Monster Hunter: World
…Monster Hunter: World is a strange but utterly engaging experience.
In the winter of 2009 I spat on my PSP, deliberately and with malice of forethought. It was a petulant rage spit in the face of a poop-flinging pink gorilla, Congalala, who kept killing me over and over in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. Afterwards, I felt deeply ashamed as I watched the sputum lazily drip off my portable device. I emailed then deputy editor of Official Playstation Magazine (for whom I worked) and renowned spokesperson for “big porridge”, Mark Serrels, telling him of the whole confusing affair. He reacted with sensitivity typical of video game publishing and laughed like a hyena, swiftly informing the whole office of my shame. To this day Mark regularly brings up this story on social media, amusing and bemusing in equal measure.
That, in a roundabout sort of way, brings us to the present day: 2018 and there’s a new Monster Hunter game in town, Monster Hunter: World. It’s been nine years since we last tangled, game franchise, and a lot has changed. Will this be a redemptive experience – my “l33t skillz” now honed on the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne – or will be this another case of great expectorations?
Monster Hunter: World is an semi-open world game set in a third person perspective. You assume the role of a mute user-created character who is thrust into a thin but agreeable story involving the appearance of a huge, pseudo-Lovecraftian elder dragon, Zorah Magdaros. The overarching story is really just set dressing, however, as the meat of the game will be about you, your Palico (adorable feline assistant) and your interactions with the less-than-friendly local fauna in the game world. In other words: you’ll be hunting a shitload of monsters, friend.
In fact it can’t be stressed enough that, although there are numerous other tasks to complete, including crafting potions, armour, upgrades, meals and exploring wild, varied environments, the main activity you’ll be partaking in is hunting monsters. Practically, this means you’ll start a quest, search for the monster – using helpful phosphorescent scout flies who will highlight environmental clues and monster tracks – try your best to sneak up on the beastie in question and then wail on that toothy mongrel until it breathes no more. Then you can craft fancy new trousers from its skin, bones and organs and perhaps stitch together that ladybug outfit for your cat. Hey, Claws Kinski looks adorable and you will not judge me!
Happily the combat mechanics are well-honed and surprisingly nuanced, with over 14 weapons at your disposal, all of which have distinct play styles and multiple options for upgrading, plus additional skill trees. In my 40 hours of playtime I reckon I’ve got my head around three weapons tops, with many more enticing offerings on display.
In fact the main negative that can be levelled at Monster Hunter: World is its dizzying array of systems, weapons, upgrades, crafting, armour, exploration, side quests, safaris, endgame and lore may be a trifle too dense and exhaustingly complex for casual players. Happily that’s where the “world” part of Monster Hunter: World comes into play, because you can team up with three other hunters in epic beast-battlin’ sessions to learn the tricks of the trade. Playing with others is a hoot, because even though the difficulty scales higher with more players, the ability to communicate with friends or even strangers – allows you welcome moments of respite where you can sharpen your weapon or neck a Mega Potion, which is absolutely key in overcoming the game’s tougher critters.
And make no mistake, although Monster Hunter: World is the most accessible in the franchise to date, some of those battles are as tough as nails, requiring patience, skill, timing and a cool head. It’s not quite Dark Souls-level of difficulty, but it can get tense and a bit dispiriting if you cark it after 30+ minutes of battle. That said, this makes the (hopefully) eventual victory all the more satisfying and the stuff gaming memories are made of. After all, victories are rarely memorable if they just get handed to you.
Another fantastic element of Monster Hunter: World is the various ecosystems you can explore. From the Ancient Forest (trees) to the Widlespire Waste (desert) and the absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful Coral Highlands (Avatar!) the game delivers environments that feel alive and brimming with secrets. Hang around for a bit and you’ll see epic battles between two, sometimes three enormous monsters that occur organically and can lead to some truly awe-inspiring moments. Of course similar events happen during hunts, which can be maddening depending on the circumstance. Put simply there’s nothing predictable here and the game cleverly changes the stakes as you progress through the story and increase your Hunter Rank.
Ultimately, Monster Hunter: World is a strange but utterly engaging experience. The juxtaposition of gritty (hard as balls killer monsters!) and adorable (kitty chefs doing a dance while they make your food!) really cements the uniquely Japanese style, which may cause tonal whiplash for some. However if you can embrace both the harder sections and innate goofiness, there’s a profoundly rewarding experience waiting for you, featuring a gameplay loop with a surprising amount of depth and living, breathing environments that are a delight to explore.
Oh, and although I have punched the couch and swore so loudly the cat got the shits and left the room, after 40 hours of play? Still haven’t spat on the telly. So, you know, personal growth and that, eh.