There are few series that have been so successful and yet still trapped within their niche as Monster Hunter. Revered in Japan, the rest of the world has never quite latched on to a series for which obfuscation is a calling card rather than an accident of design. Things have improved over the years, but the Wii’s Monster Hunter Tri was the last time we saw a clear leap in understanding and accessibility. Monster Hunter: World is the next step, with its return on home consoles rewarding hunters with spectacular visuals, while proudly offering the most streamlined Monster Hunter experience yet.
The Ronseal approach to the title means that Monster Hunter: World is hanging its raison d’etre out for all to see. This is a game that revolves around hunting monsters that range from tiny insectoids to impossible hulking wyverns, most of which give you a reason to slaughter them the moment you lay eyes on them. Largely that’s because you can carve or dislodge materials from those monsters which you can then craft into items, new sets of armour, or even more powerful weaponry which you can then use to take down even bigger monsters. It’s a meticulously designed gameplay loop, and no matter the platform, it’s an aspect that remains as intoxicating now as it first did thirteen years ago.
The combat has been refined even further in World. I’d never truly considered just how many similarities there are between Monster Hunter and Dark Souls, but the deliberate dance of hunter and prey remain forever poised on a knife edge. You have to learn to read your enemy’s behaviour, when they’re about to attack, or when they’re tiring. You also have to learn where they’re most vulnerable in order to cause as much damage as possible, before getting back out of the way. On top of that, you have to forever be aware of and top up your health, your weapon’s condition, and various ailments that can befall you. I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t often extremely challenging.
I’ve played the series from the outset, and I still found myself using all of my three chances against certain creatures, making it through with a mixture of luck and adrenaline at times. Some monsters will become even more aggressive the more damage you’ve dealt to them, meaning that just when you think you’ve got them on the ropes – and have started thinking what you’ll craft with their entrails – they dash all of your dreams to pieces. Having diminishing returns as you use up your three chances to complete a quest is delightfully old school, before you have to try and hunt it down all over again, and it makes just scraping through after an epic fourty-five minute battle so satisfying. Rest assured that this is one element that Capcom have left untouched.
While you can take on monsters on your own, co-op play has been a huge part of the series over the years, and World is no different, with four player drop-in co-op to play with friends and strangers alike. Play in an online session and other players can join you, even if you’re mid-battle, while you have an SOS flare to fire off if you’re in dire need of help. Naturally playing with friends with voice chat on the go will end up being the most fun.
The whole thing is so much more dynamic now. That’s partly thanks to each location’s open world, where before areas were split into smaller sections. Now you’re privy to beautiful, characterful, multi-tiered areas, teaming with life – or death – which you can seamlessly climb, run, leap, swing and slide about. Some areas also have built in traps where you can use the scenery to your advantage, offering some wonderful risk and reward to leading a monster on a merry chase. It can be amazing to see monsters fighting each other if you can draw them into the same area.
The increased dynamism can also be attributed to the new Scoutflies. These glowing fireflies highlight anything of interest around you, and while they’ll lead you to the multitude of gathering spots, their primary use is in helping you to hunt monsters, marking footprints or other signs of a monster’s passing. Once you’ve found enough signs the Scoutflies will form a glowing trail which helps you track down your prey far more swiftly than ever before.
It sounds like a terrible idea, but in reality all they do is make things better. They’re not an automatic guide to the monster at the start of a mission, as you need to search huge areas for clues and your target, and they simply act like the paintballs from previous games mid-encounter. What they actually do is level up your knowledge of a creature as you find signs, meaning you can eventually just check your map for a monster’s location, which cuts out a good portion of the boring busywork. It’s a much more elegant system than the icons of previous games.
Series’ veterans will appreciate just how streamlined the whole experience has become, but this also means that it’s more open to newcomers. I still remember how much perseverance it took to get into the original Monster Hunter, with elements like foraging for materials barely explained, but it doesn’t feel like there’s going to be too many of those same issues here. Monster Hunter: World is almost at pains to make sure you grasp all of its disparate elements and everything is fed to you at an easily sustainable pace. By the time you’ve opened up all of the sections in your headquarters you should have everything well under control. The fact that all of those systems build into a completely enthralling whole is simply remarkable.
There are still admittedly so many different facets to the game that I could see some people being overwhelmed by it all. Despite how well things are explained there’s a lot to pay attention to, with each interval between quests an exercise in maintenance and preparation in Astera’s central hub. You can probably make it through without fussing too much about botanical research or sending out your Tailriders on missions, but they, and the various other fringe systems do make things much easier in the long run. Then again, this is a game and series that’s as much about research as it is hitting giant beasts with pointy sticks. The pages and pages of wikis for previous entries are now almost unnecessary as you can find a lot of the information within the game, but you’ll need to be paying attention if you want to know what your enemy is weak to, or where to find a particular kind of bone.
There are some things that remain slightly unintuitive, despite the improvements. One of the new features is auto-crafting, which will automatically create specific items as you collect the necessary ingredients on a quest. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t replenish your supplies of something if you’ve already got the ingredients in your item pouch. So, if you’re a semi-experienced hunter who’s carrying a full load of mega potions, and then have potions and honey to make more, it won’t auto-craft without without you jumping into the menus. If you pick up the honey while you’re wandering around however it will make a mega potion. It’s an annoyance, and hopefully one they’ll pick up on soon enough. It’s a minor niggle in a game that is so utterly compelling.
I suppose you could also point to the disappointing HDR implementation which seems to brighten the screen far too much, washing out the visuals. On the other hand, the PS4 Pro has options to prioritise frame rate, resolution or graphics, which exactly what we should be seeing in all new console releases. The 60fps option is fantastic for a game like Monster Hunter and is well worth the small amount of texture pop-in it brings with it, while the graphics setting features a great improvement in lighting and shadows. It’s only really the increased resolution offering that doesn’t feel particularly useful, but personal taste will differ.
Monster Hunter: World is the evolution the series has been waiting for. The giant creatures have never looked better, while the beautiful open world areas and the way Scoutflies assist your exploration have brought a newfound dynamism to every hunt. It remains brutally difficult and the unprepared may still be chewed up and spat back out, but this time it’ll categorically be your own fault rather than the game’s. Whether on your own, or in a group, now is the time to join the hunt.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro
Update: Added a paragraph relating to co-op play.