Monster Hunter World (Playstation 4 Beta Preview)

As a much underappreciated series in the west, it’s nice to see a Monster Hunter that targets the mainstream western audience with Monster Hunter World. An open beta—exclusive to PlayStation Plus members—was recently made available, with a follow up non-exclusive beta due from the 22nd to 26th of December. While missing some features, there’s at least enough to get a glimpse at what has remained or changed in the new title.

The premise for a Monster Hunter game is often simple. Players find themselves in some foreign, strange land where they’re hired to basically just murder monsters. A variety of quests offer different targets. While it sounds like gameplay will follow a rather linear quest completion, much of the meat is found in the equipment progression. A staple in Monster Hunter, character progression relies heavily on the player’s equipment. While damage and defensive properties will typically improve over time, there’s a breadth of options in the equipment including elemental and ailment affinities and skill perks. The World beta may not exactly let us hunt creatures to expand on our armoury, but it’s pretty clear this compelling feature isn’t going anywhere when some of those properties show up in the selectable gear.

Betas are now essentially the modern demo, but it’s still fairly important for them to allow players to experiment. This beta provides a weapon from each of the fourteen weapon-types, and they’re incredibly varied. Each weapon-type has its own central mechanic that should offer a style to suit everyone. One of those weapons is a giant bagpipe that plays musical notes on impact that can buff yourself and party members. Even simple premises like the weight of the weapon also have a huge impact on how they feel. Every action players make must be a deliberate one, because there are no mid-animation cancels. A swing of your sword needs followed through, and it’s there that monsters might punish you. This makes it more important to find a weapon that feels right, because the ultimate goal should be to master it. Even in the beta, this is evident. Furthermore, weapon-types have been rebalanced and their move-set have been expanded, giving experienced players room to experiment as well.

Patient players can also exploit traps—environmental or tools in the player inventory—to gain the upper hand. The inventory can be a pain to use, but World takes advantage of the additional buttons on a home console to provide a favourite items dial that can be used with the analogue stick. This matches the more fluid combat that World brings to the table. Environmental effects are a joy to trigger, and are a new addition to the franchise. Oftentimes, monsters will also retreat, granting players an opportunity to sharpen their own tools or—in the case of monsters returning to their home to sleep—plant more traps for a devastating opening attack.

Players can participate in three different quests—each set in one of two area maps included in the beta. While the target for each quest is specific, there are multiple targets for players that want to experiment. This includes optional boss-like monsters that can even get locked in battle with quest-targets. It’s possible to repeat quests and get different results—an important feature in a title that may require players to hunt particular monsters a few more times for loot. In the beta, this also offers an opportunity to take a break from the main targets and experiment. Sure, you’ll likely fail the quest, but new challenges make for a fun demo.

Initial impressions suggest that monsters are a little more grounded than recent entries, though we’re talking about how grounded shallow mud swimming monsters can be here. They have their own behavioural patterns, including their own methods of marking territory. Monsters almost feel like real, living creatures in World. There’s a definite and clear aim to make the series much more immersive, and they’ve really emphasised the Hunter in the game’s title this time around. Remaining true to the series, these behavioural patterns are also important to decode in battle, often resulting in players relying on physical tells to respond and exploit enemy weaknesses. Combat is pretty dynamic, but even the monsters also feel more responsive than Monster Hunter has ever been.

World brings some changes regarding how the maps work. The maps are more open, no longer segregated behind loading screens. They ultimately feel larger, and targets can sometimes be challenging to find. A new tracking system has been implemented to grant further accessibility to players that have struggled with previous Monster Hunter entries. Players will find footprints, carcasses, slime, and more, leading players to their target. World’s camera may struggle with the scale of maps and monsters, and I personally found locking on more difficult to work with than freely controlling the camera during combat.

Online play was a little cumbersome, but that appears to be the result of withheld features in the beta. Players can create rooms to play with friends, or randomly join open rooms. There’s no feature to invite friends directly, but that’s apparently coming. Monster Hunter is very much a multiplayer co-op game, and World is no different. Monster difficulty will scale depending on the number of players available—there can be up to four players in a single session.

Monster Hunter rewards patience, but World seems to explore that more by doubling down on players actively hunting and planning more. While this might put some players off, the title’s expanded target audience means that World also aims to be more accessible. Being patient isn’t required—at least in this beta—but the additional options make Monster Hunter feel more complete and rewarding when exploited. The beta is promising: all the core mechanics of Monster Hunter are as strong as usual, suggesting good things to come.

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