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Monster Hunter Now is, refreshingly, not Pay-to-Win – but damn it's still a grind

MonHunNow has a balancing problem, and even introducing an insect glaive to the game won’t fix that.

A Diablos from Monster Hunter rages in a real-world downtown location, tearing up a crosswalk beneath its taloned claws.
Image credit: NIANTIC

If you’ve been bitten by the Monster Hunter Now bug, you’ve almost certainly also been smashing your head against the progression wall that crops up relatively quickly in your play experience. Thanks to the glacial progression, bizarre drop rates, and aggressively gated items, many people online call the game ‘Pay To Win’. I disagree, though. Some aspects of the game can be sped up by paying, sure, but the real problem with Monster Hunter Now is the damage scaling and balance – and that’s not something you can simply pay your way through.

The game starts simply enough; hunt, upgrade, rinse, repeat. Just like the actual Monster Hunter games. But, as you start climbing the Hunter Ranks, you’ll be given access to more complicated encounters – from three-star monsters to five-star monsters, and things start to get a bit more complicated. Early on, unless you really butterfingers an encounter, you will be able to slash your way through pretty much every fight without thinking. It’s easy, breezy, a nice way to acclimate to 75-second fights and touch controls.

But, as Rathians and Diablos and other monsters start to spawn, it slows down. Way down. High level armour – necessary for fighting these new threats – takes an obscene amount of grinding to make. Even breaking an Anjanath tail, for example, isn’t guaranteed to drop a tail. And to level up a fire sword, which you need to finish off a five-star Paolumu in the tight time limit, you need plenty of these items.

Monster Hunter Now promotional picture showing two huge computer generated monsters, battling it out with a real-life city in the background.
Where do we go, Now? | Image credit: VG247/Niantic

Here, the wonderful and compelling gameplay loop that Monster Hunter has traded on for generations simply dries up. Thanks to the game’s baffling loot tables and ludicrous scaling, you can come up against an urgent quest and get completely bodied by monsters… even if your armour value is 310, rather than the recommended 318. So, in order to upgrade to the required amount, you need to go out and hunt. Fine, that’s the game after all. But after a week’s worth of dedicated Anjanath- and Rathian-dedicated walks, I’ve only managed to ‘overgrade’ my armour to a fraction of what’s necessary. And, for the doubtful, dropping cash on this wouldn’t even make the grind that much easier.

There are five things you can spend money on in Monster Hunter Now: potions (that heal half your health), paintballs (which allow wild monsters to be hunted anywhere for 48 hours), Wander Orbs (double the area you can interact with in the wild), Zenny (currency required to upgrade items), Carving Knife (used to double hunt rewards).

Of these, the only thing that really affects progression efficiency are the Carving Knives. If you’re after the aforementioned tails, for instance, and happen to get three from a hunt – lucky you – you can use one of these to increase that to six. Where I’m at currently, that’s enough resources for half one level of one weapon. At about £3.50 a go. No thanks. This is the only Pay-To-Win element of Monster Hunter Now, and whilst it sucks, it’s not the biggest hurdle most players are facing.

A selection of Monsters that will come in the launch version of Monster Hunter Now, presented in a grid.
All these monsters, so few parts to harvest off them. | Image credit: NIANTIC

The issue is that getting decent hunt rewards from difficult monsters requires two things: near-perfect play, and apparently perfect luck. Not getting slammed into the dust by a Diablos in one hit, and only getting low-tier rewards for your hustle… that doesn’t play into the power fantasy the main series is so good at enacting. In Rise, for instance, inching to victory against a Rathalos and then maybe getting a ‘Rathalos Ruby’ off it once every 20 hunts gets boring… but at least there’s other stuff you can do to progress around that. In Monster Hunter Now, there’s this severe, imposing wall of five-star monsters that I’ve seen people simply bounce off like a dull blade on a thick hide. Because there’s no incentive; there’s no encouragement to progress and die, over and over again, because you’re too underpowered to do anything about it.

The Monster Hunter Reddit is awash with complaints like this (and one post in particular is what inspired me to write this). In some ways, I guess, it’s refreshing; a mobile game that isn’t solely designed to syphon money off you? Imagine! But the downside is that many players are going as far as to call it ‘unplayable’ thanks to the aggressive gating and stingy drop rates.

I like Monster Hunter Now, and I really want to keep playing. And spending! I’m the sort of player that puts about £15 a month aside for whatever freemium game I’m playing at the time, and I really hope Niantic has the wherewithal to address these issues before I inevitably drift off and spend my cash elsewhere in October.

If you do want help speeding up your Monster Hunter Now progress, you can check out our Monster Hunter Now codes page. You never know, it might help.

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