Monster Hunter World just came out and it’s literally all I want to do right now. This always happens when a new one of these comes out. The Monster Hunter grind is like some insatiable drug I can’t resist. It was enough of a struggle to break myself away for long enough to actually write this.
I actually took a short break from the series when I just couldn’t play the game on a handheld anymore. So, the time that had passed, combined with this being on a console meant that when I got my hands on this game, it was like some beast had been unleashed and no amount of Monster Hunter seemed able to sate its hunger.
Putting my fanboyisms aside for a moment: Monster Hunter World is probably the best stepping on point the long running series has ever had for people new to the series. Monster Hunter has always been something of an impenetrable series of games to get into. This new entry does a lot to streamline the experience, removing the unnecessary bits of upkeep that used to add extra layers of complexity to a game that was dense enough already.
It’s because of this that, despite how much I love this game and vocalise that point, I struggle to answer the question when people ask whether they should pick this game up or not. So I’m going to try to pick apart what Monster Actually is and whether or not you should play it.
So… What is Monster Hunter
Monster Hunter is a game about epic battles
Let’s begin with the most obvious. The main appeal of these games is the thrill of battling these huge, exotic creatures that all want to paint the walls with you. And the monsters have never looked more alive than they do here. The graphical up-haul aside, the gameplay for Monster Hunter is what has always drawn me in. It’s not a mashing affair or a high action power fantasy, Monsters are huge and powerful and in some cases can knock you out in only a few hits.
Gameplay can be slow and methodical, spending most of your time just avoiding attacks, letting the Monster tire itself out before you can really start to lay into it. It’s because hunts can feel so drawn out that getting a real big hit on a monster that sends it reeling can be incredibly satisfying. It’s a game where my enjoyment for the gameplay comes from the satisfaction of knowing that my preparation and forward planning paid off. Not just hacking away at my quarry, but using tools, traps and the environment itself to my advantage.
Listening to a lot of people try to describe why they like the Dark Souls series gives makes me want to draw parallels between the combat of that series and this one. Fights, especially when you’re using the bigger, slower and more powerful weapons, can feel very deliberate. You commit to your swings, meaning you leave yourself wide open when doing so. It’s a constant series of decisions about whether now is the best opportunity to attack or not over and over again, because one wrong step can cost you half your life bar in some cases.
The result is that some tougher hunts can come right down to a nail biting last few moments when you’re out of resources and the monster is running on nothing but desperate fury. It can get intense. If that doesn’t sound like something you can get behind then you should probably stop reading here because that’s my biggest selling point.
Monster Hunter is a game about about mysterious resource management
Monster Hunter has never been the most transparent of games, it’s why a lot of people have bounced off it in the west. Historically, so much of the information you needed about the game was hard to find or sometimes completely absent from the game altogether. I spent most of my time playing the older Monster Hunter games with a web browser open next to me. Looking up reference of monster weaknesses, items drops, resource locations.
It’s the kind of thing I learned to just accept from the games as I continued to stick with the series. But if you’re new and trying to get into the series, it’s a pretty steep expectation to have of people. That kind of opaqueness was enticing to a certain corner of consumers, but most people would just decide that it wasn’t worth the effort.
One of the best things Monster Hunter World has done to make accessibility better is actually add this information into the game. That might seem like a weird thing to praise so highly, but for such a long running series that has been steeped in its weird design traditions for so long to actually make quality of life changes, it’s a huge step.
That being said, there are still a lot of things players need to work out for themselves. While it may be possible to brute force your way through the first portion of the game without knowing you have a pretty large number of resources at your disposal right from the get go. Knowing how to make traps, how to make healing items and the importance of collecting literally every item you find usually isn’t expressed until its too late.
This can be the most intimidating thing about the series, as there are thousands of items in game, the vast majority of which aren’t obvious what they’re used for. Items ranging from uses as healing item materials to ammo types to tool parts to armour material. Unless you know what these items are for from years of playing the older games then you don’t know the importance of collecting as much honey and iron ore as you can in the very early stages of the game.
I instinctively use up every mining and bone pile resource node I can in the game, even in the middle of a fight with a monster. Because being short a few ore when you want to make that new weapon is maddening.
This game is much better about showing the importance of items by giving they’re main use in their description and automatically using them as they’re picked up. Turning herbs into potions straight away if they’re needed. Additionally, they’re all marked on your map now. That’s huge. No more googling “Where can I find bitterbugs.”… There’s still a lot of stuff though.
Monster Hunter is a game about the loop of looking fabulous
There is a certain subset of people who get a lot of enjoyment out of making their characters look good in video games, oftentimes to the detriment of the actual function of the bits of clothing or armour they slap all over themselves. I’m one of those people, and Monster Hunter is a very much a series that caters to that type of person.
Explaining the loop of this game might have been more difficult before loot shooters like Destiny forced their way into our consciousness. Like Destiny, Monster Hunter works on a continuous loop of building yourself up over and over. You kill small monsters to begin with, and then you use bits from them to create weapons and armour for yourself. Equipped with this more powerful gear you move onto fighting tougher monsters.
And what is your reward for beating these bigger monsters? You got it, it’s an even tougher set of monsters to kill, so you can carve them up and make fabulous armour sets out of whatever you were lucky enough to peel off of them.
It’s a repeatable loop of gameplay and reward. Getting cooler looking armour sets with better stats and more varied effects on them. Amassing a collection of weapons with all kinds of different elemental and status effects on them in order to more efficiently defeat your poor, unsuspecting, massive quarry. And what do you get for your hard work? A badass armour set made out of an electric unicorn.
Or you could mix and match; look like trash, but have crazy powerful effect combinations that make your weapon effects far more efficient or make you immune to some monster’s abilities. There are a ton of ways to go about equipping yourself, and as the game progresses you gain access to greater and greater variety of effects, armour, charms and gems to cover yourself in.
Or you could just make yourself look like a witchdoctor and swing your big set of iron bagpipes around.
Monster Hunter is a game of diverse pay styles
There are 14 types of weapons to pick from in Monster Hunter. Each having their own play style, quirks, pros and cons. And Monster Hunter throws them all at you right away and encourages you go nuts picking which one you’re going to focus on.
It’s a pretty intimidating choice for someone new to the series. Even as a person who has sacrificed hundreds of hour to this series, Even I have still never used all of the weapons. If you were to put a gunlance into my hands today I would have no idea what I was doing with it. It’s a great level of choice given to players, allowing everyone to find something they like and diversifying every hunter in a party.
Weapons are, for the most part, are either very fast, but with low power, or very slow with high power. There are also ranged weapons. For example; duel swords have very low power when compared to a hammer, but you’re able to get a lot more hits in with them in the same amount of time. It’s why people shouldn’t shy away from the low power weapons, it all evens out.
They all come with their own risks though. High power weapons all have a level of commitment to them when attacking, swings are slow and deliberate, meaning you need to be sure you know where your foe is going to be when you swing that weapon. It makes fights with these type of weapons a little more tactical as you need to get monsters into positions where you can trap them or keep them contained for your most powerful attacks.
Faster weapons come with the risk of overdoing it. In my experience, when you’re attacking a lot you always tend to want to squeeze those extra few hits in. The trick is knowing when enough is enough and change onto the defensive. Not getting greedy in short. Plus, some weapons come with shields and some don’t, sacrificing a block for an extra powerful attack. But when fighting new monsters whose abilities you don’t know, a block might be the thing that stops you from flat out failing.
Also there are guns. Bowguns and the bow are a little more intimidating for newcomers as they have an extra layer of management and upkeep associated with them. Managing ammo can be off-putting for some as opposed to simply sharpening the weapon for the melee ones.
My point is that there is a lot of choice here, something I personally value in my games. Each weapon has a pretty extensive upgrade tree with all kinds of different paths you can take weapons down. I end up spending far too much time trying to make every weapon from a tree when I really don’t need to.
Monster Hunter is a game about navigating menus
Monster Hunter is a still a very Japanese game. And one of the most Japanese things about it is how dense and multilayered its menu systems are. Monster Hunter has always been a game full of menus with tabs that contain submenus with options to view each menu in three different ways. This might be the most menu dense game to date too, with all the extra information added to the game as I mentioned before.
And a lot of the stuff in here is not intuitive at all. Your items in quests are in a little bar you need to scroll through during gameplay, you can also tag a bunch of your items as favourites so you can use the left bumper/L1 to access them more quickly, the same with emotes and calls for other people in your team.
For the life of me, I still can’t figure out how to customise that menu. It can be frustrating when in a very tough fight, you end up focusing on your little item boxes and trying to find a potion and missing the monster about to charge right at you. With all the things that Monster Hunter has improved, there is still a level of finger gymnastics that goes on when you’re trying to do simple things like look through your inventory.
Outside of combat though, there are heaps of menus full of information at your disposal, a lot of which seems pretty superfluous. Each weapon has a huge damage table associated with it listing all kinds of things from its affinity to each elemental type to damage type. If you like damage tables and spreadsheets then Monster Hunter has your back, because this game has a hard data fetish.
Probably the most frustrating part about all of this though is how awkward it is to get into multilayer missions. If you want to play with a friend, you need to wait till they’ve seen all the cutscenes, if it is a story mission, before you can join them. Then to join them you need to actually just drop into their quest, but make sure you’re in the same lobby as them first. Also, don’t try replying to an SOS flare, because you can’t search those by person and it’s all very misleading.
My point is, one of the things it seems like Capcom brought over with them from their extended stint of being associated with Nintendo is an ass backwards approach to online multiplayer. It’s not as bad as it has been, but there is a lot of convolution to just joining your friends in this game online.Which sucks because this has always been a game about playing with friends. It’s really my one big, genuine criticism of the game.
Monster Hunter is a game about goofy nonsense
That cat is huge, and he’s wearing a du-rag. He’s also the town’s head chef? Cool.
And those are my thoughts in a nutshell. I could probably go on even longer, but at this point you’ve either stopped reading or I’ve convinced you. Monster Hunter is a great series and I’m really glad that they finally made a game that seems to be landing in the west and really getting more and more people into playing it.