STAFF REVIEW of Monster Hunter: World (Xbox One)

Monday, February 12, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Monster Hunter: World Box art I’ve tried numerous times to get into the Monster Hunter games, but I have seemingly failed each time due to their lack of feeling accessible and friendly to new players. I always go in hoping that I’ll finally catch onto the allure, as it’s a very popular franchise, but it seemingly loses me quite quickly with every single iteration I try. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve gotten intrigued about Monster Hunter, so when Monster Hunter: World was revealed, my excitement began to peak again, hoping this would be the one to finally pull me in. It seems as if Capcom knew they needed to do something to bring in new players into the franchise, and in doing so, not have they only made an absolutely stunning experience, but it gained myself as a new fan, all without alienating the longtime players.

Welcome to Monster Hunter: World, where you play the role of a hunter, tasked with taking on veracious beasts within living and breathing lands full of flora, wildlife and danger. You can hunt on your own, or alongside three friends, and if you’re worried that Capcom has strayed from the tried and true Monster Hunter formula, fret not, as you’ll be hunting monsters to collect items to craft new gear to try and take on even more fearsome enemies.

You are a hunter, a Fifth Fleet member, who barely survives an attack from a massive beast, Zorah Magdaros, and you are landing in the town of Astera. This new town will be your main hub where you meet new characters as you hunt your way to find the path of destruction Zorah has left behind. The main narrative is interesting and conveys a much broader scope of the gameplay you’ll become accustomed to, which I really enjoyed. My only complaint about the campaign is that your character is the overused silent protagonist, simply nodding or being interrupted instead of being a voiced character.

Every monster you battle, no matter the size, feels like an epic boss fight, and while that first monster may have given you problems in the beginning, it pales in comparison to what you’ll need to defeat later ones as you progress. Each new area feels unique, not only because of its area (visuals and environment), but because of its inhabitants that you’ll be hunting as well. I was impressed with how the difficulty curve has been fixed, as I found the previous entries to be very challenging right off the get-go, which eventually turned me off, but it feels just right here. You progress through ranks of missions, with each subsequent quest becoming more and more challenging as you proceed in the campaign.

The first, and arguably most important, task you’ll be faced with is creating your character and customizing how they look. You’re given a healthy amount of options, and there are some creative ways to make your hunter look exactly how you want. Next, you’ll be customizing how your Palico looks, a sidekick that will aid you in battle, which just happens to be a large cat. These feline companions are absolutely adorable and will be a great partner for you as you are in battle. I won’t lie, I’ve become quite attached to my Palico with the dozens of hours we’ve hunted together.

You are introduced to the basics early on through a handful of tutorials. You’ll learn the core mechanics, but even after a the first dozen or so hours into Monster Hunter: World, I was still learning things that I wish were taught to me early on in a clear manner. Some things were very confusing. For example, as I’ve had to self-learn how to create my own ammo and traps, both of which play a big part into how I hunt my prey now.

One of the game’s greatest strengths though is how it naturally encourages exploration without giving you a quest telling you to where to go. The world is built in such a way that you want to explore every area, check out every climbable surface, and see what’s in those gloomy caves. Further enhancing this world is the fact that every area truly is an ecosystem that plays into one another. Plenty of flora and wildlife inhabit nearly every corner, and the large monster you’ll be hunting will even have a feeding ground and are territorial when others come into their nests. Much like previous games, each map you explore is sectioned into different areas, but now traveling between them is seamless, as it should be, as its one large area. No more loading screen between areas, and you’ll need to explore it all if you want to become a master hunter.

Movement is fluid and straightforward, as you can change direction quickly and smoothly, and when you're fighting a monster, you can dodge and dash to get out of the way. The graphics engine does a great job of not only showing the action, but letting you do all the required moves as well. Making the moves will drain your limited stamina gauge, and should you run out you’ll be prone and vulnerable for a few moments as you catch your breath. You can even climb quickly with your grappling hook, as the maps are very vertical as well, though this will also cause strain on your stamina.

You hunt with your weapons, and Monster Hunter: World gives you the option of 14 different ones to adapt to nearly any situation and playstyle. Weapons range from standard long swords, a sword and shield, a bowgun, lances, bows and arrows, massive claymores and even a huge blunt horn that can play songs and buff your party. Every weapon handles very differently and it will take you some time to find the weapon that suits you best, along with what fits in your group. I simply wasn’t feeling the first few weapons I tried, but I eventually found one that I was happy with and started to stick with it and upgraded it as I went along. The same goes for armor, as there’s a ton of different sets to craft and create, each with their own special properties, and they too will take a lot of getting used to. There’s no way you can simply button mash during gameplay as you’ll get wrecked by the monsters. Somewhat akin to Dark Souls, combat can be brutally difficult when facing monsters for the first time, so you best be cautious and don’t get too reckless, or you will pay for it. You can hack and slash, or even shoot, away at the monsters, but you’ll really want to focus on specific body parts, trying to uncover their weakness or manage to stagger them to cause more damage. You’ll notice that they have no health bars, and this is by design. Instead, you won’t know exactly when a monster is close to death, but there are visual indications, like the monster trying to limp away and flee, or its tail is broken off. This made the world feel more natural without the floating bars everywhere, and it lets you focus on the enemies attack patterns, rather than some HUD.

Killing the monster is only half of the battle though, as you’ll first need to track and hunt them before engaging in combat. Your hunter is equipped with a special vial of fireflies that help you navigate to nearby objects that can be interacted with, be it gatherable flora, pick-ups, or even monster tracks. This setup, again, makes the in-game world feel natural without having an arrow pointing you exactly where to go. Things don’t always go as planned though, as one time I was fighting my tracked monster, only to have a massive T-Rex come in and start to defend his territory. Do you stand back and let them fight and pick off the winner, or risk taking on both for double rewards? Natural occurrences like this really makes the world come alive and feel like you’re simply experiencing a part of it.

Interestingly, there’s also no traditional level-up system, instead you’ll simply need to craft your better gear by grinding out missions and foraging all you can which allows you to take on harder monsters, and thus the cycle continues. Quests are simple to understand, and your fireflies will generally direct you where to go when having to hunt and track down your specific monster. Before each mission be sure to stock up on supplies, ammo, potions, traps, and anything else you’ll need, but be sure to also leave room for your spoils. You can even purchase food beforehand which will give you invaluable buffs for your next hunt.

Tracking and hunting will get better in time, as you can essentially level up your tracking abilities per monster. The more footprints and claw marks you investigate, the more proficient you’ll become at knowing how that monster navigates the territory, and you can eventually become proficient enough to see where he is exactly on the map at any given time and where he will be heading next. Investigating also allows you to earn Research Points which then is used to unlock new items and quests.

Expeditions are almost like a mini-hunt, where sometimes you’ll be tasked with taking down a great monster, but you’ll be able to freely roam afterwards, allowing you to casually explore at your own pace instead of succumbing to the usual 50 minute timeline in hunts. This is a great feature of the game that allows you to work on your optional quests and bounties, explore, work on investigations, and more without a time limit to curb your progression.

Hunting monsters may be the main draw to the series, but I was floored with how in depth the crafting becomes as you progress. Every item or monster remain essentially has some sort of purpose, most of which is for crafting items, potions, ammo, traps, gear, and of course weapons. You can forge gear, based on the resources you’ve gathered and even upgrade weapons to keep up with the scaling difficulty of monsters. The cycle is quite simple: Kill monsters for items, use items to craft better gear, kill harder enemies and repeat.

You’ll have to farm monsters numerous times if you want to craft matching sets of gear, which is great when they have a bonus/buff for completing a set. If you’re constantly swapping weapons and armor, you’re going to struggle to keep up with the crafting components without having to constantly grind. You can even upgrade your Palico’s armor and weapon as well, though it's not as in depth, but it also takes from your resources, so it’s a matter of balancing of what to upgrade and when. Certain weapons and gear will also give you bonuses to elemental damage, which needs to be taken into account when fighting certain monsters, so the depth is massive. It’s an endless cycle, but it’s rewarding and exciting when you craft yourself that new upgrade.

While you can certainly play Monster Hunter: World solo, it really shines when you’re part of a team of four players who cooperatively take down a massive T-Rex. Bear in mind that as more players join, the difficulty and health pool of the monsters scale alongside to stay balanced. I sometimes found playing in a team more challenging, solely because in hunts you have three lives before the mission fails. If you’re playing co-op, those three lives are shared across your whole team. While playing with a group of friends that each pull their own weight is a fantastic experience, playing with random people online that aren’t as skilled and keep dying, causing you to fail, ends with frustration.

I find in general the pros for playing with other people outweigh the cons, as when I have friend join me, especially when they are able to not only do massive damage to a monster due to their gear, but they can also exploit weaknesses when the monster is distracted, allowing you to freely attack weak spots. Most weapons also become dull with lots of use and need to be sharpened, so playing with others allows you to quickly jet away and sharpen your weapon while they continue attacking.

Actually, the most frustrating portion of Mpnster Hunter: World is its online component, not playing together though, but actually getting it setup properly and joining. While the co-op is fantastic itself, there’s so many odd design decisions that make you jump through arbitrary hoops to even make it happen. For example, I’m playing a Hut mission and want you to join, but you’re actually not able to until I’ve watched the cutscene. Ok, no big deal, right? Well, not all cutscenes happen at the beginning of a mission, as some only play once you’ve managed to track down your target monster, which could take a while if you’re unable to find them easily.

After I finally watch the cutscene I then need to use an SOS Flare, signaling that I want people to help me in my mission, wait a good 5-10 minutes for my quest to be posted, then wait for people to join. It’s a convoluted way to get cooperative play working when it’s one of the main focuses of the game, and there’s usually some hoops you need to jump through to get it working, or find the exact lobby you want. There were some severe server issues at launch, like SOS flares not actually starting lobbies to be found, but it seems most of those issues have been fixed. It’s still asinine that I need to wait for people to watch a cutscene before I can join they hunt and have no simple drop in/out way of doing so.

Monster Hunter: World does an amazing job at simultaneously making you feel very powerful, yet keeping you always on your toes with dangerous foes that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Make sure you never feel over confident though, or else you’ll pay the price. The environment you play in is more than a simple man-made level, it really does feel like a living and breathing world that you’re experiencing.

Is Monster Hunter: World perfect? No, but its damn close. There’s some poor design choices, especially when it comes to cooperative play, but aside from that, you’re going to get lost in its world for dozens and dozens of hours. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it, and I really had to search to look for the negatives to complain about. It’s convoluted in its own ways, but it’s also incredibly deep, making for a robust RPG experience unlike any other. Find your favorite weapon, customize your adorable Palico and get hunting some voracious beasts in one of the better games that’s come out in quite some time. Monster Hunter: World needs to be explored and experienced.

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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