If there’s one thing the modern AAA gaming industry loves to tote, it’s that their next big title sports a “massive and immersive world.” Yet here is Monster Hunter World, the next installment in a long-running series that brazenly sports that same moniker so often used to describe other games.
Yet while other titles throw around the buzzword to simply tick the checklist of tried and true promotion, Monster Hunter World isn’t just blowing hot air. Nearly every aspect of the series has been honed to a razor sharp edge, and it all combines into creating what is, truly, a “living, breathing world.”
Welcome to the New World
The game picks up with your custom made Hunter and female companion, simply called The Handler, traveling to an island called “the New World” to join the Commission. The Commission’s duty is to monitor and study the movements of a colossal monster composed of volcanic rocks known as Zorah Magdaros.
After taking their first steps onto the New World, the pair soon arrives in the town of Astera, a ramshackle but homey locale erected by residents of the Old World that have come to spearhead the exploration of the New World. The story thereon revolves around unraveling the mystery of why Zorah Magdaros has come to the New World in what is called “The elder dragon crossing.”
While Monster Hunter World is the first game in the series to sport a cinematic story complete with voice acting, the narrative itself is rather simplistic. While it does present some rather impressive set pieces, the story never really serves as anything more than a pretense to introduce bigger, badder beasties to fight. That’s ok, because the purpose of a Monster Hunter game is to hunt monsters, and at that, World excels far and beyond.
Tools of the Trade
Quests to hunt monster can be accepted in the hub area of Astera, and can be taken on solo or with up to three other hunters online. After departing and arriving on site you’ll find your Hunter in a starting campsite where you can pick up supplies the Commission has provided, manage your inventory and equipment in the tent, and eat a status-boosting meal before heading out into the wild.
Preparation for the hunt is often just as important as the hunt itself. If the target is a monster capable of inflicting poison, such as the bird-chameleon-like Pukei-Pukei, then you will want to bring along antidotes. For flying wyverns, you want flash pods to shoot them out of the sky. And so on and so forth.
The preparation phase can potentially be daunting when taking on a brand new monster without any prior knowledge, especially for players new to the Monster Hunter series. Fortunately, World helps ease you in as the supplies the Commission provides will often include such helpful items for that particular hunt. Item descriptions are clear and concise, making their intended use simple to grasp from the start.
Once you feel you are adequately prepared it’s time to set off into the great frontier.
Stepping into the Unknown
There are five primary areas in the New World that will serve as your hunting grounds. Gone are the segmented zones of past Monster Hunter games, instead replaced with expansive, multi-layered affairs with nary a load screen to be seen, with each region offering a unique scenery completely distinct from the rest. The dry, barren dunes and craggy ridges of the Wildspire Wastes stand in stark contrast to the lush vegetation and flowing creeks of the Ancient Forest. A particular standout is the Coral Highlands, with their down-right alien landscapes sporting the kind of seaweed-like plants and porous rocks normally reserved for those who dive in oceans.
Regardless of what region you find yourself in, the process of tracking your quarry remains the same: by utilizing your Hunter’s firefly-like Scout Flies.
As you explore a region you will come across signs of a monster’s presence, such as their footprints, gashes in a wall, or even their excrements. Examining these traces will gradually let your Scout Flies grow accustomed to that monster’s scent, eventually allowing them to pinpoint the target’s location and lead you directly there.
The Scout Flies are an ingenious way of assisting the player in a way that is consistent with the world and are a godsend in the especially topsy-turvy, twisty-turny areas of some regions. However, the flies are not without their faults, as there are occasional unlucky instances where monster traces just cannot seem to be found anywhere, resulting in aimless wandering that can be anywhere from frustrating to downright infuriating. These moments are rare, and can be seen as simply part of the hunt, but are an annoyance, nonetheless.
Following the Scout Fly trails is made a snap due to how fluid movement is throughout the environments. Simply running forward is enough for your hunter to climb walls, swing from vines, and dive through water. Traversal feels crisp and responsive, as well as just plain fun, allowing you to focus on gathering valuable resources you come upon in your path.
Various herbs, insects, and other resources that can be used to craft important items and equipment dot the landscape and can be gathered with no loss to your forward momentum. Auto-crafting allows some materials to be immediately crafted into others upon pick up, such as herbs into useful health restoring potions, providing instant gratification and further incentive to take the two steps to the right on your path to harvest them, especially when your supply is running low part way through a quest.
Once you follow your trusty Scout Flies to their final destination, picking up every bit of flora and fauna you could along the way, it’s time for the main event: the hunt.
The Hunter and the Hunted
The monsters of the New World are relentless, and will pull no punches as they attempt to shred your Hunter to pieces and/or smash them into the ground. It’s not uncommon to find yourself in awe when encountering a monster for the first time, only for it to fully deplete your health bar moments later.
Hunters may engage in battle utilizing one of fourteen different weapon types, and while they all use the same light, heavy, and special attack buttons, each handles drastically different from the rest. The dual swords offer high mobility and quick attacks, the insect glaive provides buffs and a powerful jumping attack, bowguns offer superior shelling capabilities, and so on and so forth. Chances are if one weapon just doesn’t seem to be clicking, another type will seem custom tailored for you.
Knowing the ins and outs of your weapon is key to hunting the majestic beasts of the New World. Monsters demand that you learn how to weave through their attacks, when to poke with light hits, and when to go all in for the heavy damage combos. By leaping off ledges, walls, and other vantage points your Hunter can even mount a monster. Carefully maneuvering around the monster’s body to thwart its attempts to throw you off then finally bringing it down in a glorious finisher is an exhilarating excitement that never gets old. The same can be said for utilizing the environment to fight, such as ensnaring the monster in a vine trap or knocking a boulder onto its head.
Repeated attacks on a monster will leave noticeable wear and tear on their bodies, sometimes causing that part to break in a spectacular manner. Such part breaks not only provide a visceral thrill, but also will limit how the monster can attack thereon, providing a tactical incentive to methodically aim your attacks. The visible wounds inflicted serve as an organic damage indicator, considering the monster itself does not have a health bar. Not knowing exactly when the beast will finally fall adds to the adrenaline pumping action of the battle, and makes the monster’s eventual defeat all the more satisfying.
Decked Out in Style and Honor
Just as hard-core hunters in real-life will sometimes make a trophy out of their game, what better way to display your hunting prowess in Monster Hunter than proudly creating entire armor sets and weapons from the monsters’ body parts?
Going to the workshop in Astera will provide a bevy of options to use the parts carved from you victories for. Armor sets are created entirely from scratch and often look just as badass as the monster it came from. The fiery red Rathalos set perfectly takes after the King of the Sky himself with its draconian flare, while the Legiana set carries the same refined, elegant aesthetic as the frosty drake herself.
Beyond the usual defensive and elemental resistance stats, armor pieces also grant various skills that range from increased ailment success rate, increased damage to an enraged monster, and many more. While wearing pieces of an armor set together will grant a set bonus, mixing and matching various pieces from various sets to get a particular set of skills also provides an enormous amount of flexibility.
Weapons, on the other hand, start with a base and are upgraded from there into different weapons. New in World, compared to previous Monster Hunter titles, is an upgrade tree, which lays out every possible upgrade for a weapon type in an easy to understand chart. Weapons can also be reverted back to an earlier stage at almost any point, refunding the materials used in the process. The upgrade system encourages experimentation and allows for a degree of planning unknown to prior Monster Hunter games without external assistance. Regardless of the upgrade path taken, the cathartic release upon reaching the end of a branch for a weapon after so many hard fought hunts cannot be understated.
There may not necessarily be an “end goal” for Monster Hunter World, but the cycle of hunting monsters, using their materials to craft stronger equipment, then using said equipment to hunt even stronger monsters is an addicting one. The armory of various armor sets and weapons created is the very embodiment of your accomplishments, and elicits a sense of pride almost as great as taking the monsters down themselves.
One for the Record Books
Since its inception on the PlayStation 2, the Monster Hunter series has been about overcoming adversity in the face of overwhelming odds. World not only continues that tradition, but has refined the formula to its purest form. Adrenaline pumping triumphs soar to the highest of highs, while defeats are crushing yet still worthwhile. Every aspect of the game, from the environment, to the tracking, to the fights, to the crafting, serves to further amplify these two extremes.
Monster Hunter World is a title that demands excellence, but provides excellence in turn. It rewards the player for every action taken whether extrinsically, with rewards and gear, or intrinsically, with knowledge and pride, and for a game to accomplish that to such degree and with such finesse is truly worthy of the highest of praise.