Several hours into Monster Hunter: World, a buddy and I took on an Anjanath, one of the tougher monsters in the first region you can explore. We paid no attention to its structural and elemental weak points, nor its potential ailments. We didn’t really plan our powders and potions. We simply joined up in the Ancient Forest and went after it, not bothering to fire a flare to bring in more assistance. Two or so hours and three resets later, we called it a night, thoroughly frustrated.
With some games, that would have been enough to send me packing for good. You’re looking at the guy who put $130 into For Honor and ended up playing less than 60 minutes. With Monster Hunter: World, though, I wanted to go back, I just didn’t really know why.
The next day, I loaded into Monster Hunter: World and brought up the notes the Chief Ecologist had on the Anjanath. I learned about all the things I didn’t bother to study the night before. I took this knowledge to the smithy and forged the proper weapon, then went to the training yard and learned how to use it. I prepared potions and powders to keep me from fainting, then I went back to the Ancient Forest and helped a group of random players dispatch the Anjanath like it was nothing. That was the moment I realized you only get out of Monster Hunter: World what you put in, and I was hooked.
Let’s Go on an Expedition
Backing up to my first few hours in Monster Hunter: World, it wasn’t just the Anjanath that had me on the brink of quitting, it was also the co-op mechanics. Trying to play Monster Hunter: World with friends is a lot like trying to eat soup with a fork. You can do it, but nothing about it is intuitive. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the ease of playing co-op in games like Ghost Recon Wildlands and Destiny 2, but the system Monster Hunter: World uses is bad.
For instance, you can only play an assigned story mission together if you and your friend have both progressed far enough. Seems fair, but Monster Hunter World will make you start almost every main story mission solo. You’ll remain by yourself until you watch a cut scene, at which point either you or your friend will have to exit their session to join the other. However, if you are a solo player looking for help from random gamers, the SOS system works quite well, and you’d probably feel that the multiplayer and co-op mechanics are solid. Most of the trouble with co-op is directly related to trying to play with specific people.
Monster Hunter: World is best experienced when you’re lost in a cycle of exploring, resource gathering, and crafting. I probably say it too much, but open world games are at their peak when you want to spend time in the environments. I love visiting the Smithy and seeing what it will take to craft my desired armor, looking for a related quest, then heading out to gather the necessary supplies. It’s a system that ensures all the locations and monsters will remain relevant even after you’ve completed the main story.
I didn’t care much for the narrative in Monster Hunter: World. The premise was fine but playing it through was forgettable at best. Two encounters with a monster named Zorah Magdaros were so bad I was laughing. Even now, I’m not sure what I did to progress. There were points in the first encounter where my objective was to drive away another monster. I never ended up finding that monster, but apparently it grew bored and took off on its own.
The second battle was a tiny bit better, but stilled flawed from start to finish. I found more objectives, but the quest continued to move forward even when I hadn’t completed them. It ended with about 10 minutes of me running back and forth, loading cannons and firing away while someone was screaming at me about how it wasn’t good enough. I was just glad when it was over, although it wasn’t really. There were still more assigned quests to complete and more regions to discover. More cut scenes to watch while you wait for Monster Hunter: World to get out of its own way.
Welcome to Astera, Population: 1
I have given Destiny 2 a verbal beatdown that borders on cruel, but Monster Hunter: World could take a few notes about how Bungie handles social spaces. With Destiny 2 I always feel connected. I can be a solo player in the Tower and it feels alive. In Monster Hunter: World, it’s just you in Astera unless you head up to the Gathering Hub. I think I’ve been there twice, and I have no idea why anyone would need to go back. It leaves me feeling somewhat alone when I’m playing, even though I know thousands of others are in the same space. Monster Hunter: World puts the armor, loot, and resource systems of Destiny 2 to shame, but I can’t help feeling like Astera is a missed opportunity as a social space.
That lonely feeling continues when you head out on an expedition. Yes, you can fire that SOS and be joined by a few fellow players, but it feels forced. It’s the difference between inviting someone into your home to visit and bumping into strangers while you’re running errands. You may not talk to those strangers, but you take comfort from knowing they’re out and existing in the same space as you. I’m not saying Monster Hunter: World needs to be more like Destiny 2, but there’s a disconnect with the co-op and multiplayer for me.
What Monster Hunter: World gets right is your Palico companion. I created Chuck, my real cat with an attitude. Chuck is a genuine benefit when I’m playing alone or even with one other person. He attacks the monsters I’m battling, heals me, digs up extra resources, and manages to work “meow” into everything he has to say. He has his own armor and gets a weapon, and I find myself caring just as much about his gear as I do my own. It really feels like Chuck, and I’m equally as defensive about him in-game as I am in life. When a monster attacks him things get belligerent, although in truth he saves me far more often than I save him.
The Palico system is one of the best in Monster Hunter: World. You can level your Palico up to make them more efficient, and they act as a gadget delivery system for perks you unlock. I can count on Chuck for a timely heal, or to toss down a Shock Trap when I need to pin a monster down and cause some damage. I can even connect with my friend’s Palicos when they’re offline, taking two companions with me, both of which put in work.
Try Not to Get Trampled
The studying and planning in Monster Hunter: World is perfection. The actual combat, however, can be a bit wonky. Capcom has done a great job with the environments, making them as much a part of the fight as the weapons. I’m a big fan of using verticality to my advantage, jumping on the backs of monsters and stabbing them in the face. The problem is there’s just too much inconsistency. Mounting a monster feels like it’s as much about luck as it is skill. That system, like the monster’s hit boxes, feels sloppy.
As far as striking a monster with your weapon, that feels tight. I can’t recall thinking that I’d landed a blow that didn’t register. The problem comes from the monsters moving around with you in close proximity. Yes, I get that they are huge and you’d get trampled, and that’s fine, but what isn’t fine is when you’re consistently getting knocked down, or even fainting, and you’re certain you got out of the way. Perhaps once or twice, but time and time again I was left feeling cheated, and that’s a tough one to take when it sends your team back to Astera as the final faint.
The monster AI is another example of what Capcom got right. These beasts go about their business in the world whether you’re there or not. They move between zones and live their lives. Often you can pass by them and, so long as you don’t go mean mugging them, they’ll just continue on the path. Most monsters won’t fuss with you if you don’t give them reason, although there are exceptions.
Even when the fight begins, the monster AI is on point. There are no health bars, so you must depend on visual cues and monster behavior to get a sense of how you’re doing. Chop a tail off and the beast will howl. Hurt it enough and it will limp off towards its nest, desperate to recover. This often makes me feel like I’m the real monster in each encounter. I’ve attacked this creature in its habitat, often unprovoked, and when it is so hurt that it limps away to try and recover from near death, I hunt it down and finish the job. That’s some nonsense right there, but I do love my fancy Zorah Magdaros armor.
Peak monster hunting is done in groups of at least two. My buddy prefers to strike from range and I like to fight in a phone booth. Eye gouging, foot stomps, and Chuck’s claws taking chunks of flesh. It’s a messy style, and it’s most effective when I have a co-op friend there to provide heals and ranged distractions. I can count on my pal to draw the monster near a cliff so I can try for a mount or lure the beast into a trap where it can be put to sleep. Things get a bit more hectic and unorganized with a group of four, especially if a couple are random players, but group fighting is almost always better than going it alone.
Welcome to the Jungle
I’m on the fence with the visuals of Monster Hunter: World. The monsters look spectacular, and the environments feel very much alive. I played on PS4 and it’s a good-looking game, but as a PC player, I mumbled to myself more than once about how I couldn’t wait for it to come out on Steam this fall. Give me that glorious Diablos fight in 2K with about 90 fps and I’ll dance at your wedding. However, even as far as the PS4 is concerned, games like Horizon Zero Dawn and the Uncharted series look better. That’s not a dig at Monster Hunter: World. Those are two stunning games and I don’t feel like Monster Hunter: World is far behind.
I’m more than 70 hours deep into Monster Hunter: World. Although my copy was provided by Capcom, the price of admission for the average gamer is well worth it. My interest is waning, though. Maybe I’m asking too much, but I really wanted a living, breathing game. Even though Monster Hunter: World does have events, it falls short of what it would take to keep me invested for the long haul, but that’s okay. As a first-time player of the series, Monster Hunter: World has given me unique experiences and memories that, for better or worse, other games will be measured against for years to come. That has to be a win.
This review is based on a PS4 download code provided by Capcom. Monster Hunter: World is available in retail and digital stores now.