ZP reviews Monster Hunter World.
"A world of ancient beasts; great, savage, drooling creatures that normal men and women must find a way to work around if they ever hope to live in peace." But enough about the last time I visited my grandparents; let's talk about Monster Hunter World. Now, I've played Monster Hunter games before, but that was before I experienced my Dark Souls epiphany and realized I actually quite like games about banging my head against a wall for hours on end, because my face hasn't been terribly successful in the field of attractiveness, so I might as well see if it has any application in the construction industry.
So I was confident that I'm a little closer to "getting" Monster Hunter this time around, which, by all accounts, is kind of doing its own thing, gameplay-wise, but can be tentatively classified as a fantasy-exploration-crafting-RPG game with difficult boss fights, except instead of the boss fight being at the end of a level or a sequence of linear challenges, they just sort of spontaneously happen while you're wandering around looking for herbs that can fix your erectile dysfunction. Action-adventure? Yeah, let's just go with action-adventure.
The plot, such as it is, is thus: in a fantasy world where everyone dresses like they're trying to avoid having to check baggage at the airport by wearing everything they own, a fleet of hunters is on their way to a newly-discovered continent full of all kinds of wonderful new monsters to slaughter so that they can wear half the corpse and use the other half to kill all their mates. But, oh no! Just as we're making friends on the transport ship and about to exchange tips on what to do about incredibly strange tan lines, the ship runs into what the game persistently refers to as an "Elder Dragon", but which looks to me more like a giant lump of coal miner snot, or possibly Grimace from McDonald's after he fell into the restaurant grease trap.
The ship gets wrecked, and thus begins our epic quest to seek vengeance upon the Elder Dragon before it enacts its dastardly scheme to continue minding its own fucking business. Well, I guess we're not really seeking revenge, since this seems to have been one of those RPG shipwrecks that kill precisely no one. The story is instead focused around researching monsters and figuring out exactly why Elder Dragons are migrating to the New World; it'll probably turn out that they're trying to get their knob on with another Elder Dragon or, failing that, an appropriately-sized fatberg. So one thing you're just going to have to accept about Monster Hunter is that you're probably not going to be engaged with the plot, and at first, that was feeling like a deal-breaker for me, 'cos I consider myself a narrative gameplay specialist, and I just can't enjoy banging my head against a wall unless I know it's for some purpose I can relate to on some level, like maybe the wall killed our family, or we have a pressing urgent need to build an extension.
And while I've played quite a few games where researching and/or cataloging the enemy is part of the gameplay - some of my favorite games, even, like XCOM or Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow - it was always in pursuit of the larger goal, whereas the researching monsters aspect appears to be the only goal of Monster Hunter, and the only way we know how to research monsters is to hack them up with swords as part of a live impromptu dissection. I find it hard to be invested when the monsters don't seem to be starting shit with us, and the plot reason for every hunt and kill mission is pretty much the same: "Hey, this big monster's getting in the way of our 'research'! You'd better give it a damn good 'researching' so we can 'research' all its helpless children!" Be honest with me: are we a bunch of bastards? 'Cos this is starting to feel like the kind of thing a bunch of bastards might do.
Plot progression is less about the unfolding series of events and more about adding more shit to your to-do list. "Oh boy! We unlocked a new area where there's a monster made of Ready Salted Crisps! Guess I'm going to have to hunt them like fifteen times until I've got a sword made out of his dick and armor made out of his bum, because there's a lot of other monsters with a weakness for Ready Salted Crisps!"
After a while, I think the appeal of Monster Hunter was starting to click for me. It's not about the linear story it's got set up to put a vague, connecting thread through the world-expanding process; it's about the story you create for yourself: the wonderful adventure of Poo-Pants the custom character and their quest for the mythical ass-load of top-tier elemental weapons, the kind of story that's almost certainly going to end anticlimactically when you finally get that pair of level 20 Thunder-Knacker Clackers and have no more beasts to conquer, and are left only to wonder why you wasted so much of your recent life hanging around one giant scaly butt after another, chipping single-digit quantities of health off it like they were little more than a succession of refrigerators badly in need of defrosting.
Another thing that took a while to click was the combat, which is where the game happily throws you into the deep end by handing you a box full of fourteen different weapons with distinct attack styles, and when you look up from the box to ask when the tutorial's going to start, you realize Monster Hunter's already fucked off to go lovingly render some juicy steaks or something, and you've been left to figure it out for yourself. The game does offer a bit of advice; unfortunately, it is lies. I started out with the longsword, just because the game gave it three stars for "ease of use", but no shit was clicking the whole time I was using that fucking thing, unless you count the clicking of my shoulder joints every time I raise it up for a basic attack like I'm trying to raise the fucking flag at Iwo Jima. Eventually, I switched to the dual daggers, because it turns out being able to attack quickly is pretty important when the monsters all get understandably jumpy when you have expressed an intention to make bolas out of their bollocks and you need to be able to stop what you're doing at the merest hint of tail-whip and roly-poly the fuck out of dodge.
I think the main thing you need to know about Monster Hunter is that it just doesn't do quick gratification. You might notice that virtually every Optional Hunt mission is "kill one monster, and you have 50 minutes to do it", and that's not necessarily a generous time limit. This isn't some casual "punch the nasty thing 'til it stops getting up" affair; this is something you're going to be putting some fucking work into. Don't expect explosive action or heart-rending plot; this is a very specific kind of catharsis that you might be into if you've got a thing for admin, getting your head around a fucking database of crafting menus and stat charts so you can most efficiently plan precisely how you're going to torment a scaly bum for the next half-hour or so.
It's certainly not for everyone; the lack of player training, stodgy item-switching controls, and the slow process of nickel-and-diming agitated scaly bums to death can be frustrating, and it's hard to recommend a game that feels like coming to work at the lizard-buttock data entry department, but there can be satisfaction in work, and if you do get into it, the world of Monster Hunter is an oddly charming one. A surprising amount of effort was put into making your dinner look really tasty, which is partly the juicy glisten and sizzle and partly the sheer flamboyance with which our character animatedly scarfs it down. And hell, it never seems to stop being fun to watch; the last time I got that enthusiastic about sticking things in my mouth, I got done for lewd conduct.
- He's on the hunt he's after you: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Whatever happened to that lovely sunny smile Bowser used to have on these old NES sprites
- Now I've said 'monster' so many times the word's gone weird on me