Monster Hunter Generations tries to thread a needle with an impossibly small gap, positioning itself as a celebration of the demanding, 12-year-old Monster Hunter franchise, but also as the most accessible way into that franchise to date.
The latter feat is by far Monster Hunter Generations' biggest accomplishment. This is a series that has never bent over backward to onboard newcomers. Its fundamental game mechanics are so plentiful and arcane, and its discrete learning curves are far scarier than any of the monsters that wait behind them. Those curves are still present in Generations, and still imposing, but have had their gradients reduced by quality of life improvements, and a handful of massive, long overdue combat overhauls.
Monster Hunter Generations' structure is that of a best-of compilation, featuring beasts and locations pulled from the rosters of past series installments. Your customizable hunter has access to four villages — Bherna, a new location made specifically for Generations, and three returning locales — which offer all the amenities you need to take on jobs and improve your gear either solo or with an online group of up to four players. Those jobs entail slaying and capturing massive boss monsters, weeding out larger groups of weaker beasts or going on collection quests in a variety of sprawling environments. Each quest garners different rewards, nearly all of which help you fashion new armor or weapons, forming the series' immutable gameplay loop.
To call Monster Hunter Generations "narrative-lite" would be underselling it; there's virtually no story to pull you through the various ranks of offline and online quests. Not that narrative has ever been a focus for the series, but in this installment, there's nothing even approximating a storyline. That omission isn't damning — the game largely stays out of the way of its own core loops — but the speed at which it throws you into the thick of things can be a bit jarring.
The real thread that pulled me through Monster Hunter Generations was the pursuit of newer, better gear, which is as addicting as it's ever been. The process of hunting and foraging for necessary components to complete an armor set or new weapon is relatively unchanged, but upgrading that gear has been mercifully streamlined. In Generations, weapon trees are visualized through a simple menu that unlocks as you level up a given armament. Also, many upgrades require fewer specific drops to upgrade to their highest potential, instead allowing you to use any resources of a given type — ores, bones or drops from a specific monster, for example. You'll still need those rare drops to get your equipment past certain breakpoints, but not nearly as much, which makes endgame farming a bit more forgiving.
That's part and parcel of Generations ethos, which shies away from a race-for-the-top mentality. Each tier of quests you unlock throws dozens of quests at you, and are expanded further by the countless requests that villagers will assign to you throughout the game. There is no uber-deadly "G-Rank" waiting at the end of Generations' campaign; instead, it encourages you to take your time and enjoy the hunts as you progress through Low and High Rank quests, rather than treating those tiers like stepping stones to the real deal.
Fortunately, regardless of where you're at in Monster Hunter Generations, the process of actually taking down monsters is immensely more enjoyable, thanks to the game's two biggest, most transformative additions: Hunter Arts and Hunting Styles.
Hunter Arts are super moves that charge as you deal damage to enemies, requiring various levels of charge depending on their respective potential to turn the tide of battle. Some are tied to the 14 weapon categories in Generations, allowing Bow users to execute a powerful triple volley, or Long Sword users to instantly max out their spirit gauge. Others are universal, and can be slotted into any loadout, available to be activated via inputs on the bottom screen.
Hunter Arts add to the rhythm and strategy of combat in ways that I'm still discovering. Fighting a big, deadly and stationary foe? Drop a healing oasis and keep your party swinging. About to get KOed by a surprisingly fast incoming charge? Use your emergency dodge and stay in the fight. You can only carry a certain amount of Arts with you into a hunt, forcing you to choose what kind of utility you want to provide to your party, and what kind of abilities best align with your play style.
Further specialization is found in Hunting Styles, which allow you to tailor your move set and abilities based on how you like to hunt. Each of the 14 weapon categories have four Styles to choose from: Guild, which most closely resembles the combat mechanics from previous entry Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate; Striker, which loses a move or two in exchange for increased capacity and charge rate for Hunter Arts; Aerial, which loses both some moves and Arts in exchange for unique movement abilities allowing your hunter to leap through the air and more easily mount foes; and Adept, a challenging Style which rewards split-second dodges with powerful counter-attacks.
After dozens of online sessions, I haven't met another player with the same play style as mine. Learning how each weapon type combines with each Style is hugely rewarding — Bow users have access to great Hunting Arts, so I like to take Striker in with that weapon. On Long Sword, I'll go Adept, and stay right next to an enemy, nimbly avoiding its blows and coming back with a brutal damage-boosting counter. For Dual Blades, I'll go Aerial, and just turn into a dagger-wielding helicopter-person. That experimentation is a treat, resulting in combos that finally allowed me to play Monster Hunter in ways I've always wanted to.
If all this talk of weapon categories and Arts and Styles is overwhelming, Monster Hunter Generations also features a beginner-friendly "Prowler mode" in which you play as one of the series' cat-like mascots, a Palico. In addition to serving as your single-player support, you can also control any Palico in your collection as a Prowler, taking on specialized quests and utilizing a unique control scheme. Prowlers can't use items, limiting the amount of prepwork that goes into each hunt, and they don't need tools to gather resources, making them ideal candidates for quick and painless farming runs. Palicoes are also deeply customizable; you can unlock and train in combat skills and passive abilities, which your kitty can use both as an AI helper and playable Prowler.
Newcomers will also likely be pleased to hear that Monster Hunter Generations, on the whole, is a bit easier than past series entries. You can attribute some of that to quality-of-life improvements that make it easier to get the supplies you need from any given quest, but the monsters themselves also feel slightly less lethal. They can still stunlock and take out careless players, but some online fights with a good group have felt less like a tense back-and-forth, and more like a five-minute dog pile. It certainly makes farming easier, but takes a bit of deadliness out of the equation.
As a returning player, I didn't mind the reduced difficulty, but found myself often at odds with Monster Hunter Generations' structure. The game still requires you to complete "Key Quests" to move on to the next tier, but does not tell you which of the dozens of currently available jobs fall into that category. Unlocking a new tier invariably flooded my map screen with notifications, informing me of the 20 villagers who simultaneously decided to offer me additional requests, meaning I'd spend the next 10 minutes loading between the different villages until I had hunted them all down.
Monster Hunter Generations' repeatable in-game content comes in the form of Deviant Monsters. You unlock these extra powerful mutants as you defeat their non-mutated counterparts throughout the campaign, and must purchase tickets in order to take a swing at them, potentially earning resources to craft some of the best gear in the whole game. This system isn't as variable as the endgame Guild Quests from Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, but the Deviant Monsters I've faced off against are joyously bizarre, and their drops are more consistently rewarding than endgame content in past games.
It's also worth noting that the improvements that benefit the newcomers also benefit longtime series veterans. Quality-of-life improvements are numerous: You can now hold down the collection button while harvesting resources, rather than jamming on it while a tedious animation completes. You can also ship gathered goods back home mid-mission, rather than completing your quest and restarting it every time your bag fills up. Those little changes make the experience so much more palatable — and that's not counting Arts and Styles, which improve customization and combat across the board.
Generations is a step toward Monster Hunter's future
Monster Hunter Generations misses the occasional opportunity to be the deep, immaculately polished action-RPG that this series, on its best days, aspires to be. But beneath those rough spots is a core formula and undeniably compelling loop that are, with the changes made to the franchise's combat systems, better than ever. Monster Hunter Generations is a successful tribute to the series' past, but more importantly, it's a stellar step forward into its future.
Monster Hunter Generations was reviewed using a retail download key provided by Capcom. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews