Sony’s E3 keynote wasn’t too big on major reveals, largely focusing on known quantities like God of War and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. There was one announcement, however, that really did shock me despite not even making it into our roundup of the event: Monster Hunter World, a new game coming next year for PS4, Xbox One, and later PC.
I don’t blame my colleague Chaim for omitting it — Monster Hunter has never quite broken through in the West, and its presence in Sony’s keynote probably left a lot of viewers nonplussed. But trust me, Monster Hunter World is huge news. Here’s why.
What is Monster Hunter?
Monster Hunter is an action-RPG series developed by Capcom. It started on the PS2, but really took off in Japan when Capcom developed the Monster Hunter Freedom games for PSP. The heart and soul of Monster Hunter is co-operative multiplayer in which players, yes, hunt monsters together, and the four-player local wireless play made the PSP games a legitimate phenomenon in Japan. Overall the Monster Hunter series has sold over 40 million units, mostly in its home country.
How is Monster Hunter World any different?
Well, where do you want to start? Judging by the trailer and brief press release, Monster Hunter World is the biggest overhaul yet for the series. It’s by far the most advanced on a technical level, and marks the first time that Capcom has developed a brand new Monster Hunter game for a system anywhere near this powerful — the original and 2 were on PS2 first, 3 came out on Wii, while 4 and Generations were developed for the 3DS. (I’m not counting the spin-off Monster Hunter Frontier MMOs.)
This doesn’t just mean that World is the prettiest Monster Hunter yet, although it undoubtedly is — it means that Capcom has been able to change major elements of how the game plays. World maps are no longer segmented, meaning you won’t come across any loading times when transitioning from one area to the next; Capcom says the environments feature a “living and breathing ecosystem” that can be used to your advantage.
But the biggest difference, at least in the trailer, comes down to style of play. The trailer sees a solo player making his way through a level and using stealthy techniques to locate a monster, climb on it, and take it down, which is about as far from the typical Monster Hunter approach as you can get. The game does feature multiplayer, but it’s using a new drop-in system where you head into the world yourself and can send out flares to signal to other players that you’d like them to join in. That’s a big change from previous games, where you had to form groups before deciding which quest to head out on, and it could help make Monster Hunter World a lot more accessible to a Western audience.
Wasn’t the next Monster Hunter meant to be on Nintendo Switch?
Monster Hunter XX, the expanded version of Monster Hunter X (known as Monster Hunter Generations in the US), just came out for 3DS in Japan and will hit Switch later this year. It’s unclear whether it will see release elsewhere; Monster Hunter World, on the other hand, is the first game in the series with a “simultaneous launch window.” In any case, it’s a major coup for Sony.
Why’s it such a big deal?
Monster Hunter isn’t quite the sales juggernaut it once was in Japan, but if World turns out well it could be a serious system seller in its home market. The PC and Xbox One versions aren’t coming to Japan at all, but neither platform has a big following in the country. Even the PS4 hasn’t performed too well locally, however — while Sony announced today that it’s sold over 60 million systems worldwide, fewer than five million of those have been in Japan. That said, it’s worth noting that Monster Hunter games have always sold better on portable consoles than home machines.
What if I don’t care about the fate of the PS4 in Japan?
Well, you should, because Japanese games are having a heck of a moment right now and that moment won’t last too long if no-one in Japan is buying consoles.
But even then, Monster Hunter World looks like the series’ best shot yet at Western success. The Monster Hunter series is famously beginner-unfriendly, with arcane menus that are only slightly more forgiving than the complex controls and deliberate, weighty combat system. If Capcom can refine these elements while preserving the game’s immense depth and addictive loop, Monster Hunter World could really be something special.
What if I already like Monster Hunter the way it is?
Bless you. I do too. Maybe the Japanese trailer for the game will reassure you — it’s more action-packed and shows a lot of combat that’s very much in keeping with prior entries in the series. But there’s no doubt that World is going to be a big change, and you might be better off holding out for XX eventually coming to the Switch in English if you want more traditional hunting action, not to mention local co-op play.
Many fans assumed that XX for Switch would be the precursor to an eventual Monster Hunter 5 for Nintendo’s new console, too, since the system’s hybrid play-anywhere design seems to be a perfect match for the series. World complicates the matter, however: it’s not clear whether or where this new direction will take off. It’s entirely possible that Capcom could consider it a spin-off and later proceed with a more conservative sequel on the Switch — or even the 3DS.
Whatever happens, Monster Hunter World is one of the most surprising and intriguing announcements yet to come out of E3 2017 for anyone familiar with the series. And that could soon apply to a whole lot more people around the world if what Capcom’s planning works out. We’ll bring you more coverage of Monster Hunter World later in the week; the game is due out globally in “early 2018.”