My memory is a strange beast. If you want to know the lyrics of a song I heard in the background in 1986, I could probably tell you. If you want to know the plots of countless zero budget or weird movies, I’m your guy. Useless pieces of history or trivia only worthwhile in a pub setting, I’ve got you covered. When it comes to actual useful or practical information, however, my memory falls short. The only birthday I regularly remember is my sister’s (and yes, that includes my own). I forget dates, never realise it’s a public holiday until someone reminds me. Unfortunately my memory also made it so I could never really use the weapon that most interested me in Monster Hunter games – the Hunting Horn. Segue!
The Hunting Horn is both a solo weapon and a support weapon, capable of dishing out some hefty damage, but also capable of playing tunes that can give buffs to the party via songs. Rather than attacking, players can enter the Recital mode to play a three-note tune, followed by an encore if they wish. Alternately players can play tunes in battle by first cueing the notes with attacks and then playing them once the attack sequence is finished. Although there are only a few possible melodies, the only place they could be found was in the player’s tent in the hunter’s camp. If you have a memory like mine, trying to remember the correct combo in battle to play the right tune was next to impossible. No longer – in Monster Hunter World, the Hunting Horn has been revamped, with each button pressed showing the next possible button in a sequence appearing on screen, so unless you’re really not paying attention it’s difficult to screw up playing tunes. The overall damage and KO potential seems to have been upped as well.
The Hunting Horn is but one of the changes that have gone into the development of Monster Hunter World, but it’s a good indicator of how many of the changes really add to the quality of life, and make it, the sixth in the main series (discounting spin-offs and renamed or tweaked ports) probably the most approachable Monster Hunter game yet for new players.
For those unfamiliar with the Monster Hunter series, or who have never played before, think of Monster Hunter as an action RPG with survival and crafting elements, in which the player essentially takes the role of a bounty hunter, tracking down and killing specific monsters rather than villains, demons or the like. Rather than characters having skills, special abilities are tied to gear, with each of the dozen or so weapons having different attacks combos, effects and special abilities, upgradable with components harvested from dead monsters. There are also foods, potions, talismans and the like that can be crafted to give bonuses, as well as individual armour pieces that give different defences or movement abilities depending on what they are made from.
Each hunt essentially starts in the same fashion, with the player taking a quest, gearing up to meet the demands of the job and setting out to kill the offending beastie. Some quests come with strict time limits and a general knowledge of where you can find your quarry, while others are more determined affairs, with the player having to search for footprints, spoor or other signs of the beast’s presence, gathering enough to let your Scout Flies lead you to the location of the monster. In previous games it was always pretty easy to initially find the monster you were after, with it appearing in one of the many zones of the map. Moving from zone to zone required the game to load the next area, so the monsters were essentially static for the first phase of a battle, only changing location sometimes, requiring tracking after enough damage had been done to trigger the next phase of the fight.
This is not the case with Monster Hunter World. The map is one contiguous mass, full of twists, turns and multiple elevations, and the monsters roam about doing monstery things like eating smaller monsters, sleeping or leaving giant piles of crap around for anyone to step in. The new nature of the map and the agency of the monsters makes tracking and the use of scout flies a vital component of the new game. In the code we played the first quest had us tracking the Great Jagras, a huge cranky lizard hampered by an overfull gut. After leaving the hunter’s camp, the first thing we had to do was search for some signs of the Jagras’ passing. Without a set quarry, the scout flies, a cloud of yellow/green insects, highlight features in the immediate area that can be inspected, collected or interacted with. Footprints, remnants of past meals and the inevitable stinky result of having eaten must be inspected to get a handle on tracking the monster. Once the threshold has been reached, the scout flies head off in the general direction of the target, stopping at the edge of vision if the player stops.
Rather than chasing the Jagras right away I became a little sidetracked by the appearance of the giant Anjaneth, something like a furry T-Rex that can breathe fire. Thanks to some reflexes honed by too many hours playing Souls games, and judicious use of the Slinger, a slingshot all players are equipped with and capable of firing a number of different projectiles scavenged from the environment, I managed to do enough damage to cause the Anjaneth to flee. It’s only a small change, but in Monster Hunter World you can opt to see the damage you do to monsters with your strikes. They’re just small numbers flying off the beasts, but they give some valuable feedback and really let you know when you’re hitting hard. Unfortunately this is where things got a little muddled. While tracking the Anjanath I was KO’d by a random beastie (Monster Hunter characters don’t die, but are instead carried back to the Hunting Camp to recuperate), and due to the fact that I was officially hunting the Great Jagras but obsessed with killing the Anjanath, the scout flies were leading me to tracks for both beasts so I spent more time running in circles than homing in on either beast. Luckily, when you find enough tracks to trace a monster, it can appear on the map, showing both the monster’s current location and its movements.
Monster Hunter World feels really good. It’s accessible and streamlined without losing the nuance that has made the series so popular. At this stage there is still no set release date or window for Monster Hunter World to be released on PC, with the console versions expected in Q1 2018 and the PC version sometime after, but even with such a nebulous release date, we’re very excited to get our hands on final code. Maybe I’ll finally get to kill the Anjanath, carve it up and make something useful out of its bones.