Monster Hunter used to intimidate the hell out of me. When I tried to get a grasp of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate when its demo came to 3DS a few years ago, the game felt unwieldy to me. I chased a giant beast around small zones, only to have it disappear behind a loading screen. That weirdness paired with my unfamiliarity with the clunky greatsword I’d chosen led to me loading up a different game and forgetting all about Monster Hunter.
My interest in the franchise was reignited by a captivating E3 debut trailer for Monster Hunter: World, which will bring the series back to consoles — and potentially a much bigger audience — next year. The 30-minute demo I played at Gamescom in August ended up as one of my favorites from the show. Maybe it was the crisp visuals, the vivid landscape or or the ludicrous design of my quarry: a Great Jagras so full of food that it sloshed around on its squishy belly. Maybe the weapon suggested by the Capcom rep (a longsword) just clicked more, allowing me to mentally compare my fluid attacks and dodges to a more traditional character action game. Whatever the reason, I wanted to learn more.
Last month, I played the first 14 hours of Monster Hunter: World at an event at Capcom’s Osaka offices. I started the game from the beginning on an early, non-final build . And while I may not be a Monster Hunter expert, this entry in the franchise clearly aims to be more accessible as it brings the series back to consoles.
That shift to new mechanics and platforms in Monster Hunter: World can also be felt in the game’s themes. Hunters start the game on a ship, traveling to the appropriately titled “New World.” It’s a continent full of wild beasts, all seemingly tied to the elder dragon, Zorah Magdaros. You’re part of a regiment of explorers called “Fivers” (a nod to the fact this would be the fifth numbered installment in the franchise), and you are here to aid in researching the new world, mostly by hunting down any monsters that cause problems.
This backstory is all fed to players pretty quickly at the start of the game, along with a dramatic cinematic cutscene that drops you into the action. You’re also introduced to your main companions for the story: a nameless handler, a cheery gal who constantly feeds you tips and your faithful palico. Of this group, the palico is positioned as the most important by far; when you drop into the character customizer, you also customize your palico. Monster Hunter: World features lots of face, hair and voice options for your hunter, but I spent even more time getting my adorable palico to look just like my real-life cat, Vegas.
The game breezed through a few more cutscenes and character introductions before I was grabbing my weapons to start the hunt. I agonized a bit over the weapon selection process, trying to find something that was beginner friendly enough while still letting me handle whatever I encountered. While I settled on the nimble dual blades to start, I also really enjoyed my time with the hammer, thanks to its meaty charge attack that still had mobility. The bow handled smoothly for when I needed distance; Capcom has reworked ranged weapon controls for consoles, and now they closely mirror industry standards for shooting (left trigger to aim, right trigger to fire).
I felt like I was finding my sea legs during the first few missions. I fought some easy monsters before tracking my first big hunt, the aforementioned Great Jagras. Along with the critical missions (usually hunts) and side quests, I could wander without a quest on expeditions, where I could take my time to actually explore the maps in full. These spaces were vast, and I was thankful for my ever-present guide: the scout flies.
The scout flies — a glowing mass of green insects — direct you to anything you can pick up or examine, which includes crafting ingredients, stinger ammo and monster tracks. The neon green fly cloud was often useful for when I had picked up a monster’s trail, but I sometimes wished I could tune their homing ability, and have them ignore herbs, mushrooms or bone piles. Sometimes I simply wanted to get to my destination: the epic monster fight that lay ahead of me.
One reason scout flies are absolutely necessary in Monster Hunter: World is its variety of terrain. The two maps I explored — Ancient Forests and Wildspire Wastes — were truly varied, with vine-covered walls, watery caves and hidden paths inside the tree canopy. One monster chose to fight us in its nest, high above ground. Another led us back to a dark cave. The verticality of these environments created options such as scaling up walls to escape a fight that got too hairy. A getaway is never guaranteed, though; the monsters were sometimes smart enough to follow.
After taking down my first couple beasts, I realized there was a lot more to Monster Hunter: World that I wasn’t yet understanding. For those who haven’t played before, you may not know the ins and outs of the series’ notoriously complex crafting system, which allows you to make healing items from things scavenged from the world. Or you may not realize that you are supposed to eat before a quest; different meals provide various buffs for your next hunt. For every mechanic the game explains, there were lots of things that I wouldn’t have figured out without someone guiding me. While I had Capcom representatives helping me, the next best thing might come in the form of the Monster Hunter: World’s multiplayer system, which has been retooled from previous entries.
There is no real distinction between single-player and multiplayer content in World. You can jump in with your friends and follow the story together, or help each other out on specific fights. The multiplayer sessions I experienced included taking down the T-Rex-like Anjanath, the electric bird Tobi-Kadachi and series mascot Rathalos. The encounters would have felt basically impossible to a newcomer like myself without three partners. Multiplayer generally feels seamless in the game, as players can easily pop in and out of each other’s sessions. The only wrinkle: I sometimes would need to watch a cutscene to further the story along before I could invite friends to play.
If you’re looking to get into Monster Hunter: World but don’t have buddies to play with, palicoes serve as a stopgap between playing alone and playing with friends. You can load these feline companions up with simple weapons or potions to use during fights. I also encountered wild palicoes, which you can invite to join your cause if none of your friends are online at the moment.
With the variety and types of quests on hand in Monster Hunter: World, I can see why some players put hundreds of hours into each entry in this series. By the middle of my second day playing, I had started to really appreciate the complexity of the armor sets available. One of the new quality of life improvements in the game is wish lists, where you can add parts you need to collect for crafting. When I started to build out the fluffy, bird-inspired Tobi-Kadachi armor, I had a constant reminder to shoot down tiny Wingdrakes to get some warm pelts.
Is Monster Hunter: World overwhelming to a newbie in its first dozen or so hours? Absolutely. There are layers and layers to success that don’t seem to have gone away for a wider, console-focused audience. But the hooks are there for so many types of players, whether you want to just focus on swinging your sword at giant monsters, or playing as support with three friends. The many quality-of-life improvements introduced in World mean I’ll definitely be diving back in to complete that set of armor, no longer intimidated.
Monster Hunter: World launches for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 26, 2018. A Windows PC version is also planned, though Capcom has not yet set a date for it.
Update Jan. 3, 2018: Capcom has confirmed the PC release date for some time in Fall of 2018.