat until monsters are too big or equipment is suitably blinged out. (The latter concept being only theoretical, given how gorgeous some of the loot here gets. Happiness is outfitting your trusty battle cat companion with a spacesuit made entirely from dinosaur bones.)
Loading up World for the first time, you’re invited to design your character—and the aformentioned feline sidekick who’ll be serving as your companion and healer on hunts—but the real choices come a few minutes later. That’s when players are introduced to one of the game’s biggest draws, and also one of the roughest potential friction points in an entry that’s doing its damnedest to be smooth as silk: its massive arsenal of weapon types. The decision between weapons like Long Sword (hit stuff), Switch Axe (hit stuff in order to build up a charge, then transform the weapon to unleash it and hit stuff even more), and Insect Glaive (fire an insect bullet that you have to separately raise and upgrade, suck out color-coded power-ups, and then hit stuff, all mid-fight) isn’t a trivial one; in a game where your equipment is what gets stronger, not your character, choice of weapon is everything. Luckily, the game does give some guidance—in the form of a training area and a rating for a given weapon’s overall complexity—but there’s a reason that World’s release was preceded by people passing around charts on Twitter, trying to help people make this pivotal pick. The weapon upgrade system, which encourages building up one increasingly powerful set through most of the early game, doesn’t help to alleviate the feeling of being locked into a single overriding choice.
Once you plunge in, though, those brief moments of decision paralysis quickly burn away, replaced by the pleasures of the hunt. The central stars here are the monsters, a coterie of fire-breathing dinosaurs, lightning-hurling unicorns, and devastating, nigh-unstoppable dragons, all ready and waiting for your puny hunter to track them down and pick a fight. (The game occasionally tries to sell the idea that these massive beasts are active threats to civilization, but coming to terms with your character’s bloody-minded occupation is more-or-less mandatory for enjoying everything that’s still to come.) One of the biggest appeals here is how convincingly one-sided these fights are presented: walk up to a flame-dripping T. rex and try to fight it, face to maw, and you probably deserve what you’re going to get. That devotion to making you feel like a fly staying just ahead of the swatter occasionally goes too far—there are few sensations more infuriating than failing a quest because a beast stunned you, then proceeded to repeatedly kick you while you were down—but for the most part, it serves as a pleasant goad to get you to use every tool at your disposal.
Those tools are considerably improved over past entries in the series. Besides your basic weapon, your hunter is now also equipped with a slingshot that can fire everything everything from simple stones to flash bombs or poisoned knives. Its presence, and the ability to harvest plentiful ammo from the environment, can be a lifesaver when you’re in desperate need of a little breathing room, which is often. The same goes for mantles, a new class of equipment that offers powerful passive bonuses—stealth, the ability to glide, and even a limited invulnerability—on a cooldown timer. That’s in addition to a whole host of bombs and traps, as well as new environmental features designed to trip up the bosses you’re constantly up against. For example, that rampaging Rathalos, the series’ take on the classic fire-breathing dragon, is a lot less scary when its berserker strikes bust a dam, sending it careening down a mountainside in a flood. Many of these features were present in the older games; World’s big innovation is in the numerous little conveniences—auto-crafting of harvested materials, easy fast-travel back to your camp to eat stat-boosting food or change out equipment, etc.—that make them infinitely easier to engage with and use.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can always tag someone in to help you out. The pre-release circumstance of this write-up meant we weren’t able to spend extensive time with the game’s multiplayer system, but we can confirm that it works, it’s smooth, and that there’s real fun to be had in teaming up with other players to take down either story missions or randomly generated hunts.
Said missions run the gamut from great to borderline-tolerable. In general, the further they move away from “fight this big, fascinating creature,” the less appeal they hold, especially since the more disconnected missions, stuff like “hunt 20 bugs” or “slowly carry an egg down a giant tree while a big-ass reptile chases you,” are frequently tied to vital upgrades for your home base. The end result feels a little like being bribed into doing your homework. The story missions generally do their job, though, introducing you to each creature, as well as the gorgeous habitats—jungles, sparse mountaintops, a jaw-dropping forest of coral—where they make their homes.
These locales are big, lush, labyrinthine, and one of the game’s most effective draws. Rather than the disconnected, load-screen-filled zones of past installments, each territory is now a large open environment full of plants to harvest, traps to avoid, and big ol’ baddies to capture or hunt. Sometimes you’ll be faced with more than one at a time, even; the game’s much-touted “turf war” system means you’ll occasionally find your hunt interrupted by an apex predator stomping into the fight to attack both you and your prey. At first, this can be distracting, even scary. (Some of these suckers are big.) But as you learn more about the hunt, it gets easier to take advantage of the distraction (not to mention the extra damage your new “friend” is piling on). That slowly-building mental vocabulary is one of World’s secret weapons. Even as your weapons and armor gradually grow fiercer and fiercer, your understanding of the game’s strategies—the importance of blinding flying monsters, for instance, or chipping away at a creature’s protective layers of mud with specialized water-based equipment—accrues cunning with a quickness.
That sensation of hunting, not just wandering the landscape looking for the boss, is enhanced by one of World’s most clever innovations: Scoutflies. These glowing little helpers serve the same basic function as the ubiquitous, glowing “OBJECTIVE” line that crops up in so many modern shooters, leading players around on a digital leash. The key difference here is that the flies can’t do the job on their own. Instead, you have to kick-start them by tracking your prey, training your scouts on footprints and environmental marks. Gather enough, and you’ll get a bright glowing trail to your quarry. Find even more, and the creature will show up on the map. It’s a small detail, but it goes a long way toward creating the sense that you’re on the hunt, rather than just being led around.
For all its efforts to be inclusive, Monster Hunter: World is still going to turn some people off. It remains clunky in places; managing your limited inventory space, for instance, has gotten easier with the addition of a radial menu, but it’s still a pain to dump out your item pouch after every mission like a sand-filled boot. Others will be repelled by the odd hit-and-run rhythms of its fights or the occasional story mission that unsuccessfully tries to mimic Shadow Of The Colossus. But if the idea of an entire game of inventive, visually stunning boss fights appeals to you—or if you’re just the sort of person who can imagine themselves whiling away the hours, hunting for the last component needed to deck your kitty out in a kickass princess dress made entirely from harvested unicorn skin—the series has never been easier, or more welcoming, to players looking to make the plunge.