Monster Hunter games have been around for a long time. I have always heard about them, about how good they were, how impenetrable they were, how people were disappointed that so many came to portable consoles like PSP and 3DS rather than the “big-boy” consoles. Then comes along Monster Hunter World, which seems to fix the majority of complaints surrounding past versions, resulting in a beautiful, slightly more accessible game that is simply fantastic.
The premise behind Monster Hunter World is right there in the title: you literally spend your entire time either hunting monsters or preparing to hunt monsters. In practicality, the loop goes like this: select a quest to hunt a monster, prepare for the fight by checking your loadout of items, armor and weapon and grabbing a quick pre-quest snack at the canteen, venture into the world and kill or capture said monster, return to base and craft cool new weapons and armor with the parts from your defeated monster, select quest to hunt slightly stronger monster, rinse and repeat.
It’s a simple gameplay premise that is absolutely captivating and addictive in practice. The loop of defeating monsters and then using their parts to craft new and better gear is instantly gratifying and a great substitute for random loot drops. You know exactly what you need to make the item you are craving after and while there might be a small amount of RNG in what parts drop from monsters you generally know exactly what you need to hunt to get the right parts. The armor is varied in both visuals as well as attributes and abilities. The weapon trees are large and branching, filled with varied stats for damage, element, affinity (critical hits) sharpness and more.
The actual hunting of monsters is naturally the real draw here and how exactly you hunt them is shockingly diverse and broad. There are 14 different types of weapons to choose from, from simple and straightforward to insanely complex. Each one plays completely different and finding the right weapon for you is the first big hurdle to getting Monster Hunter World to click with you. You have easy weapons like Sword and Shield or Dual Blades, weapons that have simple combos and mostly rely on just diving in and slashing away. There are moderately complex weapons like the Switch Axe or Gunlance, which have unique combos, super attacks and meters to keep track of as you deal damage. Then you have incredibly complicated weapons like Charge Blade, Insect Glaive and Hunting Horn, which feature deep combos and buffs that affect yourself or even the entire group. If you’re tired of melee you can also mess around with three different types of ranged weapons as well.
I tested out various weapons in the game and it is amazing at how well they all play. I started with Switch Axe, a cool weapon where you can swap back and forth between axe and sword, building up elemental energy that you unleash with a fiery explosion. I ultimately ended up at Insect Glaive as my weapon of choice, a high-flying weapon that allows you to fling yourself in the air, do devastating combos and fire off an insect that can give you various buffs depending where on the monster it attacks. The ability to launch into the air was especially helpful once I started facing off against larger, tougher monsters.
Monster hunts are long, complex battles that will take time. Every monster has its own unique abilities and attacks that you’ll need to learn to dodge, block or mitigate. Even with great knowledge of how to take down a monster, it still takes time to whittle its health down, slowly breaking various parts of its body until you finally land the finishing blow. You’ll chase it all around the environment, as it retreats to lick its wounds, hunt for food or simply retire to its nest. While the break in combat might seem odd at first, you’ll eventually appreciate the chance to catch your breath and regroup. You’ll need the break after all, as every battle is an ordeal and it’s fantastic.
A big portion of Monster Hunter is the actual preparation of the hunt, which can be as complex or straightforward as you want it to be. Every monster has special abilities and weaknesses to various elements and afflictions and you can tweak your loadout to accommodate everything. Sometimes this is just as simple as equipping a thunder-infused weapon and making sure you have poison-healing antidotes on hand. When you start getting into the elder dragons (the most difficult hunts in the game) you’ll be needing to prepare with various potions to buff attack and defense, prepare for effects such as extreme heat or a smoky substance called Effluvia that can quickly drop your health, as well as equipping armor to counter-act the enemies’ attacks. If you ever wanted a game that lets you go crazy in min-maxing every little bit, Monster Hunter World is just the game you want. If that’s you, though, you’ll still be able to get by just fine in my experience.
You might think it’s odd that I’ve gone this far into my review without mentioning anything about story or characters and that’s for a good reason: nothing in the game’s actual story is very good. The game focuses on the Fifth Fleet who have recently landed in the New World, investigating an Elder Dragon known as Zorah Magdaros, a mountain sized monster who has mysteriously traveled to this new area. You’ll meet a couple characters here and there, but none are more than quest givers with a couple lines of uninteresting dialog. In reality they just give you an excuse to hunt stronger and stronger monsters and move to newer areas. The few missions that actually revolve around Zorah Magdaros are terrible, throwing out everything that makes Monster Hunter World fun, replacing it with loading cannons, firing ballistae and whacking glowing points with your weapon. Once the story moves past the whole Zorah Magdaros thing, the game gives you more free-form choice in how and what you hunt, and it becomes much better for it.
The campaign of Monster Hunter World is split into several different sections. At first you tackle “Low Rank” and follow the hunt for Zorah Magdaros. Once that wraps up, you unlock “High Rank” which is ultimately a story excuse for battling the same monsters again except now they are stronger and drop different parts. At first glance this might seem like artificially extending the game, but I would argue that this is where the complexities of the various aspects of Monster Hunter World really started rearing their head and game becomes even more enjoyable. It may take some more grinding than “Low Rank” but the combat is so much fun that I never minded.
Once you complete “High Rank” that is the end of the overall story campaign but certainly not the end of the game. You can keep hunting monsters to increase your rank as well as searching to craft your perfect armor and weapons. They also introduce even stronger “Tempered” monsters to take down. This is where I am in the game and where the game has gotten a little too grindy to keep my playing obsessively like I have been for the past several weeks. I think it should be said that I have gotten to this point after spending over 70 hours, so I very much feel like I got a full experience. That being said, I still envision myself returning every now and then, hunting monsters here and there and progressing to see what else is waiting at higher ranks.
Another big aspect is playing cooperatively with others in Monster Hunter World. I mentioned early that past Monster Hunter games had always seemed fairly inaccessible and this idea is pretty noticeable in the game’s online features. When playing you join a lobby of up to 16 players but this is not a Destiny situation where you watch people running around your base; you are alone in your base everywhere but the Gathering Hub, which in my experience no one goes to because all of the various base things you need to interact with (Armory, Research, Bounties, etc.) are in the main area. In this lobby you can post quests and others can join you or vice versa, but odd restrictions will hold you back any time you have to deal with story quests, which have “cutscenes” that prevent anyone else from joining you until you’ve watched them. I literally was playing with someone and we each had the same story mission but had to start separately and progress up to the cutscene before we could join up together. It’s backwards and awkward but ultimately it ends up not being that big of a deal once you figure out how it works.
Conversely, the game has a great SOS system that allows you to ask for help from other players online anywhere any time you are in an eligible mission. You can also search for open SOS flares to join in on hunts, even getting to the point of letting you search for hunts with specific monsters or specific difficulty levels. It’s a great way to play quick, pick up missions with others and the game is tons of fun with other players joining in.
The last thing I want to mention about Monster Hunter World is just how stylish everything is. The game looks really nice and the monster design is fantastic, especially once you start dealing with the late game Elder Dragons. However, with all the cool monsters and pretty environments, the game has a certain goofy earnestness to it that I really appreciate. You have a feline buddy (aptly called Palicos) that is a great help in battle while also doing silly things like breaking out a little raft whenever you hit water (get it? They don’t like water!) or desperately clinging to a health-giving Vaporwasp as it flies in your direction. The Meowscular Chef (yep you read that right) is a muscle-bound cat that runs the kitchen and takes great pride in making the perfect meal for hunter. Monster Hunter World could just be a straightforward, serious game and it would still be fantastic, but the little touches of style push it over the edge into something especially memorable.
I always kind of thought that I would enjoy the Monster Hunter games but even I was surprised at just how good Monster Hunter World ended up being. The complexity of the combat and various systems is impressively deep, offering dozens of hours of entertainment. Hunting monsters is an absolute blast, whether alone or playing with others. While the main story and missions are pretty terrible, they really end up being nothing more than a side-distraction to the real joy of Monster Hunter World: hunting monsters and creating sweet, sweet loot.