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Monster Hunter: World

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

"Itís not for everybody." Of all the properties in Capcomís arsenal, none can be described so accurately with that phrase as Monster Hunter. Itís seen its share of Western releases since the PlayStation 2 era, but neither it nor the genre it popularized has really caught on as it has in the East. It isnít hard to see why: this is a notoriously inaccessible series that is demonstrably less concerned with growing its fanbase as it is with catering to those who are already a part of it. Bizarrely, most of its highest-profile installments were released exclusively for Nintendo hardware, which has, from a technical standpoint, been consistently behind the times for three console generations. With the release of Monster Hunter: World, Capcomís long-running niche staple finally goes next-gen. The leap forward in audio/visual fidelity is inescapable, but those who have stuck by the series for all these years are sure to notice a number of tangible quality-of-life improvements that, while ostensibly small, stack up to make Monster Hunter: World the best game in the series by quite a long shot.

Itís been ages since a Monster Hunter game has looked "current," but thatís exactly what Monster Hunter: World achieves. This is one of the best-looking games Capcom has ever produced, and while itís not without fault, itís a frequent pleasure to behold. The first thing youíll notice is the environment design. From the Ancient Forest to the Coral Highlands and beyond, each contained hunting ground constitutes a biome with a very clear aesthetic and design direction, lending some real weight to this gameís subtitle, "World." In all the ways that matter, this feels like a living, breathing world that could very well go on living and breathing even when youíre not playing. The flora and fauna coexist both peacefully and not-so-peacefully; this is a world that is as messy as it is beautiful.

Justifiably, the largest portion of Capcomís creative capital has been invested in monster design. And with every other visual element, the new hardware makes all the difference. Every monster, from the Jagras to the Barroth, looks far superior here than on Wii, WiiU, and 3DS. The attention to detail is expanded several times over, to the point where youíre often tempted to simply watch these magnificent beasts live out their daily routine instead of ending their lives so you can wear and wield parts of their corpses. Monsters often fit into a specific archetype, though a hefty percentage of the larger beasts are some variant on dinosaurs and wyverns. That being said, they continue to surprise well into the gameís practically indefinite runtime. I still remember the first time I was on the receiving end of the blowfish-bat-dragon Paolumuís body slam. I was equal parts infuriated at the stun it inflicted and in total admiration at the level of the animation work involved in the deliverance of my latest and greatest agony. To make a long story short, I would expect that Monster Hunter: Worldís core gameplay is as fun to watch as it is to experience firsthand. Perhaps not so much during the time spent in town, where numerous labyrinthine menus full of random data and information packets cause information overload that threatens to undermine all that splendor.

Monster Hunter: Worldís sound design is a bit of a mixed bag. The soundtrack is generally majestic orchestral fare, but itís a little too bombastic for its own good, putting it at odds with the pleasing, naturalistic tone to both the visuals and the gameís primary themes. Sometimes, it just plain gets in the way and wears out its welcome; by the end of my first weekend with the game, I had grown sick to death of the music that plays in Astera. Considering that this is the central hub of the game proper, this is not good. Voice acting is fairly typical JRPG stuff, which means itís generally not good but not particularly offensive. Itís just there. All the effort is saved for the monsters, who sound every bit as terrifying as they look.


Gameplay:

Every Monster Hunter game takes place in a time and place that is, for lack of better words, confused. Technology borders on steampunk, but humanity still chooses to live by tooth, fang, and claw. Yes, they mine the earth for precious metals, but most of their comforts, creature and otherwise, are crafted exclusively from the living elements of the natural world. And, of course, prehistoric-style wildlife roams the land, doing what it does best. Monster Hunter: World casts you as a member of the Fifth Fleet, en route to the New World. The voyage comes to a calamitous end when the ship runs afoul of a legendary Elder Dragon, Zorah Magdoros. What is this scourgeís purpose, and what threat does it pose? Well, thatís a question that doesnít have an easy answer. But lucky for everyone, youíre a top tier hunter, well-capable of getting to the bottom of this mystery.

From there, you settle into a persistent activity loop that can last for as long as you want it to last. You start with a meager selection of weapons and armor and strike off into the wilds with numerous objectives, primarily related to the role of hunter-gatherer. The cadre of scientists and engineers who have assumed stewardship over the New World have very clear goals, and you pursue them in order to reap tangible rewards that make you functionally better at everything.

Most major objectives involve hunting down or capturing large monsters that are causing some sort of trouble in the wrong place; whether theyíre threatening human settlements or disrupting the balance of a delicate ecosystem, they simply have to go. Others simply revolve around farming materials for whatever needs your cohabitants may have. As long as the story keeps to that loop, it succeeds. When it doesnít, it suffers. I will never forget a specific encounter built up to be a massive group effort. For all the talk and bombast coming from my allies, I was literally the only one trying to complete the objective when time came to get things done. Luckily, these moments donít crop up too often.

You can attack the lionís share of this veritable wealth of content either solo or with up to three friends, but once you take your game online, youíll be brought face to face with the gameís most flagrant missteps.

Several elements of Monster Hunter can be described as "dubious," from to its anthropomorphic cat warrior pals to its scientifically and morally bankrupt insistence that well-done is the ideal way to cook a steak. But thereís really no way to be nice about this: the systems and rules that govern Monster Hunter: Worldís online component reside in a quagmire of pointless, needless convolution. It feels like the developers shirked their responsibilities to capitalize on the advantages of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network and instead decided to try and apply their experience with Nintendoís incompetent, medieval approach to online play. At first glance, the results are borderline disastrous. Who wants drop-in, drop-out cooperative play when you can waste five minutes at a time finagling with menus, passcode locks, and superfluous session setups? Once you clear this preliminary hurdle and accustom yourself to Monster Hunter: Worldís regressive matchmaking systems, strange inconveniences will still crop up here and there. Arbitrary rules prevent cooperative play in the event that one or more players havenít seen cutscenes that "introduce" new monsters. Considering the fact that nobody gives a pile of whatever the Pukei-Pukei left behind about the story in any Monster Hunter game, this is a clear-cut, justifiable strike against World. Itís equal parts inexcusable and unforgivable; Capcom is better than this.


Difficulty:

Monster Hunter: World is less immediate in its difficulty than its predecessors, but it is no less intimidating for it. This is a dense, complicated experience that requires your full attention every step of the way. Systems of systems upon systems within systems weave a web so thick and fibrous that the investment required to make visible progress (much less a complete breakthrough) may be too much for some players Ė especially newcomers.

Tutorials abound, but they arenít implemented nearly as well as they should be. As far as video games go, Monster Hunter is the assistant headmaster of the school of hard knocks, and its disposition towards instruction is alarmingly indifferent. While itís a far cry from the trials by fire that comprised earlier games in the series, the walls of text that constitute Worldís series of tutorials are haphazardly dumped on the player at determined points, suggesting the prioritization of expedience over context. As a result, youíll be spending an inordinate time looking at your Hunterís Notes. The sooner you come to terms with the glacial pace at which Monster Hunter: World acclimates you to its core gameplay loop, the happier youíll be with the game as a whole.

Preparation is everything in Monster Hunter: World, and thatís a comprehensive truth. If youíre not sufficiently equipped to face the indigenous predators of the New World, the only thing in store for you is punishment. Risk and reward elements are Monster Hunterís bread and butter, and it isnít always willing to forgive. Your quarry is always a creature of instinct; itís fight or flight, all the time. They have their strengths and weaknesses, and the best hunters will know how to capitalize on them through observation, research, and careful execution. Everyone elseÖ will be mauled.


Game Mechanics:

First things first, thereís a lot of downtime in Monster Hunter: World. From ten minutes in until the moment you decide to stop playing, a sizable cross-section of that time will be spent in town. Customization, shopping, quest gathering. All of these things take time, and if you donít like to parse over statistics and dive deep into layers upon layers of menu screens, Monster Hunter: World may alienate you right off the bat. If you want to maximize your effectiveness in any given area, youíre going to have to deal with some next-level micromanagement. I donít want to come across as someone whoís trying to convince people not to play this game, because ultimately, Iím recommending it. But itís important to know exactly what you might be getting into should you choose to take the plunge.

Monster Hunterís combat is polarizing. Where some see rigidity and inflexibility, others see depth and precision. Itís a difficult thing to describe until youíve actually played it, and an even more difficult thing to evaluate. Iím not a longtime veteran of the series (I donít have nearly enough time on my hands); I played and reviewed both the Wii and Wii U incarnations of Monster Hunter Tri, so I may not even be the best candidate to relate to. Imagine a FromSoftware action RPG, only faster and a smidge more forgiving. Once you commit to an attack, thereís usually no way to make aiming adjustments; the animation must finish before you can follow up. That being said, you can cancel out of most actions by dodging, which rectifies at least one longstanding complaint Iíve had with the series. You can lock on to targets, but if they move after you begin your attempt, you stand a good chance at completely missing. Furthermore, combat is often a lengthy affair, which in turn inescapably exacerbates any issues you may personally have.

By "lengthy" I generally mean usually over ten minutes. Youíll start by unleashing attacks as you see fit, making adjustments as you go. Then youíll see it change its tactics and flee. Pursue and engage again with another lengthy series of onslaughts and evasive maneuvers, and you may wonder the same. Keep going at it, and eventually, youíll see it start to limp. Corner it, and the beast will get desperate and even more dangerous. Eventually, it will fall and you can reap the rewards of the struggle. Endurance and persistence trump instant gratification by a mile in Monster Hunter: World, and thatís likely why it hasnít caught on as well in the West as Capcom might have hoped. But every time you sever a tail or break a horn is a triumphant thrill, and finally landing that killing blow is like exhaling a breath held for several minutes. Itís something else.

In previous Monster Hunter games, it was occasionally difficult to tell whether or not a weapon or attack pattern was particularly effective. The only feedback you got was maybe a brief bloody slash effect. But considering the time investment required to kill even a single monster, that might not be enough. Monster Hunter: World introduces damage numbers, which prove a long overdue and necessary educational concession. Purists may cry foul, but they can change it to be as obtuse and feedback-averse as they want.

Monster Hunter: World introduces scoutflies, which double as both a world-building mechanic and a much-welcome waypoint system. By investigating tracks left behind by monsters, your scoutflies are able to pick up on their general location and ultimately lead you to them. This cuts down on unnecessary wandering, but it comes with additional benefits. Theyíre capable of highlighting materials in the environment and displaying them in a special feed, so you can focus on what you need as opposed to items that will simply take up space in your pouch.

If you have the patience to stick with Monster Hunter: Worldís most trying elements, youíre in for some serious rewards. Carving parts off each kill gives you resources, which can either be used in crafting or the forging of new weaponry and armor. Better equipment means better odds in a stand-up fight, and before too long, youíll be able to more easily dispatch monsters that may have given you problems in the past. More importantly, itíll help your chances against the gameís more challenging and impressive encounters.

It goes without saying that much of Monster Hunter: World is either poorly-explained or not explained at all. This is a long-running issue with the series as a whole, but thereís a double edge to this. Most of the systems that make up the immensely complicated machine underneath the surface exist in the sole service of players who want to dig deep. Theyíre not required for the base level challenges offered by the core experience. But since Monster Hunter: World is a game whose payout is amazingly proportionate with player investment, I would argue that the self-education required to get the most out of the game is ultimately worthwhile. The same will surely not be true for everyone.

I wonít presume to speak for the legions of Monster Hunter fans who know what they do and donít want. Whether Monster Hunter: World speaks to them or puts them off is not for me to say. What I can say, however, is that Iím satisfied with the time Iíve spent thus far and look forward to spending even more with it. No, Monster Hunter: World is not for everybody. But it's closer than it's ever been.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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