Games Review: Monster Hunter World (PS4, 2018): Shining, Shimmering, Splendid

I’m ashamed to say that I’m a latecomer to the Monster Hunter franchise, with my first taste of monster hunting goodness coming late last year in the delightful Monster Hunter Stories. Given that I enjoyed the title so much, I was looking forward to World, but didn’t realise how much it would blow me away. It’s rare that a title immediately grabs you and immerses you so fully in its world, but from the opening scenes, I was hooked.

The premise of the story is simple enough – you take the role of a monster hunter making their way to the ‘New World’, when your ship is set upon by a gargantuan volcanic monster known as Zorah Magdaros, which casts you into the ocean. When you wake, you find yourself in Astera, a phenomenally gorgeous setting where your fellow hunters have set up shop.

Your role, as a hunter, is to explore a variety of locales, hunt monsters (duh), forage for items and chart the land. You and your palico companion, who resembles a cat, are thrown into a vast world where you have to fight to survive. While the phrase ‘open world’ has been thrown around a lot, it doesn’t strictly apply to Monster Hunter World. While Hunters are able to explore a variety of locales, it’s via quests, expeditions or investigations that these explorations take place, initiated within the hub world.

Quests guide the vast majority of the story, with a variety of assigned and optional quests, as well as special events (such as the Horizon Zero Dawn event, exclusive to PlayStation), and investigations. While assigned quests guide the story, optional quests allow you to build up your weapons and earn higher amounts of zenny. Investigations are shorter missions, requiring simple tasks to be completed for reward money and materials.

In addition to quests, which are accessed through the quest board, players can also undertake expeditions by leaving through Astera’s main gates. These expeditions allow players to freely explore the locales they’ve already visited, collecting materials and completing smaller fetch quests for the Resource Center.

Quests can be undertaken solo, or in groups of up to four other hunters, however, the process can be quite frustrating. Launching the game while connected to the PlayStation Network means that you can’t start the game without connecting to an online session. Given that I see myself more as the lone wolf type (or that I’d rather not embarrass myself in front of my squad), it was a system that seemed flawed.

During gameplay, the right side of the screen often becomes flooded with messages pertaining to players coming and going, providing encouragement or asking for help. Even launching a quest will immediately prompt you to invite other players to join you. Turning off my internet seemed the only way to avoid this, and after doing so, my experience was far more tranquilo.

The range of things to do and see in Monster Hunter World is impressive, with a number of stunning worlds to explore, a tonne of monsters to hunt or capture and great, robust sidequests to enjoy. If you’re ever sick of hunting and killing monsters, its easy enough to take a nice trip down to the local lake and catch a spot of fishing, forage for herbs and flowers in the tall grass, or even climb a tree to steal the last egg from an unsuspecting Wyvern mother (you cruel, heartless hunter). Sometimes, the overwhelming number of quests become too much, but whittling away at quests and building up your weapons and armour is rewarding enough that it never feels like a grind.

That said, the grind in Monster Hunter World is very real, with long explorations and fighting required to upgrade and forge new equipment for you and your palico. Monster Hunter World gives you a range of weapons to choose from, each of which have different characteristics. You start off with a choice of 18 major weapons, each with their own statistics and attacking style.

While the Bone Shotel and Iron Katana deal large damage but take a wider, longer swing, weapons like the Bone Hatchets allow for smaller damage but in quick, spinning bursts. The Bone Hatchets proved the more effective weapon, however, it all depends on your own fighting style and preferences.

The weapons can seem unwieldy no matter which class you choose, as special attacks can’t be cancelled and you can’t roll out of them either. It means that often, avoidable attacks from monsters are taken head on simply because the controls are finicky and sometimes awkward. While combat is mostly enjoyable, I was gored far more times than I felt I deserved simply because the controls weren’t as intuitive as I would have hoped.

That said, the game did a good job of blinding me to the obvious flaws in the combat system by presenting such a range of flawless, brilliantly designed and beautifully rendered environments to explore. Playing Monster Hunter World on a PlayStation 4 Pro comes very recommended if you can get your hands on one. The graphics, simply put, are astounding. The game is one of the best looking out there, and gave me the same chills that accompanied Horizon Zero Dawn when it first released.

Even then, this feels like a step up, making full use of the power of the console. One thing I feel important to note is that when prompted, choosing frame rate over graphics is a good option to enhance gameplay. Focusing on graphics led to intense lagging and frame rate drops on my end, to the point of unplayability.

It’s rare that a game like Monster Hunter World comes around feeling so complete and fully realised, but its clear to see that Capcom has taken the heart of the Monster Hunter franchise, distilled what makes it great and refined it for this console generation. More than that, the game feels unique and original, with gorgeous art direction, brilliant character design and worlds that feel genuinely alive. While somewhat hampered by an unintuitive combat system, it more than makes up for it with its solid story, varied gameplay and stylish flair. For those yet to experience the world of Monster Hunter, World represents a brilliant, well-rounded entry point into the franchise.

Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights:  Vast world to explore; intriguing story; brilliant design and graphics
Lowlights: Flawed combat system; overwhelming number of quests
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro with a retail code provided by the publisher.