Monster Hunter: World
The Monster Hunter franchise has historically consisted of games that actively try to fight against you. They’re an acquired taste, like caviar; you simply have to tough out an average MH until, at some point, you realize you’ve grown not merely fond of the game, but actively fanatical. This is why the series takes over the Japanese archipelago with every new release.
Monster Hunter: World is probably more new-user-friendly than any game that’s preceded it, but even then, the first forty hours or so are basically a tutorial. It holds your hand in the field, constantly bombarding you with annoying NPCs who shout at you when you don’t immediately do as they ask, but in town, when you’re surrounded by opaque systems and bizarre features, there’s no help to be found. If you tough it out, there’s a game here, but there’s probably too much toughing out to be had.
Right out of the gate, however, World answers one of my big previous issues with the game by featuring a stronger narrative focus than the handful of titles I’d played before it. You, as a user-created silent protagonist, are among the elite group of hunters dispatched to a new continent across the sea, there to find out why the destructive Elder Dragons migrate in this direction every so often. One of those Elder Dragons proceeds to object to your entire fleet, and shenanigans occur, but soon you’re back on solid ground and carrying out hunting missions to explore and tame this new wilderness. You’re aided in this by your Handler, an otherwise-nameless young girl who’s 99% enthusiasm by volume, and your palico, an AI-controlled helper that also happens to be a bipedal house cat.
More importantly, you’re also gently encouraged to bring as many friends as you can along for the ride. Monster Hunter, in my experience, is often a frustrating single-player game, but it’s one of the better co-op franchises in the market today. Most of the monsters you encounter in the field are fond of dancing around, or breaking into unstoppable charges, and if you’re alone, a fight is usually a hassle. You just have to dodge and roll until you can land a hit without it getting interrupted in mid-swing. When you’ve got somebody else to draw fire or capitalize on an opening, though, the game really does show a lot more of what it has going for it.
The game itself is basically “just” a next-gen Monster Hunter, with all the foibles and quirks the franchise is known for. You spend your time gathering materials from the wild to upgrade your weapons, armor, potions, and even your food supply, which means you’re better equipped to hunt bigger monsters that will drop better items with which to forge better upgrades.
The big innovation in World is that the maps are bigger and more interactive than they’ve been in the past, which lets you use the terrain to your advantage. You can blind enemies by detonating certain plants, distract them by firing slugs from your wrist-mounted slingshot, and hide in tall grasses, among other things. When it gets going, World feels more expansive and immersive than the games that came before it.
The big problem, however, is that it does take a good long while to get going. Monster Hunter: World is scared to death that you might have fun without it, and so it resorts to a slow drip-feed over its opening hours. You can’t explore the wilderness on your own or leave town without a quest; you just have to follow the game’s trail of bread crumbs. For forty hours or so. Then the real game starts, well after the point when it arguably should’ve.
You should take my opinion on this with a grain of salt, if you weren’t doing that already. This has never exactly been my franchise, and I picked up Monster Hunter: World after hearing from a number of people that this was supposed to be a good jumping-on point. It is, but only by comparison to the games that came before it. If you’ve already put in the time with previous Monster Hunter titles, and especially if you have a crew to run with, Monster Hunter: World is going to be everything you’ve ever wanted. If you don’t have that experience, though, this game is a slog, and I’m having a hard time finding the fun here. Call it a 70% or so from me, but a fan of the franchise is gonna still be playing this a year from now.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
This review is based on a digital copy of Monster Hunter: World for the PlayStation 4 provided by Capcom.