Video Games Hands On: Monster Hunter World (PS4, 2017)

Monster Hunter World is all about sanding down some of the series’ rougher edges. Gone are loading screens between areas, replaced with a single, expansive world (hence the game’s title). Combat remains a visceral experience, perhaps even more so than ever. The crafting retains the depth that makes it so rewarding to spend the time prepping for a big fight.

After only forty five short minutes in its company, I can already feel this game scratching my Witcher itch.

But wait, aren’t The Witcher 3 and Monster Hunter completely different games? What do I mean by “Witcher itch?” This is true. They are indeed very different. Let me explain.

My favourite part of The Witcher 3 was the amount of preparation involved in combat. Research the creature that is your target, make sure I have the right gear, items and blade oils for the situation and then move in, target its weak points and take the beast down fast. Monster Hunter World leans on the same angle.

Preparation is paramount. Knowing which monster you plan to hunt is the first step. What you plan to do when you find it is the second. Actually surviving the encounter is the third.

Combat was in real time, allowing me to move around my quarry as required, looking for openings and getting quick strikes in where I could. My character’s weapon, a cleaver of a size that would make 90’s era Final Fantasy characters jealous, can be augmented (or “morphed”) into different shapes in order to leverage different kinds of attacks. Think of it like shifting the inherent weight of the weapon around. One configuration might lend itself better to slower, higher-damage attacks while another might be better suited to faster, lower-damage attacks. You can change this up on the fly too, so if you need to bail on a fight or move from an offensive to a defensive posture in a flash, this is one of the best ways to go about it.

During my hands on time with the game, I was allowed to tackle things as I pleased. Initially, I simply ran about the world and attempted to figure things out for myself. The game was 100% happy to let me do this, which was very nice indeed. Eventually I found my way back to the starting area and picked up a quest that more clearly explained the things I’d been busily figuring out for myself. I liked the the amount of agency the game was willing to grant me from the jump. Obviously, this is early code so that may change by the time the final game ships (my lack of familiarity with the Monster Hunter series may be showing there) but things seemed fairly set in stone during this part of the demo.

Visually, Monster Hunter World still fits very neatly into its classic JRPG aesthetic. Human characters are cut from a very Berserk-feeling cloth, and the individual monster designs and animations already feel vibrant and instantly communicate each creature’s temperament. By far the demo’s most interesting visual facet for me was the world itself. I was only able to explore a small part of it, a lush, forested area at the base of a towering tree, hundreds of kilometres high, but there were biomes and areas I could see further on that were extremely enticing. Desert areas. Ocean. I could see what looked like a pirate ship perched atop a mountain (and boy was I sad I couldn’t get to that one right away. One day, pirate ship, I’m coming for you).

Monster Hunter World has the makings of something really special. It is obviously, even at this early stage, catering to a crowd that love that the series refuses to pull any punches as relates to challenge. Its complex web of systems translates directly into satisfying payoffs and rewarding character progression. But it’s got bigger ambitions, it wants the attention of more than just its core audience. It’s working. I’m absolutely ready for more.

Monster Hunter World is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC in 2018. It currently has no confirmed release date.