I’ve never been interested in hunting – you know, the kind hunters do, which involves getting up extremely early, wearing ridiculous outfits, and trudging around in the woods. But Monster Hunter: World lets me at least get a sense of the appeal. The long-running handheld series finally made the leap to PC this year – albeit after a bit of a delay – and it’s just glorious.
I’ve described it to friends as making a trip to Jurassic Park as the Zodiac Killer. Monster Hunter: World’s vibrant environments are home to some of the most impressive creatures I’ve seen in videogames, from the lowly Great Jagras to the demonic Nergigante. Early monsters are big, but they’re dwarfed by the apex predators you run into as you make your way through the game. They’ll fight with each other over territory, prey on smaller animals, and return to their dens – the effect is a startling sense of realism, as though these majestic creatures are truly stomping around in a forest.
But what sells Monster Hunter: World’s monsters even more is the fact that, after a first encounter with each species, most of them will stop noticing you. They follow their own routines and instincts, and barely register you as they barrel on by while you’re mining an ore formation, or picking up herbs to mix into potions back at camp. Combined with the fact that you enter this world without very much to go on, a rank neophyte in terms of weapons and skill, this can make you feel very small indeed.
Monster Hunter’s core loop is hunting and killing these beasts to create better gear, which you can use to take on even greater monsters. You can see these numbers tick up over the course of the game, but more than any other game I’ve played this year, Monster Hunter: World lets you feel your own innate skill developing.
As I’ve grown more comfortable with the Insect Glaive – a bladed staff with an accompanying bug that I use to tag monsters from afar and then fling myself into the air to land on their backs – I’ve found myself growing bolder, less intimidated by monsters that had put me to flight early on.
I’m more at home now in the lavishly detailed, multi-tiered environments as well. I’ve learned the trails and the local creatures’ habits. I know where the good spots are to find honey and herbs, where the most valuable ore locations are, and where helpers might appear to trigger traps or cause distractions. Monster Hunter: World lets me use that gained wisdom to help newer players, too – I can always check for SOS flares and join another player’s quest, giving aid to fellow hunters in trouble.
It has retained some of the fiddly idiosyncrasies of its forebears, but Monster Hunter: World is by a wide margin the easiest the series has ever been to pick up, play, and then keep playing – that last bit being the problem I’ve had in previous iterations. Nearly 100 hours in, I’ve still got countless quests and challenges to complete. As with previous Monster Hunters, World is remarkably generous – seasonal special events add new gear to craft and missions to complete, and Capcom has gradually added in new monsters like the hyper-aggressive Deviljho and the lion-like Lunastra since release.
Thinking back on my experiences with Monster Hunter: World this year, I’m reminded of something Hunter S. Thompson wrote about the ocean, in some 1980s column or other. “Civilization ends at the waterline,” he wrote. “Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.”