Movie Sleuth Gaming: Monster Hunter World - Reviewed

Whenever I heard about Monster Hunter previous to the 3DS titles (which was rare as an American), I mostly wrote it off as grindy and esoteric nonsense reserved for JRPG fans and PSP-wielding salarymen on Japanese mass transit. With the availability of a free demo and a co-worker’s persuasive argument that “it controls like Dark Souls”, I couldn’t find an excuse not to try out Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate back in 2015. It was confusing but nevertheless engrossing. Its systems were obtuse, players did things the game never taught me, and the whole community responded to all of my quandaries with the qualifier “I know this doesn’t make sense, but..”. In the face of this, I dumped dozens of hours into the two Monster Hunter titles since then and I can say with great confidence that Monster Hunter World but is far-and-away the best in the series in spite of its flaws.

Like many other Monster Hunter fans, when hearing about how a lot of the hard edges of the game had been filed off in favor of something easier to digest, I was a little concerned that Monster Hunter World might suffer from an identity crisis. After a significant amount of time with it I can say that despite cutting out some of the tedium of the in-game systems, there still remains plenty of the telltale bullshit that Monster Hunter fans know and love. Gone are the days of picking up a map at the start of each mission and carrying piles of varying-quality pickaxes for mining. Instead, the gathering is streamlined, and tracking monster is easier than ever. These quality of life changes are needed and appreciated, especially if Capcom wants to continue to expand the series to western audiences.

I have a slight bias as someone who is not brand new to the series, but I appreciated the number of tutorials and help, even if they weren’t always the best in execution. The simple addition of “scout flies”, glowing bugs that help you track monsters and collectibles, does more to help the player than almost anything in the previous titles. Changes like this and things like the addition of weapon moveset help in the training are minor in the big picture of how the game operates, but essential for expanding its player base.

With these minor but helpful changes, one might expect even more adjustments to the formula for approachability. This is not so, but don't fret; this is a good thing. So much about the primary gameplay experience was already great, even if it wasn't (and still isn't) for everyone. The small changes are primarily what the game needed, and I am glad they didn’t go too far with it.

Hey, save some of the big horns for me!

The main gameplay loop remains the same: eat a feast, track a monster, hunt the monster, turn the monster’s parts into new armor, repeat. This already satisfying loop is made all the more fun with the aforementioned quality of life improvements. Monster Hunter World’s new changes may make you turn the tide on your thoughts on the series on a base level but if you struggled with the core idea it still might not be for you. I don’t want to give people the impression this is a brand-new experience, but the changes may help get through some of the more taxing early game shell to get to the gooey chocolate center. I urge people try it and push through some of the nonsense, especially now at a time of the year where there isn’t too much to play. The gratification when the game ‘clicks’ with you is unlike many other game series’ before it.

In spite of all the quality of life improvements, the online functionality is riddled with baffling design decisions. The story and hunts are completely playable offline, but online is something that has been important to the series even going back to its inception. The story quests are able to be played multiplayer with other hunters around the globe, but the constraints Capcom put into place are nonsensical. You can only join another hunter on a required story quest if both players have watched specific cutscenes associated with that mission, some of which are many minutes into the hunt. Similarly, the more generic and exploratory missions called expeditions can’t just be joined with your friends, and you instead have to rely on the awkward “S.O.S. flare” system that opens up the game to all online players.

I was eventually able to play some missions and experience some jolly international cooperation with a few helpful Japanese players, but the number of required hoops to jump through and confusing menus is inexcusable for a game coming out in 2018. In this case, Monster Hunter World really shows its roots as a game that had its start as an online game on the PlayStation 2 and not a game that took notes from giants like Destiny or World of Warcraft. Ultimately, if you are looking for online play, the most consistent way I found was to always shoot an S.O.S. flare at the beginning of every mission. It seems to have become the defacto way to engage with other hunters online.

From a technical standpoint, Monster Hunter World is excellent aside from an annoying flaw. It looks fantastic, even on the regular PS4 I was playing on in what is now considered ‘lowly plebeian 1080p’. I was constantly impressed with how the game’s style translated from mobile platforms to the high-fidelity modern consoles. It performs well, mostly keeps up frame rate but chugs here and there when there are multiple large monsters on screen. The biggest technical issue I had were the lengthy load times. Without an SSD or one of the half-step improved consoles, the load times are atrocious. I felt like I was back in the PS1 days going out on quests and sitting for over 30 seconds on a menu waiting. It’s not necessarily a make-or-break element (in the era of smartphones it’s just another excuse to check Twitter) but there were definitely times I was excited to join a new hunt and the long wait was frustrating. Fortunately, the moment-to-moment action and gameplay is so satisfying it is easy to forget (not ignore) some of the issues.

Get used to this ugly mug, you'll spend plenty of time chopping him up to make new hats in the early game

To get into the nitty-gritty of the gameplay, you need to talk about the weapons. Despite the lack of a brand new weapon type, Capcom has made an effort combine what they learned from the combat styles in Monster Hunter Generations with new moves that make the whole suite of 14 weapons feel fresh. I had spent the last two Monster Hunter titles using the same weapon (longsword) and decided to get out of my comfort zone and try something new, and I’m glad I did. I played around with multiple weapons of different complexity levels and decided to use return to my Dark Souls roots and the biggest, slowest, and most defensive option available a shot: the lance. Clearly, this game is still a game in the same series, but playing a slow and plodding weapon with an affinity for shield blocking almost feels like a different game. I wish the tutorials and story quests did a better job to teaching you some of the more mid-level techniques of the weapons, but fortunately, due to the popularity of the game, there is a myriad of resources on YouTube for proper tutorials.

Speaking of story, there is a one. It was kind of painful at times to not just button through it and get back to the hunting but I struggled through it. The story follows the hunter’s guild to ‘The New World’ for the dual-purpose action of studying and hunting. Your job is to solve the mystery of why the large ‘Elder Dragon’ monsters travel here every decade. What pans out is relatively boring and perfunctory but for the player needing a carrot on a stick, it is effective. There is a lot of value in playing the game solo and I think the beginning of the story does a good job teaching many of the mechanics. Where it breaks down is in the mid-to-late game.

After you fight a massive boss and think you are done, you aren't. The game just has done a poor job conveying next steps. There is a triumphant defeat of an enemy, a lengthy cut-scene and some amount of closure, but it turns out to just be a weird faux ending that unlocks another rank of monsters. If you are playing this and you fight a big boss for the second time, keep playing! There is a lot more to do, Monster Hunter World apparently just assumes that you know to keep going even though it does nothing to compel you to do so. There are always more monsters to be hunted and more hunters to befriend!

Monster Hunter World is as brilliant as it is flawed. For each satisfying monster kill or mechanic, there is a confusing menu or bad design. I absolutely adore this game, but I cannot in good conscious gush about it and tell everyone it's the best thing since sliced monster parts. It’s not a game for everyone, but for the new folks just waiting to fall in love with it and the long-termers making their triumphant return, Monster Hunter World is a damn fine way to spend your time.


-Justin Wicker