Monster Hunter World Beta Impressions

With the Monster Hunter World Beta in its third and final phase, now seems the most appropriate time to talk about pre-release impressions. Monster Hunter has always been a quintessentially Japanese game for Japanese audiences. Everything from its control schemes to its incredibly deep menu and customisation systems bear the hallmarks of classic Japanese game design. As a result, it has always struggled here in the West. Yet, with Monster Hunter World, a few things have changed to promise the franchise’s big break into Western audiences.

Monster Hunter World Impressions

Combat Remains Classic Monster Hunter With New Depth

Back in the day, when Monster Hunter first arrived on PlayStation 2, many could see its potential. It was a real breath of fresh air for the games industry of the time. Yet the one thing that lost it a lot of brownie points in the reviews, was its combat. It was decried as clunky and counter-intuitive. Since the original release of Monster Hunter, we’ve had titles that handle combat in a similar way, focusing on skill to win the day. For some reason, when Dark Souls came onto the scene, utilising the exact same slow strike, lock-on, dodge, run out of stamina kind of combat – it was heavily praised. Perhaps it came at the right time when people were starting to find games a little too easy so the added challenge of doing battle with a stamina bar was appreciated a little more, as the developers intended. 

Monster Hunter World Impressions - Combat

In the wake of Dark Souls, the red carpet was rolled out for the next two games in the series. Then Nioh and Bloodborne. People gobbled it all right up. So it’s odd then to consider the fact that Monster Hunter World’s timing places its combat mechanics in a more agreeable time for the West. Not only is there a huge variety of weapons to choose from, but each of them come with different movesets, suited to different situations. Then, branching from your tactical choice of giant weaponry, comes a plethora of combos that, when used with perfect precision, can amplify the effectiveness of that weapon in the hands of the right player. Many players may shrug off the Training Area option from the main menu. However, with the depth of systems at play with combat in Monster Hunter World, tearing away from the wonderfully designed game world for a few minutes will prove invaluable in understanding just how to play the game. Or you could dive straight in and play the game under a haze of confusion, damaging your initial impressions.

Monster Hunter World Impressions - Training Area

Even with button prompts at the top right of the screen, without going into the Training Area first (which explicitly tells you what to press for certain movesets, each as tactically viable as the next) will result in some very messy and unsatisfying boss battles. Typical of Japanese design, we don’t have button mapping that we can just pick up and know from the get go. The R2 button is both unsheathe and strike, as well as Triangle and Circle for thrusting and sweeping motions respectively. Then combinations of the three. To jump in from the get go is foolhardy as Monster Hunter World demands that you slow down and learn things properly. Which means, if you put the time in to understand the game’s systems, it could be one of the more rewarding experiences of 2018.

An RPG Like No Other

Having an entire game system that demands a steep learning process for ultimate reward is a brave move for any game developer this day and age. Not only is this the case for the game’s combat but is even more so for its RPG systems. To be clear, there is no levelling up and no class system. There is no skill tree either. What Monster Hunter relies on to be called an RPG is its incredibly deep UI and menu systems. Instead of tying the player down with predetermined decisions that will stick with them for the entirety of their playthrough, Capcom respects the intelligence of its players. It allows them to pick and choose the one of hundreds of permutations in character loadout for each mission.

Monster Hunter World Impressions - Deep inventory systems

This is nothing new for the Monster Hunter franchise. Although the extent to which it goes in Monster Hunter World is unprecedented. In-game menu interface systems will be overwhelming to most at the start. Where a majority of RPGs are content to give you one quick select wheel for your items, Monster Hunter World gives you two for the sheer number items available. The inventory wheel allows players to place items from a massive selection for quick use while at the same time, opening up the D-Pad for further options with different wheel loadouts. Each are re-nameable for suited situations. Then there’s a bar underneath the wheel, offering yet further quick use items. Frankly, it’s mind boggling unless you spend hours making it exactly the way you want it. You’ll even have to learn HOW to make it exactly that way all on your own as there are no tutorial screens where they are needed the most (if the Beta is anything to go by).

Monster Hunter World Impressions - Battle of the beasts... and me

Indeed, Monster Hunter World will not be for the impatient player. Despite all appearances, it is not a hack’n slash adventure game. Taking down your target and how effectively you do it all depends on strategy and thorough knowledge of the game’s RPG systems. 

Some Things Are Better With Friends

It is this incredible depth of systems permeating Monster Hunter World that make it so ripe for co-op multiplayer. Public matchmaking leaves a lot to be desired as it often boils down to seeing who can run the fastest and keeping up with your companions to get a slice of the glory. Although, as the subheading above suggests, these people are not friends. 

Monster Hunter World Impressions - Wildspire Wastes

Should any player have the opportunity to link up with a friend who possesses equal knowledge in how to play properly, they absolutely should. No other game will offer such a high level of cooperative strategy and end-of-mission satisfaction. Each monster behaves differently and has different strengths and weaknesses. The same differences will apply between you and your counterparts which is the perfect recipe for mechanics that enforce teamwork and thought. Where other titles eventually boil down to players rushing in and overwhelming the boss by sheer force of stats and numbers, Monster Hunter World will not let that fly. Boss battles are leveled specifically for solo or co-op play. The more of you there are, the tougher the beast will be. This demands communication. Who has what buffs and traps available and when they’ll use them. We’ve all seen those YouTube let’s play video with team speak on. Players are quietly making statements and requests under the weight of their concentration. It’s been countless runs so far with no success. Until that one time when they finally win, shouting “YES, YES, YES FINALLY” down the mic. Monster Hunter World absolutely has the potential to be one of those games. Although there are a few sticking points that threaten its longevity for any one player…

A Few Areas Still Concern Me

So far Monster Hunter World is ticking all the right boxes if you’re that kind of hardcore RPG fan. It’s even going to be releasing all future DLC as free updates to keep all online players on the same server. 

I was surprised to learn however, that Monster Hunter World is not an open world free roaming game. Not quite. Instead, it is a mission selector that places the player into various sandbox maps. As far as gameplay is concerned, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yet it doesn’t dampen my slight disappointment. In this age of gaming, I think it would be fair to say that like myself, many would have assumed the game to offer a massive Witcher 3 like map that would gradually unfold with fast travel points. Previous Monster Hunter titles have offered a free roam mode for each area, once it had been completed. This can allow player to grind out the resources they may need. 

Monster Hunter World Impressions - Resource gathering

This doesn’t change the fact that when you drop into a new area, ripe for the looting, you’ll want to explore it thoroughly. There is also a question of just how many of these sandbox maps will be available on day of purchase. How long will it take for them to start feeling stale?

Almost as if the developers want to throttle your rate of discovery, each mission has a time limit on it. This results in the mildest of discomfort for each mission, especially since there is no timer on the screen at any given time. Your target may be on the run and while pursuing it, something may catch your eye. But it doesn’t matter. If you don’t stay on the target’s tail, picking that glimmering thing in the distance up won’t matter a jot if you don’t kill the target in time.

Monster Hunter World Impressions - Last second victory

This time limit seems nothing but counterintuitive to everything the latest Monster Hunter has to offer. As you can see in the image above, I defeated my target with thirty seconds to spare… but why? After playing the Beta, it’s still unclear to me what the full gameplay loop will be. Where will we be able to collect our thoughts and put effort into an inventory system that demands our time? While it has been a recurring theme in Monster Hunter to place time limits on missions, I am absolutely baffled as to why it is there. Why on earth do the developers feel it is necessary in a game that, as the title suggests, offers a massive world (of sandboxes) begging to be explored? Furthermore, any Monster Hunter World developer will tell you of how you can stalk your prey, learn its habits and lay traps for it. Yet, I don’t see how any of that can be possible in the fifteen minutes we have to find it and kill it…

If you’re a die hard Monster Hunter fan, feel free to explain it to me in the comments below.

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