Monster Hunter World is the latest title in the up until now Super Popular Happy Fun Time in Japan Monster Hunter series. The core gameplay of looting monster parts and then using them for crafting new gear after a successful hunt remains intact. But, certain aspects such as tracking and even the aforementioned crafting have been revamped and somewhat simplified. To be more accessible to a wider (read: Western) audience. The separate and isolated maps of old are also gone, replaced by considerably larger interconnected areas. Entirely appropriate and deserving of the title World. A massive improvement that results in zero loading times as you roam the forests and deserts seeking your prey.
The environments in Monster Hunter World are massive in both depth and breadth. The Ancient Forest for example has tunnels and twisty trails in abundance, alongside massive trees that tower above the forest floor. There are cliffs and escarpments that can be scaled, and gulfs that can be traversed by swinging on vines. Alternatively you can make use of your grappling hook in strategic locations, and even snare a Wingdrake with it for a wild ride through the jungle. Which, is recommended by the way. Slopes can be slid down, or you can drop down through holes to discover new areas of the map. The sheer verticality is commendable. Even after spending many hours traversing the Ancient Forest in search of various monsters there are still parts I have yet to fully explore.
And there are many more large, open areas to explore.
Really bringing the maps to life though is the native wildlife, of which there are three distinct types. The large monsters that are hunted for their parts, the small monsters which supply both you and the large monsters with food, and the endemic life. This last category is mostly decorative, but some species like the Paratoad can aid you during your battles. As each monster large and small has their own behavioural patterns and levels of aggression, watching them all interact induces a genuine sense of immersion and imbues an ersatz realism in a blatantly unrealistic game. Dung Beetles toil in the arid heat, Aptonoth ruminate in blissful ignorance of the gigantic Anjanath looking for a snack, and Kelbis carouse amidst the colourful coral.
The addition of another form of (kinda) wildlife are the scoutflies. Their presence in Monster Hunter World, while contentious, is in my opinion hugely beneficial. With scountflies there's less of a necessity for learning the habits and patterns of every single monster; where it makes its lair, or what zones it travels through. Tracking a monster is a matter of finding footprints, scratch marks or spoor, and letting the scoutflies do the rest. Once enough data has been gathered, they'll lead you right to the monster. Yeah, contentious.
What's cool about this process though is that as you continue to gather information, the monster's entry in the Hunter Guide (read: Wiki) improves. Weak spots and breakable parts become known alongside elemental immunities and strengths. Your first encounter with a monster is likely to be fairly arduous, but thanks to the ever improving Wiki (err, Hunter Guide) your subsequent encounters will become considerably more manageable.
Monster Hunter World's story isn't particularly deep or riveting. Something about the Fifth Fleet and Elder creatures migrating. That's cool, but I ain't here for the story, although the horribly lip-synced cutscenes can be quite amusing to watch. The story and relevant quests exist primarily to introduce you to new areas to explore and monsters to discover. Also, to provide plausible deniability in case PETA come asking why you're hellbent on destroying the native fauna. And to allow the Handler to nag you incessantly when you step off the scripted path.
Fun as the quests can be, Monster Hunter World truly comes to life when you’re able to embark on your first Expedition - which allow for unlimited exploration of an area. And sure, some of the large monsters will eventually leave that area, but this mode is more about exploration, gathering (including fishing), and finding locations to set up additional base camps that allow for quick travel across the vast maps. Expeditions are also a great time to complete Bounties, which are necessary for those all-important Armour Spheres for upgrading your gear. You can even spend time finding the, for lack of a better term, doodles that lead to the unlocking of the Grimalkynes - ie. the cat-like denizens of the area. Eventually resulting in that tribe's gift for your Palico - ie. your cat-like companion.
Yeah, so in Monster Hunter World you have a cat-like companion. And they’re awesome.
Speaking of cat-like creatures, if you’re a fan of the series the 14 different weapon types will be instantly recognizable. That being said new combos have been introduced in World, so spending some time in the Training Room is definitely recommended before embarking on a quest. If only to come to the same conclusion that I did. In that I started my hunter life with the sword and shield and found it adequate, with the goal to spread the weaponry love. So to speak. But, once I'd tried the bow for a few hunts I never looked back. Yes, I know that in the interests of an unbiased review I really should be giving all weapons a fair appraisal. Many hours were spent in the Training Room, but after much screwing around, err appraising, I simply wasn't able to replace my bow. #Bows4LYF They offer the greatest combination of damage, evasion, and movement speed.
Still, I will definitely be trying out Dual Blades sometime soon. And maybe the Insect Glaive for those sweet aerial combos.
Upgrading weapons with various monster parts and imbuing elemental damage such as Fire or Thunder is an important step when undertaking more dangerous hunts. Equally important is upgrading your armour. The diverse options for creating unique builds is staggering, and a little daunting to the uninitiated. You can craft a set that will provide more resources when gathering herbs and shrooms, while staying under an aggressive monster's radar. A different set of armor can reduce your stamina usage, simultaneously buffing your attack damage and elemental resistances.
Just when you think you've built yourself a decent armor set or two, along comes High Rank to knock you on your ass. The gear that once allowed you to smack monsters about with impunity swiftly becomes less than awesome in the face of tougher monsters. A subtle reminder that you need to start farming those High Rank monsters to get on their level. The cool thing about making the new gear is that you now have Decoration slots available for loading up additional skills. Thus adding to the already complex and hugely varied ways of building your character.
There's so much depth and scope to Monster Hunter World that some aspects I've only lightly touched on, or haven't even mentioned; the Canteen and its bizarre cat-chef, the Special Arena, Investigations and Bounties, the Hub's numerous activities. NPCs and provisioners, the marvelous Palico gadgets and so on. After 60+ hours and having just recently finished the bulk of the main story and hitting High Rank, there's still so much more I've yet to see. For the sake of getting this review out before Christmas 2142 all you need to know is that Monster Hunter World is an amazing, complex, and beautifully realised evolution of the franchise. It's been made extremely accessible to new hunters, whilst also being an enjoyable and thoroughly rewarding game for existing fans.
May the Sapphire Star light your way!