Cook, kill, craft, repeat. That could be the tagline on the cover of Monster Hunter World from Capcom that was released last week. The Monster Hunter series has always had a tight gameplay loop but it could be distilled down into those three words. Cook, kill, craft.
While the core game loop can feel as simple as that, the truth is it is much more in-depth and complex. But you don’t have to worry about that to begin with. The game locks you into a tutorial of sorts and points you to your first big monster to kill. Along the way, tutorials explain the games basic systems to you over the course of a few hours. After that everything begins to open up and multiplayer becomes an option. And don’t worry if you forget what those tutorials told you. You probably will. They are all available for you to replay from one of Monster Hunters many, many menus. Capcom has done a great job of making Monster Hunter World more accessible than some of the earlier Monster Hunter games.
You’ll be given the opportunity to choose one of 14 different weapon types to start. Each of them has a different level of skill involved to effectively employ. Fortunately, the game gives each weapon a star rating and indicates whether a weapon is good for a beginner and if not, why.
I choose to start off with a sword and board. I traded off some higher end damage for survivability. Even though I have played a few other hunter style games in the past I’m not an expert by any means and I lean to survivability being more important than throwing up big numbers in damage. But the beauty of the game is there are many different weapons to cater to a number of play styles. If you prefer ranged weapons you can use a bow. If you like to move in, strike, then get out you can use dual blades. If you like slow heavy weapons you can try a hammer or an ax.
But the variety doesn’t stop there. Each monster you tackle will have certain strengths and weaknesses. Some will be strong to certain elements while weak against others. Some monsters can fly while others are landlocked. There are even amphibious monsters that will challenge you in shallow waters. As these monsters get stronger you will need to craft weapons that take advantages of their weaknesses and craft armor that mitigates their strengths.
You are going to die. You are going to die a lot. You are going to fail missions. It’s a let down when you do, but each time you will get to know that monster better. Their routines, were they like to hide and run to. You’ll also learn the environment and be able to set traps for the monsters. It’s exhilarating to climb up some vines and jump off a ledge onto a monster's back and beat on it until you down it. Knowing the locations of the objects you can interact with in the environment will become just as important as knowing whether or not the monster you are fighting has an ice breath or can hit you for poison damage.
As you fight monsters you have a chance to break pieces off them and then collect them. Once you finally down a monster you can skin it and typically collect three crafting items in return. These items are used to craft better armor and better weapons. Early in the game, it feels like you are crafting new pieces of armor or upgrading your weapon every time you kill a new monster type. Later on, you’ll want to start planning your sets and find yourself hunting the same monster through investigation questions or expeditions to collect enough items to build that next tier weapon or get enough or an armor set complete that you receive the bonuses. You’ll also start having to do quests to earn enough money to pay the forgemaster to craft your gear.
Before you even go into the field and try and take on a monster though you’ll want to eat. The game is filled with canteens at the camps or feline chefs at the towns who will cook you stat boosting meals. These meals should not be taken for granted. They also have a great cutscene that demonstrates some of the game's humor. These meals can provide you a much-needed status boost for minimal cost. You’ll also want to prep potions, traps, and status boosting items to take on the hunt with you.
The game is fun in single player but you’ll never truly be alone. Your pun-laden Palico will follow you everywhere you go and provide assistance. Part cat, part pal, and all bad ass, this squire will follow you to the ends of the earth and even risk getting his fur wet to make sure you don’t die. They can provide healing in a pinch or a little extra damage to help you bring down a tough challenge. They also act as comic relief around town and the wilds.
The game really shines in multiplayer though. When two people partner up you’ll still have access to your Palicoes, when a third joins your Palico will leave. You can have up to 4 players in a party at once taking on a mission. The fighting can get fast and frantic and it’s a treat to watch these large battles unfold. Some moments become like Wrath of the Titans when one large monster encounters another and they start fighting each other. I’ve had up to 3 different large monsters converge and fighting each other at the same time. It didn’t end well for my group but it was something to behold. You’ll end up just having to run and wait for one of them to leave before you can successfully re-engage your target or risk a quick death. I also noticed that the PS4 Pro performed admirably in these situations. There is a setting to choose performance over graphics and I choose to focus on having a higher frame rate.
While multiplayer is one of the stars of the game it doesn’t always do it’s best to let you team up with your pals to take on challenges. It’s actually pretty easy to team up with someone but it’s not that intuitive. You can invite anyone from your friends list that is playing Monster Hunter to join you. You can also go to a board and elect to join other people that are already on quests. But it’s not as simple as taking a group of 4 people and just launching a quest and going to do it.
There are a number of social systems in place in the game. Much like other persistent online games, there is a hub area where you can see up to 16 other players. There are also squads you can join. These are like guilds and you can be in up to 8 of them at a time. Squads can create their own online server of up to 16 people. The game also has built-in voice chat. It’s great when people use it correctly but fortunately, you can turn it off so you don’t have to listen to random people heavy breath into their mic.
Another new way to group up with other players is to send up an SOS flare on a mission. You don’t have to wait until you are close to failing either. Simply wait until any cutscene is over, send up a flair, and wait for the cavalry to arrive. Hopefully, you don’t get any trolls.
I’ve enjoyed previous entries in the Monster Hunter series but none of them have felt as compelling as World. This entry is more accessible than any of the previous games yet still manages to have deep crafting and gearing systems for the later game. The gameplay loop is tight and rewarding. You are left feeling you have accomplished something each time you take down a monster. Some of the monsters are truly giant and monstrous and offer a variety of different challenges. Capcom has managed to make one of the first must-play titles of 2018.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on the PS4 Pro with a code provided by Capcom’s PR team.
COMPARE TO: Monster Hunter Generations, Monster Hunter XX, Final Fantasy Explorers