Holy crap, these have been an intense few days. You’d think that a game based around the simple mechanic of hunting and slaying monsters would get a little repetitive, right? As I started out the weekend, I thought that I’d maybe cycle through it, get a few kills, and move on. How naive I was.
As I was getting my hooks into monsters, Monster Hunter was getting its hooks into me.
I realised just how serious it was when I was tracking down an Anjanath - think of a T-Rex with a bit of fur around the neck. My thought process through the frantic 20 minute battle were something like this:
‘Holy crap, it’s a giant raptor!’ The beast looked like ten stories of pure muscle. No scales or plates to speak of, but a fairly tough hide. Still, I had what looked like the world’s deadliest can-opener, so hard can it be? A simple swipe with its hind leg throws me into to a rock wall, dazing me slightly. Getting close enough to use my Switch Axe is going to be tricky.
‘Holy crap, it just sprouted wings!’ At this point, I felt like someone at Capcom had been watching a little too much Pacific Rim, and I was trying to work out why I didn’t have a big-ass Gundam suit of my own. The monster didn’t seem to fly much, but looked very pissed off before running into the forest.
‘Holy crap, it just breathed fire!’ About 10 minutes into the fight, Angry Raptor Dude decides that it’s bored with trying to claw, bite or crush me, and goes for a different trick. Everything in front of that giant toothy mouth explodes in red sparks. My world floods with yellow and red, and a helper sarcastically points out that I seem to be on fire. I try the trusty old trick of “duck and cover” to douse the flames, which seems to work.
‘Holy crap, there’s another monster attacking it!’ I yelled obscenities at it, telling it to piss off and find its own Angry Raptor Dude if it wants one that badly. This one is mine, and I intend to kill it and get all MacGyver on its body parts. Still, maybe it can inflict a few serious wounds and help me get this thing down.
While all of this is going on, my Palico (a helpful companion on the hunt) is doing his best to try and help. The ginger Felyne cat-creature is coming up with all kinds of clever ideas, like recruiting other small monsters to help us out, throwing me green healing wasps, or even pushing round a cute blue cat-cart to try and distract the monster from me. I name him Jords, after a ginger friend of mine, and together we attempt to kick ass.
The lure of Monster Hunter World hit me when I started cycling through the 14 different weapons available. Some, like the Gunlance (yes, it’s a lance but also a big-ass revolver) felt slow and unwieldy, while the Hunting Horn (a didgeridoo made into an offensive weapon) seemed impractical. The Heavy Bow Gun was huge fun for bringing the dakka dakka, but I was struggling to get my hits in.
And then I found the Insect Glaive - a stick with a sword at each end, and an arm-mounted insect to send little minion beetles in to attack from range and generally annoy whoever I’m attacking. With the glaive, I had a number of quick attacks at my disposal, including some that threw me up into the air and attack from above. After playing around with it in the Training Grounds, I decided that I liked the Glaive a lot.
Instead of using MMO-style attacks where you build up a rotation based on abilities, Monster Hunter World uses Street Fighter-style combat, where one attack can blend into another to build chains. Button mashing works, but it only gets you so far, and part of the appeal is discovering new moves to unleash some devastating attacks.
Back in the hunt, I decided to test out the Insect Glaive against a Barroth. This monster is coated in thick plates, and has an entire church organ mounted on his face, with every air pipe tuned to deliver a bad note like a hulking 70’s disco. The sounds are disorienting, but you can tell when he’s going to blow his top and get out of sonorous blast range.
This time, I’m trying out the multiplayer matchmaking - it works a little strangely, but the setup is only for Beta and a better one will be implemented for the full game - and I find a group to take this beast down. We quickly find its footprints and make a bee-line for it, following a trail of glowing Scoutflies that lead us towards him.
We’ve barely started the fight before another monster erupts from the sand beneath us, wings spread and a face full of horn. If the Barroth was huge, this dragon is easily twice as big, and looks determined to take all of us to school. I’m tempted to sit back and see how this all plays out, but my group mates have more heroic ideas.
If that’s not enough, some flying pterodactyl types decide to make things even more of a mess by flying over and dropping flaming bombs on the whole thing. I’d hunted the Barroth a dozen or so times by this point, and I’d never seen this happen before. But this time, I had a Glaive, and so I tried something new.
Sprinting, I raced up to the Barroth and launched myself into the air, aiming to switch into an airborne attack. But something happened - I landed on the monster’s back! Seizing the opportunity, I cheered and went to town, stabbing furiously while shouting ‘Die, die, just die you shitbag!’ And what do you know, it obliged.
Combat aside, the Monster Hunter World open beta was a thin slice of the eventual game. While I got the chance to try out a variety of weapons, ammo types, and more, the whole “killing monsters, scavenging their body parts, and crafting stuff from it” didn’t really happen. I got to see the Monsters’ ecosystem in full swing, but the human one not so much.
It was also heavily pushing preorders. At the end of every session, I’d be asked if I wanted to visit the PlayStation store and pay in advance for a copy. I don’t mind pre-launch games asking this, but it made the weekend’s experience feel less like an open beta and much more like a marketing demo.
Ultimately, though, a weekend of Monster Hunter World was a huge blast. I’ve not felt this alive from playing a video game, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I discovered. Sure, the combat will provoke a marmite reaction in some, but it’s worth sticking with and experimenting to find a perfect weapon that makes you grin from ear to ear. If the full game can invoke the thrills and exhilaration that this open beta did, then Capcom are on to a winner.