I won’t lie: The Monster Hunter World beta on console last weekend isn’t going to give you the best sense of the full monster hunting experience. It won’t let you explore the world like Link in Breath of the Wild. And it won’t scratch the full MMO-experience itch.
That being said, as someone who’s played multiple iterations of the series and deeply exploring the gaming genre as a whole, I found that MHW still surprised me with its freshness.
Old dog, new tricks
When I first heard about Dauntless, MH’s closest cognate, I was impressed. Simplifying certain parts of the MH experience for a broader audience sounded like a great idea. The game’s execution experienced at E3 and on my own made me feel like it has a potential audience. However, post-E3 MHW leaks had me geeking out hard. While Dauntless has its own weapon combos, art style, and direction, a lot of the more palatable and streamlined design is going into MHW instead – and it’s launching sooner.
Simple things like being able to change your gear during the hunt gives you flexibility Dauntless wasn’t allowing. For example, as a hammer user, I’m often like the tank, choosing new gear that gives me more aggro management than I often got in previous MH games. I’m at the front trying to direct combat and stun the monster so my DPS friends can cut off monster tails, break legs, and so on. However, when they just don’t get how to play with me, I can easily change to the Switch Axe, a weapon that has fantastic reach and DPS, perfect for picking up the slack newcomers may not realize they’re dropping.
I didn’t see a lot of people talking during my hunts, and no one used a keyboard, so I am debating whether I should ditch console friends and try another solo experience when the game eventually goes to PC, but at least end of hunt awards point out who was helping the most, from healing to stat ailment applications. I never saw a raw DPS award but did see it for breaking monster parts, which is how you get certain loot for crafting (sadly absent from the weekend demo).
Changes like the scout flies make the game not just easier but more hunter-esque. One thing missing from the demo is that you’re often a hunter-gatherer in these games. You get some health potions and rations for stamina, but you’re killing small monsters for meat and cooking them up. You’re gathering fireflies to make flash bombs. You’re mixing herbs and honey for elixirs. The scout flies help you find not only these parts but monster footprints, mucus, and other biological evidence. We’ve graduated from simple hunter-gatherers to hunter-Batmen/women. We’ve seen this in trailers, but the detective work gives my gut a different feel from past MH games.
Streamlining in general has aided basic gameplay. For example, you grab most items on the run, so you can grab some honey, eat some meat, and check a footprint without stopping. However, if you do take a breather, you can eat that meat a lot faster. If you have to dodge a monster while drinking a potion, you still can keep that steak for a bit, and you get some partial healing to boot. It’s not just that we have new tricks (which I need to learn); we have a far more immersive world.
While you can’t climb every tree or jump off every ledge, I was still surprised with how interactive the environment was. At one point, I found a low-hanging vine, climbed it onto a pathway on a tree, and swung vine-to-vine across the forest to find my prey. I touched weird bugs and watched them explode into light. I saw a guy power up his switch-axe (the sword mode as almost a chain-saw like special attack somehow) and then somehow mount the leg of a monster, cutting into it as the poor beast tried to shake him off (if you figured out how to do this, please teach me in the comments below). Even when you mount the beast first, jumping off the tail when it’s swung at a rock only enhances the feeling that you’re on a giant beast capable of smooshing you like a roach.
The game’s not easy, but the demo may be easier. This is by far the prettiest MH game, which greatly aids the immersive feel, but for a veteran, there were a few times where I was asking myself whether the monsters were moving more slowly than before. It could be that the demo gives us gear to help people survive better, or that I’ve just been playing for awhile and have grown accustomed to the pace.
Either way, I won’t say for certain things are easy because I really struggled to find a group to beat the beta’s hardest hunt. Part of this may be because of the larger maps. While previous maps were divided into zones you needed to load, it felt more obvious about where to look for your prey. Gamers ignoring the detective work component of the hunt seemed lost. The forest level being shown has a lot of vertical play, so players who don’t notice vines and pathways leading up could be passing giant dragon nests for the entire 20-minute limits. While this was a bit frustrating for me (most hunts in the series have 1-hour limits), it does help give newcomers a sense of the biggest draw of the game: the actual monster hunt.
Not only are we hunting monsters, but they hunt each other. While the series has done this in the past, this is another level entirely. Desperate monsters will try to search out prey, ignoring your attacks as they wrestle with another monster trying to take advantage of the larger one’s injuries. As with the trailers, I also experienced a moment when I was caught in the middle of a three-monster melee, with one flying away and another getting trapped in vines.
Waiting to feast
There’s a lot to like about Monster Hunter World’s beta demo. Talking to other gamers these days, I feel like I probably come across as jaded, often scorning AAA titles that just don’t feel that revolutionary to me. “Gimmicks” at least give me something to explore, but without other players, I don’t stick to the games as well. However, MHW feels new. The demo was accessible enough for my friend to hunt with me at the recent Playstation Experience and not die, but challenging enough for me to be banging my head online as I try to take down optional side-monsters harder than the current hard-mode boss.
Sadly, though, the beta hasn’t allowed me to play with friends online. I’ve never had a great experience with the series in terms of pugs, generally having to find a group via message boards or (in Japan) game cafes. The new social features may fix this, but the demo didn’t showcase this. It also didn’t show how crafting items or armor may be different, nor did I get to see if the storyline finally graduated into something worth remembering. There’s still plenty to experience at release, but the demo did do a good job of giving a solid experience that should help people figure out if this is the kind of game they could enjoy. I can’t imagine a more accessible, streamlined way to experience Monster Hunter, and considering the series’ reputation, that’s saying something.