Success in Monster Hunter: World isn't just about knowing what each monster can do, but knowing what you can do. There are 14 different weapon types in the game, and each has its own series of animations. This has always been a staple of series, and these animations force the player to stick with their decision and help them feel like they're truly growing as a hunter.
In Monster Hunter, you can't cancel a weapon's animation once you've pressed the button to attack. When the player swings as sword or smashes a hammer, they are stuck in that animation until it is completed. In his recent video about Celeste, my coworker Tim Rogers called actions that can't be cancelled "commitment actions."
Making Monster Hunter's attacks commitment actions turns them into risk/reward decisions in which you give up the ability to move freely in exchange for the ability to attack your enemy. Learning a weapon's animation and mastering your timing is a vital part of mastering Monster Hunter: World.
When a hunter first picks up a long sword, their movement is clumsy. A simple stab is quick and requires a single button press, but combining swings involves numerous inputs. Since the player can't move during their animation, mistiming a button press might mean missing a monster and opening yourself up to a painful counter attack.
Early fights feel like a desperate scramble where success is mostly attributable to sheer luck than technique.
I'm committed to this slash once I hit the attack button. (Also, I'm not good with heavy weapons yet.)
Monster Hunter's animations help create a personal narrative of growth. When I first picked up the dual blades in Monster Hunter Generations, most of my attacks were wild flailings. The dual blades use a meter call the demon gauge. At any time, you can go into demon mode to gain access to special attack.
If you land enough blows, you can eventually go into another special mode that changes your attacks again. Managing this meter forced me to learn the best attacks to fill it quickly, which stressed a hyper-awareness of animation length.
The moment I was finally able to keep my demon gauge full marked the transition from novice to something more competent. I've started a similar process in Monster Hunter: World, revisiting hunts I completed with my dual blades but arming myself with a long sword instead. Eventually, I will learn all of the ins and outs of those animations too.
Accomplishment in Monster Hunter comes from reining in an initially overwhelming spectrum of possible attacks and learning to make deliberate tactical choices. Players truly conquer the controls much in the same way the game's narrative charges them with the dubious mission of subjugating the wilds.
In his review at Waypoint, Austin Walker notes that "Monster Hunter: World is a game where the most well realised elements - the creatures and the places - are meant to be mastered". That sentiment, along with its less glamorous implications, is not simply found in the game's narrative, where hunters journey to the New World and slay everything in their path.
It is not simply found in the slow raising of statistics through crafting better armour. That sentiment of control is present in every action of the game and observable in every sword swing.
Still really comfortable with dual blades though.
While I struggle to reconcile the ways in which conquest is baked into Monster Hunter's gameplay, mastering a weapon does lead to rewarding communal bonding and personal growth. Mastering a weapon and understanding its animations allows players to contribute more during hunts with others, which can connect them to the wider community of players.
Learning is a process that demands intimate knowledge of your digital body and an understanding of each button press on your controller. You start as a flailing rookie locked in place by lengthy animations. As the animations and timing become natural, you grow into a confident veteran hunter.