Available on PS4 and Xbox One
Rated T for Teen
I’m really sick of games that make the executive decision that fighting is for losers. Outlast, Clock Tower, Slender, and even Subnautica have all made the unfair assessment that I’m a massive coward and would prefer to scamper away at the first sign of something being mean to me. I can understand why horror games do this, but if Resident Evil 7 showed me anything it’s that psycho hillbillies are no less scary when you actually give me a pistol to shoo them away with. This is why I respect Monster Hunter: World. While other games would set you up against a lanky albino in a suit and demand you run away, MH:W plops a T-Rex in your path, hands you a sword, and says, “we’re having T-Rex balls for dinner.”
I’m a bit embarrassed to say that this is my first Monster Hunter game. When the first two came out I was still at the age where households were defined by console, and we were an Xbox family. I never picked up Monster Hunter Tri—as it was a Wii game and dedicated Wii gaming is like watching movies exclusively on your smart watch—and 4/Generations wouldn’t play very well on my broken 3DS. Monster Hunter: World is the first installment of the series since 2 to come out on a console for adults, so thank you Capcom for finally realizing normal gamers might want to take part in your massively successful fantasy action franchise.
I figured I’d have a pretty good grasp on Monster Hunter: World due to my lengthy tenure with other japanese games categorized “hard” like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I expected a good deal of dodge-rolling, lengthy boss fights, complex crafting trees, and heaps of grind. All things that MH:W delivers in spades. What I did not expect is one of the most engrossing and satisfying experiences I’ve had since my long ago raiding in World of Warcraft.
It all starts innocuously enough. You play as JRPG Player Made Protagonist #794, a painstakingly accurate representation of your innermost fantasy badass, or the default blonde white dude if you’re like me and have shit to do. On your way to the new New World (I assume it’s new, all I have to go on is the game telling me how new and special it is), your airship is attacked by a giant volcano named Zorah Magdaros. You quickly escape and after a brief tutorial make your way to Astera, which will serve as your monster hunting base for the remainder of Monster Hunter: World.
It’s a lot to take in all at once, as you’re immediately tasked with acquainting yourself with the vendors, researchers, bounty hunters, forge, canteen, quest boards, and 14 different brands of weapons to choose from. This is probably the kind of thing that is standard for an experienced Monster Hunter player, but I spent about two hours in the practice arena just seeing what all the weapons did before I felt comfortable venturing out on my first hunt. I ended up going with the two-handed Greatsword, because if I’m going to be hunting Godzilla I’m sure as hell not doing it with a sword and shield.
Missions at this early stage are pretty straightforward, and do a wonderful job of introducing you to Monster Hunter: World’s unique setting and myriad of creatures. Piece by piece you’ll be introduced to the game’s four initial zones, and the increasingly deadly monsters that inhabit them. As you beat monsters into quivering heaps of useful loot, you’ll craft increasingly powerful weapons and armor to tackle the bigger bad guys. Pretty standard RPG stuff, but instead of fighting skeletons and orcs you’re killing hungry lizards the size of a bus.
What makes Monster Hunter: World unique is that every enemy you fight would pass for a boss in a different game. You’ll notice early on that the time limit for each mission is 50 minutes, and this isn’t always generous. Hunting monsters is a process, starting with tracking them down. Every monster in the game has certain routes that it takes around the map while it tackles its daily chores, and it’s up to you to find the tracks and figure this all out.
Once you do figure out where your prey is, actually defeating the monster is no small feat. The health pool for each monster is ridiculously large, and most of them can take you down in a few hits if you aren’t careful. You’re far from defenseless however, as you can use your tools and environment to your advantage. What weapon you have is just as important as learning the layout of the area you’re fighting in. Each zone has an assortment of walls and ledges to leap off of, hills to slide down, and traps like blinding Flashflies and paralyzing Paratoads. Land a jumping attack, and you’ll ride the monster like a confused rodeo bull as you poke it enough times to make it fall down. After piling on an amount of damage that would make a dump truck blush, you’ll eventually kill it.
Now for this first chunk of the game, just knowing your weapon and landing a few jump attacks will be enough to make it through. After fighting and finally vanquishing the walking volcano in a terribly anticlimactic final fight, you’ll learn that this entire campaign was what the game refers to as “Low Rank Mode.” Yes, this was just a tutorial all along! Now to take the training wheels off and let you tussle with the big boys.
As the game transitions into “High Rank Modes,” all the monster switch over into vastly stronger versions of themselves. But worry not, a whole new tier of armor, weapon upgrades, and modifications are now at your disposal. And you know what that means: more grinding! On top of the beefed up regular monsters, High Rank comes with various new monsters, a new zone, deadlier “subspecies” of certain monsters, and a whole new class of Elder Dragons to take down. This isn’t a New Game+, this is the real game.
Now I’m leaving out plenty of details, as there is far too much stuff going on in Monster Hunter: World to elaborate on my herb garden, stocked kitchen, or pet warrior cat named “Brojangles.” As a generalization, the Low Rank content is where you learn the basics of the world, while High Rank is where you really start to master it. All of a sudden those elemental damages and resistances really start to matter. Learning the difference between the materials you get from capturing vs killing will shape your hunt, and you’ll spend way more time reading about which parts to break than you did before. Frankly, I didn’t even know there were monster research levels before I got to high rank. Once you’re fighting Elder Dragons, you’ll be consulting your notes and changing out your gear every fight.
Eventually, you’ll kill all the Elder Dragons and move on to the final boss. Which is an even bigger dragon. This fight is one of the few sticking points I have with the game, as it just doesn’t fit well with the mechanics. The thing is just too damn big, and many of the weapons have too much trouble hitting it consistently. You also can’t mount it, making it the only monster in the game not allowing you to do so. It’s the one bullshit fight in an otherwise masterful series of encounters.
So the credits roll (for like 20 minutes, another sticking point), everyone cheers, and the game ends. Ha! As if. Surprise, now you’ve just unlocked the REAL real game. Your previously vestigial hunter rank now becomes unlocked, and you’ll have the opportunity to fight souped up “tempered” monsters. Tempered monsters are the real deal. More than just beefed up versions of the base monsters with higher health pools and damage, tempered monsters have a whole new slew of attacks that you’ll have to learn if you want to survive. Some of these attacks can easily one-shot you, so clear your calendar and let your loved ones know that you aren’t dead.
Fighting tempered monsters, grinding out new gear, forging new augments for your loadout, and finding new tempered monsters to fight will be the rest of the game for you. It might sound like a chore, but I’ve had crack addictions that are less irresistible than this game. Since I got it about a month ago, I’ve spent about 4 hours a day playing Monster Hunter: World. And like any good addiction, I show no signs of stopping.
If Low Rank was where you learned the basics and High Rank was where you mastered your armor and gear, it’s this postgame where you learn the really complicated shit. Each piece of gear has certain skills it comes with, along with empty decoration slots. Skills range from stun resist to finding better plants, and are permanently tied to what gear you have equipped. This isn’t like other RPGs were you level up and your skills stick with you. If you want maximum dragon attack and fire resistance, your loadout will need to focus on that. There are a ton of different skills available, and some armor has more customization slots than others. It’s a lot to learn and a hell of a lot to grind, but the level of customization here is unmatched.
Most of what makes Monster Hunter: World so compelling is the complexity and style of the combat. Every monster is unique. The boney Radobaan and stoney Uragaan might look similar, but actually fighting them is like comparing grapefruit to watermelon. Monsters also aren’t just one big health pool, as various parts can be broken or cut off to weaken their attacks. Breaking specific parts is also the only way to acquire certain rare loot, so you’ll want to have a plan before just hacking away at their knees (unless you’re low on knees, of course). Factor in the variations in environment, and you can quickly go from trying to land aerial mounts to luring monsters into Paratoad traps as they retreat to different areas.
On top of all that, even the best laid plans are frequently ruined by another monster stumbling into your hunt. Even when a untimely Bazeguese swoops in like God sending you a personal middle finger (and they will, a lot), it presents itself as both a new challenge and opportunity. Monsters fight each other in addition to you, making their interruption more of a battle royal than a tag-team. So sure, that Anjanath might light you on fire, but he also just took a huge bite out of that Rathian’s tail. It’s up to you to either try and take advantage of it or just let them duke it out.
Now there are plenty of things that I’d normally dock Monster Hunter: World for. As far as I can tell, the plot is, “kill ALL the animals!” They also only voice act some of the characters, which to my knowledge is something that only JRPGs mysteriously still get away with. One of the things that might really turn people off to Monster Hunter: World is all of the hidden information. There are plenty of things that are only briefly mentioned in the tutorial, or never even mentioned at all. Straight up, I still have no idea how to put together my own pre-fight meal. I had no idea I could change my gear mid-mission until a friend told me there was a tent in the camp. And don’t even think about asking me how Elderseal works. A lot of the weapon functionality is never explained, such as how to turn while blocking with the Greatsword. This can be a real pisser for some of the more complicated weapons like the Charged Blade. Overall, I just can’t bring myself to care about these shortcomings.
Other hidden information—like monster’s health or elemental buildup—are perfectly fine to be kept hidden. It actually enhances the experience to not know when the horn will finally break or monster keel over. So much of Monster Hunter: World is about learning. Break a body part, and you’ll see the area become scarred up. Tired monsters will start drooling. Limping monsters either have a broken bone or are near death. Each of these conditions looks different on each monster, and it’s up to you as the player to figure that out. It might turn off players that want things handed to them, but I for one am happy there’s a game out there that respects me enough to demand my attention.
The most triumphant feat that Monster Hunter: World accomplishes is making a game this long and complex feel so smooth and natural. From learning how my weapon worked to tweaking my loadout with the most minute decoration, getting from point A to Z was seamless. I can’t tell you the exact moment I started caring about the comparative advantage of having more dragon damage versus higher max sharpness, but it happened. I went from series noob to serious fan in just a few short weeks. And it was entirely because the game is just that good. It’s a game worth every minute, cent, and brain cell.
There’s the kind of guy that watches Friday the 13th and wonders why no one tries to hit Jason with a baseball bat. Then there’s the kind of guy who watches King Kong and wonders the same thing. If you want to hunt dinosaurs with swords, explosives, and gassy toads, look no further. If you don’t, we can’t be friends.