"[...] The game's evolution into a more player-friendly experience hasn't sacrificed the core difficulty or gameplay that [fans] love; it's simply made it easier for others to appreciate Monster Hunter as much as they do."
Make no mistake: while Monster Hunter: World offers a more narrative-driven experience than we've ever seen with the series, at its core, it's still all about its gameplay loop — hunt a monster, craft armor and weapons from its parts, then hunt a bigger monster with your new gear. It's a simple cycle that, despite World's much-needed changes to the Monster Hunter formula, hasn't been altered in the slightest. And that's good, because you don't need to fix what isn't broken. From the captivating progression system to cool monster designs, it's clear that Capcom knows why people love this series; from the changes World makes, however, it's also clear that Capcom knows why people don't.
World is by far the most accessible Monster Hunter title to date, having made a number of tweaks to traditional mechanics and the overall experience, tossing obtuse mechanics and frustrating design choices out the window. The whetstones you use to sharpen your weapons are now infinite, and items like potions can automatically be crafted once you have the right materials. The armor system has been completely overhauled and simplified, with every piece of armor now offering a set skill that can be stacked with other armor pieces, charms, or decorations that share that same skill. Moreover, though, the game just feels
different from previous entries — and that's because World brings Monster Hunter to life in a way we've never seen.
The New World is split into a number of different, vast locales that each retain their own distinct sense of personality and never feel the same. The real highlight of the game's varied maps are the Coral Highlands, a beautiful playground full of underwater scenery and powerful air currents that you can glide upon. It's all the fun of an underwater level without the hassle of having to actually deal with unwieldy controls (unlike the game's last proper console entry, Monster Hunter Tri, all of your battles will be on land). The Coral Highlands house two of my favorite newcomers in the game — the ice-spewing flying wyvern Legiana and the adorable, inflatable bat-like Paolumu — and really showcase the game's gorgeous art direction.
While it's great that each location in the game feels so unique, the maps themselves would be nothing without the game's incredible success with ecology. Because what really makes World stand out among other action-RPGs — and even other entries in the series — is the game's realistic ecosystem. Multiple monsters roam each land, and it's not uncommon to run across different beasts as you hunt your target. What's amazing is that monsters will initiate turf wars with one another, creating an awesome sight as they battle for dominance with realistic animations and behavioral patterns.
This natural ecosystem means that no quest plays the same twice, and World does an incredible job with fostering emergent narratives for each encounter. It's hard not to remember moments like fighting a Tobi-Kadachi and seeing a Rathalos land right between the two of you, forcing you to back off while the pair fight because you didn't bring any antidote; likewise, hunting a high rank Paolumu and seeing a random Odogaron leap into the air, grab it by its inflated air sac, and toss it around the ground in its jaws like a chew toy is a gaming memory that's impossible to forget. Your hunts will stick with you long after you turn the game off, and part of the fun is sharing your experiences with other players.
World is at its best when you're playing with others — especially your friends. The game is perfectly enjoyable alone (the bulk of my time was spent playing solo), but it's impossible to deny that it's simply more fun with a group. The multitude of weapons encourages different playstyles between players and ensures that your party has a solid composition. Maybe one of you will choose a blunt weapon to focus on breaking off fangs, while the other chooses something sharp to sever a tail, and another hangs back to dish out long-ranged damage. World wants your team to work together to take down its fearsome cast of monsters, and there's really no other multiplayer experience that creates such engaging teamwork quite like it does.
It's a shame, then, that multiplayer itself can be a bit cumbersome to get going. Being invited to your friend's online session means having to restart the game entirely, for example, and story missions can't be joined at the start when the quest-giver hasn't yet viewed cutscenes. These quests are still joinable once the cutscenes are over, but it's a weird speed bump you have to encounter. Squads, the game's version of guilds, seem like a great addition until you realize that only the squad leader can invite other players, and that they can only do this when that player is active in their online session. It becomes a bit of a hassle to invite other players as you have to make sure you're playing at the same time, and it's hard to escape the feeling that the multiplayer mechanics could be a bit more streamlined.
The 14 different weapon types at your disposal all bring something to the table, each of them offering a completely different combat experience. The Hunting Horn plays similarly to the other heavy hitting blunt weapon, the Hammer, but allows you to cast buffs and heal your party. The Insect Glaive is the most acrobatic weapon in the game, letting you pole-vault around the battlefield while striking monsters with aerial combos. The combo-heavy Long Sword has a fierce dodging move that, if timed just right, will allow you to counter an attack and dish out massive damage. Fans of Horizon: Zero Dawn will love the Bow, which lets you coat arrows in status effects, while fans of third-person shooters will take to the Light Bowgun and its huge catalogue of ammo types just fine. There's so many different ways to play in World, and trying out different weapons is how you'll get the most out of your time with it.
The loop of crafting and upgrading your gear is better than ever. Changes have been made to the Smithy, and you can now clearly see the huge upgrade tree for each weapon. There are multiple paths to follow, and you can downgrade to a previous node on certain trees to follow a different branch. These branches vary in things like affinity and elemental effects, and you can always craft the starting weapon again if you want to go down a different branch while keeping your current weapon. There's now a Wishlist, which lets you pin armor and weapons you want to craft and alerts you when you collect the right materials. Being able to keep track of everything you're trying to craft is handy and reduces a lot of the tedious backtracking that plagued Monster Hunter games before. Unfortunately, the gear you do get to make isn't quite as flashy as it's been in the past, which is hugely disappointing. For every unique design, there's four that feel generic, and some of the weapons don't start to look different from their starting point until their fifth or sixth node.
Additions such as the Monster Field Guide (which, based on your research level, lets you see the anatomical weak points of a monster along with its elemental and ailment weaknesses), the helpful Scoutflies that track down your target as you collect environmental clues, and the drop-in/drop-out co-op all help make World a welcoming entry point for newcomers. By overhauling the needlessly complicated design choices typically found in the series — like the confusing armor skill system and the inability to consume an item while on the move — Capcom has made World welcoming for returning players as well. Those who failed to gel with Monster Hunter in the past will find that World's new features and adjustments warrant giving the series a second chance, and fans will appreciate that the game's evolution into a more player-friendly experience hasn't sacrificed the core difficulty or gameplay that they love; it's simply made it easier for others to appreciate Monster Hunter as much as they do.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.