Capcom might just satisfy everybody.
“Whatever angle you’re coming at it from, fan or newcomer, this seems like the real deal.”
Depending on your opinion of the Monster Hunter franchise so far you’ll either think I’m a hack fraud who shouldn’t be writing about these games or the perfect person to cover Monster Hunter World’s changes – so I may as well lay my cards on the table right here at the top.
I’ve never been that big on Monster Hunter. I’ve played a couple of the Nintendo-published entries for work and enjoyed them well enough, but they were the sort of games I probably wouldn’t have played off my own back. I’d do 40-plus hours for a review, have some fun, but then set it down and then never return. I know some Monster Hunter driven writers who sink hundreds of hours into these games, so, yeah – in a sense, I’m not as qualified.
In another sense I am that untapped Monster Hunter audience Capcom wants, mind. I love RPGs in general (I set up a whole website about the genre, for goodness sake) and am a big advocate of the odd obtuse Japanese RPG in particular, especially now JRPGs seem to be finding their feet again. Somehow, Monster Hunter has never quite clicked with me despite that – but Monster Hunter World looks like it’s the one built to make me a convert.
The main thing I have to say about the game is this: whatever angle you’re coming at it from, fan or newcomer, this seems like the real deal. That first trailer was a bit iffy, but a live demo has me convinced pretty much immediately.
If you’re a more traditional Monster Hunter fan, don’t be fooled by the name – this is for all intends and purposes Monster Hunter 5. (“The word ‘World’ has 5 letters in it,” the presenter quips.) It has everything you’d expect, and while there are streamlining and quality of life efforts to make the game more accessible, the gameplay systems in general seem to be a natural continuation of ideas expressed in Monster Hunter 4.
That means that the overall flow of the game is similar – the game still features numbered map areas, for instance, but the different zones now no longer feature clunky loading screens between them. This inspired another major change from the series so far – the player character can walk and drink a healing potion at the same time, something developers described as a necessity given that the ‘magic wall’ of a load screen into the next area over has now been removed.
Other things return as you’d expect – there’s 14 weapon types, there’s still a little jingle after a steak is cooked right, you can still very slowly lop tails and the like off enemies to weaken them, weapons still have sharpness to worry about – all that stuff.
For my money this looked and felt like Monster Hunter, albeit one that has taken a long, hard look at itself after considering everything from The Witcher 3 to Skyrim and quite possibly even Final Fantasy 15. This works for me. Some fans might feel that damage numbers popping out of enemies to let you know if you’re attacking an optimal spot is some sort of betrayal, but I honestly call that stuff smart and useful.
If you’ve not been into Monster Hunter thus far, there’s plenty to like. This is an epic monster-battling game just as before, but these quality of life changes are for you more than the hardcore MH fan.
Characters move more swiftly, you can now use a grappling hook to swing around and reach higher areas, and generally this looks and moves more like a Western game. Another point of comparison would be how dynamic the excellent Dragon’s Dogma could look at its best – there’s a hint of that here, which is no bad thing at all.
“There’s a food chain in action across the map, and a smart hunter will be able to use it to their advantage by playing creatures off against each other.”
This is not an open world game: there are still discrete ‘levels’, but they’re larger in size and each is completely open between its zones, free of loading screens. Within this world there’s a lot of stuff that can interact including various types of beasts and the environment itself.
In one chunk of the hands-off E3 demo one bigger omnivore monster gobbles up a couple of herbivores before slinking off to its nest. Once there, it regurgitates the meal for a swarm of its young to feast on. There’s a food chain in action across the map, and a smart hunter will be able to use it to their advantage by playing creatures off against each other.
Your objective might require you to pass through an area populated with violent, hungry creatures, for instance, but you might be able to organize a distraction so that you can sneak past them to your main objective.
Other interactions are more driven by the player. Battling an enormous T-Rex like creature in a cave means you can use a slingshot to launch a well-placed rock at an unstable formation in the ceiling to bring part of it down atop the monster.
If you’re not careful a raging monster might also smash through a wall, revealing new paths. If you’re meticulous you might be able to cause a monster to trap itself in a world hazard such as tangling vines.
The E3 demo is clearly scripted-but-not. It’s following some basic set beats in that it’s the same hunt for the same beast in the same area, but exactly how the AI interacts is dependent on the circumstances of each developer-led play through. I speak to other members of the press who see demos that go in surprisingly different directions and this is what most impresses me about this demo – it shows that even at this stage of development the game is decently dynamic.
It seems like media hands-on is still going to be a couple of months away, but Monster Hunter World gets an enthusiastic ‘so far, so good’ from me. Aside from a colour palette that’s arguably a little too muted I really love how the game looks, and it seems to move in a way that seems like it’ll be immensely satisfying to control.
As the most casual of Monster Hunter fans, I’m convinced this one might hook me harder than any before. I also think that once the immediate worries calm down, hardcore fans will realize there appears to be a lot to love here. So, yes: this really is Monster Hunter 5 – and I’m into it.