I fell out of the Monster Hunter series years ago. I have tried to like it before, way back with its third installment. But now, after 40 hours plus of playing Monster Hunter: World, it’s safe to say that I’m fully over my qualms. Here’s why.
Monster Hunter is the closest thing to a Sisyphean struggle in games pre-Dark Souls. The game is punishing to new players, and it expected you to dump in hours and hours of grind just to do the same feedback loop over and over again. The series is legend in the most obsessive of players, where defeating a specific monster required a specific set of armour, weapons, traps, and potions to make them fall (well, fall easier).
For the uninitiated, Monster Hunter is basically what it says on the tin. You’re dropped into a fantastical world full of monsters, and you go out and get them. Myriads of items and crafting requirements needed to be second nature. Plus, your intimacy with the game’s geography is crucial to the hunt, as you track your quarry through the world through blood splatters or the paint that you slingshot onto its skin.
Years ago, I played its third entry, Monster Hunter Tri. But the game had quickly plateaued for me after the nth time of harvesting herbs and mushrooms. For me, the grind fell flat due to the glacial pace it takes to reach about one minute of glorious euphoria. And that minute quickly fell to 30 seconds, to 20, to 10 and soon – I left Monster Hunter in a dusted corner of my games drawer.
Yet, two days ago, I felled a Diablos and a Rathalos in a dual-hunt quest with friends and I’m still talking about it. I’m still talking about how I trapped the dragons in traps four consecutive times, still talking about mounting one of them straight after, and still talking about killing the damned thing just under ten minutes.
So, what makes Monster Hunter: World such a different entry from the previous Monster Hunter installations? This entry, finally made that Sisyphean grind fun.
Now, make no mistake, Monster Hunter: World did not change much of the series’ 14-year-old core mechanics. Even before this installment, combat in Monster Hunter had always been its greatest strength. Fourteen playable weapons each has its own heft and combat styles, complex in its execution but wholly intuitive throughout. Armor crafting relied on RNG from monster corpses, though some tricks would yield better chances. Items and traps are necessary, but not essential – and mostly gained through crafting or buying. This is also combined with a nothingburger story that mostly weaves together gameplay elements quite well.
All those mechanics had stayed the same. But see, what Monster Hunter: World changed was that it streamlined the entire game and made some quality of life changes that surgically cut Monster Hunter’s glacial pace out. On paper, these changes are minuscule, but they changed the presentation of the game in a profound way. Take crafting for example. The crafting mechanics in previous games is preceded by a short two second animation with everything you gather, then followed by a baffling menu screen that you very easily can get lost in. Now, everything is automated, with no animation in sight. If you see an herb in the field, that instantly gets translated into a potion in your inventory. If you come across some honey, your potion will change to a Mega-Potion instantly – no menus required.
There are more changes than this, and most of it have to do with the game’s biggest and possibly most dynamic change – its environment. Unlike previous installments in the series, where the world is broken up into different segments, the world here is seamless and absolutely felt like a living world. There are ecosystems set in place, where all the monsters located in the world have specific interactions with each other and with yourself as well. Little things like turf wars between monsters, herbivores being picked out by stage’s alpha, all of those random occurrences breathe life into the game – and ultimately makes it playability extend its normal lifetime.
However, not all things are perfect. Despite the beautiful world, Monster Hunter: World does not exactly utilise it like other persistent multiplayer worlds. Multiplayer play is consigned into a 2008-ish mechanic that sets up online rooms with a randomized ten-character plus code that you need to share with pals in order to meet up with them. Unlike Bungie’s Destiny, for example, the hub world here is only set up as a gathering room, and to request help from other hunters, you would need send out a signal flare for them to eventually enter your online room.
Though World has definitely streamlined most of the game, the UI is still quite cumbersome. I’m 40 hours in and yet I’ve still yet to use some of the more baffling aspects of the HUD. The radial menu of old Monster Hunter returns but is also joined with another one in the centre screen for gestures, to which the use of I still have no idea. There’s also a chatbox for some reason, and a separate box for customisable messages and different gestures.
Yet, like that, there are so many more things that I’ve yet to unlock and learn, and so many monsters that I’ve yet to slay. And unlike the previous installations, I’m still looking forward to every part of the hunt since that very first hour, and what I imagine to be the 100th hour to come.
Monster Hunter always have had the potential to be one of the greats. With World, they’ve finally reached it. Now, if you’ll excuse me – I’ve got some more Thunderbugs to farm and Rathians to kill.