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Monster Hunter World is the game that finally got me into the series

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After years of trying, this is the one

Monster Hunter World

For the last decade or so, I’ve looked to my friends in Japan with considerable envy. They would go off on grand adventures together, seeking out huge, wonderful creatures, which they’d then take down through the power of teamwork. These conflicts were epic in scale, and I’d often hear stories about how satisfying it was to hunt a massive dragon and succeed at just the last second, with your health almost entirely depleted.

I’m talking, of course, about Monster Hunter, an action role-playing game that’s been a hit in Japan since its debut in 2004, but has never managed to garner the same kind of audience globally. I can speak to this directly: I’ve tried to get into the series for years with little success. As a fan of both RPGs and monsters, Monster Hunter seems custom-designed for my interests. But previous attempts to get into it have always fallen flat for a myriad of reasons, including a glacial pace and an overwhelming array of systems that I could never get comfortable with.

But that’s all changed with Monster Hunter World.

The next big entry in the series, which debuts tomorrow on PS4 and Xbox One (a PC version launches later this year), is fundamentally the same as its predecessors. You, as a budding hunter, head out into the wilderness to complete quests that involve capturing or killing powerful monsters. Success means earning supplies and cash that you can use to make yourself even stronger with new weapons and armor, making it possible to take down even more daunting creatures. Rinse and repeat.

Monster Hunter World

It’s the same kind of feedback loop that makes other RPGs so compelling, and it’s bolstered by the sheer scale of the encounters; instead of quick battles, Monster Hunter quests are long, drawn-out encounters that force you to really understand your opponent. They can be exhausting, but in a good way. After all, taking down a fire-breathing dragon the size of a jet plane shouldn’t be easy.

The problem I had with past games in the series was just how much they demanded from you. The combat could be excruciatingly slow if you chose the wrong weapon, to the point that if you missed with a swing of your sword, it took several very long seconds before you could do anything else, which often meant you were open to an attack. The games also did a poor job of explaining their complexities, like building traps or crafting medicine, both integral parts of Monster Hunter strategy. As a result, going to the wilderness in Monster Hunter felt a lot like when I go exploring in real life: I was lost, confused, and scared for my safety.

With a few tweaks, Monster Hunter World has emboldened me to become the hunter I knew I was always destined to be. For one thing, the combat controls are better, with more feedback to let you know if an attack was successful. The encounters also feel slightly easier this time around, while still being tough enough to provide a good challenge. You still have to think about every attack, but it’s not so punishing when you mess up. It’s also quicker to access things like medicine and bait, and the game has proper, fully voiced tutorials that explain most of the basics in a way that’s easy to grasp. World still demands a lot of you, though, and 15 hours in, I’m still coming to grips with how much of the game works. I only recently learned you can trap monsters with a net, for instance. Prior to that, I’d been killing them all, which is much more time-consuming. (It also makes me feel incredibly guilty, thanks to the game’s lifelike animations.) But what World does is give you enough fundamentals to prepare you for its challenge. Building on that core with new skills and knowledge is then up to you.

Another issue I had with past games in the series was how rigid they felt. The worlds were divided into discrete sections, and it often felt like you were following a very specific path. This was primarily because Monster Hunter was on relatively underpowered hardware, like the portable PSP, but with World that’s no longer a problem. The lush, untamed island you’ll be exploring feels dynamic and real. It’s like there’s an actual ecosystem in place holding everything together. Peaceful animals wander in herds, and will stampede if a giant predator intrudes. You’ll come across creatures sleeping or feeding, while scavenger birds will descend upon the corpses of creatures you kill. It’s fun just observing the world and spotting all of the details. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into every aspect of Monster Hunter World’s setting, and how the various elements interact.

Monster Hunter World

One of the best parts of this is how truly epic it makes hunts feel. One of the first monsters I encountered in World was a raptor-like beast called a Kulu-Ya-Ku (see image above). What struck me was how smart it was. When the battle turned in my favor, it would run off and hide, usually finding small meals like a pig or an egg to eat and recuperate. At one point, it picked up a large boulder and wielded it like a weapon, bashing my hunter and throwing it at her to drive her away. This was no mindless fight. I had to keep my wits about me. And things only escalate from there as you take on bigger, smarter beasts.

This sense of dynamism and realism is especially apparent in how the animals interact with each other. Small families of herbivores will huddle together to ward off towering predators, and sometimes the very creature you’re hunting will get caught up in a battle with another terrifying monster. I’ve never experienced anything quite like hiding behind a tree while watching a gigantic, winged Anjanath contend with a wild, unpredictable Pukei-Pukei that loves to spew poison. These conflicts really drive home the scale of the world. Often, a creature that once seemed insurmountably powerful will turn out to be the prey of a new, even more dangerous monster you’re tasked with hunting.

What’s great about Monster Hunter World is that, despite all of these changes, it never gets away from the core of what made me so interested in the series in the first place. It’s exactly what I want: lots of monsters, and lots of ways to hunt them. But this time that experience has been smoothed over slightly, with just enough quality-of-life tweaks to make it approachable without damaging the fundamentals.

And now that the series finally supports modern online play with voice chat, I don’t have to be jealous of my friends anymore. We can hunt together.

Monster Hunter World is out tomorrow on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A PC version is expected to launch this fall.