While some fans of the series were disappointed when Monster Hunter XX came to the Switch as a Japan-only exclusive, the good news is that we don't have to suffer in region-imposed torture any longer. The latest big fish in the franchise's pond, Monster Hunter World, is finally here, and it blows the previous western releases out of the water.
For seasoned players, the gameplay loop in Monster Hunter World is immediately recognisable. Your job is a cycle that involves crafting weapons, bulking up, killing monsters, and looting them for materials. However, a well-crafted narrative has not traditionally been a part of that gameplay loop, and that may have been a deterrent for those looking for a foothold into the franchise in the past. Luckily for them, the first major point of difference here from the previous mainline titles is the way that the plot and gameplay are grafted together. A spinoff, Monster Hunter Stories, stepped off the beaten track by introducing a simple yet satisfying narrative, and now Monster Hunter World solidifies that step by using the building blocks of previous narrative concepts to deliver a well-paced experience that spends more time focusing on the bigger picture.
While you spend a lot of time chasing an Elder Dragon that wouldn't look out of place in the movie Pacific Rim, Monster Hunter World's choice to integrate Guild and Village quests into one coherent story cuts out any confusion or ambiguity that new players may feel when it comes to figuring out which quests progress your journey. The fact that everything is tuned for a rewarding solo experience is a plus--it's entirely possible to pump through 60 hours of quests without ever interacting with another player online. And when combined with more intelligent monster AI, facing off against a fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus-like creature on your own makes the stakes feel even higher.
On top of the story, which revolves around the mystery of why the aforementioned Elder Dragon has appeared in the game's new region, there have been some quality-of-life changes that ease your transition into the world of monster hunting. Instead of frontloading a lot of text-based tutorials as in previous titles, you now have a Handler who doles out helpful information to you as you progress through zones of increasing complexity. It can feel a bit like having an annoying younger sibling tagging along on otherwise deadly adventures, but her vocal cues and vast knowledge about monster types are helpful when encountering new enemies for the first time. This assistance ceases when you start cutting your teeth on High Rank monsters, but hearing about new skills and immediately putting them into practice in the field is an excellent way to learn about the game from the ground up.
Monster Hunter World feels like an open-world game to some extent, with fantastically large maps of a scale that we haven't seen before (both vertically and horizontally), no discernable game-pausing loading screens between zones in hunting areas, and a wealth of beautifully rendered environments to slaughter colossal monsters in. A helpful addition to this new world is the swarm of scoutflies that serve as a way to track monsters and other objectives.
Navigating the vastness of those areas without scoutflies would have been incredibly tedious. Once you've located a few traces of a monster's path in a zone, your scoutflies automatically track it to its current location. Gather up enough clues over time and soon your insectoid minions will be able to predict where a certain monster is located based on past movements. This is very useful for investigation missions with tight time frames at higher ranks and sticks to your canon characterisation: a seasoned hunter who understands their prey. Except, perhaps, when said prey glitches through two stories' worth of foliage and can't be attacked with any weapons that you've got on hand. Fortunately, those instances are few and far between.
Part of the ability to capitalise on a monster's weakness is the smart use of all the tools in your hunting arsenal, with the most important being your weapon of choice. The Hunter Arts from Monster Hunter Generations have been removed, and the game's focus is solely on your ability to dish out ridiculous amounts of damage using your respective weapon's combo. Light weapons are still the most mobile while the technical weapons are still the most difficult to understand and master, but there are ample opportunities to get experience with whichever blade, bow, or lance you've decided on. Weapon upgrade trees are all viewable at a glance, and the ability to make a wishlist of parts for your next upgrade makes the process more convenient, and helps you decide which expeditions to focus on.
Bowguns in particular have received the most notable facelift: it appears that there has been an effort to mimic the kind of playstyle you'd have in a third-person shooter, and this is most apparent when you're firing from the hip with the light bowgun. That doesn't necessarily change the strategy needed; you'll still have to make effective use of environmental hazards, traps, barrel bombs, and dung in order to chase down your quarry. There are now more ways to get a leg up on monsters, which make combat encounters more accessible to different playstyles. Elemental effects are all the rage once more, with weapons boasting essential new perks that have evolved alongside the enemies that you forge them from, and the benefits of bringing water to a firefight is a lesson you'll learn early.
Of particular necessity is the ability to mount monsters through aerial combos, or through the slightly less coordinated mad scramble off a cliff onto a creature's back; you're given the opportunity to knock a monster down, which will buy you time to slice off a tail or a claw. While the game will reward you no matter what strategies you take, knowing a monster's weak points is still a must if you strive to upgrade your gear. It's best to nail down your favourite weapon in the Arena--a mode where you test your mettle with specific gear against a monster that you've fought before.
Multiplayer integration is, for the most part, seamless. As mentioned above, there's no distinction between Village and Guild quests anymore, so missions can be done alone or with a friend, and you'll both only have to do it once to complete it. You can start a quest alone in an online session and wait for more hunters to pop in to assist. Alternatively, you can seek out an online session for people of a certain hunter rank, and just go along for the ride if they need a hand with anything. The only qualifier is that some story-focused missions require the leader to either watch a cutscene or discover a monster before others can join.
You can be in the same online session as someone else without having to do the quests that they're doing, which is useful for those who might want to keep an eye on a friend who's new to the franchise. Players who are struggling solo can also send out an SOS flare that lets their friends put together a little rescue party to save the day. In the downtime between adventures, you can do anything from arm wrestling to challenging each other's times on the killing leaderboards.
Getting together with your mates takes a couple of extra steps compared to loading into a multiplayer session on the fly with a stranger. To play with friends alone, you’ll have to join in on their fun via the friends list on the console dashboard, or by sharing a 12-digit session ID. In a game that’s all about momentum and sprinting off into the horizon at the next challenge, getting your hunting posse together is manageable but slightly tedious. That being said, a few minutes to specifically set up a multiplayer session doesn’t necessarily make or break the game.
As expected, Monster Hunter World scales the difficulty up if you're not the only one embarking on the quest. Up to four people can go out into the wilderness at once, and the beta experience has already demonstrated to many how exhilarating group combat can be. The more targets available for monsters, the more unpredictable their movements. This means that while you may have more firepower, it can be harder to lock down a monster that's particularly prone to relentless charging or rapid aggression. Luckily, playing with others gives you the opportunity to try out different weapon compositions, and while unusual weapons like the hunting horn might see minimal use in the solo campaign, its sweet, party-buffing tunes and your teamwork abilities will become crucial to helping your friends take down the most savage of beasts.
While it may seem like quite a bit has changed, there's a hell of a lot in Monster Hunter World that's stayed the same. Whether it's the appearance of draconic series regulars like the Rathalos and the Rathian or the presence of tried and true weapons, the roots of the Monster Hunter franchise are strong with its latest release. Apart from the overall sprucing up of graphics and the cutscenes with full voice-over, the standout improvements really come from the simplification of the existing systems in a way that welcomes newcomers without alienating existing fans. A lack of loading screens makes exploration a pleasure, and tracking new and improved monsters through areas as they rank up means that you've got plenty to conquer once the story quests are complete. There may not be any new weapons, and there may be a Hunter Arts-sized hole left in the hearts of players who spent hours getting good at the various Styles. However, the removal of those old mechanics feels less like a funeral and more like a necessary streamlining.
Ever since the title was first announced last year, it was clear that Capcom was gunning for something grander than Monster Hunter Generations. It has succeeded, and this is likely the biggest and best that the franchise has ever been. It's not just the comparative depth of the narrative; it also boasts almost seamless integration between combat systems that were previously incomprehensible for amateurs. The Monster Hunter formula has definitely honed its claws, and all the above factors play their part in making Monster Hunter World a meaningful evolution for the series at large.