The Japanese juggernaut that is the Monster Hunter series has never really managed to break the west despite dominating sales charts back at home for over a decade. Its learning curve is steep, its stat management systems are complex, and its many razor-toothed behemoths can be a real test of your patience (and sanity). First teased at E3 2017, Monster Hunter: World is the next chapter in the series and attempts to address the concerns of sceptics with a more relaxed point of entry and a more focused narrative to weave everything together. It brings the action to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC (later in the year) for the first time, allowing players to hone their hunting skills in luscious environments with ecosystems filled with many mysterious creatures.
While most Monster Hunter games have been pretty weak from a narrative perspective, World has a fully-fledged story which unfolds over the course of its 40-50 hour campaign. Playing as your own customised character (and kitty cat) the stakes are now higher than before and now there's more of a reason to support your lust for monster blood. The story sees you venture to the newfound continent of the New World and assist a research team who are tracking the movements of an Elder Dragon known as Zorah Magdoras. We won't spoil too much here, but it's not long before you and your team are met with disaster and thrust into the world to hunt and explore.
We can't talk about a Monster Hunter game without first talking about the monsters themselves. Each of these formidable beasts has their own distinct attack patterns and movements with some throwing you up into their jaws and others spewing deadly purple gunk towards you. Among our favourites were Tzitzi-Ya-Ku, a blue lizard-like creature that stuns its prey by emitting paralysing beams from its ears, and Anjanath, a furry fire-breathing T-rex that tries to crush you with its tail. These monsters are often the focus of the main quests and you'll hunt them down with your accompanying swarm of fireflies by examining their footprints, claw marks, and discarded feathers.
Bloodborne is definitely a title that springs to mind when thinking of World's brisk-paced and tough as nails combat. Similar to the gothic action-RPG, you'll manage your stamina, dodge telegraphed attacks, and land a mix of light and heavy blows accordingly. There's a sense of rush and urgency to combat as you have just 50 minutes to complete a quest and monsters will often try and flee back to their nests when injured to rest and recover. Adding to the stress of things is that your blade will become dull with frequent use and requires you to pause completely to ensure its sharpened. The same goes for potions, antidotes, and other consumables, meaning that you'll either have to retreat to a safe distance or resort to hiding.
World also offers players plenty of weapon classes (14 to be exact) to experiment with. Among the long list of gear available, there are closed-ranged duel hatchets for swift combos, bows and chain guns for long-ranged attacks, and bulkier weapons like the iron hammer which can prove devastating. What the title does a great job of is offering you a choice of all these weapons upfront and by visiting a campsite during a quest you can easily switch between them ensuring you'll always have the right tool for the job. A lot of our playthrough was spent switching between different weapons and really finding a feel for how we play the best, and we were pleased World gave us the freedom to do so.
The environment also plays a huge role in combat and can be used to your advantage. As you're hunting, monsters that grudgingly share the same territory will often break out into a turf war; when tearing off each other scales and they're essentially doing your dirty work for you. You can also climb vines to jump on monsters, riding them like a rodeo bull as they viciously struggle to knock you towards the ground. There are areas where monsters will get caught within vines too, and whilst hunting in Wildspire Waste's vast stretches of desert we found the sandy ground beneath us crumble causing us to fall and the monster to be stunned as a result.
It's within combat that we can also see changes that Capcom has implemented to the series to make it more accessible as a whole. When attacking a monster, it now displays how much damage you're inflicting, with critical damage displayed in orange and standard in white. Monsters will now show signs of being injured is they will limp away to safety too, and will often pause desperately trying to regain their breath. Other changes come with choosing a starting weapon as there's now video demonstrations included, a training ground you can visit, and a star rating indicating how accessible it is for newer players. All of these are of course welcome changes, but they struggle to detract from the experience of veteran players as they can simply be ignored.
Although World is developed using the 12-year-old MT Framework engine (the same engine used for 2006's Dead Rising) its open world is wonderfully beautiful and feels alive, populated by many different creatures and plants. There's also a great sense of verticality in its open environments from monster's nests high up in the trees and dreary caves hidden below. Each of the areas of the map that you'll visit feels distinctive and has its own ecosystem, from the decaying carcass-ridden wasteland of Rotten Vale to the underwater-inspired region of the Coral Highlands, although the one thing we wished is that we had more of these environments to explore, but that could be a testament to how well-crafted they've been by Capcom.
Banding together with other players is simple as you can either choose 'matchmake' to join a pre-existing game or 'create your own quest' to form a custom one when loading the game. When assigned a quest you also have the option to wait in a lobby for other players to join you and you can also join others by visiting the quest board in the main hub. We have to say we enjoyed the experience in co-op much more and it was advantageous to have a team with a diverse set of weapons, although players braving it alone won't feel punished, as a monster's health is scaled to the number of players active in a session. There's also the option to send off an SOS flare if you're alone and struggling, and a member of the community will hopefully come to your rescue.
World isn't without its blemishes though, with the major offender being its camera. Locking onto foes is, of course, important with action-RPGs as you'll need your eyes on your opponents to dodge their attacks and study their movements, but in World it feels particularly awkward, never really centring on monsters you're attacking and forever getting stuck on cave walls forcing you to change your perspective. There was also a number of graphical glitches that we encountered, where monsters would get stuck in the environment and many NPCs during non-cutscene encounters would speak out of sync. This was nothing majorly game-breaking and may be fixed in a future patch, but it did detract from the immersion of its otherwise stunning open world.
Outside of the respectable 40-50 hour campaign, there's still plenty to keep players occupied. Bounties, delivery quests, and investigations are all available from the resource centre, often requiring you to collect items and capture monsters in exchange for materials and research points. There are also optional quests which function in a similar way but can earn you rewards like new meals you can cook at your campsite and plants you can grow back at base. This is without mentioning all of the hours you can pour into venturing into the open world searching for resources to craft yourself better armour and weapons. We haven't seen all of what's to come yet either, as Capcom has announced that new free updates will be arriving in the near future.
Monster Hunter: World represents a bold step forward for the series; improving upon many of its predecessor's flaws whilst also providing a more accessible point of entry. Its combat presents numerous weapon classes, allowing for experimentation when taking on its many beasts, and its open world is beautiful with a grand sense of verticality. The camera lock-on system does feel awkward and we did encounter a fair few graphical glitches, but these flaws represented minor annoyances at worst. World is the series at its best and after 14 years of cult fandom, we think its time for it to grace the limelight.