Monster Hunter World Review – PlayStation 4

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Monster Hunter World is the first game in the Monster Hunter series that I’ve played, but it isn’t the first game that I’ve owned. Having heard good things about the series, I’ve purchased a couple of the previous titles when I’ve seen them on sale, but for one reason or another (often boiling down to being intimidated by the sheer size and scale of the games), I’d never actually put disc to console, as it were. Monster Hunter World seems to be the first game in the series that is attempting to break away from it niche appeal and judging by the exposure that I’ve noticed on message boards and in gaming media, it looks like this is the first title to reach a mainstream audience.

The opening of Monster Hunter World makes heavy reference to the fact that this is a new start for the series, and that newcomers are more than welcome to join veterans on this voyage. Our cast of characters, grouped together as the Fifth Fleet, are travelling to the new world, when their ship gets caught in the appearance of a giant monster called Zorah Magdaros, causing the ship to be wrecked and the player character and his handler needing to find their own way to land to meet up with the remnants of the Fifth Fleet. Having done so, in the settlement of Astera, which subsequently serves as the operational base of Monster Hunter World, players are now able to explore the new world and get down to the main objective of hunting monsters.

My first impression of the game was how good of a job it does of establishing an ecosystem that feels real, with creatures that fit into a hierarchical food chain, in environments that feel both fantastical and viable. Some creatures spend the majority of their time in underbrush or amongst jungle leaves, while others are happier to wander in the open, aware of their surroundings but confident in their ability to defend themselves. Then there are the larger monsters that patrol the various regions in the game, attacking other creatures at will and presenting a genuine threat to almost every other resident of an area, and particularly the player character. Each breed of monster has particular behavioral patterns and strategies that need to be adopted to defeat them, and these can only be learned be observation, research, and combat-based trial and error.

Monster Hunter World is a game with a daunting initial learning curve, but the experience is tailored to newcomers, with a gradual introduction of different systems and mechanics, making the absorption of information much easier to manage. There’s still the feeling that there’s a level of depth to the game that can only be discovered by hours upon hours of play, but over the course of the first few hours with the game, I never felt like I was being asked to do something that I hadn’t been told how to do, and why I would need (or want) to do it.

Perhaps the best thing about how this information is delivered is that it never feels like you’re being asked to read endless pages of text explaining subsystems and the like, and you’re never taken away from gameplay for too long at once. Tutorials are delivered in short bursts, and only ever pop up when you’re attempting to actually perform an action for the first time. I didn’t run into any examples of the typical JRPG problem of being told how to perform an action that won’t be required of you until hours later, causing you to forget the significance of what you’re supposed to be doing when the opportunity arises.

That’s not to say that the amount of information being thrown at you isn’t daunting, as even though it’s delivered at a manageable pace, the sheer amount of options available to you at points throughout the game can feel mountainous. There are many different weapon and armor options, different meals you can eat before starting a hunt, various approaches to quests and taking down monsters, and all kinds of research and optional missions that you can undertake. All of these options are present in the settlement of Astera, and you’ll soon come to know the various routes to each vendor and character like the back of your hand.

One thing to bear in mind with Monster Hunter World, and this will likely determine how much enjoyment you get out the experience, is how much you enjoy the thrill of the hunt. It might sound silly initially, with the game being about monster hunting, but this is a game where the systems behind the pretty visuals are more obvious than in other games, to the point where at times I felt a little like Monster Hunter World was a prettier and more elaborate version of the Cookie Clicker genre. If you boil any RPG down to its constituent parts, chances are that you’ll find something similar, but I couldn’t help but feel that Monster Hunter World was particularly blatant in its gameplay cycle of hunting a monster to gain parts to build a stronger weapons that will allow you to hunt stronger monsters that allow you to build stronger weapons.

That’s not to say that this cycle isn’t enjoyable, or that it’s not presented in an attractive or palatable manner, but it’s more to make the point that there isn’t much else to the game beyond this. The story that takes place over the course of the main quest is fairly unremarkable, and there’s a distinct divide between missions that often result in quests being performed in their own time-limited bubble. Again, this isn’t intended to detract from the gameplay experience, which is a lot of fun, but merely to point out that if you’re looking for something aside from the gameplay to propel you through the experience, you’ll likely be disappointed. Thankfully, hunting monsters is absorbing and rewarding, both in terms of literal rewards and the knowledge that you’ll gain from figuring out a particular monster’s attack patterns and weak points.

One way to enhance the experience of performing quests and hunts is with the inclusion of online play. Monster Hunter World doesn’t have to be played online, in the sense that the entire game won’t crash if it doesn’t detect a connection, but it is clearly designed to be played with others. As you play, you’re fairly regularly being given notifications that other players in your sessions are looking for people to team up with, and each time you select a new quest, you’re placed into a lobby in case any other players want to tag along. Some of my fondest memories with the game have been playing with strangers or friends online, and this is a game that will certainly play in part in stories that will likely be repeated for a while to come, such as running from a monster that you’ve suddenly realized is way too strong for your group, or struggling against a particular creature and then being surprised, Jurassic Park style, with a still stronger beast attacking the monster that’s causing you trouble.

Monster Hunter World is an excellent example of how to bring a game that is popular amongst a niche set of fans into wider appreciation, without removing the elements that made the series popular in the first place. There’s still an enormous amount of depth to the game’s combat and systems, but there’s enough hand-holding to ensure that the uninitiated understand why these systems exist and what they’re for, without being bombarded with information. This isn’t a game for everyone, as those multiple systems are very much front and center of the experience, but if you’re willing to embrace them, along with the stop-start nature of the entering and leaving hunts, then you’ll find a game that rewards the patient gamer, rewarding research, planning and strategizing with a strong experience in a world that feels like it actually breathes.

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