Even after playing over 12 hours of Monster Hunter World, I still died while hunting my final monster. A lot.
Now, some people have already jumped straight to the comments following my opening sentence, or maybe they didn't make it past the headline. But for those of you who've actually read this far, I'll answer my headline outright: Monster Hunter World is not too hard. With the caveat that I played a still-in-development build of the game and just made it through the opening section, my deaths in the game felt important. I learned from them; I learned how to better use my weapons, I learned how to take advantage of my environment, and most importantly, I learned how to read my monstrous opponents all-important tells.
Capcom recently flew a group of journalists out to Monster Hunter's Osaka development office to play the beginning missions of Monster Hunter World and to talk with the developers about the game. I got some insight into what happened to the underwater levels (Monster Hunter Tri introduced hunting in the water, but that setting has been absent from the series ever since), and I also asked about whether the increasingly popular loot box system might make its way to the series. But the question long-time fans of the series have had is whether Monster Hunter World, as both first Monster Hunter game available worldwide at the same time and the first game on a Sony or Microsoft home console in a very long time, is going to dial-back on its infamously complex battle system in order to be more approachable.
From what I've played of Monster Hunter World, it does feel like a more friendly game for new players. A revamped training area makes it easy to experiment with new weapons and loadouts. A hunting guide lays out the weak points and loot tables for the monsters you face. And you can call for help from online friends and strangers even if you're in the middle of a hunt. But Monster Hunter World also retains its signature challenge and depth, the elements that have made it such an enduring franchise.
And it does that while expanding the scope of the game dramatically. I'm told that the dozen hours I played are just a small slice of the game, the trailer showed at Paris Games Week revealed what was almost a completely new set of monsters from the ones I fought, and the environments in that trailer were a world apart from the ones that I'd played around in. Ryozo Tsujimoto, producer on Monster Hunter world, tells me, "There is still a lot more for you to see. You are still at the start of your journey here." And when he says, "There's no question, it's the biggest Monster Hunter project to date," it's easy to believe him.
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Death and failure are a natural part of exploring this massive new world. "It's more that the game cycle will ramp up the difficulty where you're gonna hit a wall. Then you're gonna have to examine what you need to do to clear that wall," says Tsujimoto. As an experience, Monster Hunter is about going back to creatures you've bested before, and fighting them again. But you're repeating that process not just to get better items that you can turn into new weapons and armor, but to hone your skills.
"Even though you failed the quest, we don't want it to feel unfair," Tsujimoto says. "It has to be something where you realize that, oh, I need to do better next time. Next time you jump in, you're gonna see that move coming, you're gonna read that tell better, and you're gonna say this is my time to get out of the way and then I'm gonna attack. And then the satisfaction of having improved on that is really a key part of the Monster Hunter experience."
The first hard wall I hit in my playthrough was the Anjanath, a hulking Tyrannosaurus-like creature that far outclassed the power level of previous creatures I'd fought. While in a normal playthrough, I probably would've taken a little more time in getting to him, for this event I plowed through the normal story events and avoided most side missions. So my patchwork collection of armor and a so-so weapon meant that, if I got hit at just the wrong time, the Anjanath could completely knock me with one shot and I could do little to retaliate.
"What we imagine you should do is maybe go back and do a few more of the earlier quests and brush up your skills or check out your weapons and armor. Maybe you haven't made the right ones yet or maybe you haven't quite completed the set," says Tsujimoto when I explain my trouble. "Maybe the monster--the one before the one that you're stuck on--maybe [with] his armor set, you can complete it. It's gonna give you the skill or the defense bonus to get through that quest that you were kind of hitting a wall with."
And that was the case. After forming a hunting party of other journalists at the event playing through the same demo, we hunted down the creatures we needed to kill to collectively upgrade our armor. And then on our next encounter with the Anjanath, we completely destroyed it. For good measure, we went back and did it about six more times after that as well.
Being in a party was helpful, but it was just as important to get in the practice and the better equipment on easier enemies. Even if someone enters your gameplay session in the middle of a fight, the difficulty of that hunt will ramp up on the fly--however the devs told me the challenge doesn't go back down if someone inadvertently leaves your hunt. Increased monster health is one factor in that difficulty, but there are other secret variables that adjust the difficulty of a quest the developers didn't want to divulge. In multiplayer, it's less that you can do more damage as a group, and more the value in having someone distract a monster while you run off to heal up or re-sharpen your weapon.
"Coming into this game, there were lots of things that we wanted to do, that we've always wanted to do," Kaname Fujioka (the game's executive director and art director) tells me. "To be honest, for the portable systems, there was a kind of sense of having to adapt our visions to what the software was capable of, and having to make concessions for that, for the hardware." And a lot of what the team wanted to create were monsters that behave naturally. They wanted to make fantastical beasts that could actually exist in real life. And in Monster Hunter World, the amount of detail you can see on a creature makes it possible not just to find more clues about what your opponent is going to do and what attack they're going to pull off next, but you have a good indicator of how well you're doing. You can see the injuries, cuts, and broken sections of your prey more clearly than is possible on previous, less powerful systems.
All of these things help balance the game's difficulty, making it feel fair even when you've misjudged your opponent and you're getting slaughtered in battle. And games like Cuphead and Dark Souls show that players are eager for brutal, but fair challenges that reward practice and skill. However, there are other, even bigger questions that Monster Hunter World will need to answer as it approaches its launch on January 26. I played the game in, essentially, ideal settings--the online system worked perfectly because I was at the company headquarters with a full team able to troubleshoot any potential problems. From my relatively brief time with the game, playing solo is still fun and there's a mystery-filled story to pull you along, but the combat is just more exciting with friends. It was easy to get a team together to play with, because I could just look across my table at every other available player. A vitally important question is: when Monster Hunter World launches, will it have the online stability to support its player base? With the game spread across different platforms, will players have a full online experience regardless of where they choose to play?
Those answers will only come when the game comes out, but the foundation is already there for an experience that builds on what makes Monster Hunter unique, while still evolving the franchise for a new audience.