Monster Hunter World Review
Video game sequels release for far different reasons compared to any other medium. While continuous stories or thematic successors abound across film and television and literature, often games crank out numerous sequels within a certain series as a means of expansion and improvement. GTA, Final Fantasy, Silent Hill, Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed (to name a few); these long-running series are tied together by mechanical similarities instead of story (mostly), each release intent on expanding upon lore, thesis, and perhaps especially controls.
Audiences accept this because games are generally inherently flawed. Part of a developer’s skill lies in demonstrating a focus on smoothing out issues in subsequent releases, all the while providing a unique experience all its own. Part of this uniqueness stems from updated graphics and functionality, allowing style and control to, in a way, speak for themselves.
GTA: San Andreas and V are both set in technically the same city, but both feel like almost entirely different experiences, thanks to the enhanced graphical fidelity of V and the distinctive RPG elements of its predecessor. 2007’s Assassin’s Creed and the latest entry, Origins share more alike in HUD interface and completable objectives than anything else.
Then there are instances where a sequel looks and feels almost nothing like previous installments. Often a sign of a maturing developer, and thus a maturing industry overall, some series play upon certain iconic traits to deliver something unique altogether.
For instance, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor famously apes the combat from the Batman: Arkham series, adds the open world collectathon design of Assassin’s Creed, but twists the experience into its own identity using both Tolkien’s Middle-Earth history as well as the game’s beloved “Nemesis system.” On the other hand, the upcoming God of War replaces hack-and-slash combat of the original games with more provocative gameplay and presentation a la The Last of Us.
Sometimes a series simply needs to adapt to modern appearances to evolve. Other times, developers tale a more drastic turn. When it comes down to it, the medium is still relatively young, and games are only now beginning to realise their potential for adaptive experiences. Mario has gone from 2D side-scrolling hero with a total of three abilities to a 3-dimensional transmorpher capable of a seemingly-endless variety of platforming skills. Games, in other words, are finally growing up.
. . .
I have not played a single second of any Monster Hunter title before World. I have played Shadow of the Colossus, and Dark Souls, and the Witcher III, all of which share similarities to this latest entry in the cult Japanese franchise. And each is a preferable experience to this bloated, but nonetheless often exhilarating RPG-esque action adventure title.
The series has become as monstrous as its title dictates. There have been 24 MH releases across 13 consoles in the past 14 years, and a quick Google search determines that most if not all revolve around a similar gameplay loop: planning, hunting, looting. My beginning hours alone with World immediately demonstrate that this is at least the case for this entry, only there is a level of complexity underlying each setting and system.
A natural progression follows along the course of the game. For the first few stages, players begin with simple, underdeveloped gear, finding difficulty in eliminating even the most unassuming creatures. But the game’s most impressive mechanical strength lies in its ability to level-check. Shortly after completing the first couple of assignments, I was tasked with slaying a beast (I’d be hard-pressed to remember what the hell its name was), only to find myself quite underpowered.
A quick stop by the Armory and Smithy, however — which the game earlier informed me of to introduce equipment upgrades — and I was back in business with a newly leveled up armor set and greatsword. A far cry from my previous short sword and shield setup, I eagerly pushed past the next few monster hunts, and even found myself switching between various weapons to more appropriately fit the situation.
It’s refreshing for a AAA RPG like this to so consequently reward thoughtful play. Resources abound throughout the various locales of World’s, erm, world, with so many customizable options allowing for a competent ‘You.’ It can be quite overwhelming, and World likely does the best it can pacing the “Assigned Quests” to accurately teach the player all of the necessary abilities at their disposal — even if it does result in what is essentially a prolonged, hours-long tutorial.
It’s a shame then that the more provocative aspects of Monster Hunter World (from the crafting, to leveling, to researching monsters, etc.) juxtapose with the game’s frankly insignificant narrative goals. Taking my first steps into the sunny open valley of the Ancient Forest was invigorating. I was reminded of gorgeous scenes from titles with similarly-realistic compositions like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or even The Witcher III, games where the serenity of natural sights and sounds reel us in to illustrate mankind’s very own effects on the world around us.
Monster Hunter World wants to be a game about consequences but it fails to carry any semblance of guilt. The surprisingly-eccentric personalities upholding its cast of characters undermine any sort of weight to the professions they all hold (that is, hunting and slaying numerous creatures in their natural habitats).
As Justin Clark explains in his own review for Slant Magazine, the game never stops “to consider the ramifications of its premise,” a premise that shares much in common with the self-aware Shadow of the Colossus, only without any ethical regard to the business it heavily deals in.
Even the Call of Duty franchise is aware of how fucked up it is for gamers to psychologically enjoy mowing down NPC human beings in a virtual warzone, even if the series only ever goes so far as to briefly acknowledge it. All I’m asking for is a bit of empathy, especially as I watch a Barroth painfully limp away as I charge after it with weapon in hand before it can save itself.
The Fun really is in the hunt. Tracking monsters by finding footprints, scavenging supplies to take down that beast, then setting off to take down the unique colossal figure is the crux of the game’s repetitious cycle, maintaining intrigue by offering new modes of combat and analysis. It is a world that demands exploration for the sheer purpose of collecting helpful items and research, in turn offering a multitude of areas to get lost within.
But the game can also be a systematic mess, refusing to ever hold the player’s hand, which in turn results in a compromising lack of accessibility. Menus can be frustrating to maneuver. Item management is often a hoarding nightmare (not sure when I’ll need those Parashrooms, but might as well keep them for the sake of it). Multiplayer functionality is unbelievably archaic. Overall, Monster Hunter World offers players an endless checklist of repetitive straightforward tasks, carried out in complex ways, but without any satisfying reason as to why they should progress.
A videogame series is usually defined by improvement, or instead a radical change to the formula. Monster Hunter is a beloved title that seems to have always fallen short of involving narrative motivation for the player’s hunts. World was designed to bring the cult franchise to the big screen, so to speak; to introduce the long-running title to new audiences and reinvigorate its virtual worlds with next-gen capabilities and functions.
Instead, Monster Hunter World seems stuck between two identities. It wants to both appeal to new fans without reintroducing itself to those unfamiliar. The dissonance between player action and empathetic reaction to the assigned objectives further upsets this uneven overall experience, and simply makes me wish I were playing other similar games at nearly every turn.
This is not to say that MHW isn’t necessarily worth one’s time. Again, exploring the rich locales within its titular World can be breathtaking and delightfully addicting. If only the moral consequences reflected the aesthetic beauty of this natural world, one which the player is tasked to actively, happily destroy, one colossus at a time.