Capcom had a Rathalos-sized goal with Monster Hunter: World: Use its launch on consoles to bring the rest of the world into the seemingly impenetrable, yet dearly beloved franchise. It needed to streamline the series’ systems enough so newbies could not only understand the thrill of battling the diverse army of its bestiary, but also enjoy all the steps required to actually reach its climactic battles. It also needed to explain ... what the heck even is a Rathalos?
With 10 million copies sold across the globe, it would seem Monster Hunter: World has delivered on its ambitious goals to make the franchise accessible to a humongous audience. But while its creators have streamlined some of the series’ more challenging bits and a notoriously cumbersome user experience (just play Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate to see how much the franchise changed), its learning curve is still, well, monstrous.
GOTY #8: MONSTER HUNTER: WORLD
For our 2018 guide to the best games of the year, Polygon has been counting down our top 10 each weekday, ending with our top choice — hello! — as well as the full list of our top 50 favorites from 2018. And throughout the month, we’ll be looking back on the year with special videos, essays and surprises!
I stuck with World long after I wrapped Polygon’s review, climbing through its endgame. I went from a novice unable to kill most monsters alone to a tour guide, eager to shepherd newer players through the many steps of a hunt. And along the way, I finally began to appreciate challenging games at large in a way I never had before. Monster Hunter: World didn’t just evangelize the brand; it won me over to an entire style of play.
Some of my favorite experiences in 2018 were games I probably would have shied away from before Monster Hunter: World, games that I would have normally just appreciated from afar, namely Hollow Knight and Dark Souls Remastered. But from Monster Hunter: World I gained new skills — patience, pattern recognition and a deeper appreciation for the cycle of preparation, exploration and combat. I found Monster Hunter’s rhythm, and then was able to recognize it elsewhere.
In hindsight, what put me off to Monster Hunter: World (and its contemporaries) is this mental paradox: I knew I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Or to put it another way, I knew that its opaque systems would mean hours of “playing the game wrong” until I knew what it felt like to play the game right.
My weapons grew dull and less powerful, and I was slow to perform maintenance with a whetstone. I missed out on eating before a hunt, skipping the opportunities for huge buffs. I didn’t realize the value of poisoned meat or bombs or nets, all of which I could craft to make the final fight more winnable. But slowly, I learned. I created loadouts for specific scenarios, and devoted more time to preparing for each foray into the wider world. And while all these steps were complicated, their ritual made me more deliberate; I was more prepared, but I also wasn’t going to rush in and put that hard work to waste.
So when I finally stepped into my first Souls game this year with Dark Souls Remastered, I thought more about my loadouts. In a game where bonfires are the only refuge, I tried to pack everything I’d need to push into the unknown. And while Hollow Knight’s loadouts are scaled down, I took a moment to prepare for the next phase of my quest each time I came across a precious bench save point.
Monster Hunter: World also made me more patient in combat. The game’s massive hammer (which is one of the “easier” weapons to start with) may give attacks oomph, but each one requires time to hit. It takes even longer to recover to swing again — especially when I miss. It’s not the same as pulling a trigger and getting near-instant feedback when my bullets find their mark in so many first-person shooters. The fighting may be fast in World, but I still have to be slow: to anticipate, dodge and act when I can, because missing means that my enemy — say, the electric horse-beast Kirin, who can shock you senseless — has the chance to capitalize on my mistake and punish me. And because healing takes time too, to sheath my weapon and drink a potion, mistakes cost a lot.
World drilled pattern recognition into my memory. These monsters don’t just act erratically (though they sometimes feel that way), and taking a breath to watch, predict and backstep if I needed to benefited me more than rushing in would. The same is true in the other games; Hollow Knight’s bugs forewarn their attacks perfectly, even as speedy bugs. I just need to recognize the pattern and find the reflexes to react.
If I failed, which I did, Monster Hunter: World taught me the cost. Most hunts only allow three cumulative deaths before the party is booted back into the hub world, doomed to start preparations all over again. Hollow Knight borrows on Dark Souls’ “retrieve your body” mechanic, and my soul and all its unspent currency need to be retrieved at the spot of my death. In all these instances, kissing my hard work goodbye was a stressful proposition that meant caution when proceeding into the unknown.
But the bigger lesson here was keeping frustration that stems from that inevitable loss in check. I will definitely die while playing these games, probably a lot more than I want to admit. But getting heated after I do won’t make the next hunt smoother. If I can take away anything, it’s to step away before going full-tilt and rushing forward, because I’ll definitely get sloppier every step of the way.
But why do all this, and suffer these huge setbacks? Because once I had the tools and the roadmap to success, and took my time getting there, the rewards were so sweet. Each of the games I talked about share the most memorable boss battles I’ve ever encountered. When I first fought the fiery mutant T. rex Anjanath in World, I was completely overwhelmed and unsure how to even start killing him. Not only was he fast, but he could decimate me with a tail swipe, fire blast or, most horribly, by grabbing my character between his jaws. But looking back, he was only the gatekeeper to so many more challenging monsters, and I wrecked a fair number of him in pursuit of an armor set.
Hollow Knight’s Dung Defender (yup, he’s a dung beetle) is hardly the game’s scariest boss, but it’s probably one of my favorite fights in my gaming history because it was when those practices (patience, pattern recognition, preparedness) all clicked, and I was able to beat him when I simply slowed myself down to observe his movements. And then I was able to truly savor this weird monster who was a sweet homage to wrestler hubris.
Monster Hunter: World contextualized my in-game suffering by showing me how far I could come. There’s probably no clearer visual signal of this than wearing a full, matching set of armor crafted from the bosses I slew after so much work. These triumphs showed me what I could accomplish by putting in the work, and they mean that in the future, I won’t be content to watch someone else beat something hard. I’ll be in there too, relishing all the work it takes to succeed.
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