A quick hands-on with Monster Hunter: World
At its core, Monster Hunter: World is the same slow and calculated experience that fans have long loved the series for. GameAxis was treated to a 15-minute hands-on at a closed-door presentation, featuring a demo build that’s been making the rounds at game shows. With the massive Switch Axe in tow, we set off after the hardy Barroth in the dunes of Wildspire Waste.
As only 15 minutes was on the clock, there wasn’t exactly time to pore through my hunter’s abilities and loadout. Keen to experience the full hunt, I obediently followed the tutorial and all-new Scout Flies to find the beast. There’s been some debate over the latter’s necessity but, seeing the scale of the map, I found myself thankful for the Flies’ existence. They are a nice compromise between blindly following arrows and going blind staring at the ground for clues – it’s just a brief glitter of lights trailing in a direction, leaving me free to collect resources or admire the world along the way.
It’s obvious by now but that world truly is beautiful, the distant mountain peaks and specks of foliage effortlessly rendered on a PS4 Pro. While the animations are distinctly familiar – and preferably so, since timing and attack projection are everything for this series – the environments are the stars of this graphical leap forward. Spying on other demo sessions, the mossy caves and dense forests were just as beautiful; a part of me dearly wished to have seen the weather effects and day-night cycle in action.
Just as important were the other, smaller monsters frolicking about. I’m pointing them out because on the handheld versions, I’ve always thought about their locations as spawn zones – this is where the Velociprey spawns, that is the zone with Popo. However, thanks to the unified map, longer draw distances, and higher model counts, I started thinking in terms of habitats and areas. Deserts, swamps, and hills were my new navigational vocabulary. Let’s not kid around: these are, objectively, still spawn zones. Yet Capcom have successfully crafted the illusion of a living, breathing world, and while it’s not quite Horizon Zero Dawn levels of visual grandiose it sure as hell leaves an impression.
After some time running, climbing, and sliding across the map we eventually catch sight of our Barroth. For those new to Monster Hunter, think of the famous ankylosaurus dinosaur: a low quadruped with bony armor plating running across its head and back, ending in a vicious clubbed tail. At this point I realized that hunting a Barroth with the Switch Axe was fundamentally silly – I needed a blunt weapon for that armor, not blades. “Ten minutes,” goes the notification reminder, so I sigh and attack the previously-docile creature.
Us Monster Hunter fans share a bizarre pride for how we tackle the controls on handheld versions, contorting our hands in arcane ways to aim the camera. It’s gotten better over the years, so I was curious what improvements having a full gamepad brings, ergonomic comfort aside. The lock-on feature returns and, while it does a serviceable job when chasing or avoiding the monster to use items, I suspect it may prove wanting during more aggressive melees and in tight, enclosed spaces. My fight with the Barroth didn’t leave me cursing or have my hunter swinging blindly at an off-screen target, which I take as a positive, but one hunt is by no means conclusive. Hopefully, my suspicions would be dispelled when the game releases.
Instead of the camera, I was coming to terms with the rest of the controls. Monster Hunter: World uses the triangle and circle buttons for its attacks instead of PlayStation’s more common square and triangle combination, whereas attempting to use the item quick menu often saw me wasting consumables I didn’t plan on using. That little confusion meant I went through the entire fight using only one health potion, a whetstone, and my mismatched Switch Axe, missing out on all the other items and tools at my disposal – I don’t expect to survive just as easily in the full game. Unless you live and breathe for Monster Hunter, expect some teething problems where controls are concerned.
Now, the Switch Axe was a joy to use. I’m a greatsword kind of person so finding my groove with it wasn’t too difficult, though it should be said that this is a much more flexible weapon. The default axe mode touts great reach and decent mobility, perfect for exchanging blows with the monster when it’s up and about. Once it’s staggered or toppled, however, transforming the axe to the slower sword mode lets you dish out incredible amounts of hurt via a stabbing, elementally-charged attack. It’s cool how you can switch modes mid-combo too, quickly adjusting to the situation. While I knew the weapon could be buffed using different phials, the quick menu confusion prevented me from doing so.
Being my first hands-on with Monster Hunter: World, and a brief one at that, I didn’t get to explore much of the environment nor how I could take advantage of it. The final phase of the Barroth fight has it retreating to the swamps to recover, which did appear to be a playground of possibilities. Unfortunately, with the five-minute notification already passed, I decided to stick by bread-and-butter combo attacks to take down the monster before time ran out.
In all, this was a welcome and timely reminder about Monster Hunter: World’s upcoming launch, which is now only two months away. 15 minutes is merely a scratch for a series known to consume dozens, if not hundreds, of hours – we haven’t forgotten multiplayer! – but I’m now utterly convinced of the living world that Capcom has been selling us since the game’s announcement. I expect to learn and discover plenty more once the 26 January 2018 release date rolls around.
Monster Hunter: World will be available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One; a PC version is set to release sometime afterwards.