TL;DR: Monster Hunter World is a great game, and it does so by managing to implement mechanics I normally hate in a satisfying way.
This will be a three part post. The first part details my history with games, and what I didn't like about MH:W at first. The second part is about what the game does well, and the third part is about what can be learned from both the games flaws and its successes.
So, my history in games is long, and I wrote it out at first but it was way too unnecessary, so the short version is, until recently I had kind of quit games, finding them no longer rewarding. But when my friend showed me Breath of the Wild, I got back into it, and the main reason for my current love of gaming is the development of my own taste, and understanding of what drives that taste. The word I’d use to summarize that taste is “tight”. I love games which hone in on what they want to be and perfect that.
Breath of the Wild is tightly designed around exploration and experimentation, which comes at the expense of the story – but that’s alright, the game is about your story, not a preset one.
Journey and Abzu use stunning visual storytelling and music pull you on an emotional journey that doesn’t need any obvious plot – it’s like a raw, uncooked story, story without the need to have it be explained. It comes at the expense of challenge, or complex characters, but the flowing feel of the gameplay is worth it.
In Uncharted 4, fast paced simple action, beautiful photorealistic art style, airtight level design, and well written characters and dialogue gave me the feeling of being in an action movie. You don’t have any choices to make, but that’s okay – I don’t complain when I go to the theater and don’t get to decide what Luke Skywalker does.
In Celeste, I discovered a love for challenge. The incredible music and art made dying not feel bad, and in most rooms death wasn’t that punishing, and in the rooms where it was punishing, I was fine with that – it always felt fair when you died, and you were always ready to try again.
And in probably my other favorite game of all time, Outer Wilds (not outer worlds), the absolutely mind blowing worldbuilding and mystery make for the ultimate dream of a video game – one where you use your own intellect to solve things, seemingly without help. While the game doesn’t have much in the way of mechanical challenge, that’s fine, it’s not what I’m looking for in that game.
And then came Monster Hunter World.
What I didn't Like about MH:W
So, for the first thing, the game has a really horrible start. The cutscenes are uninteresting, with bad lip syncing and uninspiring, unnamed characters. It looks beautiful, but I was just not a fan of anything. When you get your first chance to actually interact with anything, you’re an unarmed unwieldy character running around a volcano monster and kind of unsure what’s going on. Once you get past that, you have to walk through part of the map, again without a weapon, while waiting for an NPC. There’s a scripted scene where a monster attacks and you’re rescued, yada yada, boring. Once you finally get to do anything related to hunting monsters, it’s been like an hour. One thing I developed in terms of personal taste with games is that if a game doesn’t grab me within the first hour or so, I’m pretty much done with it. Harsh? Maybe. But every game I mentioned that I loved had me hooked in the first 10 minutes, and I don’t regret quitting the games I have.
You make choices early on without context. Once you actually fight, you’ve chosen your weapon with fairly little understanding or explanation of the weapons. Now, there are tutorials, and you do get a chance to test them out, but when there are 14 weapons, and each have super confusing combos and movements that are never explained… it’s tough. So I picked the one which looked the coolest! Gunlance, it’s a gun and a lance, what else could you want? Unfortunately, that weapon sometimes just stops working as a gun if you do its strong attack, which wasn’t explained to me. I had a bad time. I’m not sure what the game could have done to make this better, but it definitely turned me off.
When you’re in a fight, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it sucks. It’s a hard game. I was being tossed around by monsters, missing most of my attacks, never sure of how close I was to winning, and constantly getting stunned, killed, etc. The monsters will roar at times, which causes your character to stop doing whatever they’re doing and cover their ears, which is just annoying. The game can really feel unfair. To this day, I’ll die to some stunlock and just think “that was such bullshit”. But early on, I just wanted to scream. It never felt like something I did wrong, just like I was being bullied by a big fuckin lizard who wanted to scream at me all day.
The game also does very little to explain the insane number of mechanics available. By that I mean it does a LOT to explain it, which in turn makes nothing get through. When you’ve already spent an hour with cutscenes and boring movement tutorials, it’s really really annoying to have pop ups about things like, how to eat food, or how to do fishing, or how to do investigations. So I skipped them. I wanted to fight monsters, not learn to fish. I hate fishing in real life, why would I do it in a game?
And so while fishing isn’t that important – I still don’t bother, hundreds of hours into the game – eating food is. You can eat before every quest and it almost doubles your health and stamina. Not eating isn’t really an option.
And as for the bullshit deaths, a big part of that is when you’re going solo, the monster is trained directly on you. So while in a multiplayer fight, you get long moments to take a breath if need be while the monster targets someone else, in single player you don’t get that as much. And while you can fire an SOS flair and get a random player to help, more often than not it’s a much higher ranked player who comes in and wipes their ass with the monster in seconds. To be clear, people who do that are great, but I didn’t want to be carried through those fights, I wanted to learn. I could get carried through the entire game, but as soon as I didn’t have help I’d be fucked. So if you don’t have friends to play with, you don’t have that many easy ways to find help that won’t trivialize fights.
And finally, the grinding. Oh my god. I hate grinding. In this game it can be bad. Sometimes, you need one rare piece from a monster and will spend hours doing like a dozen fights with the same monster, each taking 20-30 minutes, and still not get the piece. It sucks. As mentioned before, I like games that are tight, and constantly doing something new. The only game I mentioned that is really in the same length category as Monster Hunter is Breath of the Wild, and I stopped playing the game when I felt like it wasn’t showing me anything new. Monster Hunter is the same gameplay loop the whole way: fight a new monster, lose, get better gear/learn the monster's moves, beat the monster, repeat.
So I quit.
And then, I mentioned the game offhandedly to a friend, and he mentioned that he’d always wanted to play. We live across the country from each other while I’m away for college, so it sounded like a good way to stay in touch. So we started playing.
And everything changed. He got me on the Insect Glaive, a much easier weapon for a beginner, and we started getting into things.
Why the Game Works
So, this game is definitely my favorite game of all time, tied with Outer Wilds, and there are a few reasons why.
1) It’s A Really Fucking Good Game
This is obviously quite vague, so I’ll explain.
The games design is excellent. What I mean specifically is that the core gameplay loop, centered around fighting monsters, is so well done, especially in contrast with other games with similar premises. I’ve heard it said that the game is just a ton of boss fights, and I think that’s accurate, but only in the sense that it’s a ton of what boss fights should be. Personally, I’ve never played a game with a satisfying boss fight. It either feels way too easy, or way too hard, and either way the actual fight is usually pretty boring. If it’s easy, I don’t have to pay attention, and if it’s hard, it’s never hard in the fun way, usually just in the “oh my god can we get this over with” way.
Monster hunter fights are exciting, dynamic, terrifying, and never easy, while never feeling oppressively hard. You get better at the game over time, but the major points of improvement are on a monster-to-monster basis, where in the course of a single fight you have to watch the monsters movements and learn their tells, learn when to strike, when to retreat, and when to go all out. This might seem basic, but it’s worth stressing that when a game is centered around one thing, that thing should be done really well. And Monster Hunter does fighting giant monsters really well. When a giant fire breathing T-Rex charges at you, you feel just as terrified as feels right for the situation. The monsters have an incredible presence to them which just adds to the incredible atmosphere.
2) Interesting Gameplay Options
On top of the design of the fights themselves, the players options are interesting and meaningful.
Each weapon has a ton of unique abilities and each fits their own niche. If you have even a modicum of experience with any weapon, no other weapon will feel similar. Even two weapons like the greatsword and hammer which fill the niche of slow, heavy weapons with massive damage from high risk combos which leave you open to attacks are incredibly different. Your choice of weapon is meaningful, and even within that weapon you can find a number of playstyles. I main the bow, and you can play it quick, darting around, dodging back and forth and launching volleys of arrows, or you can play it slower and charge up each shot for maximum damage from each attack. There are even more playstyles than that, the point is that you have a lot of options.
Armor is another layer – to play efficiently you’ll have to build your own set of armor, picking from hundreds of hats, shirts, gloves, pants, and shoes. These are the wrong terms for them, but I forget the medieval terms they use for the armor so I’m going with this. Each monster has a few different full sets that come from them, and you can mix and match pieces. I’ll have a legiana helmet, a rathalos chestplate, and so on. Each piece has its own mix of skills, and so if you just pick a random set (like I did early on) you might end up with a bunch of boosts to fire attack with a weapon that does ice damage. You spend a good amount of time in the forge, thinking carefully about which pieces of armor to farm for – because it can take a while. You don’t want to spend three hours fighting monsters to get armor that won’t work.
And the big thing is that at the end of the day, when you’ve chosen your weapon and built your armor set, it shows. There is a tangible feeling of strength that comes from a tightly designed build. It’s a rewarding game.
3) The Complexity is Justified
So, one of my complaints early on was the complexity. There are dozens of things that you can do besides going to monsters and killing them, and they’re all thrown at you at once. But over time, I’ve learned those mechanics, and they work. Eating meals is an important tool which helps significantly in hard fights. Farming plants and mushrooms gives you access to valuable materials. The crafting systems allow for even more options for gameplay besides the weapons – you can throw flash pods to blind monsters, lay down traps to hold them down for your strong combos, or toss literal shit at the monsters you don’t want to deal with at the moment and make them run away. The point is that, as I said, the core of the game is fighting monsters, and there is pretty much no aspect of the game that isn’t directly related to that. The game could probably communicate that better, but we’ll get to that later.
The biggest reason this is important, and the place this is the most well done, is the grinding. As mentioned, the core gameplay loop is fight, die, get better, repeat. Getting better happens in two ways – upgraded gear, and improved skill. How do you get both of those things? Grinding other monsters. My friend and I were struggling to beat a monster recently, so we went back to other monsters we wanted to harvest materials from, fought them for the new armor, and when we tried to beat the monster the next time we won, easily. I don’t know if it was the armor, or the skill – but the point is that at no point did we have to stop fighting monsters to get there.
In a lot of games, story games especially, you have to balance progression and grinding. If you just progress the story, you don’t get all the upgrades. If you just grind, you get stronger but don’t get anywhere in the story. An example of this is God of War (2018) – a game I really enjoyed. But there was a point when I was in the boat, and Atreus said something like “we can go to
4) The Social Aspect
This is the last big point, and it might be the most important. At least for me, it’s what got me hooked in the game. As I mentioned, it was my friend who got me to try the game again, after the horrible start. But honestly I’ve just had such a wonderful time progressing this game with my friend. We just get on a call, and play for hours, working together to advance together. We never outpace each other, because we agreed to only do new quests when we’re together. If one of us isn’t able to beat the new monster, the other one isn’t either. So we will always be able to play with each other without feeling like we’re doing boring fights to carry the other person.
It’s an excellent social experience, one which is based entirely on teamwork, where you help your friends farm for their gear and they help you farm for yours. You find weapons which complement each other, tactics that wouldn’t work solo, and learn things you wouldn’t otherwise. I can tell you that half the mechanics I would never have picked up alone, and neither would he. I wouldn’t have learned to eat if it weren’t for him, and he wouldn’t have picked up on the importance of skills if it weren’t for me.
You can play the game with randoms which isn’t horrible, but it’s never as fun as playing with a friend. I highly recommend getting someone you know to play with, it’s a whole new game.
Those are all the main points, but there’s a few small things I think are worth highlighting. First of all, the game is beautiful. This isn’t as much a small point as it is that I don’t have a lot to say. It’s a gorgeous game. It’s not as annoying to be absolutely wailed on by a flying blue bird shooting ice beams when the blue bird has an incredible visual design.
Another thing is the dearth of paid content. Yes, there are microtransactions, but they’re minor cosmetic things in the steam store that really don’t matter. It’s not like TF2 where there’s a culture around mocking people who don’t have fancy hats, or anything like that – I never feel like I’m hampered in aesthetically designing my character unless I pay money. This game would be a perfect game for microtransactions – all the grinding that happens in the game would make it easy to add an option to spend a few bucks and get a rare part. But one of the designers said something along the lines of “why would we allow people to pay not to play the game?”. If they did offer that option, it’d essentially be saying “we think this part of the game isn’t fun and is worth money not to play”.
The final thing is the music. It’s great. Full stop.
What Lessons Should Be Learned
Okay! So to finish this off, I want to go into what I think games should learn from Monster Hunter World.
So the first lesson is that you should always Start With Your Best Foot Forward. The core of the game is hunting monsters. It shouldn’t take an hour for me to fight a monster. Give the character a beginner weapon, sword and shield (a great weapon with a ton of complexity, but also one that’s very approachable), and put them into a fight with an easy monster, one which is coded to be slower and less deadly while still giving the same feeling to the beginner player. The story and the secondary mechanics, like eating, harvesting, etc., these can all come later. They’re not what the game is about. When I started the game, all I could think was “cmon let's fight the monsters”. That tone has followed me to this day, and like when I first booted up the game, any time a cutscene comes on I ignore it entirely. I’m here to fight monsters. Let me.
The second lesson is that Complex Mechanics Need to be EGG (Easy, Grounded, Gradual). When the tutorial for eating food pops up, it should explain it quickly and simply before going into details – it should feel easy. I need to know early on how and why I should be doing it. The explanation needs to detail why I should do it and how it connects to the core of the game – it should be grounded. And you should introduce them one at a time – they should be gradual.
The third lesson is that Difficulty Should Feel Justified. This is a place where the game both fails and succeeds. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of times when I’ll get killed and I will have no clue how – I was at full health, and then I’m dead. Often I’ll miss it because I was looking the other way, running to a different spot and the monster hit me from behind. The point is, the difficulty can feel… bad. But at the same time, I never truly feel like it’s bullshit, because at the end of the day I know this is how the game works, and I know that I’m fighting giant dinosaur dragons, of course they don’t play fair. And almost every monster has at some point killed me in a way that felt bullshit, and I’ve beaten them all so far. Whenever a monster gives me a hard time, I always know that with some time and some practice I’ll be able to walk all over them.
The times when it fails at this are with some of the side quests, especially some of the crossover ones. The Witcher 3 and Final Fantasy crossover quests are complete shit, and unfortunately they both provide access to some of the stronger items in the game. It’s a pretty annoying oversight that to get some gear that’s important to the endgame I have to do some quests multiple times that I honestly had no fun doing. It’s a hard line to walk, but the game gets it right… most of the time.
The fourth lesson is that Annoying Aspects Integrated Well Don’t Have to be Annoying. I hate grinding, I hate games where the enemies use attacks which just stop you from doing anything, I hate it when games throw a billion things at you and expect you to learn them all at once and don’t ever really mention those mechanics again. But the grinding in this game is tied to the core of the game, and so it works, and isn’t annoying. Grinding went from a mechanic which is there to kill time to an independently rewarding feature of the game.
I hate it when my character gets frozen in place with no way to fight back, and while that still happens a lot and is still annoying, the game does provide me with ways to deal with it. You can get armor skills which prevent those things from affecting you, and while they’re not optimal necessarily, just knowing that they’re available to me is somewhat of a comfort. It’s still annoying, but I also think it’s overall well done and shouldn’t be removed.
And I hate being overwhelmed by information. And that’s a thing the game fails at. It almost killed my enjoyment of the game, and would have done so if it weren’t for my friends' help. I think this is one of the most important lessons to be learned – your game could be absolutely incredible but still hemorrhage new players because they don’t know how to enjoy it. It’s weird to say, but I had to learn to love this game, and the game never taught me.
Alright, so that’s pretty much it. This game is absolutely amazing yet incredibly frustrating. It is full of millions of fairly small annoyances, that can compound into major issues. And yet, after pushing through the first hour with the help of a friend to keep me company and add a lot of fun to the game, none of those issues are enough to take this game down from being my favorite game. Like, this game is a solid 9, 9.5, and the only other game I’ve played which I would rank higher than an 8 is Outer Wilds, which I put at a 10. And I don’t say that lightly, when I say Outer Wilds is a 10 I legitimately believe it is a perfect game. But that’s besides the point.
Monster Hunter World is an incredible experience, one which goes against everything I thought my “taste” included. The story is shit, the open world is annoying to traverse, there is no emotional core, no interesting characters, and the challenge can feel really unfair at times. But at the end of the day, none of that can ever outweigh the amazing feeling of staring down a massive dragon as it shoots beams of ice at you, while you fire volleys at its face alongside a friend.
It’s a good game. Play it. And if anybody here wants some help with some of the early parts, let me know, I’ll show you the ropes. I’m not amazing, but I’m fairly proficient with the Bow, Sword and Shield, and Insect Glaive.
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