*Reviewed on PS4
In nearly every way, Monster Hunter: World is the pinnacle of Capcom’s long-running series. Not only is it the prettiest the franchise has ever looked, finally appearing on modern hardware after spending nearly a decade relegated to Nintendo and Sony’s handhelds, it’s also overflowing with content, featuring dozens of diverse beasts to hunt, fourteen weapons to master, and five brand-new environments to explore. But while these are welcome (if expected) improvements, they aren’t what makes World such a step forward for the series. Since its inception, Monster Hunter’s audience in the West has been limited to a small-but-loyal niche, thanks to intimidating knowledge and skill requirements. Previous games have earned a reputation for being both complex and dense, with extremely limited tutorials and decidedly counterintuitive gameplay elements sure to try the patience of any who stumbled into the game unaware (stopping mid-combat to sharpen your weapon, for instance). World sets out to change all that, and while it does still stumble along the way, it successfully smooths out the series’ sharpest edges and delivers an experience that has much broader appeal than ever before while maintaining the identity that veteran players have come to love.
After personalizing your hunter and their adorable Palico companion in the game’s impressively robust character creation suite, World immediately thrusts you into a series of fairly extensive story missions, complete with a proper tutorial sequence. On top of that, you’re also given carte blanche access to a hunting ground where you can freely experiment with each weapon type and receive a tutorial on the basics of each weapon’s diverse moveset. World also lays out its progression in the form of a proper story mode (a series first), with actual characters and a plot that isn’t especially memorable but is written much better than it has any right to be for what is essentially just a vehicle for serving players new quests and locations. As you progress through this story, the game intermittently continues to introduce new systems and metagame elements, such as gardening or parties of Palicos that gather items for you, while providing a tutorial for each and spacing them far enough apart that you never feel overwhelmed by the amount of information being thrown at you. This drip-feed of knowledge (and the ability to review it all at any time from the options menu) makes it far easier to recommend World as a jumping-on point for newcomers, or those who have bounced off other games in the series. That said if combat or the experience grind is what turned you off in the past, beware: for all the improvements the team at Capcom have made, World holds onto its roots, for better and for worse.
The core loop remains largely unchanged from previous series entries: go out on hunts, gather materials via mining, fishing, and killing monsters, turn those raw materials into gear and upgrades, repeat ad infinitum. Though the first few hours of this are fairly trivial, it doesn’t take long before you’re dealing with very capable enemies and strictly timed missions that end after three or fewer deaths. What has changed are a number of smaller details, which make World a pleasure to play in comparison to its forebears. The switch from the 3DS’s limited control scheme to the Dualshock/Xbox controllers has made item selection much easier, with a radial wheel that allows for near-instant access to your favorite tools. Weapons still need to be sharpened regularly to remain effective, but the need to buy or farm whetstones is gone, with an unlimited-use stone instead permanently affixed to your item wheel. Another added bonus of World appearing on more powerful hardware is that the loading screens between zones on the map have been stripped away, and maps are now treated as a single area rather than a series of disparate rooms. Unfortunately, there is always a significant load time whenever you travel between Astera, the seaside village which serves as a base of operations, and any other environment, but it’s still vastly superior to having to sit through loading screens in the heat of combat.
Speaking of the maps, World’s are fantastic. Modern consoles have given Capcom significantly more technical power to play with than ever before, and they’ve used it to create spaces that feel more like living environments and less like the thematically skinned combat arenas of previous games. In these spaces, monsters have their own territories, in which they eat, sleep, and fight invading foes, leading to some pretty cool unscripted moments during fights. Predators can swoop in to wreak havoc, dealing serious damage to your prey or teaming up with it, stacking the odds against you (though thankfully, World also gives you tools to instantly repel unwanted guests should you feel the need to do so). Maps are also very dense, often with multiple vertical levels, dozens upon dozens of paths between zones, hidden shortcuts and map features that allow veteran hunters to get where they’re going a little quicker. The artwork for each of these locales also impresses, filling each biome with alien flora and colorful fauna.
Then there are the monsters themselves, which not only look bigger and better than ever before but also provide a lot of cool-looking new gear to craft (with a handful of hideous exceptions). The cast of behemoths is the largest and most diverse to ever grace a standard Monster Hunter release, with a solid mix of brand new creatures and returning favorites. With the disappointing exception of the two big set piece fights against extra-large titans, all of them are enjoyable and bring something unique to the table. Tracking the monster itself has also been revolutionized thanks to Scoutflies; a sparkling green trail that leads you right to your quarry provided you find enough clues around the map (of which there are many, assuring you never have to look for very long). It’s just a shame that it all doesn’t run a little better— on my standard PS4, regular dips below 30fps were the norm, and despite its inspired art direction, the game’s limited draw distance, texture quality, and on-screen assets are far from best-in-class, making the constant performance issues a bit confusing.
For all the improvements that have been made (and they really are substantial), World does still maintain a few of the obtuse design decisions made in the past, and doesn’t always explain itself as well as it could. Those weapon tutorials I mentioned earlier are great for wrapping your mind around what your weapon will do in response to certain inputs, but they teach nothing of the more advanced techniques certain weapons use. Simpler weapon types such as the Dual Blades and Sword/Shield need very little explanation, but those that involve an additional layer, such as building a meter or transforming mid-combo need more of an introduction than they’re given. Of course, it’s not difficult to track down online resources produced by the community that explain things in full, but there’s really no excuse for not spelling things out in game. The other aspect of the game that remains completely unexplained is meals/cooking. Unlocking ingredients and choosing the right meal before a quest is a genuine game-changer in Monster Hunter, yet there is absolutely no in-game explanation of how any of it works. It’s a shame, since the extra stamina and health granted by eating meals are a huge boon to newer players in particular, but it’s quite easy to go through the entire story never even realizing that eating ought to be treated as essential (more than one player I know had this happen to them). It doesn’t help that the food preparation screen is intimidating, with the names of dozens of statistics and buffs spelled out without even a hint at what any of it means. Oversights like these are very strange (and more than a little frustrating), especially in a game that otherwise appears to be striving to make everything as accessible as possible.
Another failure of accessibility is the way online multiplayer is handled. Getting into a lobby with friends can occasionally be a pain in the ass thanks to a passcode system not dissimilar to the one found in the Dark Souls games, and the decision to make most of the central hub offline-only feels like a real missed opportunity for social interaction between players. There is a small space in town where players can go to congregate, but it’s gated behind a loading screen and doesn’t allow interaction with most hub activities (the weaponsmith, bounty board, quest givers, etc.) so it’s almost always empty, meaning there isn’t really a place to show off your favorite armor and chat/group up with other players aside from on quests themselves, which tend to be all-business thanks to the ever-present time limit. The real problem with online, however, is that game sessions cannot be joined until after the host has watched all cutscenes related to whatever quest they’re on, meaning all three of a player’s friends get to wait around in Astera for upwards of ten minutes before they’re allowed to join in on the action. This isn’t just some occasional nuisance, either– since so many of World‘s quests include cutscenes thanks to the increased focus on storytelling, these frustrating waits happened so frequently that I ended up putting off multiplayer entirely until I reached the end of the story.
World also doesn’t make the grind any less repetitive. While early gear can generally be attained by hunting a required monster only two or three times, upgrading equipment past the forty hour mark often requires grinding monsters many, many times over in search of rare drops. It should be noted that this isn’t necessarily a criticism– World does everything in its power to keep the grind interesting and make sure no monster hunt plays out the exact same way twice, and this repetition is exactly what series fans crave– but newcomers should be warned; unless you’re down to run certain monsters over and over again, you’re only going to get so far. Fortunately, with the introduction of Investigations, the grind is definitely a lot less obnoxious. As you play and collect monster tracks, you’ll acquire randomly generated Investigation missions that ask you to hunt a specific monster (or group), often with additional modifiers (decreased time limit/party size, increased resource nodes, etc.) and always with a much greater yield of the rare drops specific to that monster. This means that so long as you’ve obtained an investigation specific to your target (you’ll likely have found over a hundred by the time the grind really picks up), one or two hunts is usually all you’ll need to get those rare parts.
It’s certainly a blessing that Investigations reduce the late game grind a little, because to be frank, World’s end game is a confusing mess. After a climactic (but underwhelmingly simple) final battle against a massive foe, the credits roll and you find yourself back in Astera, but for the first time, without any real guidance about what to do next. You’re given some vague hints about some things going on that you might want to investigate, but there are no longer any new monsters to slay, and you’ll likely have already attained the best gear in the game. The introduction of a new rare item is all you have to go on, but at first glance, it seems like all you can do is trade it in for decorations (Monster Hunter-speak for buff-giving gemstones). It’s only by reading a wiki or playing for several more hours and increasing your Hunter Rank that you find out there is a little more going on, but it takes a serious time commitment (and some skill) to get there. The game’s failure to explain any of this is definitely one of its bigger missteps, but perhaps more problematic is the structure of the end game itself. The fact is, if you keep playing beyond the credits, you’re signing up for a long grind that yields a series of diminishing returns. The joy of crafting new gear and becoming stronger is replaced with repeated fights against much more difficult, “tempered” versions of existing monsters, and the ability to ever-so-slightly increase your character’s power through extraordinarily rare drops. Beyond the credits, all milestones are many hours apart and gated by some very challenging tempered missions, and while there is certainly some satisfaction to be had from continuing to improve your skills as a player and becoming more efficient at slaying your favorite monsters, it’s unlikely that anyone who isn’t already an extremely dedicated fan will see continued play as a proposition worth their time. That said, given the sheer amount of content I’d seen and playtime I’d gotten out of World prior to that point, I find it hard to hold the lackluster endgame against it. It exists for those who really want to squeeze every last drop out of their experience, but even without it, I felt that the experience I had up to that point was both lengthy and rich enough that I’d gotten my money’s worth multiple times over.
Monster Hunter: World almost pulls off the impossible. Capcom has taken a game known (and loved) for its impenetrability, and attempted to change its reputation without sacrificing any of the difficulty or complexity that made it notorious to begin with. Overall, World pulls this off remarkably well, but there are still just enough sharp corners left over that I can’t shake the feeling that the game would’ve hugely benefited from just a little more time in the oven. The increase in tutorials only makes the handful of key features that lack explanation even more noticeable, and the hurdles around online make it difficult to recommend to others as a social game. That aside, World is still the most fun I’ve had with a game so far this year. Combat is great fun both solo and with a group, the various quality of life improvements make a huge difference, and there’s more than enough content and goals to work toward to last the most devoted players for a very, very long time. World is undeniably a huge leap forward for the series, and as Capcom continues to update with new monster and live events, I anticipate coming back to it for many months to come.