Monster Hunter is one of my absolute favorite franchises in gaming. It really fulfills the power fantasy that video games allow you to experience, but it does more than that. Monster Hunter is equal parts pre-planning and finesse, with success really being predicated by how well you plan for the hunt and actually executing combat with gargantuan beasts. It scratches an itch that other, similar, games try to do, but lack the polish that this franchise is known for. Monster Hunter is not for everyone however. Combat is punishing, and learning the mechanics of different monsters, and the grindy nature of the game, turns off a decent amount of western players. However, I truly believe with what is being shown in this beta of Monster Hunter World might be the game that will attract a ton of new western players.
Immediately from the get-go you can tell that this game looks absolutely gorgeous. It is a major step up from anything previously in the series in terms of graphical fidelity and performance. It has been a long time since the series has had a major console release, and it is taking full advantage of this console generation’s hardware, making sure you know that this is the next big Monster Hunter title. The biggest notable improvements have been to the environment and draw distance. Monster animations and combat animations have always been great (due to how reliant the player is on them in combat). That being said the environments have always been one of the weaker points of the series in terms of visuals. The art direction and level motif have always been good in previous games, but they lacked a lot of animation and moving parts.
This time around much of the fauna and other environmental aspects all have great animations so scale to coincide with the game’s new found quantity of objects on screen. Monster Hunter maps have traditionally been broken off into sections that were their own instanced areas. Monster Hunter World’s levels are one big explorable map, where a lot of the map can be seen from a high vantage point. This makes going on a hunt feel much more grandiose that in any other previous iteration, by painting its canvas on a much grander scale. Seeing the hunting grounds of your player character along with all creatures inhabiting it does truly make it live up to the “world” in the game’s title. This improved engine and game world, on top of what was already stellar art direction, makes for an engrossing spectacle, and possibly one of the best looking games when it is fully released.
Monster Hunter has always had a pretty steep learning curve, which is a large part of why, despite its success in Japan, it hasn’t reached the same level of popularity in the west. It’s a grindy game where learning about the different monsters, as well as preparation and planning, are arguably more important than just slashing away at a monsters flesh. The game has a lot of slow-burning elements, and the process of getting better will take patience. However, the game has made steps to make the game at the very least, a little more accessible.
A big element that I feel has changed is the speed of combat. Monster Hunter has always been a franchise of precise, commitment-heavy combat. It is slower than your standard action game, and you will get punished heavily for not playing carefully. Recent games in the franchise such as Monster Hunter Generations have taken a faster paced direction than in previous games, at the sacrifice of nuance. World, on the other hand, feels like a good middle ground between the slower earlier titles, and the much faster recent iterations. This is good because, while I do appreciate combat not feeling cumbersome, one of the best aspect of the series was how careful and methodical you had to be in combat. And combat with the game’s new engine feels responsive and tight, with no performance hiccups despite what was going on screen.
There are also other little accessibility changes, a big one being the firefly trail. Unlike other entries where finding a monster is just going through different sections of the map till you find it, this game lets you find clues. The firefly trail points you to clues on the monster’s whereabouts, things such footprints. When you’ve gathered enough information the firefly trail will more or less lead you to the part of the map the monster is located in. On top of that, this looks to be the best UI in any Monster Hunter title, everything being concise and not distracting from gameplay. It’s changes like this that help make the game more accessible, without sacrificing the depth the series is known for.
I am very much excited to see more of the game. I only got a small taste due to how little was available in the beta, but I can safely say that at the very least, this looks to be a serviceable Monster Hunter game. And, given how good these games usually are, that is perfectly fine with me. As I said earlier Monster Hunter is one of my favorite franchises, and with this new installment I have never been more excited to be smacked around by a giant poison-spitting dinosaur.