About six months ago now, give or take, I started seeing some ads for Monster Hunter World and I thought it looked pretty exciting. Not just beautifully rendered, which it is, but that it might just finally be time to jump into the series. I also noticed that this was going to be a console exclusive for a time and I almost picked it up then. But I decided I'd rather wait for the PC release because I'd much rather have the options that come with a desktop version. Stick with me guys, this is a long one.
Quick Abbreviated History
Monster Hunter began it's life in Japan as a game to show of the then extremely powerful PlayStation 2. Popularity grew and many more titles were released over the years but none of them really saw success in the western market. That is until Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate came to North America with its 2010, 3DS release. With excitement for the franchise finally growing in US, Capcom decided it was worth pushing Monster Hunter a little harder.
Fast forward to January 26th 2018 and the global release of Monster Hunter World. For consoles only. Shortly thereafter the announcement came for a PC release of the game and that's when I decided I would wait and pick it up then, even if it meant waiting several more months.
This is my jumping on point for this series of games and I can't help but think it was the right place to start. I picked it up on release day, August 9th for PC and installed it with some level of excitement. I had after all been waiting for this for a while and I was doing my best to avoid the news and reviews about the console release so I could go into it fresh with no unreasonable expectations or spoilers to potentially mar my own initial opinion.
My First Steps in the New World
My character is part of the Fifth Fleet and the story starts with my trip to the New World on assignment for the Research Commission. My job is to help figure out why every decade there's an event called "the crossing", where huge elder dragons make the trip to this New World.
After getting the lay of the land at the research base and a small introductory quest I was sent on my first real assignment -to hunt a Great Jagras, a sort of huge iguana looking fellow that swallows other monsters whole and uses it's newly attained girth as a weapon. They spend their lives in a wild and beautiful place known to the Commission as the Ancient Forest, along with a few other species of large animal life. My handler told me to look for tracks and various signs of activity to follow in order to find the beast.
After following paths and game trails I stopped to gather materials I found along the way: honey and herbs for health potions and poison treatments and strange berries that I later found out could create ammunition for ranged weaponry. I climbed down a vine covered cliff side near a small waterfall and continued on stopping to chat with a researcher admiring the view to the island shore. He shared with me a story of his studies and asked if I could keep an eye out for anything that may help him. Knowing I only had so much time alotted to find my quarry I agreed to help and moved on.
Pushing my way through thick hanging roots of rain forest plants above and below I caught site of some movement ahead in a secluded hollow. I ducked to stay quiet and sneak in close and was quickly assailed by a pack of smaller Jagras. These guys, though visibly smaller than the Great Jagras, are still the size of jungle cats and they work in packs like wolves. At first I was able to shake them off and hide in a bush, but not for long. What followed was the fight of my life. The smaller animals were troublesome but mostly a nuisance, pouncing and knocking me off balance only to quickly scarper away. I was able to drop one or two before the rest fled for their lives. Finally the giant made it's move to stop me. It turned and lashed at me with it's tail in one blinding move. The hit sent me sprawling into the water. I scrambled to my feet, dazed and fumbled around enough to finally get my bearings. This was no joke. I steadied myself and held my shield at arms to defend another such attack.
Inching forward the huge reptile charged at me but my shield took the blow and managed to stay on my feet. This was my chance. I swung and connected strike after strike doing surprisingly little harm. Again the animal attacked, this time rearing up and swinging a taloned foreleg in my direction again knocking me back. I retaliated and we traded blows until we were both exhausted.
Eventually it scurried away and I was left to track the Great Jagras to it's new destination. I caught my breath, sharpened my charge blade and stowed it along with the shield on my back. My scout flies lead me to footprint after footprint in the muck and I was finally able to track it to an open field just in time to see it swallow a fully grown Aptonoth whole. The Jagras soon spotted me and charged with it's newly swollen gullet and confidence to match, thrashing about and attempting to crush me under it's immense weight. I managed to load my slinger with some stones I found on the ground and targeting the monster's engorged belly I let loose with a volley until it vomited up the entire weaponized meal. Afterward it stood breathless and stunned long enough for me to go back on the offensive. Once again after a few more sword swings hit their mark the Jagras fled. I followed quickly, all the way back to it's nest where I was able to ambush it and finally finish the fight. I couldn't help but feel that if this was the first of many fights, these monsters of the New World were not to be trifled with. I would earn my keep with the Commission.
It was an epic battle and though the controls are hard to learn and keep fluid, I found myself thoroughly invested in the brawl. All in all it took about 20 minutes to defeat and that was my first ever experience with a Monster Hunter title.
Environments and Monsters
It's worth noting that most of the monsters aren't generally aggressive. Some are downright docile. You can walk by them and they'll just ignore you unless you stand in their way too long, or attack them. But that's certainy not true of all of them. The Anjanath, for instance is pretty much always looking for a scrap with anyone or anything. If a Rathalos catches you in it's nest trying to gather materials, it will have an issue with that. And trust me when I say, neither of them are a fight you want early on.
The monsters all have routines in their daily lives. They patrol the areas they reside in searching for food and defend their territories from other monsters. After all that work they get thirsty so they'll go a water source and drink. They may get tired and head back to their nest for a nap. They're very animated creatures with personalities and habits. One could even argue that they aren't really monsters at all. They just seem like wildlife going about their day to day business like anyone else.
But it's not like the Research Commission is just having you go out and ruthlessly murder animal life either. At first I was bothered by the fact that it seemed that way. What harm were they really causing? I just got this uncomforatble feeling of human encroachment pushing back on native animal life in their own habitat. Like seeing someone on a local news broadcast where a bear had decided to take a dip in the family swimming pool. Assuredly, bears were there well before your home and pool were built. That kind of thing. But as you progress the NPC's are very keen to tell you that they respect the lives of the creatures you're hunting and that you should too. They are there to learn from them, not to blindly slaughter them. The coexistence of the human and monster populations is important for the survival of both and indeed the world they live in.
The New World is full of as much beauty as it is the sinister unknown. The Ancient Forest is a dense, green, wild and overgrown biome filled with streams and tunnels and huge scaleable roots and branches of enormous trees leading to the heights of the canopy. The Jagras and Great Jagras I mentioned above live here, as well as the Anjanath and more. They have their own territories and compete over them frequently. These turf wars are common in each area and give players something to awe at as well as get out of the way of. Being stuck in the middle of two or more titans duking it out can be bad for your day. It can also be used to your advantage.
The Wildspire Wastes are on the outskirts of the forest and consist of desert cliffs and a river delta that hides the huge fish wyvern, Jyuratodus. This thing resembles a giant coelacanth that usues it's muddy surroundings to it's advantage. There are caverns and of course the spires the place is named fore made by colonies of Carrier Ants that feed the Barroth monsters inhabiting the area. High bluffs reveal near limitless views to the horizon distorted by heat waves rising from the sands.
The Coral Highlands are a strange place to say the least. Huge structures rise potentially thousands of feet above a dense toxic looking fog below. Like an enormous reef that lost it's ocean hundreds of years prior but remained vibrant and alive. The highlands are home to Tzitzi-Ya-ku, a violet colored raptor with special photophores it can use like a powerful camera flash to blind prey and escape from becoming a meal for bigger predators. Here also resides the beautiful and deadly Legiana.
The Rotten Vale is home to some truly vile creatures and scenery. The Radobaan is a monster that covers itself in tar and bones to become nothing less than an armored tank capable of absorbing tons of damage and dishing out just as much. As such it's relatively uninterested in hunters since they seem to pose little threat to it. The Odogaron is so far the king of this place. Speed and raw power coupled with brutally efficient claws that cause heavy bleeding make this the most dangerous monster I've come across yet. The Girros are basically Komodo dragons with the ability to paralyze their prey for an easy meal. The Great Girros as their monarch and pack leader will call on the smaller beasts for support.
There are many more monsters for sure, something like thirty in all, a few of which I've yet to even see myself. Even a previously locked area that's not introduced until reaching the high rank quest lines. I've only just started the high rank play after the finishing of the main campaign story, so there could be lots more to experience. Some DLC monsters are expected down the line, hopefully with new areas to explore along side. We can also hope that these DLC bits won't cost us too much to own, but this being Capcom, I'm not holding my breath.
Combat and Controls
Immediately after I started playing I realized didn't like the character controller. I started off using my keyboard and mouse because, you know, PC port… Simply moving around was fine enough but aiming was, and still is, really bad with the mouse. Switching to the XBONE controller helped things a ton but it still took some getting used to.
The main issue seems to be that the options menu lacks any form of adjustment for mouse smoothing or acceleration. So I always felt I was overshooting my target when trying to position my character for a swing of the sword. The other issue is that some keys need to be used in combination with others in order to perform certain actions so combat and movement with the keyboard and mouse becomes a bit labor intensive. It's too bad because I'd rather use that set up than a game pad. But I do understand how hard it must be to transfer the controls from a game pad to a keyboard and mouse in a situation like this. There are fourteen types of weapons to use and upgrade and they all have different move sets and button combos. Plus they're all available from the start of the game. It just makes more sense to keep it game pad focused.
Even with the XBONE controller though things are difficult to learn. It takes a while to do anything you want to do. Not to mention sometimes depending on whether or not you've got your weapon drawn you may not be able to what you want at all. Everything you do takes full dedication meaning every action needs an animation to complete before another action can take place. So if you're in the middle of a fight and taking damage, you may want to drink a health potion. In order to do that you need to scroll though your action bar and have your potion selected, then you'll need to sheathe your weapon. That takes the full animation of the weapon being packed up and stowed. Then you'll need to activate your potion which takes another animation and your health will slowly fill until that animation is over. This bit can be interrupted by dodging or re-engaging combat if needed, but will waste the potion and give you potentially no effect. That has to be done in real time while there's likely a big angry dinosaur trying to step on you.
This applies to everything you do in the game. Attacks need to be made and completed before a new one can start. So if you start a combination attack, it will have to finish or be interrupted by the monster before you can commit to something else. That can get pretty obnoxious when the monster decides to run away and you're a third of the way through swinging your axe in circles unable to stop. Same goes for if your health is low and you're missing attacks that you can't stop, allowing the monster to quickly finish you off.
Targeting is also pretty hit or miss, pardon the pun. There are camera options to allow target locking but it's a soft lock at best. It only affects the direction in which you look, not necessarily the direction your weapon is aiming. Meaning you can miss pretty easily. And if you turn your character away from the camera lock, the camera simply unlocks.
I am glad that I decided to start playing the Monster Hunter franchise with this game and not earlier iterations. I've read about how much more difficult it is learning the previous titles. "That's just Monster Hunter", is a comment I see a lot and that information make this particular game seem to play itself.
When a Plan Comes Together
All this trial and error adds up to make the learning curve a little steep, if a bit frustrating. Stick with it though because things will come to light for you with practice and you'll be figuring out how to compensate and have a lot of fun with your play time.There's nothing like when things finally fall into place and you're able to time your weapon attacks with sliding under a monster to avoid snapping jaws and kicks from massive legs or swipes from tails and claws.
If you're able to get some high ground and leap onto a monster you can "mount" it and hold on for a wild ride. It'll try bucking around and scraping you off on a rock or tree so make sure to brace when you see the red vignette on the screen or you'll be tossed off. If that does happen and you're quick enough you can fire your grappling hook and attempt to get back on. While you're up there getting the teeth rattled out of your head just spam "attack" and chip away at it trying to knock it off balance. You can reposition yourself to attack different vulnerable areas as long as you've got enough stamina. Run out and you'll automatically fall off. Once you've got enough hits in you'll perform a special attack that's almost guaranteed to knock a monster down allowing you and maybe your friends to get some unguarded attacks landed.
Quest types vary. A few will have you simply slay a monster to remove a threat, while others will require you to capture the creature for study, rehabilitation and release back into the wild. Or to simply hunt a monster where both outcomes are acceptable.
Slaying is actually the easiest route. Though I admit to always feeling a little bad for doing that. As I said above, most of these creatures are just minding their own business and doing what they do when some asshole comes along and stabs them in the face. So I generally prefer to capture when possible, the rewards are usually better when you do that anyway. Let's look at mission types below.
I'll start with assigned missions as they're the first type you'll come across. Here you'll be tasked with a specific goal and given the lines you'll have to make sure to color inside of in order to be successful. Missions have built in fail states that can vary a bit depending on the information given. An example: Faint three times (be defeated), and you go home with nothing. Accidentally slay a monster you've been told to capture and you'll fail. Take longer than fifty minutes and the same can be said. Usually it's not a problem but I really don't like time constraints in games.
Luckily there's also the expedition type of mission. This is just you opening your world map and choosing to go somewhere. No time limits here but you won't be paid for your time out. You will however, have more opportunities to find new camp locations and scavenge for items you may need for crafting. And if you're into it you can pick up monster trails for research levels and pick a fight or two.
Optional missions are given by NPC's as side quests and contain constraints but will lead to good things so you want to do them. These include special hunts, captures and research quests along with arena fights for monsters you've captured before.
Investigations actually unlock while you're battling monsters. As the fights go on and you gain research levels and combat experience you'll be able to pick up repeatable missions to hunt or capture certain monsters. They can come with higher constraints and steeper time limits (I've been limited to 15 minutes), but provide extra rewards and can be the best way to get the rarest materials.
Bounties can be accepted for completion at any time and don't really count as missions themselves but more of an added level of reward during play. Generally these come from researchers in the field looking for something specific. The Piscine Researcher may ask you to catch a certain fish and record its location. Or someone else may want some items from the field delivered in order to upgrade a station at the research base.
What we get are lots of ways to explore a beautiful and primal world and a core game play loop that feels immensely satisfying. You can choose to play by yourself or with friends or random folks on the interwebs. I've played so far all by my lonesome and had no trouble. However, I've started playing at high rank now and that is where multiplayer is supposed to come more into its own. Luckily for those of you, like me, who don't really want to play multiplayer in a game like this, you don't have to. Speaking of "online", this is an always online title. That fact is usually less appealing because it brings up limitations and often the stewing anger that wells up when you lose connection and are kicked to the tittle screen in the middle of some epic battle or other. Not here. If your game stops talking to the server a simple message pops up that tells you what's happened and you'll continue uninterrupted in offline mode with the option to try and reconnect at the missions board when you get back to the research base. Yay!
I've got a good sixty five hours (probably more by the time this article gets posted), of solo time in now and almost sixty of that was the main story. If you do have a group of friends to play with and you bought this on Steam, lucky you, your primary group is automatically your primary monster hunting group. I'm sure I'll give multiplayer a shot at some point but as for now I'm perfectly happy just doing my own thing.
Sort of an Atypical RPG
Your hunter is just that, a hunter. They do not have innate abilities or skills. Instead you'll be counting on your gear to provide you with elemental resistances, attacks and affinities for those gear based skills. I'm using a charge blade which is a shield and sword that can be combined into a big two-handed axe. You can buy one from the quartermaster and upgrade it based on it's material type. You can make one from monster bones and upgrade it based on the same factors but the trees for each cover at least eight tiers of upgrades each covering different monster types and elemental factors. This goes for all weapons. And if you decide you don't like what your weapon is upgraded to you can downgrade to a previous version and try a different branch in the tree while receiving a full materials refund.
I currently have three types of weapons, one of poison, one of ice and one of fire. There are still paralysis, thunder and water upgrade trees to try. Not to mention just a plain striking weapon with no elemental charge at all. Some of these branches I haven't even developed in to yet as I've still not seen all the monsters at this point, so there are almost certainly more.
Armor is less flexible in that each set covers different elements to defend against as well as physical damage absorption. Every monster has an armor set attributed to it and hunting and capturing them will obtain you more materials and rewards to put towards building that set. Upgrades come in the form of armor spheres that increase the protective stats for each piece slightly when applied. The spheres themselves come in different tiers, each counting for a certain number of upgrade points. Higher tiers mean you'll need to use a lesser number of spheres in order to get an upgrade level. They are gained as event and quest rewards and are fairly easy to come across. Armor also comes in the form of low rank and high rank. The latter of which can't be obtained until the completion of the main story. It's worth noting here that hoarding crafting materials isn't necessary. They should be used when you want to use them because there are always more to be found.
NPC's are interesting enough but the dialogue translation is fairly literal so it comes off sounding very matter of fact and it can really feel like you're watching an anime or something. Nothing wrong with that of course but it's a specific feel. Your hunter is a voiceless idiot, plain and simple. There's no reason for that as you don't have dialogue options to go through and the story is linear. Yet when you're asked a question by your voiced NPC friends, you just get a stupid look on your face and nod or ignore them completely and they go on as if you've been a tactful conversationalist the whole time they've known you.
Your handler is an exhaustingly cheery helper who will cook your meals before you go on missions in order to temporarily increase your stats as well as help with quest updates in the field. But all they want to do is eat -always- and get into trouble. Your Palico however, a character I haven't even mentioned, is your sidekick and is extremely useful in every situation. Palicos are bipedal house cats that have pledged their service to hunters. They can learn to ride small monsters like steeds in battle and distract big ones while you're busy trying not to die. They have their own weapons and armor sets, they gain levels and proficiencies just like you do and they can even gather items that you may miss during expeditions and missions. On top of all that they can communicate with friendly Grimalkyne clans who will join your cause and help even more. At some point you'll even be able to send groups of Palicos on their own missions to scout ahead and gather items. The handler seems slightly jealous of the little fellas.
Performance on PC
Yeah we're finally here and this game is beautiful to look at. In fact I really wish there was photo mode or at least a way to hide the UI because there's a lot of UI on the screen. Anyway I don't need to jump off on a tangent, let's talk about what we're here for.
You've probably heard that Monster Hunter World is a real resource hog and it's hard to get it running smoothly at a constant 60 FPS. I feel like that's kind of true for those of you that have an aging system like mine. I'm using an FX8370, 8 Core CPU running at the stock 4ghz with 16GB of 1600mhz DDR 3 RAM and an R9-390X GPU with 8GB of DDR5 VRAM. An old IPC like mine though can still run this on the highest settings between 55 and 60 FPS at 1080p.
What I did adjust aside from audio, makes the difference. I turned off a setting called Volume Rendering and that gained me some frames with no visible changes in the visuals as I was aware. Turning off VSYNC helps take some load off the GPU as well. Just set a frame cap so you don't see screen tearing or scan lines. Especially if you don't have a Freesync or Gsync capable display. I also switched out temporal anti aliasing (TAA), for full screen anti aliasing (FXAA) and that was a drastic difference. Not only in how the game runs but also in how it looks. TAA is definitely better at reducing edge jaggedness but it can, and usually does, make things look really blurry. FXAA is slightly less good at smoothing those lines but keeps the overall sharpness so you can enjoy those beautifully rendered scenes and keep your frame count up at the same time.
There's also a lot of talk about how this title is very CPU intensive and that's the biggest cause of bad and inconsistent frame rates. I would argue that's not really true. Just looking at temps can give a good impression of that. My CPU is cooled by a Corsair H80i AIO and it keeps the temps between 36 and 41 degrees C over long play times. Even the GPU isn't getting super hot for an AMD card and staying in the range of 70 to 75 degrees C. Now it's worth noting that I am running this at 1080p so that could be different for those running higher resolutions but I feel like it's not really a CPU or GPU problem.
I think instead, Monster Hunter could use just a bit more optimisation to better the overall experience. We have to remember that this was primarily a console game until recently. So it was locked at 30 FPS. Even the system requirements on the Steam page are noted as tested for 30 FPS at 1080p on High settings. They don't even include a recommendation for highest settings, let alone to run at 60 FPS. Hopefully Capcom will bring out a good performance patch. I will say this though, the game is incredibly stable. I've never had a crash or hang of any kind. And as for load screens? They're quick and painless.
Sounds and Music
While the soundtrack is good and generally fits the theme, it's not really my thing most of the time. I do enjoy the combat scores quite a lot but what you hear at the Commission base is something like an adventurous pirate theme that doesn't quite seem to belong quite a bit of the time. Ambient noises are excellent with the wind blowing through trees. The water falls sound appropriately thunderous and you can hear them from a fair distance away. You'll hear birds communicating and bugs buzzing along with various other wildlife. In the deserts of the Wildspire Waste you'll even hear the sand moving when you're under ground, falling in piles like a great huge hourglass. Monster foot falls sound heavy and get louder as they come closer where you'll soon hear their breathing. In the Coral highlands the silt is made from broken and dead coral and the sound of player footsteps is reminiscent of snow. Weapon strikes land with sounds appropriate to their types and sound pretty convincing. The roaring of monsters and flapping of wings, the clicks of claws and snapping of huge jaws, it all makes for an excellent audio experience. I would suggest a good pair of 3D audio headphones to enjoy it's immersive environment. Here's a video I posted on the LP channel if you'd like to see and hear for yourself.
I've been playing Monster Hunter World now for well over sixty hours and there's still more to discover. I've yet to try multiplayer but I do want to jump into it a little even if I'm not generally the type who wants to play games with randos. Not everything is perfect for sure. I maintain that the character controller really needs work on all fronts. The menus aren't very player friendly and for some folks it could be tough getting a smooth frame rate. But I'm really loving the game play.
The monsters feel like living, breathing creatures with their own traits and routines. The areas they dwell in are beautifully built and though not huge by today's standards they are really intuitive and take advantage of vertical space as well the horizontal.
So, would I recommend Monster Hunter World? Yeah I would. I'm sure I haven't covered everything here but hopefully it's enough that it gives you some information about what I feel is a very good title. It's not an excellent PC port so maybe consider grabbing it on console or waiting a while for Capcom to hopefully release some performance patches. But yes I'd recommend playing this one. However you decide to play though, make sure you get the same version as your friends. There's no cross play between console and PC.
System Requirements for Monster Hunter World are as follows
- Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
- OS: WINDOWS® 7, 8, 8.1, 10 (64-bit required)
- Processor: Intel® Core™ i5-4460, 3.20GHz or AMD FX™-6300
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 760 or AMD Radeon™ R7 260x (VRAM 2GB)
- DirectX: Version 11
- Network: Broadband Internet connection
- Storage: 20 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectSound (DirectX® 9.0c)
- Additional Notes: 1080p/30fps when graphics settings are set to "Low"
- Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
- OS: WINDOWS® 7, 8, 8.1, 10 (64-bit required)
- Processor: Intel® Core™ i7 3770 3.4GHz or Intel® Core™ i3 8350 4GHz or AMD Ryzen™ 5 1500X
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 (VRAM 3GB) or AMD Radeon™ RX 570 (VRAM 4GB)
- DirectX: Version 11
- Network: Broadband Internet connection
- Storage: 20 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectSound (DirectX® 9.0c or better)
- Additional Notes: 1080p/30fps when graphics settings are set to "High"