Monster Hunter World: The Kotaku Review

Video games often deal in illusions, proffering the fantasy of control and power even when your meaningful influence is minimal. Monster Hunter: World, the new third-person action game from Capcom, absolutely deals in fantasy. It plucks you from reality and sets you in the domains of exotically imposing monsters that you must hunt. In this game, however, the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from felling them is anything but an illusion.

In every Monster Hunter game you work for your successes, learning about your quarry, tracking it, studying its movements and attacks until you're finally able to get the better of it. The dragon might have size and power, but you have brains, nerve, and some potions that you crafted from herbs and mushrooms. These games are as much about the thrill of being hunted as about the hunt. Their battles only work because you know these beasts could eat you for lunch.

This review originally ran on 1/30/2018. We’re bumping it up because the game is out on PC today. Check here for more on how the PC version performs.

I've been waiting for a decade for Monster Hunter to finally become popular outside of Japan, ever since a flu-ridden weekend a decade ago at university where my only company was Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on the PSP. There have always been barriers to entry: A bad camera, boring mushroom-gathering early quests, flummoxing controls that required you to physically contort your hand, nonexistent tutorialising, baffling menus, and portable-console graphics.

Each new instalment in this series has brought incremental improvements to the franchise's flaws, but they were all fundamentally built on an engine that looked and felt like it had barely changed since the very first PlayStation 2 game from 2004. Monster Hunter: World is the first true, significant overhaul of the series. Little has really changed about the set-piece battles that have always been Monster Hunter's main attraction, but by god, everything that surrounds them is a lot better.

There are no new weapons here, and none of the fan-pleasing combat flourishes that 2016's Monster Hunter Generations introduced, though there are plenty of new monsters. (Only a small sprinkling of series favourites such as dragon-duo Rathian and Rathalos make an appearance in the main storyline.) It's just you, your chosen weapon, big beasts and their flourishing habitats. And what habitats they are. Especially on a Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, Monster Hunter: World looks amazing.

The enhanced versions allow you to prioritise either resolution for 4K displays or framerate for super-smooth combat, but even without these enhancements you can see the slaver falling from the jaws of an exhausted Rathian, and admire the motes of dust sparkling in sunlight in the Ancient Forest. The Coral Highlands - a pastel-coloured marvel of an environment with otherworldly tendrils of pink and purple plant life enveloping mountains of coral - opens up about halfway through the story, and it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. My mouth was open the first time I saw it.

Lead

Monster Hunter: World

Back Of The Box Quote

"Not suitable for vegetarians"

Type of Game

Hunter-Gathering Simulator

Liked

Sumptuous habitats packed with life, intimidating beasts to kill, excellent fashion sense.

Disliked

Some online-play features are fiddly and need improving.

Developer

Capcom

Platforms

PlayStation 4, Xbox One. PC version coming in spring.

Played

Finished the story, took on some high-rank quests, spent a very enjoyable weekend on live servers, crafted nine different hats, logged 31 hours 29 minutes.

For years I have been describing epic battles to friends who don't play Monster Hunter, when what they have actually seen is a muddy-looking little dude facing off against a dragon that doesn't fit on a tiny screen. Now, finally, it looks as awesome as it feels to play.

There is still an awful lot to learn. Really getting into the nuts and bolts of Monster Hunter - the minutiae of gathering, tracking, bounties and research, investigations, monster carves, weapon techniques - would fill thousands of words. Little of it is well-explained as you play, though written tutorials and a handler character who pipes up with useful hints when you're actually out in the field make a spirited attempt at helping with the basics.

You will still have questions that can only be answered by Google or a more knowledgeable friend. The Monster Hunter community, thankfully, is generous with its ample knowledge, but it is still ridiculous to have to consult wikis or guides to learn what the hell your weapon stats actually mean.

Here's the thing, though: This isn't actually as big of a problem as it first seems. Monster Hunter: World explains the basics fairly well, and all the rest of the knowledge gradually accumulates from playing, talking to other players, exploring, and hunting. You can easily get through the whole story without knowing a thing about skill charms or weapon affinity.

Meanwhile, you discover where to find useful plants and bugs and ores by spending time out in the wilds, gradually filling up a map with icons that tell you what's out there. The more time you invest, the more knowledge you will glean. After 30 hours there is a lot I still don't know. I've still barely found any of the many camp sites hidden in the four giant environments.

The challenge with previous Monster Hunter games has always been getting to the point where you want to learn more. This is where World is most significantly improved. The older games were slow starters. World, however, wastes no time in throwing you into fights against impressive creatures, and it looks so beautiful and controls so well that it's easier to get invested.

A quick quest turns into two. Responding to an SOS flare gives you a quest reward that opens up a new set of armour. You spend another hour or so seeking out that elusive last material to forge a new Charge Blade. Then you want to try it out in another fight. It is eminently bingeable.

The things that have been simplified are things that were needlessly time-consuming in the first place. New Monster Hunter: World players will never know the pain of handcrafting 10 pickaxes from bones and rocks, then having all of them break during a single 20-minute mining quest. They will not know the meditative pause whilst waiting patiently for seconds-long animations to play out every time they gather a herb. I don't miss that nonsense one bit. What hasn't changed is hunting monsters with beautifully balanced weaponry, and that was always the point.

The secret of Monster Hunter's combat is that even when you don't really know what you're doing, you don't feel like a clown. The most inexperienced hunter could still land a couple of hits with a big weapon such as a greatsword, even if it takes 45 minutes to fell a monster. Better players can do things more efficiently. The game rewards skill, and witnessing a top player at work in Monster Hunter will likely motivate you to improve.

When you see an expert player at work with a glaive or dual swords, dodging away from the tail of a dragon a fraction of a second before it sweeps them off their feet, then retaliating with a five-hit combo... it looks positively choreographed.

I'm accomplished with Gunlance and Switch Axe: Respectively, a massive lance that delivers shotgun blasts from its tip, and a transforming axe that becomes a sword and can also discharge a close-up explosion with its most complicated combo. For this new game, I decided to learn some new weapons.

As the hours went by and I familiarised myself with nimble Glaive and heavy-hitting Hammer, I noticed how my scrappy little opportunistic combos became flowing sequences of strikes, timed perfectly to fit into the gaps between bad-tempered dinosaurs' attacks. I started to feel like such a badarse, leaping onto a fire-breathing T-Rex's head and blasting it with the axe, my teammates muttering "niiiiiice!" into their headsets. As your skills, weapons and armour improve, you can slaughter monsters that used to terrify you in 10 minutes. It's such a satisfying progression.

Enumerating Monster Hunter: World's features doesn't tell you much about why it's so easy to love. It is at once silly and stylish, comedic without being self-conscious about it. At the canteen in the game's hub, a one-eyed cat-chef serves up a sizzling platter of meats with piratical swagger, theatrically placing the final garnish atop a fresh-caught fish. A little pig follows you around whilst you stock up on provisions and bounties and a tutorial prompt mysteriously promises that "something good" might happen if you scoop him up and carry him around like a baby.

Other players' customisable Guild Cards show them reclining mock-sexily in extravagantly ridiculous armour, their feline companion imitating the pose. As with previous Monster Hunter games, you can hunt monsters with up to three other players. If you hunt solo, you're accompanied by a cat pal who is a constant source of amusement, bravely thwacking at a wyvern's legs with a weapon shaped like a ukulele, meowing away, occasionally appearing mounted on the back of a smaller dinosaur or in a little inflatable dinghy.

The ludicrous armour sets are a strong reason to play Monster Hunter: World. "I look like a shit Groot cosplayer," said a friend of mine in dismay upon finally completing his Barroth set. I spent half the early game in a pair of stupid sunglass-goggles, which amused me so much that I kept upgrading them instead of forging new, more powerful armour. One of my favourite monsters, the floaty, fluffy Paolumu, yields a faux fur outfit so tempting that I immediately wanted to fight it again so that I could craft a puffy hat for my cat pal.

New players will find the game's main story mode a healthy challenge. For players who've made it through a few Monster Hunter games before, it's unlikely that the story quests will kick your arse. There were only two that had me exhaling slowly whilst looking at the "Quest Failed" screen, and yelling in triumph when I landed the final blow. The story itself is pretty nothingy; the cutscenes are stylish but the plot lacks substance, and the more cinematic climactic mission was a total let-down compared to the freeform, tense one-on-one expeditions that led up to it.

Once that final cutscene plays, you come to realise that the entirety of the story is really a warm-up for High Rank quests, where all the hardest monsters are lurking alongside powered-up versions of the beasts you despatched before. I'm in no hurry to rush through them.

Already, World has welcomed millions of people into the fold, and with extensive planned support from Capcom, it's a game that could go all year. There are problems with the online functionality that Capcom would do well to fix in patches: Matchmaking and questing ad hoc with random players is easy, but if you want to hunt a specific monster it's annoying to dive through menus to search for exactly the quests you want.

If you want to invite players to your squad to play regularly, you have to both be online and in the same session at the same time, which requires a lot of coordination outside of the game. Xbox One players have reported frequent disconnects, though this is something I haven't experienced at all on the PS4. (A Capcom rep has indicated that the company is looking into the Xbox issues regarding matchmaking.)

Monster Hunter isn't all that much better than it's always been. It's just so much easier to appreciate now. What once felt like a well-kept secret amongst players with enough time and energy to scale the barriers to entry is now easier for everyone else to enjoy, thanks to a top-to-bottom overhaul that has made Monster Hunter: World the most beautiful and exciting game in the series.

The depth remains, but many of the fiddly irritations that have been holding this series back have been swept away. As a long-time Monster Hunter player, it's a wonderful thing to witness.


Comments

    Great review - thank you for the insight. I'm waiting on the PC release and couldn't be more excited. This will be my first MH experience.

    Cannot wait to pick this up :D

    Last edited 31/01/18 1:41 pm

    I've been really disappointed by it so far. As someone who has played nearly every entry, including the ones that aren't released in the West, and put in over 600 hours into each individual entry; I bought into the hype that it was going to be revolutionary change for the series. It is not.

    The only changes of note from prior entries are:
    *Gathering spot generally yield only one item, which means you now have to travel to more areas for the items you may need. This is now makes gathering more time consuming than previous games where you would farm one patch for multiple items.
    *The map is continuous with no loading between zones. In essence you are trading efficiency for immersion, as you now have to travel through a funnel to each zone instead.
    *Comprehensive tutorials for beginners
    *Story seems slightly more interesting than other entries. Slightly.
    *No hunting styles from X or XX
    *Tracking bugs mean you no longer have to think. The game does it for you. Don't bother learning where they nest, what zones they travel through, where they like to eat, or generally tracking the monster. Don't bother splitting your party up to find it and making a note of where it was found. The game will hold your hand and tell you where the big bad is.
    *No more free DLC. All the DLC currently available were things that would have previously been in the case game. Emotes and hair styles. This does not bode well for the kind of extra content we are used to seeing in a MH title.

    And that's it.
    Monsters are literally just reskins of other monsters in the series. So much so that I was calling them by the old monster names. Multiplayer works as it has in previous entries.

      I'm pretty much done with the title after exhausting my patience and interest at the skill/gear-check that is Tempered Kirin, but I do feel obligated for the sake of newcomers to note that many of these points are incorrect/incredibly exaggerated.
      *Gathering spot generally yield only one item, which means you now have to travel to more areas for the items you may need. This is now makes gathering more time consuming than previous games where you would farm one patch for multiple items.
      1) You can get armor and other bonuses to improve yield.
      2) There are far, far fewer materials required than previous games because all crafting is now 100% success rate, stack higher, and space is more plentiful.
      3) Gathering takes less time per node than on the DS entries, and there are more often than not clusters of gathering points clumped together such that if you do actually need a lot of something, you don't really have to wander as far.
      *Tracking bugs mean you no longer have to think. The game does it for you. Don't bother learning where they nest, what zones they travel through, where they like to eat, or generally tracking the monster. Don't bother splitting your party up to find it and making a note of where it was found. The game will hold your hand and tell you where the big bad is.
      Highly exaggerated. To start with, tracking bugs only highlight tracks to start with. It takes a fair amount of play before they'll put a big glowing arrow on where the enemy is until you've tracked a specific monster extensively, and returned your research results to the camp several times. By that time, if you do have those smarts you won't need them. If you don't have them, the game helps you actually get by and not be locked out entirely from having fun. This is a non-issue.
      *No more free DLC. All the DLC currently available were things that would have previously been in the case game. Emotes and hair styles. This does not bode well for the kind of extra content we are used to seeing in a MH title.
      Also exaggerated. There's a large amount of default customization, and on launch, there were additional customizations put up on the store for sale. Hairstyles, markings, gestures, sticker packs, a couple costume appearancecs. Since launch, there have been several pieces of free-only DLC, with more to come, often tied to themed community events. The presence of paid DLC on launch obviously, clearly did not stop free DLC from being released, or from continuing to be developed and announced.

    Monster Hunter: World really is a triumph. It's the Monster Hunter game that I never thought Capcom would make, but here we are. The international release was deeply surprising (especially alongside the decent amount of marketing it got), given how Japan-centric the series normally is.

    In between this and Resident Evil 7, Capcom really pulled it together on their handling of big franchises.

      They've tried a heavy marketing approach on MH titles before. MH Freedom Unite (MH2G) got a massive marketing push here. There were TV spots and bus ads! Even saw them on the Brissie buses. Sadly the low penetration of the PSP in the west meant it was never going to be the success they wanted it to be. That would have been while THQ handled distribution for Capcom in AU as well.

      As for the positive handling of big franchises, Street Fighter V and Marvel Vs Capcom would beg to differ...

        SFV and MvC cater to a very specific market though. People keen on fighters are either going to get it regardless, or will never touch that brand, so marketing isn't AS important.

        Bad fighting games still sell to a certain level if they're a known brand, simply because they breed loyalty. And whatever is making them 'bad' tends to become a feature in their eyes.

        The mere fact we're having this discussion shows they've done something right with MH:W, and done it right in a big way. Wasn't that long ago that the thought of a AAA release of a Monster Hunter game on PC was a dream, yet here we are.

    I'm so confused by that second last screenshot. Isn't the background image Horizon: Zero Dawn?

      There's Horizon Zero Dawn costumes in the PS4 version of the game, you can also make whats called a Guild Card, which you send to people that has your stats on it, a part of it is putting your Hunter and your Cat into a pose with goofy backgrounds, the horizon background is one of the ones you can choose, which is what that screenshot is of!

    Really have to hand it Capcom on this one.
    I had all but given up on a MH game that wasn't for handhelds and would've been happy to get a crappy port with a graphics upgrade.

    I never expected MHW to be such a significant jump forward for the series.

    Man im a long time fan of the series and i really want to pick this up but already dropped cash on Battle For Azeroth Pre Order.

    awful control. slow. only u get is frustration. could've been a better game. the developer really need to work on the function.

    so PC players, how's the performance?

      Yeah. Bit lazy to just repost the July review of the PS/Xbox versions with no extra PC segment added on. Shame this is coming out 4 days before BFA.

        yea probably should have mentioned the iffy controls and the less then stellar connection to servers at the very least

        I'm getting the best of both world currently, my friend is streaming his MHW play so I'm watching that while leveling in BFA haha

          How you finding it... This is probably the first expac where I've been bored while levelling

            I'm enjoying it. Already 120 on alliance side and I'm quite happy with the polish and cinematic that alpha / beta didn't have (I've quest completed alliance side 3 times already on beta and the main story over a dozen times). Just slowly going through horde which I never tested

            This xpack takes a bit to ramp up, you only have 3 dungeons to start with and you don't get the island expeditions till 116 / 117. the follower system is also not integrated like legion (you can skip doing the quest chain till 120) and it's scaled back early on, (only have 1 or 2 followers)

    I quite liked MH titles on the DS/3DS as a curiosity. They had an interesting premise and gameplay loop... but those hurdles were always huge. Everything was unintuitive, poorly communicated, poorly controlled, full of inconveniences, and generally pretty ugly.

    Ever since playing MHW, I've found it impossible to go back to the DS versions. There is a yawning gulf in playability, in quality of life, in audio/visual/feedback quality, and in getting to the good stuff.

    I'm very eager to see what they do next.

    Game is really pretty, I know I am going to love the core gameplay loop, but bugger me if it doesn't give the worlds worst first impression. I wasted my lunch going home to have a tinker and got so sick of all the unskippable crap so quickly.

    Also, what robot came up with the pc control scheme, it is so unintuitive.

    I have a very important question: Can the Palicos come with you on a multiplayer quest or just wandering the world with a friend?

    I want to get two copies of this on PC to play through with my wife, but if she never gets to have her cat friend to hang out with, it's going to be a non-starter.

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