Playing Time: 180 hours to date, and ongoing
Well, this was a game that seemed to come out of nowhere for me. As I've said before, I was a fan of Dragon's Dogma, which I'd heard had a lot of similarities to the Monster Hunter series, but I'd never actually played a Monster Hunter game before. When I found out that there was going to be a Monster Hunter game for a platform that I owned (which hadn't been the case since the series left the PS2), it was pretty high on my list of things that I was looking forward to, and seeing some trailers and beta footage only built up my hype. Yet, despite all of that, I had some reservations. This is a Capcom game, after all, and that company hadn't shown me anything since their late 90s/early 00s peak to give me much faith in them.
Nevertheless, I went in on this game, and I'm pretty damn glad that I did.
The basic premise of Monster Hunter is pretty simple. Excuse Plot notwithstanding, you're a bad dude/chick who shows if you're bad enough by beating the shit out of monsters that are slighty-to-several times your size, carving up their corpses (or taking samples from their tranquilized bodies, if you want to be a little less bloodthirsty), and using those parts to make better equipment to beat the shit out of more monsters. There are other means of gathering materials along the way, such as fishing, mining, picking flowers, searching through piles of bones, and so forth to supplement your violent murder/capture rampage through the local ecosystems, but it all comes back to wanting better equipment for hunting more monsters. Apparently, World tried to be more ambitious with the story elements than previous Monster Hunter games were, but nobody's going to mistake this game for one with a real plot. The biggest impacts that the story has are limiting your equipment options (both in terms of what base items you can get and how much you can upgrade what you have) and capping your hunter rank (which restricts the optional quests that you can take on). The latter is especially annoying for reasons that I'll get to later, but overall, the focus of the game is exactly what the title says, hunting monsters.
In terms of gameplay, this is actually a pretty deceptive game. See, on the surface, it looks like an action game. This is further reinforced by many of the videos that turn up when looking for any Monster Hunter information on Youtube being along the lines of speed runs, weapon type guides, and so forth. Once I got to actually playing the game for myself, it felt very clunky and unresponsive, even moreso than Dragon's Dogma or FROM's Souls games. That (together with talking about the game with my friend over at Scathing Accuracy) was what made the coin drop for me that not only is it actually an RPG, but it's even more of an RPG than those other titles that I just mentioned because there are elements to offense and defense which are heavy, if not entirely, dependent on building up the appropriate skills. Yes, it lacks some typical RPG elements like level gaining, base character statistics, or inherent character abilities, but all of that is very cleverly built into the whole equipment system. Gathering parts to upgrade your gear or grinding to find more armor skill decorations are essentially the same as grinding for experience, just without being as obvious about it. The latter effort (along with forging new armor pieces) ties in with increasing your character's abilities by means of gaining passive attack bonuses, granting resistance to flinching due to monster roars, and so forth. In fact, if anything, it's better than how typical RPG engines are set up because it limits the impact of past decisions on future possibilities, thus helping to avert the common Noob Trap problems of single character RPGs like Diablo 2. If you've been playing the whole game as a dual blade user, and you want to switch to using a hammer, there's nothing to hold you back from being just as good with it as someone who's been using hammers from the beginning aside from making the appropriate equipment. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate just how fantastic of a system this is, because it means that characters actually become more capable of doing different things as you advance through the game, as opposed to the usual designs where in-built advantages for having focused/specialized builds mean the opposite tends to be true.
That having been said, I do need to throw out a caveat. Part of what makes this variability of builds viable is that the game isn't hard enough to weed out suboptimal builds. As usual, when people say that certain monsters in this game are hard, what they really mean is that they're punishing of mistakes, while ignoring the relative ease with which mistakes can be avoided once you have some idea of what you're doing. If you take your time, pay attention to what's going on, avoid overextending, have a sensible item stock, stay mindful of your health, shoot poop at interlopers, and so forth, you'll be fine. If you take things further and put some effort into having a cohesive build beyond just using stuff that looks cool, you can do things like achieve nigh-immortality or take down the toughest monsters in a couple of minutes. Normally, I'd complain about the lack of difficulty, but similar to Dark Arisen, I don't see it as a major handicap in this case because the rest of the game is fun enough to stand on its own despite the lack of inherent challenge. Of course, it'd be better if there were quests that were hard enough to necessitate some degree of optimization just to be viable, but it's a testament to how fun the game is that I can think so highly of it despite lacking that element.
As I touched on a moment ago, there's nothing save equipment availability to stop you from switching around which types of weapons you're using, and this is an incredibly good thing because, much like how grinding for materials and decorations replaces grinding for experience in a typical RPG, your weapon choice replaces your class choice. There are fourteen types of weapons, and they offer a range of experiences for actually playing the game. Here's a quick overview of my thoughts on each (which is probably overkill for a review, but consider it as proof of whether I really know what I'm talking about with this game):
Great Sword: Heavy hitting and slow (seriously, you should never walk around with this drawn), this weapon demonstrates Boring But Practical gameplay moreso than any other, notwithstanding that it's actually a lot of fun to use. You pretty much only want to use four moves (the three charged attacks and tackle), but using them effectively can absolutely destroy anything. The depth comes from needing to learn the monsters' patterns so that you know where to stand/aim and how long you can charge to attain the best results, and while that sounds like something which should be the case for any weapon, it becomes especially important with great swords because of how slow their charged attacks are (also, most other weapons can get away with just mashing buttons near weak points until you get to tempered monsters, thanks to the aforementioned lack of difficulty).
Long Sword: With good reach, good attack speed, good damage output (including being able to spend a chargeable resource for one of the strongest attacks in the game), and an attack with a built-in dodge, this is a very well-rounded weapon type. Personally, I'm not a fan since I'd rather use charge blade or sword and shield if I want something versatile, but this is a solid choice all around and definitely one of the best for cutting off tails to get more materials.
Sword and Shield: This gets pegged as being a beginner weapon type pretty often, but I'd say that's a mistake. Long sword, dual blades, hammer, or lance are far better examples of simple weapon types to get introduced to the game. Sword and shield actually has a fairly complicated moveset (particularly because of how freeform the combo routes can be, needing mindful execution to control if you're doing severing or blunt damage, and some initial awkwardness with a few of its moves), and on top of that, it's the only weapon type which allows you to use items or your slinger (the miniature crossbow on your hunter's left arm) while your weapon is drawn. Those last two points are why this is arguably the best weapon type for supporting your partners in multiplayer (along with hunting horn), but it's a perfectly solid choice in solo play, too, although the short reach can be problematic against some monsters (Deviljho being a prime example).
Dual Blades: The fastest melee weapon type in the game, which can make it dangerously tempting to just button mash, at least until you end up taking tons of damage from being locked into animations at inopportune times. Once that temptation is conquered, though, this ends up being one of the top weapon types. Like with the great sword, the depth of using this weapon type is all about leveraging your advantages against each individual monster and learning when you can go wild for incredible damage output, except that the dual blades have the added aspect of exploiting elemental/status weaknesses since the mechanics behind those heavily favor doing many weak hits over few strong hits. Honestly, though, dual blades are pretty easy to use since the (generally) fast attacks mean you can usually dodge when needed as long as you're not going too crazy, and when you do have an obvious opening like a knockdown or paralysis, it's simple to pour damage into it. The biggest problem that I had with the dual blades was actually doing too much damage and killing monsters when I'd been meaning to capture them.
Hammer: The hammer is good for two things: hit and run gameplay (though, unlike with the great sword, you should be doing this with the weapon drawn since it actually moves around at a good speed and the power charge mechanic incentivizes not sheathing) and blunt force trauma (this is actually a legitimate point, since blunt attacks are what inflict exhaustion and KO). I'd say it's the melee weapon that I'd most recommend for people who're just starting out in Monster Hunter since it has a very simple moveset (which means you can pay more attention to what the monsters are doing) and the lack of severing attacks means you don't need to worry about cutting tails, while the rewards of focusing on attacking the head (KOs) still teach you about targeting specific body parts. I don't think it has as high of a ceiling as the top weapon types like great sword or dual blades, but it's in that solid midtier and probably close to the upper end of it.
Hunting Horn: Honestly, this is the weapon type that I've used the least. Up front, it's a simpler hammer that trades damage for more reach. However, each attack builds a note, and sets of notes are used to play songs which grant various buffs. Managing those songs while still taking part in a fight is the fun/challenge. It's quite good if you're skilled at using it, but it's obviously meant more for multiplayer, and since I don't play that way, I have a hard time motivating myself to put more effort into using it.
Lance: The best defensive weapon, which actually makes it good for attacking almost constantly, amusingly enough. It's sluggish to move around with while it's drawn, and unlike the great sword, you can't even roll while it's drawn (although the quick hops you can do are good enough for repositioning, and otherwise, you'll generally avoid damage by blocking instead of evading so that you can stay close to the monster [I know that evasion lancing is a more optimal way to play, but as I said earlier, this is a quick overview]). In return, there's little that can stop you from dishing out a constant stream of pokes and stabs that can really add up, all while having a powerful shield to cower behind so that you take barely any damage in return. It's got some other tricks with a counter move and an attack that lets you act as your own mount for some jousting, but overall, it's the other melee weapon that I'd most recommend for beginners since it's pretty easy to use at a competent level and the strong shield makes it easier to safely observe monsters while learning what they can do.
Gunlance: Pretty much Exactly What It Says On The Tin, it's a lance with a (shot)gun built in. It can't lance as well as the lance can (no counter, no joust, no power guard), but shelling lets you deal damage that bypasses monster defenses. Objectively, I think it's categorically worse than the lance in almost all cases (aside from the trivial case of using the lance to focus on high defense parts for no good reason beyond style/idiocy), but I also think it's more fun since you can't turtle up quite so much and there's more to keep track of. Shelling (especially in a full burst style) will eat through your weapon's sharpness like mad, though, which is annoying.
Switch Axe: I really wanted to like this weapon type. I mean, it's a huge axe by default, it can turn into a big sword that attacks quickly and never bounces off of tough monster parts, and it's got a couple of attacks where you rev it up and make an explosion that, unlike the gunlance's big boom shot, is actually useful. Sounds awesome, right? Sadly, I couldn't get over the facts that axe mode has sluggish attacks, sword mode has sluggish movement, and altogether, it just doesn't feel strong (both in terms of relative damage output and in terms of just not feeling like you're really smacking fools with a giant slab of a weapon). It's definitely good against certain monsters (like Radobaan, Urugaan, or Lavasioth), and I like that it has a greater variety of phial types than the charge blade, and I can't deny that it's incredibly stylish when you do good work with it. It's just missing some substance.
Charge Blade: This is what I started out with, and it ended up being my favorite weapon type. It's not quite as versatile as the sword and shield since you can't use items while it's drawn, and there's a lot of resource management involved with using it, but in return, it can transform into a huge axe with great damage output (including the second strongest attack in the game), and it's pretty clearly the best non-blunt weapon for inflicting exhaustion/KO if you use one with impact phials. There's a steeper learning curve to it than with most weapon types, since only the insect glaive can compare to its complexity amongst melee weapon types, but once you get past that, it has a freeform offense in sword mode (like a simpler version of the sword and shield), devastating damage potential in axe mode, and a unique ability to block automatically during certain parts of some attack animations, skillful use of which lets you play in a pitbull style similar to the lance. In short, aside from jumping and unsheathed item use, it only does everything.
Insect Glaive: Speaking of jumping, the insect glaive is the best weapon type for getting into the air, and it has more options for what to do once you're up there than any other. Aside from that, it's similar to the dual blades in that it's very fast and racks up lots of hits, though its damage output is far lower, and you need to take some breaks from facerolling to shoot a bug at the monsters in order to suck out extracts that you buff yourself up with. Extract management, together with a nearly pathological aversion to just staying in one place, is what gives the insect glaive a learning curve similar to the charge blade. Sadly, in terms of raw performance, the payoff isn't there for the glaive, but it's very stylish, and being the best weapon at mounting monsters gives an extra element of control that other weapons don't have.
Bow: Ranged combat in Monster Hunter is an interesting thing, since it has a concept known as critical distance, which is basically a sweet spot for spacing where your attacks will do peak damage. Fortunately, the aiming reticle changes to indicate if you're in critical distance or not, so it's not difficult to keep track of, though you need to be mindful that the critical distance can change depending on which type of arrow coating (a consumable buff that either increases arrow damage or adds a status effect) you're using. Arrows themselves are unlimited, so you could theoretically plink away at monsters forever, or at least within the time limit for a given quest, but that'd be boring and lame (and I say that as someone who has plinked away for the better part of an hour at enemies in Dark Arisen more than once or twice). Bows also get the ability to charge shots (both by holding a shot to power it up or by spamming shots to build charge passively) and a slow-starting but powerful shot called the dragon piercer which can do a ton of damage if you line it up correctly, so there's more to using it than just running around and playing twing-twang.
Light Bowgun: Bowguns are a very different animal from bows. While bows have unlimited arrows and a fairly small selection of coatings, bowguns have a wide variety of ammo types that are basically all limited by ammo quantity (normal 1 shots aren't, but predictably, they're awful), with light bowguns generally leaning towards status and support, although they also support rapid firing of some ammo types (which ones depends on the specific light bowgun) when it comes to being offensive. Light bowguns also have the ability to lay mines, and while they can't chain evasion moves as much as the bow can, they do still give you a good amount of mobility. That all said, this was the weapon type that I enjoyed the least.
Heavy Bowgun: Much of what I said about light bowguns also applies here, save for lacking rapid fire, mines, and good mobility. On the flip side, heavy bowguns tend to have more damage, larger ammo capacities, the potential to use cluster bomb mortars, a special mode (either machine gun or sniper rifle), and the ability to equip a shield. I found them to be the most fun of the ranged options, though I still prefer about half a dozen of the melee weapon types.
Then, if weapons are your class, armor skills are the perks and specializations that flesh out your build. As mentioned before, these have effects that can go from simple improvements (more health, more attack, higher chance of critical hits, longer lasting buffs, etc.) to fairly unusual abilities that require some experimenting to really get a feel for (like improving the chances of getting critical hits for a brief time after sliding down a slope or being able to eat certain types of mushrooms). Honestly, I wish that armor skills came entirely from decorations because the current system often forces a choice between using stuff that looks good and using stuff that's good mechanically (yes, there are statistical differences between armor types, too, but these are generally less important than the skills). On the plus side, World got rid of the past Monster Hunter system of having armor be restricted for use with either melee or ranged weapons only, and there is some layered armor which essentially puts a cosmetic armor on your character that uses the stats for whatever you're actually wearing. None of the layered armor available to date looks very good unless you really like the samurai asthetic, sadly, but since Capcom is providing ongoing DLC support for the game, there's a chance for that to change in the future.
Aside from just setting up your equipment, there are a handful of other things to be done in the hub town (Astera) between quests which give even more RPG flavor. These include managing a literal item farm, sending minions (both of human and catman/Palico varieties) on automated excursions to bring you more items, taking on bounties (optional objectives that can be done over multiple quests), talking to NPCs to unlock optional quests or just to see what's up, or heading up to the arena to take on time-scored challenges using preset equipment/item sets. You also have the option of just going to a location without taking on a quest, known as an excursion, which gives you unlimited time/deaths to do whatever you want there in return for the monsters periodically leaving and getting replaced. Excursions are thankfully the extent of the "open world" elements that were advertised prior to the release of the game.
There are five main locations in the game, which each have their own set of monster spawns, complete with an apex monster. At least, that's how it looks in low rank, but once you get into high rank, there's more variability in the spawns for each area, plus two invasive monsters (Bazelgeuse and Deviljho) who can show up anywhere if the full allotment of three monsters aren't in use (in fact, if there are three monsters in a high rank quest and one of them leaves the area suspiciously early, that's a sure sign of Bazelgeuse/Deviljho being on the way). The areas are all pretty intricate and have tons of side bits and alternate pathways to explore. That said, having only five is rather scant. It's nice that Capcom has shown a willingless to have new areas for special events (speaking specifically about the Kulve Taroth quest), but I would hope that they add at least one or two new locations over the course of supporting the game.
On the topic of events, that's where my main interaction with the online aspects comes into play. Capcom has been putting out special quests, bounties, and arena challenges on a weekly/biweekly basis. Some of these are mostly for fun (like fighting three Tzitzi-Ya-Kus to get materials to make some wicked shades), some of them are to help facilitate grinding (like the event quests to hunt all 4-5 monsters based in a single location which have increased odds of giving giant crowns), and some of them are opportunities to earn some useful new equipment (like Kulve Taroth's unique armor and relic weapons). On the surface, it's a neat way of having more content than just what was available on release, and it's all for free to boot (the only paid DLC are fairly cosmetic things like extra hair styles, more chat stickers, or alternate outfits for your handler). However, my big gripe with it is that it's all time-limited. I can understand that being the case for the bounties, but when it comes to special events and arena challenges, this is stupid. First, the artificial hunter rank caps in the main story mean that players are denied access to some events/challenges just by virtue of taking their time instead of just speedrunning to the postgame (this is a big part of why I missed out on fighting tempered Deviljho). Second, it's incredibly frustrating for players who don't have consistent internet access and thus can't just play the game online when Capcom decides they'll have a certain event going on (i.e. what I've been going through now by being on a business trip while Kulve Taroth is out). There's no good reason I can see for why I'll miss out on two of the biggest special things that the game has had going on to date. I can't prove it definitively, but my suspicion is that the reason for making them limited time events are so that Capcom has the option of recycling them, either to cover while working on major additions (which is why I believe the Kulve Taroth event happened right after the spring festival) or to act like they're doing more to support the game while they're actually putting out previously made content again (which may be overly cynical, but it does fit Occam's Razor for why the event quest to hunt two Great Jagras has seemingly been going on for half of the time that I've been playing this game).
This is my biggest single complaint about the game, because it's a fundamental issue with the business model. Things like quality of life concerns, weapon type balance, or amount of content can be addressed by patches and DLC expansions. To some degree, difficulty can be addressed by Self-Imposed Challenges if it isn't fixed in other ways. A change in how the company is providing ongoing support for their product isn't so simple.
On the other hand, I do want to gush with praise about how much effort and attention has been put into the game. There are so many little details, like captured monsters reflecting whether or not you'd cut off their tails or damaged other parts when you see them in Astera or the long sequences for playing with your pets if you sit down in your residence, that would've been entirely unremarkable if they hadn't been done. Maybe some of that is just repeating things that are Monster Hunter traditions, but regardless of whether or not that was the case, it's very much notable and appreciated. On this front, my only reservation would be that a lot of the weapon models seem to just be the same base with some extra feathers or scales or the like glued on, which stands in stark contrast to the weapons from some monsters (like Anjanath, Vaal Hazak, Odogaron, or Deviljho) tending to have entirely unique designs (and three of those monsters are new in World, so it's not just a case of updating old designs to have better graphics). Still, aside from Diablos and Barroth, most of the final forms of the various upgrade trees are pretty cool and elaborate, so this is fairly minor point by the endgame.
One concept that's given a good amount of emphasis is the idea that your hunter is just one part of a larger research expedition (the badass part, of course). Aside from its presentation in the story, this is also reflected in the game by being able to collect research on the various monsters, which in turn lets you see their weak points, element/status defenses, and item drops (including indications of the relative drop rates and which body parts can be damaged for chances at more items). It's not perfect since it doesn't indicate how weak points can change during a fight (e.g. sometimes damaging a body part will reduce its defenses, or sometimes a monster will enter a special state that changes its defenses), nor does it show how some parts need to be damaged multiple times to get a full break on them (Diablos's or Nergigante's horns, for instance), but as an overall representation, it does a good job of giving the player some ability to make an informed decision on how to approach a monster without needing to rely on external resources (by which I mean searching the internet). Even for someone like myself who enjoys delving into the calculation mechanics, having a qualitative reference in the game itself is a nice boon, particularly since I feel a fictive investment in having developed that reference due to unlocking it by collecting research. Much like with using monster parts to make better equipment to hunt more monsters to make even better equipment, this is another case of the grind rewarding the player by being able to grind more effectively, and those few games which manage to convince the player to keep grinding for fun (like Diablo 2) are those that add an element of fun to the grinding itself.
There is a whole extra element meant to add fun to the grinding, too, which is the multiplayer side of things. As someone who doesn't do that, I can't comment on it, but from what I've heard, you're likely to have some pretty fun experiences playing with others, although you should expect random people to be horrible at the game. In other words, if you've got a tough quest with an especially low time or death limit, you're probably better off doing it by yourself.
For those other hermits out there, though, you're not entirely by yourself if you're offline (or online with a private session, so that you can get those online content perks without having to deal with other people). You have a Palico buddy who you can bring along if you're playing alone. Don't expect too much out of them in direct combat aside from Verbal Tic-infused chatter and sometimes serving as a distraction, but they can be equipped with one of six gadgets to give them some support capability. There are merits to most of them (the shield and the Meowlotov cocktail are pretty awful), but my favorite has to be the plunderblade, since it accelerates the early parts of grinding new monsters by stealing their most common few items in decent quantities and even has some long term benefits from having a very small chance of stealing their gems, which are usually their rarest items. Also, I just like the pun of a cat burgling the monsters.
There is plenty more that I could say about this game, but seeing as I've put down around 5000 words about it already, I should probably move towards summing things up. Monster Hunter: World is an incredibly fun game. It's managed to capture my attention in a way that very few others have. While it does have some aspects that could be improved, they're mostly minor complaints when compared to everything that the game does right. It's the best game on PS4 right now, and even beyond that, it may very well be better than anything that was developed for PS3 as well (I don't want to be too definitive about that since I can't see my PS3 library at the moment, but off the top of my head, I think NIER is the only game I'd put on the same level). Pending some very unforeseen circumstances, I'll be buying it again when it comes out for PC. I recommend it without any reservations.
Playing Time: 180 hours to date, and ongoing