Thursday, August 30, 2018

Monster Hunter: World (PC) Review

Monster Hunter World isn't called Monster Hunter 5, but it's totally Monster Hunter 5. It's also kind of a reboot for the series. MHW feels like a game that takes into account the things most people ask themselves when they first play MH, such as “Why is the map an item taking space in my bag?” and “Why is the quest rewards window on a timer?”. MHW gets rid of a lot of the stupid stuff that has carried over from game to game for no good reason besides it being how it has always been done. A lot of things have changed, but at its core, this is still very much the same style of game.

For the uninitiated, Monster Hunter is a game about hunting monsters, of course. But seriously, Monster Hunter is a game about boss fights and loot. It’s about learning bosses’ attack patterns, preparing for fights, and reaping the rewards when you beat the bosses. Bosses don’t drop weapons and pieces of armor, like in Diablo or WoW, though. You get monster parts from carving their corpses, and then you craft your gear from those parts. This might sound gruesome, but there is very little gore in the game. The game has a light-hearted comedic style to it, and is no more violent than something like Zelda. There is a story tying everything together, but it is not much more than an excuse to lead you into new areas and introduce new monsters to kill.

Compared to Monster Hunter Generations, Monster Hunter World controls much more fluidly, but if you’re looking for a Monster Hunter game that controls as smoothly as Devil May Cry, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is still that kind of clunky, complex, animation priority heavy Monster Hunter. There have been a few key improvements that make the game feel much better to play, though. The biggest ones being the weapon sheathing and item using systems. You automatically sheathe your weapon when you start running now, so you can get away from a monster more quickly. You also don’t have to stop running to use an item anymore, so you don’t have to stand there and go through a long drinking animation and risk getting hit again. These might sound like small things, but they’re huge improvements and make the game play much better.

The biggest change to the game is in the hunting itself, though. In previous games, you had to carry paintballs around, run around an area to find the monsters, and throw the paintballs at the monsters to track them. Every zone was also separated by a loading screen, which could slow the game down a lot, depending on the system you were playing on. These were things some people defended as if the game wouldn’t be Monster Hunter if they changed them, but they’ve changed them, and the game is better for it. There are no paintballs in MHW. You don’t have to carry anything, craft anything, or throw anything at the monsters to track them. In MHW, you find monster footprints, hair, and scales, and track monsters by scent, like a dog. Their scents are visually represented by the scoutflies. The scoutflies are swarms of firefly looking bugs that lead you in the right direction, and even highlight gatherable items, like mushrooms, herbs, and more monster tracks. You gain experience tracking each monster as you collect more of their tracks, and eventually, you’ll automatically start tracking a monster without having to find their tracks. You can also put a pin on anything on the map, and have the scoutlies guide you to it. It doesn’t even have to be a monster. You can have them guide you to a mining node if you want.

Zone loading screens are completely gone in MHW. Monsters still run away into other zones, each zone is still numbered on the map, and monsters are still kind of tethered to one zone at a time, there just aren’t loading screens. Each level feels like a big open world, but it's really not much different from how it was in the old games, it's just bigger and faster. The core monster tracking and chasing game is still the same.

Monster Hunter World is also really good at slowly introducing you to the game's mechanics and explaining things through tutorials and tooltips. The amount of info thrown at you in the beginning of the game is pretty overwhelming, even for a MH veteran, but you can always go back and read all of these tutorials again, because the game saves them all for you. The game also keeps a detailed notebook full of monster weaknesses, weak points, and even loot tables. You can pull all of this stuff up any time you want, too. Tooltips on rare monster parts even tell you what you have to do to get them. There's a small Wiki's worth of information built right into the game.

Monster Hunter World introduces a ton of other improvements as well. You can now go to any area and freely explore, hunt, or farm herbs and mushrooms without taking some useless voucher turn-in quest. Crafting has been greatly simplified. You don't need recipe books, required materials have been reduced, and the game even gives you the option to automatically craft any item when you get the required materials. You only get one Palico and they don't have talent trees anymore. All you need to worry about is their gear. You have access to food and your bank at the starting camp in every map, so you can rebuff if you die, change your armor and weapon, and even store and restock items in the middle of a quest. You don't need to carry honey to make more Mega Potions anymore, just fast travel back to camp and restock. Did I mention you can fast travel? You can open up your map and travel to any campsite you've discovered. Items like the whetstone, bug net, BBQ spit, and fishing pole get their own dedicated inventory slots, and the whetstone has infinite uses. There are no mining picks, and you never put anything you carve from a monster in your bags, so you have a lot more free bag space now. It also makes it so you never have to discard an item to loot a monster part again. There's too many things for me to list here, but they all add up and make the game much more intuitive.

Multiplayer on PC has been pretty iffy so far. A patch that fixes some of the network issues has been released now, but online was a mess during the first week and a half after launch. It wasn’t just when playing multiplayer either. Since you have to make online sessions when you start a game, I would get huge lag spikes and disconnect messages, even when playing alone. It got to the point where I would just start the game in Steam’s offline mode to avoid these issues. There are still some problems, especially during peak hours, but the online is working much better now.

Monster Hunter World has some beautiful graphics, but it's the art direction that really makes them shine. Environments in MHW look natural and tell a story of their own. The way each zone blends into the next is seamless and makes sense. For example, the desert area has a river going through the Western part of the map. The river starts at a waterfall in the North, and ends in a muddy lake in the Southernmost section of the map, where the mudskipper monster, Yuratodus, hangs out. There's tall grass around the river, and cacti deep in the desert. The trails going from the river to the desert look like they were eroded by streams flowing down to the river, like maybe this area floods sometime during the year, or maybe the swamp covered more of the desert at one point.

The game looks great, but technically, it’s kind of a mess. Some issues have been alleviated with a recent patch, but others remain. The most noticeable issue is the low resolution textures. For whatever reason, the game doesn't load the high res textures, even though they are installed on your computer. Modders have gotten them to load with mods, so we know they’re there. There are also major issues with one of the Elder Dragons, Teostra, and the last map, Elder’s Recess. This map has a bunch of lava, smoke, heat wave effects, and a ton of shiny rocks all over the place. The game constantly stutters and hitches on this map. And to make matters worse, Teostra’s campaign fight takes place here, and it has a bunch of flamethrower and explosion attacks that make the framerate stutter even more. It’s literally a slideshow when it does its explosion attacks. There are no options to use less demanding particle effects, turn off depth of field, motion blur, or to the distracting vignetting effects, so you just have to deal with it, or start messing with mods.

Monster Hunter World has a wonderful orchestrated soundtrack full of new and remade songs. The new version of the main theme,”Proof of a Hero”, is especially awesome. I also really like the music in Rotten Vale as well, which strangely reminds me of Phoenix Wright music. MHW doesn't constantly play music, though. Outside of towns and cutscenes, music mostly plays during battles. The rest of the time, you hear the soundtrack of nature, and it sounds just as good as it looks. The sounds of footsteps on different types of surfaces, the howl of the wind blowing through different environments, buzzing insects, and flowing water all come together to create a beautiful ambient soundtrack. You can tell that a lot of attention has gone into making each environment sound as realistic as possible.

I was one of those worried about this game when it was first shown at E3 2017. I thought it looked like it was catering to people who wouldn't be interested in playing MH anyway, and long-time fans would turn on the game. Some of that did turn out to be true, but now that I have played the game, I wish they would have gone further. This game is still carrying a lot of useless baggage from the old games. My biggest issue is still the controls. Would it be so bad if MH controlled a bit more fluidly? There's still an overwhelming amount of items for crafting, items that do very similar things as others, and items with vague tooltips. You still end up looking ridiculous when mixing pieces of armor. There's still horrible Elder Dragon battles that are more about using cannons and turrets than they are about fighting like you do in the rest of the game, and there's still stupid egg carrying quests! There's still a lot of room for improvement.

There’s also the issue of the game serving up the same content over and over. For all the talk of the “New World”, there sure are a lot old monsters in MHW. Half of the new monsters don’t even feel new. The Great Jagras is very similar to a Royal Ludroth, Jyuratodus is just a muddy Plesioth, Radobaan is a bone covered Uragaan, and there’s still 4 versions of Rathalos/Rathian. The game gives you like 5 ways to get quests, but they’re all basically the same thing with different names. Halfway through the single player campaign, you start getting harder versions of the monsters you already killed, and your reward for beating the game is, you guessed it, even harder versions of the same monsters. There’s DLC monsters coming, but I’ve been following the PS4 version’s DLC releases, and they’ve been few and far between. This game needs an old world monster invasion expansion ASAP.

This game is far from perfect, but it is a lot of fun. I think it's the best MH game by far. All the improvements really add up to make a much better game. I don't want to play old MH anymore. I want MHW to be the template for the series going forward. A must play for all MH fans.