I once worked for a large multinational organization. One of the perks was the lunchroom would stock real, honest-to-God international fare, as in they’d actually bring in chefs from whatever location to produce some of the most authentic chow you could get short of actually hopping on a plane. One day there was African hot sauce on offer and, as a fan of spicy food, I decided to try it. As it turns out, it wasn’t hot sauce, but liquid plasma from the surface of the Sun that I’d foolishly decided to place in my mouth without heeding the consequences. I have known no greater agony before or since.
Why do I mention this? Because every time that particular chef returned with her hot sauce I’d come back for more. It was agony…but the right kind of agony. I firmly believe that lady was one of the greatest chefs ever to grace mankind with her culinary skill, in fact – I told her as much before I left that job – and this relates to Capcom’s Monster Hunter. It’s a tough series. In fact, it’s damn tough. No matter how hard it kicks my booty, though, I just keep on coming back for more because it’s that good.
Monster Hunter World is a new take on the series with sweeping revamps throughout, offering a chance for new diners to try the hot sauce while providing just enough pain for vets. Unsurprisingly, it’s delicious.
As a hunter who’s part of a group supporting a research expedition to the mysterious New World, your job is to keep the eggheads safe from the local giant, terrifying monster population. Your job is further complicated by the presence of a mountain-sized magma dragon that threatens not just your nerd pals, but the region as a whole. By coming to understand the local ecology you can become a better hunter, turn monster hides into more impressive clothing and also save the world from a giant lava crab. What’s not to love?
Here’s the part where I talk about the gameplay and compare it to Dark Souls! Funny thing about that: I actually originally picked up an import copy of Demon’s Souls back in the day because I’d heard the combat compared to Monster Hunter. I was then incredibly disappointed when they weren’t all that much alike and proceeded to not touch Demon’s Souls again for at least another six years or so. Whoops. Point is: they’re somewhat similar games in much the same way that a hippopotamus and lion are somewhat similar animals. Sure, they’re both mammals and they’ll both murder you, but…
In Monster Hunter your focus is on conquering a steadily-growing set of challenges that will prepare you for further advancement as you go. Defeating a monster allows you to use its parts to make better gear which, in turn, will give you the edge you need to defeat even more powerful monsters. It’s not that simple, of course, since there’s no small amount of player skill involved in victory, but the point remains that this is a game about growing and improving as a player. You’ll choose one of fourteen weapons and gradually learn its moveset and quirks as you battle the local fauna over the right to not become dinner.
That growing familiarity will come to serve you well as said fauna brings out more impressive anti-hunter weaponry; a flamingo-raptor that digs up rocks to use them as a shield is one thing, but just wait until you run into the minefield dragon or the Clawed Hamburger Beast from Mars.
Monster Hunter vets already know all this, of course, but even they’re going to have to shift their mindset a little. Monster Hunter: World changes up many of the most fundamental aspects of the series, largely in pursuit of a more accessible and less irritating experience. Many of the more basic hunter tools are now provided automatically or incorporated into a new tracking system, for instance; you now have a firefly tracking beacon that can lock onto monsters and help you pursue them once you’ve discovered enough tracks, trails and, er, poo that your quarry has left behind. No longer do you have to fling paintballs to track monsters! No longer will you have to scour the land for a monster if your paintballs wear off! Glorious day! Other minor changes include an infinitely available sharpening whetstone to restore damaged weapons, the removal of gathering tools so you’re no longer punished for forgetting to bring them and (get this) the ability to change gear mid-mission to suit the situation.
It all adds up to one of the first Monster Hunter adventures that I can unreservedly recommend to friends who didn’t grow up with the series as I did. Monster Hunter World is still damn hard, but it’s no longer the impenetrable wall that it used to be. This is a game that actually wants people to play and enjoy it. I couldn’t say that about…well, any of the previous titles, despite being a long-term fan of the franchise.
Along with all of these revamps comes a change to the series’ basic aesthetic. Monster Hunter World goes for a more realistic look with just enough whimsy to still feel like a video game. In particular, character and monster models alike look fantastic; the environment design is no slouch either. You’re sure to find yourself gaping in awe at the giant, fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus Rex that’s about to eat you shortly before it does, in fact, eat you.
Naturally there’s plenty of ways to play with friends as mutliplayer remains a hallmark of the series; this generally works well enough once you’ve gotten a handle on its many quirks, thought here’s some annoyance when it comes to playing through mandatory story missions with a friend. You might want to get used to having to do the odd quest here and there on your own.
Monster Hunter World is all about bringing the classic hunting-action franchise into the modern era and catching up to the many, many me-too series that have surpassed it over the years. You want quick and dynamic movement a la God Eater? We’ve got that. You want more interesting interactions with your monstrous opponents a la Freedom Wars? Got that too. With the various revamps and improvements made throughout it’s easy to say that Monster Hunter is once again the king of the hunting-action jungle. It’s the first must-have game of 2018.