Some people would die for Monster Hunter. They would willingly get stomped by the gargantuan foes in the game just to play it. Others wish they could feel that way, but the series’ legendarily impenetrable surface has warded them off for the last 14 years. An endless stream of menus and inscrutable game design is more than enough to put off most sane people.
And then are people like me who kind of wish those fanatics would get squished so I wouldn’t have to hear about Monster Hunter anymore. After trying once, I couldn’t be bothered to really care about the games ever again. That is until Monster Hunter: World. Seeing the floodgates open and so many players convert to the believers, I waded in once more. And surprise: the water’s warm.
I have no idea if the diehard fans will find their house the way they left it, but all the new ones are gonna be damn hard to kick out. World has turned a borderline hostile franchise into something that immediately gives up what has managed to elicit such fervor while still developing and growing into something better. It delivers charm and humor one second and then drops you into one of the most thrilling chases in recent video game memory the next second.
This is the Monster Hunter the world has been waiting for.
Make no mistake: just because this is more accessible does not mean it’s easy. You still have to be studious and dedicated to the craft in a way not a lot of games ask you to be. It’s just that much of the abusive cruft of yore (like having to return to town for every fucking single thing) has been pared down, and the game now handles the way you’d expect a modern action game to handle. It no longer feels like a chore to play.
Plenty has been poured into the niceties, too. Building your hunter is stupendous fun, crafting your person to look like a hulking Dark Souls tank or like a giant rack of ribs made to order for Fred Flintstone. And then you get to dress up your Palico, a delectable portmanteau of friendship and catship taking the form of a tiny feline you can stuff into a suit of armor. They’re fucking adorable.
While the story leaves much to be desires (you have to fight a mountain-sized beast named Zorah Magdaros, so you, I dunno, have to go kill some monsters, I guess), it tantalizes you with each step forward with new enemies to slay. From the moment you blast off and land in a new area, the hunt becomes addicting. The fresh and lushly rendered land with flora and fauna alike catching your eye between keeping all your senses attuned for signs of your prey is damn near intoxicating. No two hunts are quite alike.
Chasing after the airborne Legiana, for instance, is dramatically different from stalking after the rocky Radobaan, the former more like an endurance race and the latter taking after stand-up pugilistic match. Each of these monsters is meticulously crafted to engender specific sensations in each phase of their lives. From the search to the chase to the fight to the kill, each one is built to be a complete experience in cinematic, violent, saddening delights.
It’s a sort of unsavory lust for death that you can’t get enough of. Watching a Jagras slump over its overstuffed belly as you land your final killing blow is upsetting, but knowing the struggle you had to overcome to get here and the fight it put up makes it feel rewarding—almost honorable—especially as you know you can likely use its constituent monster parts to forge new gear. It’s a contradictory and indescribable feeling that you don’t just not get in games but anywhere else. Well, aside from (I’m assuming) being an actual serial killer.
And just because you’ve defeated a monster before doesn’t mean it’s not worth revisiting. The variety of weapons is staggering, which means the strategies with which to fight is similarly sizable. There’s one, for instance, that has you imbuing the blade with, uh, monster juice(?) to land specific types of damage and another creates bars of music with each hit you land that you can play to cast buffs.
This is a prime case where World has become more inviting than past games. Before, you would have purchased this new insect glaive and then…that would be that. Now, it’ll at least explain to you how it works. It’s still up to you to figure out how best to use it and why it might work like that, but hell, at least you don’t have to spend an hour just mashing buttons to suss out the mechanics. Besides, piecing together a weapon’s particulars with a monster’s penchant for rolling/flying/vomiting/whatever is half the fun.
A lot of the aforementioned quality of life improvements lie in the reduction of menu-driven, medieval-level torture. You can set items like potions to craft as soon as you’ve gathered enough raw materials. Crafting recipes with sub-requirements are processed automatically. Hell, you finally can now see damage points come off of the things you’re killing. You just generally don’t hate your life as much.
To some, that is taking out what made Monster Hunter, well, Monster Hunter. But those people are also categorically insane. It has arguably always been fun to engage with these beasts in a knock-down-drag-out duel, but finally it’s also fun on either side of that as well. You no longer have to deal with a ratio of vehement indignation to abject revelry. You now have Monster Hunter: World, and life is good.
+ Damn good-looking game
+ Nothing like chasing and killing a monster anywhere else in video games
+ Weapons that completely change your tactics pair with monsters that constantly demand something new from you
– Seriously the story might as well not even be there
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Game Review: Monster Hunter: World
Release: January 26, 2018
Genre: Action role-playing
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Players: Single-player, multiplayer