Monster Hunter World: hands-on preview

When the doors opened on day one of Tokyo Game Show, I ran straight for the Capcom booth and the Monster Hunter World demo. It had been a last minute decision, but it turned out to be a good one. It was perhaps the most in-demand demo of this year’s show, and I was able to try it twice, in both multi and single-player.

I’m a lapsed monster hunter. I briefly dabbled in the PSP games, played about two hundred hours of 3 Ultimate, and continued for another fifty in 4 Ultimate before I lost interest. I was happy to hear that the series is returning to Sony – and more specifically, home consoles – but I hadn’t paid much attention to the details. Monster Hunter had largely passed me by; but if the TGS demo is anything to go by, then I’ll be back on board from here on out.

The demo featured three quests: Easy, Medium, and Hard. Each one focussed on a single monster, though other creatures could be found wandering the map in each scenario. The quests could be tackled alone or in 4-player co-op. You and/or your team picked a hunt from the helpful guild guide, selected a weapon and gear, and then headed out. Overall, it wasn’t too challenging as I was easily able to complete the hardest quest (though I wouldn’t read too much into the difficulty of a trade show demo).

Monster Hunter has always suffered from a perceived high level of difficulty and complexity. Some of that reputation is well earned, but other parts of it have been overblown. However, it is undeniable that there has always been a lot to learn when you start off, and that was no different here. Waiting in line for my demo, I was handed a document full of weapon details and instructions on how to join and get ready for a hunt. I felt like I was about to sit an exam; one which I was pretty sure I was going to fail. There is still a significant barrier to entry, though the controls do feel more intuitive and a little easier to pick up on PS4. The days of The Claw and playing without a proper, second analogue stick are now thankfully behind us.

Overall, combat was fluid and reassuringly familiar. It did a great job of giving visual and audio feedback, letting you know when you strike critical blows or when your attacks are proving less effective. Unfortunately, the camera wasn’t always up to the task of framing the action, occasionally giving you an unwanted close-up of a wall or a monster’s arse and obstructing your view. You do have control, but in the heat of battle the last thing you want to be doing is fighting with the camera. It wasn’t a major issue, but it was frustrating at times, especially in multiplayer when you’re trying your best not to hit and stagger your fellow players.

The selection of weapons will be familiar to any experienced hunter of monsters. There are heavy and light options, and firearms have been revamped. There are fourteen weapon types in all, though being a creature of habit I stuck to my preferred Long Sword for the majority of the time. The Slinger sidearm is an interesting new addition. A mini crossbow of sorts, it can serve as a grappling hook or a support weapon which you use to fire out items that you find strewn about the environment. Different types of makeshift ammo have different effects, attracting, attacking, or even repelling the target.

In a game all about hunting giant beasts, it’s vital that the creatures shine, which they absolutely did here. They look and sound fantastic, better than ever before. The attention to detail is impressive, as the creatures move and react in unique ways, each demanding very different approaches. They interact with the environment in interesting ways; hunting, grazing, feeding their young, or even fighting each other. The three featured monsters in the TGS demo were a Great Jagras, a ferocious iguana-like beast; the tough-skinned and familiar Barroth, and finally the Anjanath, an ugly T-Rex-looking mutha with a hideous growth protruding from his nose and a pair of fluffy wings. He looks a lot better than he sounds!

While the monsters do look fantastic, the map was far less memorable. A standard gauntlet of plains, caves, and swamps, it just wasn’t all that interesting and certainly nowhere near as visually impressive as the wildlife. The monsters shine, so the environment doesn’t necessarily need to. There was no loading between areas of the map, which makes a nice change – but I did notice monsters clipping through rocky outcrops and trees in certain spots.

Capcom were keen to push the option to use the environment to your advantage. In the single-player demo, Anjanath could be goaded into running full steam into a rocky pillar, bringing down a web of vines which pinned it in place, allowing me to unload a couple of powerful attacks before it freed itself. You can also move stealthily through tall grass and pick up the scent of your prey by investigating the detritus it has left behind. Once you’ve found enough clues, your Scoutflies will create an aluminous trail to your elusive prey. You could also utilise camouflage to get the drop on your target, but I didn’t find stealth to be all that necessary or useful in this particular demo.

Performance-wise, the series is finally liberated from the constraints of the 3DS. Everything looks a little grittier and more realistic, the monsters look more ferocious, and the main dialogue is fully voiced. It has lost a little of the series’ trademark charm, but fortunately World doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Your quest-giving assistant is all cute smiles and over-the-top gestures, sleeping giants blow snot bubbles, your movements in the field are exaggerated, and your feline companion Palicoes are back and as adorable as ever. One served as an AI co-op buddy in the single-player demo, riding a lesser monster into battle and proving very useful in distracting my target. MH may have grown up, but it hasn’t lost its exuberance.

Overall, I loved what I played of Monster Hunter World. It rekindled my enthusiasm for the franchise, reminding me of the highs that can make the series so irresistible. I’ll most definitely be there next January, with my hunting crew in tow.

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Written by Matt M

Matt has been a gamer ever since Father Christmas left him a Master System II in the early 90's. Santa was clearly a Sega fan, as a Mega Drive and Saturn would follow in later years. Matt has long since broken free from the shackles of console monotheism and enjoys playing a wide range of games, almost as much as he enjoys meticulously ordering them on his living room shelves.

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