The Monster Hunter franchise has been around for a while, and it’s particularly popular in Japan. But, quite frankly, the series has always struck me as something of an acquired taste: sorta like getting to the point where you can enjoy sushi or, uh, acupuncture.
Past games in this open-world RPG battling-and-crafting series have rightly earned the reputation for being overly complicated and unnecessarily dense. But the gamemakers at Capcom have promised that Monster Hunter: World—which hit major consoles earlier this year and has just been released for PC—will be a much more accessible beast.
So, let’s see if this is the kind of roaring, gaming behemoth you might want to grab an oversized sword for.
If you’ve never had the fortitude to wade into a Monster Hunter game before, you should know right up front that the latest installment offers an enormous, well-crafted, visually beautiful gaming world—particularly in its PC variant. Gamers venture out to explore 12 huge fantasy-world zones, each with its own colorful and unique ecosystem. There, players face off against massive, roaring monsters; find loot-filled treasures; and gather the necessary ingredients to craft all the weapons, potions and other items that a steely-eyed hunter might need.
As the game’s title suggests, the action here centers on you, an agile dinobuster who can scamper up the spiny back of a mountain-sized creature while packing a sword that’s half-again as tall as you are. You customize your male or female avatar with a robust character creator. And though he or she never utters a word, characters certainly look like they’d have something interesting to say if they ever took the time to stop swinging their weapons.
The story itself focuses on the Zorah Magdaros, a magma-encrusted beastie the size of a small city that treads destructively on four gigantic, ever-churning legs. It seems that the so-called “Elder Dragons” like this lumbering creature are mysteriously migrating to the New World—the very place you and your fellow hunters are traveling to—and it’s up to you to find out why. But securing that vital, world-saving information will require that you fulfill scores of quests and slaughter a huge menagerie of the biggest and nastiest looking dinosaur-like creatures you can imagine.
And the word slaughter is the correct one, too. Not because the killing is particularly bloody, but because after you best any given beastie, you’ll need to cut into it and scavenge its hide, bones, membranes, scales, quills, horns and other bits from the carcass. Why? It’s all stuff you’ll need for your upgrading and crafting purposes.
Again, none of this is graphically gory; there’s really very little mess splashing about except for a few monster grave sites that feature some bloody bones and goop. But the squelchy sounds accompanying the material-reaping stage can definitely be off-putting.
As for the frenetic battles themselves, they can be a bit grinding and off-putting, too. Every creature you fight is essentially the equivalent of a boss, and battles can take 20 minutes or more to win. Depending on the rampaging, roaring monster at hand, there are a variety of swords, lances and bows to choose from—each with its own buffs, affinities and elemental advantages. Your weapon of choice alone will change the way you approach your foe.
As you may have sensed, this is where this game starts showing its complicated side. It initially seems to have a lighter tone, with all its manga-like story sensibilities and big-eyed, cat-character sidekicks. But this is not a casual crunch-a-button contest. And while Monster Hunter: World does go out of its way to explain how some things work here, so many of the in-game systems and layers of gameplay choices are left for players to figure out on their own. And that can amount to a confusing six or seven initial hours of play.
Parents may wonder whether this T-rated game is peppered with content such as characters drinking, wearing revealing clothing or swearing (the answers are yes, no and no, respectively), but the biggest problem for young players may be how tough this game is. Even though it’s supposedly more accessible than past entries in this franchise, World can still be a frustrating experience nonetheless for gamers of any age. Which isn’t such a great selling point.
Once you do spend the time required to really learn how everything works and put it all into practice, however, these unique monster-mashing quests can also be challengingly fun. And after that breakthrough, the game will open up the possibility for hundreds of hours of play.
Of course, having the kids slash and hack at ginormous dragons for weeks and weeks on end may not encourage discerning moms and dads to run out and buy this game, either.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.