2018 was a great year for Monster Hunter fans – two new titles, and more on the horizon! If the latest games in the series are on your radar but you’re unsure if you want to dive in head-first, you’ve come to the right place! We’re going to have a little look at what makes the series worth playing, where you should start, and what you can expect!
So, if it wasn’t already clear, Monster Hunter is a series about, well, hunting monsters. That’s it. There’s not much else to say about your motivation, or your ultimate goal, because that’s more or less all you’re going to be doing. Unfortunately just leaving it at that isn’t going to sell it to anyone, but what I can tell you is, in spite of how simple it sounds, Monster Hunter offers one of the most satisfying and deep experiences on the video game market.
You’ll spend most of your time out in the wild, exploring different environments, each with their own climates, chasing down and slaying monsters ranging from abnormally large Ants, to creatures the size of small mountain ranges. There’s an incredible amount of diversity in the genus of monsters you’ll encounter, and every single enemy has a unique ability to alarm you in a new way.
You’ve got 14 weapon types at your disposal, each with their own distinctive feel and upgrade paths. No matter your gameplay style, there’s a weapon for you. If you’re into fast, frantic melee attacks, you’ll love the Dual Blades. Prefer to strike from range? Try the Heavy Bowgun. You’re not limited to tying your character to a specific class or weapon type like in a lot of other games. Finding something that works for you, and customising your character is as important as how you fight a monster.
Every title has a single player story-mode attached, but, without sounding too cynical, they’re mostly irrelevant. Even World, which really pushed the single player campaign aspect of the game, was a bit of a run of the mill slog. The story is largely providing context for what you’re doing, and practically acts like flavour text. If you want a breakdown of most Monster Hunter stories (not to be confused with the spin-off RPG, Monster Hunter Stories), it goes something like – “there’s a giant monster attacking the village! Please defeat it!” on repeat for about 30-40 hours.
To be quite honest I’m not even sure if you ever stop unlocking content.
And, chances are, unless you define an ending for yourself, you’re not going to get one. These titles are all about gratifying gameplay loops, rewarding your time with flashy equipment and upgrades, all serving to make you a more efficient hunter. If you’re looking for something you can really sink your teeth into and constantly come back to month after month, this is probably going to be right up your street. It’s easy to lose yourself in the task of upgrading your weapons and armour by farming the parts of a familiar creature over and over, only realising how many hours it took after completing your set.
Every Monster Hunter title has a somewhat steep difficulty curve; every mission is effectively a boss battle. Back when Tri was released on the Wii, I found myself getting stressed because I felt like every loss was a major setback to my progress and confidence. In reality all you lose is the funds you paid to undertake the quest, and you probably gain more in knowledge than you ultimately lose. The more you fight any given monster, the more you build up a data bank of the enemies attack patterns and behaviours, how to avoid specific attacks, when to avoid rushing in, identifying attack animations. It might sound like a lot of effort chasing a single monster for 25 minutes but you can learn a lot about it in that amount of time, all building up to a rewarding climax.
With that said, Monster Hunter’s systems aren’t always transparent, and, at least to me, half the fun is in the research. I suppose you could argue that all information should be easily accessible in-game, and for the most part it’s at least available, but maybe not always presented in a manner that makes it apparent. The skill system can be confusing to newcomers, the upgrade system can seem slow, and gathering quests might feel tacked on, to the point where you’re googling why you’re stuck at a specific hunter rank.
It’s easy to start blaming the game, pointing the finger at your low rank equipment for not being strong enough for a fight you’ve attempted several times, and while it’s entirely possible that might be the case, you can in theory use relatively weak weapons to take down some of the strongest monsters – it’s not about what tools you have, but how you use them.
A lot of being successful relies on being prepared before you even enter the arena. Stocking up on healing potions, items to maintain your weapon’s sharpness, drinks that prevent you from being disadvantaged in the harsh environments, these are all just as important as knowing your weapon inside and out. There’s also a variety of offense items that can make your time fighting a monster significantly simpler just by knowing how to use them right.
In a sense, all this extra-curricular work helped define the backbone of the community - one of the most fantastic aspects of the game. Monster Hunter may appear intimidating, but there are thousands of people willing to help even the newest players make their first hunt a success. World brought in droves of new players, and part of what made the release so special was everyone learning the game together. The community is likely to have another resurgence of players booting up again when Iceborne – the latest expansion to World – releases later this year.
If you’re worried about difficulty, don’t be! Plenty of games have similar designs, and some of those are even more popular. If you’re a fan of games like Dark Souls or Diablo, you’re probably already used to some of the more intricate design systems and loops that Monster Hunter employs. In some ways you might even be at an advantage if you’ve come from an MMO background! Just remember, there’s a lot to learn, but what you get out of the experience is equal to what you’re putting in.
With that said, the games are an insane time sink. It’s easy to lose hours making what feels like very little progress, and grinding can sometimes feel be a bit of a chore. This might not be the series for you if you’re interested in storytelling and shorter gameplay experiences.
As for which title you should play – that’s a little trickier. While both of the latest games function more or less the same on a design level, there’s still levels of difference between the two, and even more choice if you go further back.
Future proofing yourself might be a good choice – the next Monster Hunter titles are almost certainly going to look and function like World, which might disappoint some veterans, but honestly it’s for the best. World took a fantastic concept and made it more accessible for new players, streamlining a lot of gameplay elements, and giving everything a beautifully detailed fresh coat of textured paint. If you’ve got one of the more powerful current-gen consoles, i.e. PS4 or Xbox One, this is almost certainly the version you’re going to want to play.
Generations Ultimate is a more classic experience, bringing together some of the series biggest and baddest usual suspects for an all-star cast of hunting action. One of the biggest differences between Generations and World is the inclusion of Hunter Styles and Arts. They more or less act like passive and active special abilities, which can dramatically alter the way you approach a fight. Personally, this is the title I’d recommend, especially if you have a Switch. Even though the series has been portable for a long time, the gameplay still feels tight and responsive in handheld mode, and the game looks pretty great (if a little dated) in docked mode.
Of course there’s a multitude of older titles to try out too, but your mileage with them may vary. Each increment in the franchise has refined the experience a little more, and although a large portion of the veteran community would probably say the best game in recent memory was Monster Hunter 4G/Ultimate, it’s probably not worth going back much further than that if you’re a new player. Some of the older PSP titles still have active communities, though you’ll have to do some searching around online to find them.
Just as an aside, you’re not going to miss anything or disadvantage yourself by not playing the older titles – the stories don’t carry on from each other, though helpfully the Generations titles act like an anniversary game, bringing the best bits of some of the older titles together for you to revel in.
I can’t really recommend the Monster Hunter series enough. For all their shortcomings, I’ve always gone back for more despite never feeling like I have time for long winded, open ended games. There’s something intrinsically special about the way the games handle, and how much control you have over the flow of your journey. All they ask for is a little patience, and you’re bound to lose yourself in the experience.