Monster Hunter: World
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Okay, the Scoutflies can stay. Tracking a beast in Monster Hunter used to mean scouring a cluster of small, self-contained zones, linked together via narrow paths – and brief loads – before stumbling across your target and immediately tagging it with a paintball, lest it disappear from view. The paint, as seasoned hunters will attest, would naturally wear off over time, forcing you to apply a fresh coat during longer fights. Now, instead, we have a cloud of luminous insects that flits between objects of interest, not so much drawing your attention as insisting on it. Eventually, they’ll hover near a glob of mucus, a set of footprints, a wall scarred by claws; tap a button to investigate and they’ll form a glowing breadcrumb trail, steadily leading you, clue by clue, towards your monstrous quarry. To veterans, this might sound like sacrilege; early on, it may even feel like it too. In practice, not only do you feel much more like a hunter, steadily picking up environmental clues as you get closer to your prize, but your first encounter with a new creature begins not with an awkward bit of busywork, but with the unsheathing of your weapon.
It’s emblematic of a game that not only gets to the good stuff quicker, but also keeps you in the fight for longer. As before, you might have to climb a tendril, leap off a cliff, dive underwater or inch through a crawlspace to reach a new area, but there are no immersion-breaking pauses, no visual seams between them. That means when a wounded monster stumbles away, panting and tripping, it’s a much more thrilling pursuit. You may even catch up before it manages a restorative meal or doze, while in the case of the flying Wyverns, you can use your insectoid assistants to pick up the trail – or, indeed, refer to the mini-map, which highlights any beasts you’ve encountered.
But more importantly than all that, the Scoutflies have also allowed Capcom to build environments more dense, intricate and detailed than ever before, without worrying about players getting lost and wasting too much time searching for their target. Even after dozens of visits, there are parts of the Ancient Forest you may not have visited, from its waterlogged caves to its knots of trees spiralling upward towards canopies and monster nests, with vines to climb and swing from. The arid, unforgiving Wildspire Waste proves rather easier to navigate, but then you’ll need your phosphorescent guides once more to negotiate the gorgeous Coral Highlands, an underwater paradise that happens to be overground. Then follows a descent into the putrid wasteland of Rotten Vale, where the air is so thick with death and decay that it steadily saps your health.
Still, if this monster graveyard is as grim and grisly as Monster Hunter has ever been, it’s also host to three of the game’s best newcomers. Part cobra, part lizard, the Great Girros is a handsome, venomous pest of an opponent, capable of paralysing you with its oversized fangs, and feeding on carrion when it’s losing the fight. The aggressive Odogaron moves at terrifying speed as it inflicts deep wounds with vicious swipes of its keen claws. Perhaps the pick of the bunch is the Radobaan, which, armoured with a shell of jutting bones, looks like a tar Katamari rolled through a wendigo nest; fittingly, one of its most effective attacks is to curl up into a ball and roll directly towards you. Carve up this trio and you’ll end up with an armour set that makes you look like a member of the Norse black-metal band you thought only existed in your nightmares.
This preposterous-looking kit is a reminder that while World may be a calculated play for a western audience, Monster Hunter isn’t about to lose its sense of identity. Yes, the strongman pose after you quaff a health or stamina potion is gone, but it’s hardly missed. Your feline assistants, the adorable Palicoes, are back, still keeping monsters occupied, or giving you a gentle whack when you’re stunned to knock some sense back into you. And if it’s not quite as exaggeratedly silly as before, there’s still a sense of comic desperation to your hunter’s mid-fight running animation; similarly, holding the right trigger to scamper up a wall of ivy prompts an accelerated climb that looks wonderfully daft. If these moments are entirely in service to fun rather than physicality, there are few games that quite sell the impact of their combat as well as this. Monsters may not react to every single blow you land, but over time their hides will be scarred, their armour stripped away, their unique abilities neutered – watch out for the tragicomic moment where a wounded Tzitzi-Ya-Ku tries to dazzle you, only to realise its frills no longer work. And the most precise or forceful attacks produce a tangible response: there are few things more satisfying than swinging your hammer with perfect timing to connect with the jaw of a charging beast, sending it sprawling to the ground so you can whale away as it bucks and writhes, desperately struggling to get back up.
It almost goes without saying that this is comfortably the best-looking Monster Hunter to date – moving from 3DS to home console, it really should be – but its technical virtuosity comes secondary to the inventive brilliance of its creature designs. The Paolumu is a clear favourite, a bat-like creature that inflates a collar around its neck to literally balloon in size, while the sleek-winged Legiana, the apex predator of the Coral Highlands, has a striking elegance – at least when not launching volleys of stamina-draining ice crystals at you.
The spectacle is heightened by the greater frequency of monster-on-monster action, giving the sense of a functioning ecosystem at which previous games only tentatively hinted. Venture into Wildspire Waste, for example, and you may well see the slimy, mud-dwelling
Its technical virtuosity comes secondary to the inventive brilliance of its creature designs
Jyuratodus wrap itself around the heavily-armoured Barroth (the latter, once recovered, will retaliate with a powerful headbutt). Such face-offs aren’t wholly organic: if the two meet again, the encounter will likely play out similarly, but their predictable behaviour can be factored into your battle tactics, as you deliberately bait one toward another before retreating to a safe place to watch them knock spots off each other and subsequently make your job all the simpler. Assuming, that is, you don’t attract the attention of both rivals at once.
And if you do, you’ve got more ways to fight back. With higher ground in just about every area, it’s easier to mount enemies than before – and if a leaping attack lands, you might end up pummelling away at a monster’s tail or face, rather than simply playing bucking bronco on its back. With the addition of a cape, you can catch drafts of air, or glide off tall platforms toward your foe. Steep inclines, meanwhile, turn sprints into downhill slides, letting you launch into a jump and another potential rodeo opportunity. The hammer’s spinning aerial convinced us to switch from our favoured Insect Glaive – though the latter almost tempted us back with its wonderfully impossible midair dash, letting you course-correct a misjudged vault.
There are more ways to get out of trouble, too. Capcom has gone as far as to let you eat or drink on the move – with the caveat that interrupting the animation by breaking into a sprint or being struck means forgoing its benefits. You don’t have to retreat quite so far to sharpen your weapon, with a ghillie cape that camouflages you from view in areas with plenty of brush or objects to hide behind. Then again, monsters have a nasty habit of clipping through scenery, while the camera is a persistent pain. Long-time hunters will Your lodgings in Astera are modest at first, but as you progress you’ll have the option to move to more lavish surroundings. Retiring to your quarters to listen to harp music is the perfect way to unwind after an intense hunt
know that careful movement of the camera is as important as careful manoeuvring around your prey, but with such large and fast-moving enemies it’s not always possible – an unfortunate side-effect of World’s menagerie boasting some of the series’ largest, quickest and deadliest monsters to date.
The most glaring problem, however, comes when trying to play the campaign cooperatively – a process which, unlike World’s environments, is anything but seamless. Capcom has, in its infinite wisdom, decreed that players can only join an assignment once everyone has seen its key cutscene, which means two friends at the same point in the story will have to enter the quest separately, with one quitting to join the other once the scene in question has played out. And with their bad lip-syncing and moments of inadvertent comedy – just wait for the “massive slag” scene – they really aren’t good enough to justify such needless hoop-jumping.
In truth, there were always likely to be a few legacy holdbacks for a long-running series making its boldest stride forward in years. It isn’t quite the dramatic leap some will suggest; Monster Hunter isn’t vastly more accessible than it was before, but then the series was never quite as impenetrable as some made out. World simply smooths out a few of the bigger obstacles to new players, and makes the whole thing so spectacular that any lingering bumps can be tolerated, if not fully excused. In other words, it’s still Monster Hunter. This latest – and surely greatest – entry simply makes it easier than ever before to understand why its fans fell in love with it in the first place.