Monster Hunter: World's concept would sound brilliant in an elevator pitch. Hunt a large variety of unique, exciting monsters using a diverse arsenal of weapons in an action-packed combat system. To make it even better, add drop-in four player co-op so your friends can join the hunt.
Unfortunately, the execution falls short in most areas.
The biggest flaw lies in the combat. It isn’t fun. The main way of bashing monsters is melee combat, but it's imprecise and clunky. While some weapons have very interesting mechanics, the basic combat experience doesn't change. Every action triggers some sort of animation, and once it begins it can't be canceled nor can the character change direction. Practically, this means I often found myself swinging into the air after I activated a long, three second combo because the monster I was fighting moved away.
It becomes obvious early on that every feature in Monster Hunter: World comes with tedious busywork that adds complexity without making the game more fun. For melee weapons, this comes in the form of weapons that must be sharpened in the middle of combat to maintain their effectiveness. Of course, this begins a long animation that can't be canceled, leading to absurd situations like my character calmly sharpening her massive sword as a fire-breathing dinosaur charged straight at her. I couldn't do anything but mash every button on my controller to no effect.
Ranged combat isn't immune from the loss of control that melee combat suffers, but it's much less of a problem. There are two distinct choices for ranged weapons; two varieties of a steampunk crossbow called the bowgun (big and small), and a standard bow.
The bowguns have a much more interesting concept, but using them requires extensive inventory management in the form of unique ammunition. The interface is simply not designed to manage the sheer number of ammunition the bowguns can use. The practical effect is that the player must scroll through a massive list of ammunition (Sticky Ammo 1, Sticky Ammo 2, Slicing Ammo, Spread Ammo 1, Spread Ammo 2 …) right in the middle of combat. An alternative is to custom configure the faster but still problematic radial menu. The actual number varies depending on the model, but even the most basic bowguns use an absurd amount of ammunition types. Even if the interface were better designed, the resource management isn't balanced. I often ran out of useful ammunition (for example, Water Ammo to wash mud off of a monster so that I can actually damage it with my Spread Ammo) in the middle of the more drawn out fights. Resupplying would mean heading back to camp, and most of the time I couldn't find the will to do that, so I just kept firing at the monster with my less effective ammunition types.
I could prepare in advance by carrying the ingredients required to craft more ammo and do so automatically during the fight. But that would demand even more inventory management. There are twenty unique types of ammo, and including different levels of the same ammo, the total comes to thirty five possible ammo types in my inventory at once. What gameplay goal does this serve? What would be lost by switching to six or so types of special ammunition with an infinite, regenerating charge as a means of balancing the more powerful types? If the A-10 Thunderbolt (a ground attack aircraft) can only be equipped with one type of cannon, one type of rocket, two types of missiles, and five types of bombs why does a bowgun in Monster Hunter: World need twenty unique ammo types?
In contrast to the bowgun the simple bow works quite well. There are only a handful of arrow coatings to manage, and switching between them in the heat of combat is manageable. However, the bow's simple functionality has an unintentional side effect. Without the distractions of clunky melee combat or awful inventory management, the game becomes a mediocre but functional third person shooter.
Inventory management in general is an ever-present burden in Monster Hunter: World. The world is filled to bursting with items I'm meant to compulsively collect. Berries, sacs, plants, mushrooms, ores, fish, insects … the list of junk is endless and overwhelming. Helpfully, all this junk respawns within minutes of being collected and there's even an indicator on each item in the mini-map to show how long until it respawns. Clearly, I'm meant to do loops of the map collecting junk so that I can craft more advanced junk using the junk I collect. I played along at first to see where this kleptomania would lead, and after a typical hunt my inventory was filled with a bunch of things I didn't care about. I had no interest in sorting through any of it, so I would simply load my saved, pre-set loadout and effectively transfer all of it to the bottomless hoarder's paradise of my item box.
My favorite part of the game are the monsters. They look amazing, with fascinating, wild designs. They're all beautifully animated and full of personality. Sadly, once the visual differences are set aside, the monsters behave in more or less the same way. They all find different ways to achieve the same goal of taking control away from the player. Nearly every monster deploys a basic scream ability that causes nearby player characters to become unresponsive for a second or so, and most monsters have one or two similar abilities that they cycle through. Whether it’s from a Great Jagras rolling over onto its side like a barrel rolling downhill, or the Tziti-Ya-Ku’s ability to generate blinding light from its ears (I still don’t get it) the end result of any monster’s arsenal is the same; unresponsive controls. With some of the more egregious examples, I spent what felt like half the fight in a permanent state of staring at my character frozen in place. I'll never forget when a Legiana (a kind of ice dragon) took me from full health to death while my controls remained unresponsive the entire time thanks to a chain of stuns. Certainly, many of these situations are avoidable. But even ranged combat requires that the player stay close enough to still be affected by these abilities, while escape is often unpractical at melee range. The similarities don't end there, with each monster following the same loop.
Find the monster by following the glowing flies on the screen. Bash the monster. The monster runs away. Chase the monster. Bash the monster. The monster runs away. Chase the monster. Bash the monster. Monster dies. I assume the point of this is to allow me an opportunity to collect yet even more junk as I chase the monster across the map, as there's no way to prevent a monster from running away for longer than a few seconds.
Fortunately, Monster Hunter: World does one thing beautifully. The art direction is gorgeous. Even though I didn't like playing it very much, I enjoyed looking at it. Each area has a distinctive, unforgettable atmosphere and level design that ranges from interesting to labyrinthine. The game looks very good in motion as well, and there’s an obsessive attention to detail to every facet of the visuals. There’s even a great character creator, and although the tools aren’t the most detailed, the process is very enjoyable and I felt a sense of ownership over my character.
The sound is a bit more of a hit and miss. The sound engineering is great, with a setting for dynamic range in the audio settings and a great “3D audio” option that works much better than expected. However, the sound effects, monster sounds, and voice acting can be distractingly bad. The audio shortcomings paired with the a very limited selection of looping music tracks meant I often felt like muting the game in town and during some of the more tedious fights.
I’m disappointed in and unforgiving with Monster Hunter: World because it had so much potential. There’s clearly a lot of talent behind the game in every single department, and not many teams can put together a game like this. It really has it all except for the key element, which is gameplay. It's a shame to see all that hard work and talent wasted.
I hope one day I'll get to play a Monster Hunter that's fast, fluid, and most importantly exciting, rather than an exercise in clunky, tedious busywork.