Release Date: January 26, 2018Platform: PS4, XBODeveloper: CapcomPublisher: CapcomGenre: Action RPG
The backbone of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series – a sweet and simple gameplay loop that sees players hunt ferocious monsters and then improve their gear and skills before questing after bigger, badder monsters – remains as sturdy and addictive as ever in Monster Hunter: World. It’s the grandest, most inclusive installment in the series yet, with lush, sprawling environments teeming with creatures that are equal parts eye-catching and terrifying. Longtime fans will feel right at home, and newcomers will find a deep but accessible action RPG to sink their teeth into.
What’s immediately striking about World is its colorful menagerie of monsters, each more imaginatively designed than the last. There are Anjanath, which ostensibly appear to be run-of-the-mill T-Rex but boast furry, spiky tails and accentuated bird-like features. The toxic, tongue-waggling Pukei-Pukei look like frog/lizard hybrids with feathers, and the pachydermatous Barroth bulldoze through everything in their path with tumorous, rock-like crowns. Coming face to face with these fantastical creatures is one of the game’s greatest joys, but things only get better after that initial moment of awe.
The game’s easy to pick up, hard to master gameplay is unique in that there’s almost a music to it. Each monster has its own patterns, tells, and style of movement, and it’s your job as a hunter to harmonize your movements with your target’s, constantly scrambling for the most advantageous position, finding openings to deal damage, and choosing the right moments to disengage. It’s all about rhythm and fancy fingerwork, and once you get a feel for it and find the style that works for you, you’ll feel like a rockstar shredding through a badass guitar solo as you dip and dodge around your fangy foes and cut them down without breaking a sweat.
Combat is further elevated by the diverse selection of weapon types – 14 in all. If you’re comfortable wielding the traditional sword and shield combo for the entirety of your playthrough, World supports that, and you’re sure to have a rich experience. But give one of the more exotic instruments of death a try and you’ll find an entirely different way to play. Dual Blades turn you into a veritable slice ‘n’ dice tornado, the Gunlance gives you the option of taking both a long and short-distance approach to offense, and the Hunting Horn offers the delightfully bizarre opportunity to play melodies to manipulate battlefield stats, which comes especially useful when teaming up with other players online.
As in previous titles, you’re able to tackle quests with up to three other players online, which adds even more layers of complexity to the already deep gameplay. Whether you’re desperate for assistance on a particularly tough mission, or you want to set up a hunting party with your real-life friends, running in packs is always a fun option, though the game perfectly supports solo play for those of us who prefer to use games as a way to escape the needling anxiety of human interaction. Online functionality isn’t as smooth as one would hope – dropping into matches with friends is a convoluted chore – but once your party is off and running in the game world, it’s gravy.
Chances are, there are going to be more people playing Monster Hunter online than ever before, thanks to Capcom making World the most streamlined installment in the franchise yet. The painstaking, repetitive collection quests that infamously dragged down previous titles have mercifully been mitigated this time around, though they’re still available for embracers of the grind. Inventory management has seen improvements as well, like the ability to set certain items to craft automatically when you gather the required components. These refinements may not change the core feel of what a Monster Hunter game is, and new players will likely take them for granted, but anyone who’s sunk serious hours into these games in the past will surely be doing cartwheels when they realize they no longer have to suffer through watching their character hunker down and massage the ground every time they gather the most basic of items.
There’s always lots of gathering and scavenging to be done, which is the drug-like ingredient in the Monster Hunter gameplay formula that keeps players hooked for dozens and dozens of hours. Gathering materials allows you to craft things to help you take down big, bad monsters, whose carcasses yield more materials which you can use to craft new gear to slay bigger, badder monsters. Games with the scope of World are carefully designed to feed into players’ natural compulsions. Almost everything you encounter – from salvageable bone piles, to gigantic footprints leading into a narrow canyon, to a stretch of beautiful, cascading waterfalls – is put in place to compel you to trudge forward and see what awaits around the corner. It’s dangerously addictive stuff, and after almost a decade and a half of refinement, Capcom have got it down to a science.
It’d be near-impossible to delve into every aspect of gameplay World has to offer, though there are some highlights that colored my experience more than others. The various environments are breathtaking, lush, and detailed, and each location – from the lush Ancient Forest to the suffocating Rotten Vale – feels lived in and organic. While exploring each location, you’ll likely be driven forward by monster detective work, which sees you inspecting the tracks, feathers, and mucus trails the monsters leave behind, collecting samples as you slowly build up your knowledge base about each creature, which in turn makes them easier to capture or kill. The monsters themselves are magnificently animated digital creations, with even their slightest movements giving away hints about how to get the best of them.
When it comes to the meat and potatoes of its core gameplay, World is hard to fault. Its visual presentation, however, is more of a mixed bag. While at a glance the game is clearly a looker, with slick animations and vibrant art design, some of its technical shortcomings become more evident the longer you play. Low-resolution textures can be found everywhere, and at their worst, they wouldn’t look out of place in earlier entries of the series. Also, while the monsters are downright amazing to look at most of the time, they lack the sense of weight and inertia seen in creatures from other current gen games (Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Last Guardian come to mind).
You could say World is lacking in the story department, too (it involves you aiding the Research Commission in learning more about the flora and fauna of an uncharted landmass called “The New World” while pursuing a giant magma monster called Zorah Magdaros), but the narrative is a means to an end. In these games, gameplay is king, and Capcom has managed to strike the perfect balance between complexity and approachability by accentuating the series’ strengths and sanding down its rougher edges. This is the most polished Monster Hunter has ever been, and with luck, this Japan-centric, arguably niche franchise just might find the worldwide audience it’s always deserved.