Monster Hunter World strikes the perfect balance between nuance and accessibility.
The case of Monster Hunter is a rather curious one. It’s a series that has a pretty big and very dedicated fan base, but at the same time, it’s also a series that has alienated a lot of prospective players with its extremely steep learning curve and its daunting web of complex mechanics. With Monster Hunter World, Capcom are making a concerted effort to change that. This is supposed to be an entry point for all those who haven’t been able to get into Monster Hunter up until now, and for the most part, World succeeds in doing that.
Don’t get me wrong, all the complicated gameplay mechanics and systems that endeared the series to millions of people are still very much present here- it’s all just presented much more smarty, more neatly. The game makes excellent use of tutorials, which do a good job of explaining its systems to newcomers, but never become overbearing to the point where you feel like you have to scroll through entire walls of texts to be able to understand how to play. Similarly, there is now a training area present, where players can try out the weapons, acclimatize themselves with them, and decide which ones suit them best. The pacing, too, is a lot better here than it ever has been in Monster Hunter, even in its opening hours (it has a notably strong introduction), so that getting into the game doesn’t feel like as much of an effort as it did in the past.
"All the complicated gameplay mechanics and systems that endeared the series to millions of people are still very much present here- it’s all just presented much more smarty, more neatly."
There’s a slew of changes and improvements all across the board, big and small, that allow Monster Hunter World to strike a very fine balance between very much being the challenging and rewarding experience that fans of the series would want it to be, and yet still being accessible enough for newcomers to not feel completely intimidated by it. Intelligent fine-tuning and refinements cut out a lot of the fat, improved presentation makes the game much less janky than Monster Hunter traditionally has been, and quality of life improvements (such as the Scoutflies) remove a lot of the series’ well known idiosyncrasies, resulting in a game that’s easy – or at least easier – to get into.
But while the accessibility of Monster Hunter World is to be lauded, you shouldn’t mistake what exactly that means. World is more accessible than this series has ever been, yes, but this is still a game that demands a lot from its players. Understanding its mechanics and systems is easier, but you still have to understand them, still have to keep them in mind, still have to make use of them in the smartest way possible. Monster Hunter World is a game you will have to put a lot of time and energy into, and only then will you be able to derive maximum enjoyment out of it.
But if you’re prepared to do that, you will derive maximum enjoyment out of it, without the shadow of a doubt. The gameplay loop that forms the core of World is unbelievably strong, and it’ll pull you in like few games can. You’ll be spending the bulk of your time out in the wilds, tracking down monsters, taking potions and eating meals to buff your stats, and then engaging said monsters in thrilling, multi-legged fights. It’s an addictive loop of activities, and one that never becomes monotonous.
That is thanks mostly to the ecosystem of the world the game is set in, which works in wondrous ways to make sure that no two battles or encounters are ever the same. Unlike previous titles in the series, the maps of Monster Hunter World are large, seamless places with no load times to separate the areas within them, and this leads to a great many improvements, the most notable of which is a food chain that all the monsters adhere to. From herbivores to carnivores to larger, more fearsome beasts, a huge variety of monsters occupying the same map makes for a world that is living and breathing in and of its own, giving you the sense that you’re truly just a visitor, a minuscule part of it, rather than the focal point. And using this ecosystem to your advantage is incredibly satisfying too. Seeing a hulking Barroth take down the beast you’ve been tracking, or successfully leading one of your quarries into the jaws of the king of the jungle, the Anjanath, lends unprecedented layers of immersion and authenticity to the proceedings.
"There’s a slew of changes and improvements all across the board, big and small, that allow Monster Hunter World to strike a very fine balance between still being the challenging and rewarding experience that fans of the series would want it to be, and yet still being accessible enough for newcomers to not feel completely intimidated by it."
The monsters themselves, being the emphasis of this game, are stars of the show, fittingly enough. The design of each beast you see is unique and imaginative, as is their behaviour. Herbivores silently munch away on leaves and fauna, drinking water from the streams, while the carnivores are always out looking for meat to devour. Injured monsters tend to run back to their nests to recover, but depending on their species, attacking them too much might make them even more aggressive and, as a result, more dangerous. Animations for the monsters are also top-notch. From the way they idle about when not in combat, to the way they react to being hit (which also varies depending on where they’ve been hit), to the way they subtly and cleverly telegraph their attacks, it’s all incredibly impressive, and makes them all look and feel like actual beasts.
Combat itself is surprisingly multifaceted too. As Monster Hunter fans would know, there’s 14 different kinds of weapons to choose from, from dual blades and lances to huge buster swords and projectile weapons, and every single variety feels very different. Some weapons are slower and heavier, letting you deal more damage but only at the expense of speed, while others let you strike with multiple swipes and slashes in quick succession, though end up dealing significantly less damage. Some weapons give you unique abilities, such as electrifying your enemies or attaching together to transform from a sword and shield to a single, larger weapon, while others let you strike at your enemies from a distance.
Then there’s status effects, buffs and debuffs, and a host of other supporting systems in place, all of which comes together to make for an incredibly deep combat system. Combat does, however, have a few issues that are hard to ignore. F0r instance, there are often times when World has problems with detecting hit boxes properly, or doesn’t read collisions the way it should, which leads to moments where it ends up feeling a little clunky. When such issues arise in the middle of intense battles, or when you’re surrounded by a large number of enemies, it can be quite frustrating.
Getting back to the good stuff, though, the fact that each of these weapons feels so massively different from each other and that each of them has its own unique advantages or disadvantages adds an impressive level of depth to multiple areas of the game. For one, formulating strategies on how best to take down the monsters gives you more to think about, since some weapons are obviously better against specific kinds of monsters. Combat also becomes incredibly varied thanks to these different kinds of weapons. Playing with a regular sword and shield is a massively different experience than playing with a buster sword, which, in turn, is hugely different from playing with dual blades. Add to this the fact that each weapon has its own upgrade trees, which, too, changes depending on what materials you’re using, and all of this combined makes for a ridiculous amount of nuance and variety.
"From the way the monsters idle about when not in combat, to the way they react to being hit (which also varies depending on where they’ve been hit), to the way they subtly and cleverly telegraph their attacks, it’s all incredibly impressive, and makes them all look and feel like actual beasts."
Map design is also one of Monster Hunter World’s biggest strengths. You’ll be visiting a number of areas throughout the course of your 60-70 hour playthrough, and each of them feels suitably unique. The monsters occupying these areas make them feel like they’re actual wild and untamed places, areas that have existed and will continue to exist regardless of the player’s involvement. The locations themselves are beautiful to behold, and there were times when they evoked a sense of wonder in me, giving the New World, the game’s setting, an almost Avatar-like vibe.
Monster Hunter World accomplishes this not only thanks to its map design, but also a strong sense of visual flare. Art design is solid here, and the execution of that art in the game itself is also very impressive, while the game also makes use of beautiful, exaggerated lighting to make the environments pop out that much more. That said, from a technical perspective, things are a lot less perfect. Monster Hunter World is a very good looking game, but it’s still a little rough around the edges. It’s in the details that it falters, with things such as rough textures, or lip syncing issues (the latter being particularly grating).
One more area where Monster Hunter World stands head and shoulders above its predecessors is in how well it makes use of its story. Monster Hunter has always been about the loot grind, about roaming about in its maps and battling against monsters again and again in order to upgrade your equipment and weapons, and World is still very much about that. It’s the way it contextualizes that grind is commendable. There’s a surprising focus on story and cutscenes in here- don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Metal Gear Solid, and the emphasis is still very much on farming for monster parts to attain better loot, but Monster Hunter World actually has a storyline, which is consistently interesting, and remains a secondary focus throughout its playtime of over fifty hours.
In contrast, one area where World doesn’t do a very good job of contextualization is the side quests. Monster Hunter World has significant issues in this department, with most side quests amounting to boring fetch quests or collection missions, devolving more often than not to the “kill x number of beasts” or “collect y number of herbs” variety. Owing to its very nature, side quests are completely skippable, since you can always just freely explore the maps to hunt monsters and look for items and gear as you would, but given the game’s inherent reliance on grinding, you will naturally have to play through side quests every once in a while, and if you’re anything like me, you won’t be impressed by what you see.
"Art design is solid here, and the execution of that art in the game itself is also very impressive, while the game also makes use of beautiful, exaggerated lighting to make the environments pop out that much more."
Monster Hunter World is an impressive achievement. Its vast web of interlocked systems should be nothing but daunting, but while the game makes no concessions in this area, for which it also has to be applauded, it does make it all a little easier to jump into all of it. The loot grind loop is ridiculously addictive, the design of both the beautiful world itself and the majestic monsters that live in it is wonderful, and bleeds creativity and authenticity- and it all comes together to make for an experience you can easily sink dozens upon dozens of hours into. Monster Hunter World is the perfect place to jump into this famous and beloved series, and if you’re already a fan, then it’s the perfect place to fall even deeper in love with it.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Very addictive; A number of mechanics work together to make for a complex system; Varied combat; Monsters look and sound amazing; The in-game ecosystem breathes life and authenticity into the experience; Beautiful art design; Excellent maps; Surprising amount of focus on a story that is actually more interesting than you'd expect.
Combat can be a little clunky on a few isolated occasions; Some technical issues, such as bland textures and poor lip syncing; Unimaginative side quests.
Monster Hunter World is a demanding game, but if you're willing to invest in it, you'll be rewarded with one of the most satisfying, addictive, and nuanced experiences of all time.