Monster Hunter World (PlayStation 4 Review)
Sleepless nights. That’s what Capcom’s latest iteration and quasi-reboot of the niche and addictive Monster Hunter franchise has cost me. Monster Hunter World is the first western home console release for the series since 2010’s Monster Hunter Tri on the Nintendo Wii, and it’s clear audiences have been starving for it. As of this writing, World is already the fastest selling Capcom title in history. It’s actually rather astounding. So, what exactly is the draw?
To begin with, World’s premise is a simple one. Every so many years, elder dragons depart for the New World and never seem to return. The Research Commission has repeatedly sent expeditions to discover the reasons for the elder dragons’ behaviour, but have not yet had any success. Players take the role of an A-List hunter who participates in the fifth expedition, discovering a new land filled with monsters new and old. While World places more weight on its story than most other entries in the series, its ultimate purpose is to guide fresh, new players into the end-game with elder dragons and “tempered” monsters—stronger variations of monsters than even the “high rank” version. It’s not a half-assed storyline by any stretch. Rather, there’s a sense of wonder, intrigue, and respect towards the New World and its creatures. Ultimately though, the guidance takes centre stage, offering greater accessibility to players—a key component in Capcom’s new great hit.
World’s storyline isn’t the only area with improved accessibility. As with previous Monster Hunter titles, objectives are broken into a number of quests. Typically, these involve hunting some sort of monster, though others may involve simply delivering specific items. Whatever the case, players no longer have to stumble around until their mark has been found. Instead, players may utilise scoutflies to track monsters. Every monster will leave fluids, markings, and other hints to their whereabouts which the player may interact with. Find enough and the player’s scoutflies will form a trail to follow. With enough time, scoutflies can become so familiar with monsters that they’ll automatically track them at the start of quests. It’s a neat feature that really enhances the sense of being a “hunter” more than previous entries have. Worth noting: these tracks actually do physically—or virtually, I guess—hint to the target’s location. It’s a real shame there’s no option to switch off the scoutflies to hunt independently, because the necessary tools are still there. That being said, independently isn’t typically the best way to play Monster Hunter anyway.
Up to four players can participate in a single quest—though some quests do have restrictions. Multiplayer is actually fairly simple to utilize and all quests support it. Players can fire off an SOS Flare to unleash a group of online players on their prey—provided any cutscenes in the quest have been viewed at least once before. On one hand, SOS Flares further improve the accessibility of the game, providing players with an alternative option when they’re struggling. Unfortunately, it can also be a cumbersome method for playing with friends. Flares work by placing the active quest in an online list that others will have to browse through, ultimately making this method best suited to playing with strangers. Instead, friends will want to take advantage of the Online Sessions system.
Online Sessions are created automatically when the player is online. Each Session will have their own unique Session ID that other players can input when logging into their character.
Additionally, players may also form Squads. Essentially an online group, anyone can be invited to a Squad by its Squad Leader. Not only are sessions a convenient method to share quests with friends (all accepted quests are available to session participants without an SOS Flare), they also have text and voice chat functionality in the hub towns. Sadly, there are still some missed opportunities here. Players won’t actually be in the same game world unless they’re in the Gathering Hall or the same quest. Sessions are also limited to twelve players at most.
It’s clear at this point that World is looking for broader appeal by focusing on greater accessibility than the previous entries—a particular flaw the rest all shared. There’s an element of this new focus in the combat too. Monster Hunter battles have always been somewhat technical, requiring players to master one of a large range of weapons—there are even fourteen very distinct types of weapon in World. Attacks were, and are still, animation locked, meaning players must be prepared to commit to their actions. In Monster Hunter World, combat has become more fluid and responsive than before while still retaining those animation locks. The accessibility offered by World certainly opens the door to fresh players, but it’s the improved combat that truly engages with the new and old.
Each weapon-type has been tweaked to improve both their balance and their feel. The range of choice is impressive and often inspired. One player can be making their axe-turned-sword explosively discharge elemental energy into a monster’s face, while another will be smashing the monster with a musical horn to play notes that also buffs the group. Players can also be creative with their options, leading to some fantastic GIFable highlights that would make anyone feel proud of themselves. The addition of environmental tools also offer windows for heroics, with massive spear cannons and droppable boulders knocking monsters out for the player to briefly exploit.
While players can perform impressive feats with groups of friends, the real stars are the large monsters that serve as the objective for most quests. These beasts come with a range of devastating attacks that often each have distinct tells. Players are rewarded for understanding their prey and learning their behaviour. While monsters are less varied than they really should be, they still have their own unique presence and experience when fought. It’s incredibly gratifying to conquer a challenging monster, only to return and know how to dance around them. Monsters are also all deeply territorial and are not afraid to brawl with other large(r) monsters. It’s honestly exciting to watch a battle between two dangerous creatures unfold while trying to dive in between them and exploit any available openings you can. With a particular focus on player skill when overcoming the monsters, Monster Hunter World provides players with a sense of progression that’s truly earned.
There’s an additional layer to character and, by extension, player progression. Materials carved from monsters or found in the field can be used to craft better equipment. There’s at least two armour sets for almost every monster in the game, and each of the fourteen weapons have an array of different trees to develop them—for example, there will be different lances for each element or status ailment in the game. By murdering some Anjanath—a fire-breathing dinosaur monster—players will obtain materials that can develop their preferred weapon into one that inflicts additional fire damage. Alternatively, carving up enough Great Jagras—a rad lizard with blonde hair—can make certain weapons that exhaust monsters, leaving them out of breath and tired. There’s even an elderseal property that’s uniquely effective for preventing certain abilities the final elder dragons have access to. When you’re sporting an outfit made entirely out of creature parts, you know that you’ve conquered that monster. This leads to an incredibly addictive loop in which it’s all too easy to be that one fang or horn away from obtaining a new and improved weapon. There’s a lot of replayability, and fights are dynamic enough that hunting the same monster for the third or fourth time because you just have to get that super awesome sword never seem to get boring.
While playing dress up with monster skin can be its own type of rewarding, players can also dress up their Palicoes—cat-like companions that join in single or two-player hunts—in all sorts of monster garments too. Palicoes are great little assistants that can help deal damage and knock players out of stuns. They also offer a range of unlockable tools that may acquire extra monster loot or buff the player. Did I mention that Palicoes are also incredibly charming and funny? A lot of attention went into providing them with personality. Hell, they’ll even get into a small floating rubber ring when they’re in shallow water. The gaming world is littered with Palico characters in roles that include chefs and scouts. They practically steal the show when they’re on screen.
To put it plainly, Monster Hunter World is a rather fantastic and charming game. The drive to improve accessibility in the franchise has not been a detriment at all, though there are still areas which may require some polish. At the start, new players may still feel overwhelmed or find menus and navigation a little clunky, but it doesn’t take long for the title’s strengths to truly shine and those gripes to feel minor. Released at the end of January, World kicks off the year with a very strong start for the medium.