Monster Hunter has always been a tricky series to get into. The idea at the heart of it is simple—hunt monsters, collect materials from their corpses, and craft that into stronger equipment that lets you hunt stronger monsters—but the wealth of different systems underscoring that was always difficult to wrap your head around. Verbose and generally unhelpful tutorials only served to make the serve the games even less welcoming to new players.
Monster Hunter: World is Capcom’s effort to remedy that, and make a Monster Hunter game with a much wider appeal than any before. It’s still a complicated game, but it does a far, far better job than any of its predecessors at introducing the game’s many different aspects to you one at a time, and guiding you through them. On top of that, World is a far more narrative-focused adventure than others before it, and having a compelling story that you can follow through the game makes a world of difference.
Every ten years, elder dragons migrate across the sea to an untamed wilderness known as the New World. The Research Commission has set up a base on the island’s coast, with the goal of understanding the complex ecology of the beasts that call it their home, and, ultimately, to understand what’s behind the elder dragons’ decennial journey. As a hunter, your job is to explore, gather information, protect the Commission’s base, and hunt monsters. It’s not the most deep or intricate story, but it does a good job of setting up the action and getting players invested in what’s going on in the game—something that’s been largely missing from the series to date.
One thing the Monster Hunter: World story does do well is set up a naturalist tone, putting an emphasis on the natural world and your place within it. Exploring the game’s different maps, it’s hard not to appreciate the majesty of nature in full effect. The New World is absolutely stunning—a welcome benefit of Monster Hunter making the jump back to home consoles after almost a decade as a handheld-only franchise. It’s divided into five different zones, each with its own biome and ecosystem: the dense, lush Ancient Forest; the rocky, dusty Wildspire Waste; the colourful Coral Highlands; the murky Rotten Vale; and the otherworldly Elder’s Recess.
Each zone feels big and distinct enough that it could almost be its own game, with its own animal inhabitants and unique ecological features that you can make use of in your hunts. The Ancient Forest is full of giant trees to climb and vines to swing around on; the Wildspire Wastes is full of rocky outcrops and ravines that are great for setting up an ambush; and so on. Each zone also feels alive, as though life would keep ticking along even if you never set foot there again. This is most apparent in the way different creatures interact with one another, whether it’s herbivores fleeing at the sound of distant threat or different giant beasts fighting for control of a piece of land.
The maps also feel incredibly dense. Wherever you are, you can be sure that there’ll be all manner of things around you to interact with, from picking herbs and catching insects to tracking a monster by the marks it leaves on the environment. Beyond the things you interact with directly, the world is full of beautiful sights to sees and vistas to take in; watching a sunset from the cliff tops at the edge of the Ancient Forest is a wonder that’s hard to describe. This all, again, feeds into that naturalist tone that underpins the whole game. You’re not taming nature so much as being a part of it, and Monster Hunter: World goes out of its way to depict nature at its most awe-inspiring.
What’s particularly impressive among all this—and another benefit of the more powerful hardware—is that once you’re in a zone, you won’t see a loading screen until you decide to travel to another. Each map is still divided into numbered areas the way they were in past Monster Hunter games, but this is now purely for your own information, to help you navigate and track your marks; in the game world itself, there are no partitions. Aside from the convenience of that, it helps make the world feel more connected, natural, and alive than ever before.
Where Monster Hunter: World hasn’t really changed is in its combat—and that’s for the best. You’ve got 14 different weapon types to choose between, from the simple sword and shield to the bizarre insect glaive. You can freely switch between them between quests, but mastering even just one weapon will likely take at least a few hours, and significantly longer for the more technical ones. It’s worthwhile to get familiar with at least a couple of different types for the sake of versatility—a melee and a ranged option, at least—but mastering every weapon would take a lot of dedication.
Combat itself is slow and weighty, in a good way. Pressing an attack button means committing to that attack and potentially leaving yourself vulnerable, so there’s a focus on being careful with your button presses and looking for openings to put in some big damage. This is why even simple weapons take time to master; if you want to excel, you have to really get familiar with the different attack animations and relative safety of tools available to you.
At the same time, items and interactive elements of the environment give you a lot of ways to mix things up. Traps are an old Monster Hunter staple, giving you ways to temporarily hinder a monster’s movement, but there are now also “endemic” natural features and wildlife in the world that you can use for a similar effect. Kick a certain type of frog, and it’ll let out a cloud of gas a few moments later, stunning any person or monster who gets caught in it; lure a foe into certain vines, and they’ll become tangled and unable to fight back while they struggle to get free.
Before you can hunt a monster you need to track it, and this is another place where Monster Hunter: World has made big improvements. Whenever you venture out, you’re accompanied by “scoutflies” that act as a sort of guide. They highlight any objects that you can interact with, like material collection points, but their far more useful function is in tracking big monsters. As you explore, you’ll sometimes find footprints and other such tracks; investigating these helps feed information to your scoutflies, so that they can find other similar tracks.
The more you investigate a particular monster’s tracks, the better acquainted your scoutflies become, making their tracking more efficient. Increase your “research level” for a particular monster enough, and you won’t even need to track it at all; your scoutflies will just be able to find it themselves and lead you right to it. As well as a simple means of character progression, the system feeds into Monster Hunter: World‘s focus on looking at that connection between the hunter and the world around them.
Crafting still plays a big role, as you’d expect, but the interface is more streamlined this time around. Upon visiting the smithy, you can see at a glance what armour you can craft and how it compares to other pieces of equipment, while an upgrade tree for weapons gives you a good overall picture of options for growth. One very welcome new crafting feature is the “wishlist”, which lets you track the material requirements for selected items for easy reference, with an alert when you’ve collected everything. You can also now see previews of what different equipment looks like before you craft it, which is helps avoid that faux pa of spending lots of rare materials on an item only to find that it’s too ugly to actually wear.
Behind those key Monster Hunter elements of combat and crafting there are myriad other systems at play, from the intricacies of different consumable items to armour skills to the wide variety of food effects. The tutorials can be confusing at times, but like I said, they’re not as wordy or front-loaded as previous Monster Hunter games, and you can generally ignore these different systems until you’re more comfortable with the basics and ready to dig deeper.
For the most part, you can play Monster Hunter: World single-player; the majority of quests are balanced for a solo hunter, and it’s not until you get to the very late, post-story part of the game that you start running into challenges that absolutely require a party. At the same time, online multiplayer is clearly a focus of the game, with a lot of different tools in place to help players band together for hunts.
Unfortunately, the online system is unnecessarily convoluted and poorly explained, so it can be tricky to figure out how it all actually works. In short, you create or join a lobby when you load up the game; then, you can either join another player’s quest (if there are any open) or start a quest of your own with space for up to three other players. If it’s an open quest, anyone from the lobby will be able to join, but you can also put a password on it if you want to limit it to just friends. While you’re waiting, you can do your usual preparation tasks like crafting or eating at the canteen, and if you get sick of waiting, you can just depart on your own the way you would a single-player quest.
Where things get tricky is with the main story quests, which have to be played solo until all of said quest’s cutscenes have been viewed—including those that play when you’re out in the map. What this means is that, if you want to play through the story with friends, you have to go through a convoluted process of all playing a quest separately to see the cutscenes, then cancelling the quest before starting again as a group. It’s a nuisance, to say the least, and I honestly think you’re better off just playing the story quests solo and then sticking to the game’s many, many sidequests for multiplayer.
One really neat touch with the online setup is with SOS flares. If you’re playing alone or with an undersized party, you can choose to send up a flare to call for help; other players can then join your quest-in-progress—even players from a different lobby, and even if you’d started the quest as a solo venture (the balance simply readjusts for party size when other players join). On the other side of it, when you’re in the hub browsing through quests, you can search for any active SOS flares and join any quests you find.
It’s a far more convenient system than the standard multiplayer setup, to the point that I’d often find myself starting a quest solo and then sending up a flare as soon as it starts. That way I could just do my thing and get on with the hunt, and then if any other players want to join, they can; it avoids the milling about and time-wasting that often comes with trying to set up a party prior to a quest’s start.
There have been a few server problems since the game’s launch, though these will presumably ease out over time. Still, they can be frustrating—especially when, for example, you respond to someone’s flare, join their quest, spend some time working on it, and then fail the quest because the host got disconnected. I’ve had that happen a few times, and it’s more than a little annoying. There’s also no convenient way to play in offline mode, if that’s your preferred way to play; you’ll switch to offline mode if you get disconnected from the server or try to play while not connected to the internet, but aside from that, the closest you’ll get to a truly solo experience is to create a private lobby and don’t let anyone else join.
Aside from those few niggling concerns, Monster Hunter: World is a phenomenal game. It’s got a much wider appeal than the typical Monster Hunter game, in part because of its move to home consoles and in part because of its more streamlined, narrative-driven experience. It’s still a deep, complex, systems-heavy game, but for the first time I feel like the game is trying to help me get familiar with all those nuances, rather than obtusely getting in the way. That’s a good thing indeed, because once everything clicks into place, Monster Hunter: World becomes a game that’s hard to put down, and I know I’ll playing it for a long time to come.
Monster Hunter: World is developed and published by Capcom. It’s available now for Xbox One (reviewed) and PlayStation 4, and is due out on PC later in 2018.
A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.