The Monster Hunter series has accumulated a strong following over the years, though despite its successes, "Monster Hunter: World" will likely be the first installment for many gamers. After its Japanese debut in 2004, the series has garnered traction on both Nintendo and Sony systems, though in the west, its mindshare remains niche. With this series entry on track for an Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC release, Monster Hunter: World looks to serve as an entry point for many, despite remaining faithful to its roots.
Ahead of the game's release on January 26, 2018, we had the opportunity to spend some time exploring Monster Hunter: World through a cooperative lens. Pairing up with three additional players, those two hours were my first with a Monster Hunter game, getting a feel for its mechanics and world as a newcomer.
Served best with friends
As its name implies, building a character to slay all-powerful beasts lays at the heart of Monster Hunter: World. Like many action-oriented role-playing games (RPGs) of today, you'll be accumulating quests to progress your character, while earning new weapons, armor, and other combat enhancements.
Monster Hunter titles are often regarded as the ideal games for "grinding," with a consistent gameplay loop in place through the whole experience. Leveraging the same core mechanics that thrive in titles such as "Destiny" and "The Division", players are regularly driven to obtain loot and other upgrades on the horizon.
One of the principal changes in Monster Hunter: World is its shift toward an online-focused experience. Whereas previous titles generally catered for solo play, inspiration has been drawn from the growing interest in online shared-world games. Between the addition of four-player drop-in cooperative play and a seamless online world, Monster Hunter World conveys a greater sense of vitality and reasons to explore.
Hunting the unexpected
Throughout our session, we had the opportunity to jump into a few of the game's monster-hunting quests. Each of these required our team track a target throughout the open world, by using environmental clues, such as a fresh footprint or carcass of another devoured beast. With the added help of glowing "scout flies," which over time, help guide the team towards the monster, the hunt proves an interesting setup, without outstaying its welcome.
The main attraction of Monster Hunter: World comes with as the monster fights themselves, by taking the highlights of sustained boss fights and stringing these into a standalone experience. Overcoming these monsters mostly consists of multi-stage battles, however, each bears its own intricacies to accommodate. Physical traits of the monster, elemental weaknesses or its mannerisms all play a role in this and add a level of dynamism. I'm skeptical these mechanics will flourish in solo play, although this is something we'll need to wait until launch to discover.
While monsters themselves can force players to change their playstyle, the environment also maintains a fresh feel to combat. During a battle, monsters may retreat to its confined lair, while in another, a different monster may attack your target. Each of these discreetly changes gameplay pacing, keeping the experiences of each fight unique.
Even with only two hours in Monster Hunter: World, I still felt a clear, rewarding sense of progression. During that time we were unable to get a feel for truly exploring upgrade paths, though our dynamics as a team and skills had evolved. We'd come to explore team configurations, discovered tactics for monsters and recognized progress through trial and error.
Despite the advancements I'd made, after two hours in, I still struggled to feel comfortable with its control scheme. Handling of weapons and gadgets generally didn't feel tight and responsive and often resulted in a clunky feel to combat. This could be a by-product of the game's focus on heavy weaponry, though at times this translated to an unnatural, unpolished feel.
Monster Hunter World is set to deliver some promising concepts with its arrival later this month. Following the rise of games-as-a-service, its mechanics built around grinding and progression should be welcomed by console players.
The world of Monster Hunter is clearly best experienced with friends this time around and when paired with other dynamic elements, make for a realized world. How progression fairs in the long-term remains to be seen, though if true to its predecessors, is shaping up to be an unbeaten, rewarding timesink.
Monster Hunter World is set to make its Xbox One and PlayStation 4 debut on January 26, ahead of a PC release later in the year. The game will also be enhanced for Microsoft's Xbox One X console, sporting High Dynamic Range (HDR) support and other currently unspecified visual enhancements.
This preview was written for an in-progress PlayStation 4 build of the game, reflective of the Xbox One version.
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