Monster Hunter: World is a departure for the franchise – and we're not just talking the new location. This is the first main entry to launch away from Nintendo since 2006, when Monster Hunter 2 found its feet on the PlayStation 2. It's a bit of a leap going from the technologically limited platforms of Nintendo to the PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro, but it's a jump that Capcom has handled with aplomb.
Monster Hunter: World fully takes advantage of the current-gen hardware's features, with stunning visuals, 4K and HDR support, a world that's far more open than ever before, and vastly improved online features. The monsters and wildlife themselves are also a technical marvel, with their own daily habits. The whole world just teems with life.
But for all that the game pushes the franchise forward, some old habits come back to haunt it. Capcom is still yet to get the tutorial and general learning curve right, and that's probably the most crucial issue here. It's likely that this will be many's first Monster Hunter, and you're basically just shoved into the deep end following a all-too-brief tutorial.
In fact, it's very feasible that even 20 hours into the experience, entire systems will still elude you. You'll have moments when a non-playable character asks you to do something and you won't even know where to start. Part of the fun here is in figuring everything out, sure, but good luck trying to capture a monster without assistance.
But before we dig any further into that, let's remind you what Monster Hunter is. This is a social Japanese role-playing game that puts grinding at the forefront. As the name suggests, your primary goal is to hunt monsters, craft gear from their remains, and hunt even more powerful monsters. Rinse and repeat.
Contrary to how it sounds, it's far from dull or repetitive. That's all credit to the combat system and the feeling you get when you first conquer a large monster. In fact, often the first thing you want to do afterwards is defeat it all over again, just because you can. That feeling is reinforced when you visit the smithy. Fresh upgrades for your weapon and a brand new armour set are your rewards, and you can't get everything you need just defeating it once.
Combat is very similar to other action role-playing titles like Dark Souls - at least, once you take away the target system. You can target enemies here, but all this does is keep them in your line of vision. It won't make it easier to hit them, but that's the main bulk of the challenge. Each monster has vulnerable parts, which can break if you hit them hard enough, and so combat becomes a dance of dodging and hitting them where it hurts when the opportunity arises.
There are 14 different weapon types to use and each of them changes the experience drastically. Think of any Japanese RPG archetype and you can find a way to play as it here. You've got massive great swords and hammers that hit as hard as they are slow, and nippy daggers and short swords that keep the damage numbers flowing. You can play it like a third person shooter with bows and bowguns, or even a rhythm action game with the horn.
It's arguably the most diverse set of weapons in any modern RPG, with each weapon so different from the last – some even provide entirely new ways to play. You can either stick to your favourite or craft a bunch of weapons for different purposes. That's probably the best way to experience the game, and the same applies for armour. This is where the compulsion to keep killing comes back into play.
This core loop has kept the franchise going strong for many years, but Monster Hunter: World is still unlike any that have come before. The world is far more open; it's made up of a bunch of different areas, each of which is completely unique in terms of visuals. What's more, once you're in an area, you can kiss goodbye to loading screens.
Each area is generally bigger than before as well, so it's a good thing that Capcom has provided a few means of getting around faster. You've got a grappling hook that speeds up climbing walls and vines, and you can swing from it in specific areas to leap across chasms. You'll find vines you can swing from too, and you can slide down mountains, or fast travel to a different camp if you're feeling impatient.
There are new options in combat as well. Take the slinger, for example, which you can use to fling a variety of different pods at enemies. You can use it against flying enemies to bring them to ground, or against large monsters for varying different effects. The different pod types are very diverse.
You've also got scoutflies that highlight nearby items and help you track monsters, a Palico partner that fights alongside you, sets traps, and heals you, and specialised tools like a ghillie suit to use as camouflage or a glider that you can use to, well, glide.
Another new addition is a full-blown plot. Capcom has toyed with the idea before, but it's never felt as fully fleshed out as this one. You play as a member of the fifth fleet, a talented group of hunters who are travelling to the aptly titled new world to try and figure out why the elder dragons periodically make their way over here in an event known as the elder crossing.
Before you've even set foot on the new world, you'll face your first elder dragon, Zorah Magdoros, and the remainder of the plot involves hunting it. It's a fun story, and one which helps guide you between each area. You even learn more about the monsters you're hunting, which is a nice touch. The characters you meet are pretty likeable too, if largely stock and shallow. The storytelling doesn't stand up against the likes of The Witcher 3, but it does breathe extra life into this rich world, and encourages you to keep going.
Monster Hunter has always been a franchise designed around multiplayer, and that's an area in which the move to PS4 has arguably improved it most. You're always online and can post quests that others can join, or fire an SOS flare mid quest if you need support. In many ways, it negates the use of the gathering hub entirely. Previously, you'd go here to request support, and you can still do that, but you just don't want to. We imagine it will exist solely for showing off gear and messing around with friends.
That's if you stick with it long enough, though. For all that Monster Hunter: World is absolutely gorgeous – seriously, this is no doubt the best the franchise has ever looked, with a wide variety of imaginative environments that look stunning in 4K – it still feels a little inaccessible.
If you haven't played a Monster Hunter before, you'll need a hefty beginner's guide to get you up to speed. There's just so many systems to learn that it feels overwhelming at first. You can learn most of them on the go, and that's a huge part of the charm, but there are some that could really have done with a tutorial.
Monster Hunter: World is easily the finest entry in the franchise to date. The move to PS4 has only done it favours, with stunning visuals and environments that you'll want to get lost in. Flashy, satisfying combat will lead to many water cooler chats, and vastly improved online features make it a breeze to find help. It's a real shame that Capcom still hasn't found an ideal way to welcome new players, but if you are able to sink your teeth into World, you'll discover an incredible action RPG experience.