Monster Hunter World Is What The Series Needs

Jonathan Lightfoot looks at whether Monster Hunter World is what the series needs

I’ve been with Capcom’s Monster Hunter series from the beginning, when it was a bare-bones PS2 game that, at best, could be described as hit-and-miss. Even then there was a lot of what people love about the series now: the fantasy charm, extensive equipment trees and, most important of all, the massive and deadly beasts to hunt. What was the problem, then? Basically, it wasn’t that fun. Unless you were one of a dozen people who played their PS2 online, you were stuck hunting solo and Monster Hunter is all about the teamwork.

It was only when a superior version arrived in the form of Monster Hunter Freedom for the PSP that there was a proper, accessible multiplayer mode. This is when the series really took off for me, I must have played Monster Hunter Freedom and the later Monster Hunter Freedom Unite edition for hundreds of hours with friends. There’s a unique mix of terror and hilarity that’s only really present when playing as part of a team, this usually happens when you have a fire-breathing wyvern quickly heading your way.

Even by Capcom’s standards, Monster Hunter is a prolific series. After dominating sales charts in Japan with its PSP instalments, it did the same for the 3DS. When you look at the sales figures for the handheld versions in Capcom’s native Japan, it’s plain to see what a force of nature the franchise is there. Monster Hunter as a concept is one that thrives on the easy cooperative play that handheld consoles allow.

Since its lacklustre initial release on the PS2, the series has appeared only rarely on home consoles. It makes sense: online play only became prevalent with the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. By the time these consoles had launched, the series had already found a suitable home on handheld consoles. With Monster Hunter World soon set to launch for PS4, Xbox One and PC, the series may finally be about to receive the outstanding home console title it deserves.

Don’t get me wrong, I love portable Monster Hunter. Aside from a few niggling issues with the controls, particularly the constant lack of decent camera movement, the series is well-suited to the pick-up-and-play style of gaming associated with portables, especially if you have a few friends along for the ride. However, what I’ve really been hoping for all these years – and I say this as someone who isn’t particularly bothered about graphical quality – is a Monster Hunter game with all the power of a modern console behind it.

From Monster Hunter Freedom to the most recent 3DS titles, you’re going to get a fairly similar quality of presentation across the board. The landscapes are impressively detailed and the monsters are suitably terrifying: Rathalos and Rathian are the iconic, fire-breathing wyverns, Yian Kut-Ku is a cutesy if erratic little creature and Khezu is, well, whatever Khezu is supposed to be. They all looked their intended part, and I was happy with that.

But there was always part of me that wanted a little more. The series is all about the grand hunts, it has no time for sweeping RPG-style narratives. You take on a mission, find your target and enter into a gruelling battle for survival. The potential spectacle of that is diminished only by the restrictions of handheld technology. Imagine how Monster Hunter’s biggest, nastiest enemies are going to look on your high-spec laptop or console and HDTV setup.

There is a lot to be excited about in Monster Hunter World other than pretty graphics. The inclusion of a grappling hook device opens up tonnes of new potential for a series that was originally just about scrambling widely out of the path of a charging enemy and hoping to get a few safe whacks in. Better yet, with the support of a proper four-player online mode, Monster Hunter World is doing what the original PS2 game should have done all those years ago: bringing accessible team-based hunts to the comfort of your living room.

I’m usually the first to argue that graphics are rarely what make a game great, and I still believe that. Monster Hunter just so happens to be one series that really could benefit from all the detail that could possibly be added to the poison-spitting monster or electric-flinging unicorn (an old favourite of mine, the Kirin) as they trample your hunter until you’re sent back to base with nothing to show for your efforts but bruised pride.

I hope Monster Hunter maintains some kind of portable presence, because that’s where it was truly able to flourish. With Monster Hunter World, though, I think the series can finally make use of its vast potential.

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