Monster Hunter is not a famous name in the Indian gaming circle. While the first game on the PlayStation 2 was successful, the series took off explosively in Japan with Monster Hunter Freedom on the PlayStation Portable. Handheld systems are generally more popular in Japan, and due to the country’s high population density, it was easy to find players to hunt cooperatively with, making it a phenomenon there. In contrast, Western (read Indian) markets favoured home consoles and computers during the mid-2000s.
With Monster Hunter World, the game finally returns to the consoles and PC (8 months later), with an open living world concept. Does it stand the test of strenuous modern day console gaming? Let’s find out.
Monster Hunter: World is an action role-playing game developed and published by Capcom. A part of the Monster Hunter franchise, the game was released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One worldwide in January 2018. The game will be released on the PC platform in the latter half of 2018.
Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World has a story. That’s all that I would like to say about it. The story serves the noblest purpose it can in a video game, moving the gameplay forward. You, a hunter has followed an Elder Dragon to the New World, and as you investigate this new continent, you will come across new areas, and new monsters and you will have to come up with new ways to hunt, capture or evade them on your travels. There are some parallel narratives about the 3rd Fleet (you are part of the 5th fleet to arrive) and the first fleet. But these side quests at best.
The real stories though, are the monsters themselves. Each encounter with them, a new chapter. Each hunt a different trail and a different ending. Every time you meet/kill/capture a monster it would add something new to its own lore. Whether this information is about its place in the eco-system or information about what materials different parts of its body can drop, or which weapons/elements its most weak towards. The world and its creatures have a deeply intertwined lore behind them. And if you have patience it unravels before you not just in text but also visually.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Patience is what Monster Hunter World asks the most of you. Almost every hunt that you would undertake for the first time, would last longer than you would like. You would have to wander around in the area to pick up the monster’s trail including its tracks, or its mucus among other things, so your count flies can lead you to your mark. When you do actually spot the monster, you would not do enough damage, wouldn’t know the attack patterns and if you are trying out the Iron Glaive or the Charge Sword you wouldn’t know how to use them properly. But if you stay on, and the monster limps away to its nest, preparing for its final stand, the reward for your effort feels fulfilling and justified. Its almost like having sex for the first time. You wouldn’t know what you’re doing, but it feels pretty awesome once you are done.
Carrying on with that sex analogy. Experimentation is key to both experiences. Multiple times in the game, you would pick a weapon run a few hunts with it, and find its mechanics to your liking. You would upgrade it, and get into the rhythm of its attack. Then suddenly, the next monster you need to hunt would throw all of that into the bin. Either the monster moves too much, or has too much range, or just plain does too much damage up close. The only answer, YOU WILL HAVE TO CHANGE your weapons and playing style.
Even the armour that you would wear cannot be simply upgraded to the max. As the game wears on, an armour with a lower defence rating might be a better choice since it provides better protection against a particular element (fire, water, poison, electric and Dragon). Monster Hunter World does not want you to settle in, it does not want you to ‘Play like you want’, rather it wants you to experiment, observe, learn and then pick the best combination for that scenario, because once you lock in the equipment before heading out for a quest, you are locked in with it (no changing of weapons on the fly).
Don’t be shy about experimenting though. Unlike most RPGs which tend to force you into committing towards one playstyle, Monster Hunter World throws enough materials at you that you can have the highest grade of every weapon and armour available to you for crafting especially during the early part of the game. The new levels of most equipment are unlocked as soon as you slay a new monster, and most mid-tier equipment can be crafted after a single hunt. You can also create loadouts to quickly change between different builds, and even add equipment to a watchlist, which would notify you once you have enough materials to craft it. Such quality of life improvements is appreciated and help a game focused heavily on resource farming.
And make no mistake, monsters are the resource around which the entire economy of Monster Hunter World revolves. Hunter points and coins do help with buys, but you would never really run out of them if you are hunting enough monsters in the wild. Of course, killing them is not the only thing you do in Monster Hunter World. Smaller animals can be captured and placed in your living quarters to be interacted with in your free time. You can also capture bigger monsters alive, though they can’t be placed indoors for obvious reasons. Capturing a Great Jagras alive (for research purposes) is a different challenge altogether and requires even more understanding of the animal and its behaviour.
Even More is the buzz word as almost everything in the game has information ready to spill over from the seams. Like every JRPG worth its salt, Monster Hunter World has troves of information and settings hidden behind menus, submenus, and tabs. Just looking at the volume of information available can be overwhelming at first. In fact, getting to know your way around the Astara base camp needs a bit of getting used to. My standard route of action has been spotting an attribute with a red number next to it, then looking it up in the Monster Hunter wiki, and then deciding if it meant anything in my next hunt. Thanks to Dark Souls, however, gamers these days are way more used to looking at numbers that don’t make sense and then picking the weapon with the most damage.
The essence of Monster Hunter World is in monster hunting. You can do that either alone, or with friends. The game tries to log you into an online session when you first boot it up, but if it doesn’t find one it will let you enjoy the game in offline mode. If you do select online mode, you can claim daily login rewards, join up on quests with other hunters, and send out SOS in middle of quests to get help from other hunters.
Don’t be surprised though if you don’t see other hunters walking around in Astara, even when you have joined a public game session. From what I could gather, you can only see other players either in the Gathering hub or in the wilds once you have departed on the quests together. So while it is a shared open world, it isn’t necessarily an MMO.
Every quest that you undertake needs to be posted. In offline mode, you can just post it, and depart, while in online mode you can wait for others to join you. A maximum of 4 players can join a single party, and if its a story quest then all of them should have seen all the cutscenes that quest has to offer. Meddling but not deal breaking. Players can join investigations, expeditions and sub-missions without any prior requirements though.
There is, however, a difficulty spike when you play as a team. As soon as you shift from playing solo, the monsters become 2.5 times tougher to kill. This, however, does not scale alongside the size of your party. So if you are a pack of 2 hunters playing together, then you are technically playing the game on the hardest setting, though playing in a team is the most fun way to enjoy the game, and I recommend that you try it ASAP.
Finally, there is the ARENA MODE, which is exactly what it sounds like, a gladiatorial arena which throws up isolated challenges for you to overcome and gain rewards from, complete with their own leaderboards.
Graphics Sound & Performance
My first hour in Monster Hunter World was with my cousin who had played a lot of Monster Hunter on his PS2 and PSP. His account of how the game has changed gave me an appreciation of the amount of work that Capcom has done in creating Monster Hunter World. The game has loading times in the higher range, but once you have landed in an area, it is absolutely seamless. There are no loads, no texture modulation, and no frame rate drops. The monster, the waterfalls, the puddles, the sand or the rocks don’t lose texture even when you walk right into them, and the fidelity on display is impressive. The game also implements a dynamic night-day cycle which can create some amazing sunsets and make you marvel at the immaculate lighting done by Capcom.
Of course what is even more impressive is the dynamic world that Capcom has created. Every area is an eco-system in itself, and as such it runs on a food chain. Most monsters are territorials, but some of them are alpha, and roam around laying waste to everything in their way. While its common to run into a Great Jagaras when you are hunting a Pukei-Pukei, it’s almost always impressive when you notice that this encounter was not random, you had forced the Pukei-Pukei into Jagras territory and he had to come out to protect it. To create such an organic world which is alive and interacts with each other must have required a decent effort, and needs to be commended.
In the sound department, Monster Hunter World is a classic JRPG. There are long portions of the game, where there is no background music. And when a hunt is on, you rarely notice the upscale crisis beat that runs in the background. You play a mute Hunter yourself, with your voice limited to grunts when you either hit something or get hit in return. There are spoken dialogues in cutscenes, but most information is passed to you through the tried and tested text methods.
Much like this review, Monster Hunter World is descriptive, detailed and requires an effort to get into. While the game may not appeal to a mainstream wide audience, it does have one of the best pay-offs for the time and effort that you put into it. Its a must buy if you are a Monster Hunter fan, if you are not, find a fan to play this with, and become one yourself.