Monster Hunter: World is exactly the bold evolution the series needed

The first time I accepted a quest to kill a Rathian in Monster Hunter: World—the iconic green dragon introduced in the first game back in 2002—I figured it'd be a walk in the park. After all, I'd killed hundreds of these. I'd carved the scales and claws from their cold corpses because nothing screams "I own you" quite like wearing the bones of your enemy into battle. I knew everything about the Rathian: what moves to dodge, when to press the attack, and when to back off and let it tire itself out.

For someone who has invested hundreds of hours across several Monster Hunter games, it's refreshing that I can still get my ass handed to me. And, oh boy, can Rathian still dish out an ass kicking. Such is the life in Monster Hunter: World, a multiplayer-optional action RPG that's as much about killing towering dinosaurs and wearing their skin as it is about having the self-control to not shout "you fucking asshole!" the moment Rathian KOs you for the second time with her deadly tail-flip.

Monster Hunter: World will be worth the wait. It's everything I love about the series but bigger and more beautiful.

But for veterans, Monster Hunter: World is so much more. This isn't just a reiteration of the same formula of hunting that I played on the excruciatingly low-res 3DS, but a complete reimagining that takes Monster Hunter to bold new frontiers while retaining the heart of what makes Monster Hunter so beloved. While it won't be out on PC until later this fall, I've played nearly 30 hours of the full PS4 version and can safely say Monster Hunter: World will be worth the wait. It's everything I love about the series but bigger and more beautiful.

Brave new world 

When it was first announced at E3 last year, I was optimistic but worried. It didn't take long to see that Monster Hunter: World was designed knowing that it'd be played by a whole audience that had never experienced the thrill of the hunt before. I wasn't alone in fearing that Monster Hunter: World would be a dumbed down version of a series I adored for its depth. Thankfully, that's not the case. Monster Hunter: World still feels and plays exactly like Monster Hunter should. But Capcom has leveraged the more powerful hardware of current-generation consoles to inject some much-need originality into Monster Hunter's more tired designs.

The main formula hasn't been touched. As a hunter, it's my job to take quests posted by the various members of the Fifth Fleet, a group of ecologists and warriors who have followed the elder dragon Zorah Magdaros across the sea to an uncharted continent hoping to study it. Some quests might require you to gather specific items out in the world, while others task you with hunting or capturing the deadly behemoths that hold dominion over each zone. Each hunt rewards you with crafting materials to forge suits of armor and weapons that adopt the personality of the monster they were carved from, giving you resistances to elements like fire or special powers like not being knocked back by gusts of wind from a wyverns wings.

Monster Hunter: World is complex, take it or leave it.

Despite clearly being designed for accessibility, new players will likely find World daunting at first. There's so many overlapping systems and minutiae that even as a veteran I felt confused sometimes. Adding to that frustration, managing inventory or even navigating the upgrade trees for weapons and armor can be unintuitive too. There's a ton of tutorials that attempt to walk you through the basics, but they only go so far. Monster Hunter: World is complex, take it or leave it. 

But in order to reap the benefits from these armor sets, you're going to have to get your hands dirty. Hunts are the lifeblood of World, and it's here that several smart innovations start to make a big difference. 

An early quest had me hunting Anjanath, a brutally aggressive tyrannosaurus rex-like dinosaur that could belch gouts of flame that would kill me in a single hit. In previous Monster Hunters, I'd have to start the quest by running around each zone just trying to find the damn thing, but World's Scout Flies are a wonderful new addition that eliminates this tedium. They essentially act as a homing beacon that helps you navigate World's dauntingly complex levels. Each time I find a sign of the Anjanath, like a footprint, the Scout Flies gain levels, leading me to more footprints or, if levelled up enough, directly to the Anjanath.

Even better, Scout Flies actively identify gathering points nearby, meaning I can focus on my objective instead of scouring each area to make sure I don't miss any valuable resources. Discovered gathering points, like beehives dripping with honey, are marked on my map so I can always set my Scout Flies to lead me back to it later.

Thankfully, if I do decide to grab that resource as I'm running through to find the Anjanath, World has made the process much less time consuming. Gone are the long gathering animations that play out each time you pick a herb or scoop up a Thunderbug. I can now zip by and grab them without stopping, which keeps the pace of World feeling tight.

Once I've found the Anjanath, that's when the real battle begins. If you've never seen Monster Hunter in action, it's a sight to behold—made even more stunning by the added fidelity of more powerful hardware. These beasts were threatening in their pixelated 3DS versions, but in full 1080p they're downright terrifying.

Each battle with World's 27-plus monsters is like a boxing match against a distinct opponent with its own set of weaknesses, moves, and personality. There's a rhythm to combat that will no doubt overwhelm new players who don't understand that, in reality, these fights are a battle of attrition. Knowing when to pause to drink a health potion or sharpen your weapon are crucially important, but each monster's behavior will require a different strategy.

Fortunately, new capes called Mantles give players some much-needed options out in the field. Zones in older Monster Hunter games were divided by short loading screens because of hardware limitations, but each of World's levels are seamless—you can't just pop over into a new zone to take a quick breather and sharpen your weapon because the monster will just immediately follow you. That's where the Ghillie suit mantle is of great use as it instantly makes you invisible to your foe, but only if you stay far enough away so that it can't smell you. That's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new gadgets. The wrist-mounted slinger lets me fire various projectiles I find in the field and my kitty-like Palico companion also has gadgets to heal and buff me as the fight goes on.

I love how much interactivity there is in each zone. Dangling vines and ledges offer ways to mount a monster to try and knock it over to deal out some serious damage. Certain flowers can be struck to release poisonous fluid or you can kick a Paratoad and release a cloud of paralyzing fumes to stop a charging monster dead in its tracks. Smart hunters can even trick monsters into devastating environmental traps, like forcing them to break a dam in the Ancient Forest that'll wash even the biggest beast away in the flood. 

That spectacle is nothing compared to when two monsters encounter each other in the wild. Before, monsters would largely ignore each other when prowling around but in World they'll frequently spar with each other in epic Godzilla-like clashes. I never get tired of watching Jyuratodus wrap itself around a Barroth and tear into its neck with its powerful jaws. 

It's moments like these that make Monster Hunter: World feel more alive than any other game in the series. Each environment, from the gorgeous Coral Highlands to the festering Rotten Vale, are teeming with packs of animals and insects that interact and respond to one another. I even love seeing tiny geckos scrambling across cave walls as I rush by.

The Nergigantes is an insanely tough wyvern to kill.

But for the Monster Hunter elite, this is all window dressing on a game that is fundamentally about kicking the shit out of giant dinosaurs with giant swords. World features 14 different weapons from basics like a sword and shield or bowgun to the outrageously-sized greatswords. Each style has its own combos and strategy that you'll have to master if you hope to tackle World's toughest monsters, but there's so much diversity it can be hard to choose.

This is undoubtedly where newcomers will struggle the most. A new training area and in-game hunter manual provide helpful tips for each weapon, but it can be hard to remember a specific combo when Nergigante is chewing on your face. Monster Hunter: World remains absolutely brutal in terms of difficulty—especially when fighting two of these large beasts at once. But those who approach hunts patiently and take time to prepare for each fight will find World supremely rewarding.

And if all else fails, just call some friends in. Monster Hunter: World features 16-player matchmade lobbies with automatic voice chat, making it easy to meet up with friends or strangers and head out on hunts as a group of four. While playing singleplayer is its own fun challenge, playing with a party is just as rewarding—and often twice as funny. It's easier to laugh off a poorly timed health potion when you're with some buds. Playing as a group, Monster Hunter: World feels like it succeeds where games like Destiny 2 and The Division failed.

As a big fan of this series, it's hard to not write another 2,000 words about my impressions from playing World so far. There's dozens of changes big and small that make World feel distinct from its predecessors. In a series that players frequently dump thousands of hours into, it's a great accomplishment that World makes me feel like I'm playing for the first time. If Capcom tailors the PC version to capitalize on those inherent strengths, I have no doubt that Monster Hunter: World will be a big success.