Fittingly for a game that is the latest incarnation of a series with some years of pedigree, Monster Hunter: World has an old school feel in many ways, somewhat like a traditional MMO. But if you think an MMO isn't your style, then Monster Hunter could still be your thing.
Competition from a multitude of titles in the past decade has seen games not only struggle to gain players' attention, but also struggling to gain the footing in the daily or weekly routine of gamers that marks the truly successful from the others. The Monster Hunter franchise has a slight advantage in this respect, with the entire series being firmly entrenched in user-friendly item stats and a check list approach to quest design from its early days.
Firing up Monster Hunter: World reveals a graphical style that, while not groundbreaking, is totally acceptable. There are also three settings to choose from on PS4 Pro that allow you to optimise resolution, performance or detail. We're firmly of the view that gameplay still trumps aesthetics.
That said, while there is nothing wrong with the graphics as such, and the world itself is appealing and interesting, you will not be stopping to take screenshots, or trying to trick your family that you are watching a film. It feels as if not all of the studio's effort went into textures, which is totally fine if they're got the other things right. It is easy to get used to it, and you will not notice it a few hours into the game.
The game's environments are a standard sub set of locations - forests, deserts, frozen wastes, swamps and the like. There is little here in the way of innovation, but lots when it comes to attention to detail.
Monster Hunter's world is beautifully quirky, with interesting flora and fauna. It is not an open world, more of a series of set maps, but there is a distinct advantage in memorising your way around. It feels very old school and linear, yet it doesn't really impact the overall experience in any negative way.
The story could possibly get more Japanese, but only if it the audio was in Japanese, and subtitles were written using Katakana. It has everything you would expect from a distinctly Japanese game, even if I am stereotyping - in this case, in the most positive of ways.
It's a standard tale of young hero venturing out into the unknown wilderness in search of grinding spots and massive loot. The same story humanity itself has been retelling since the invention of fire.
This is not a console game. Not by any other measure apart from being able to purchase and run it on consoles. Of course the series has its roots deep in console soil, but to an MMO old hand, Monster Hunter: World feels more like an MMO in structure and by sheer volume of options and features.
There is a lot going on in the game. There are more admittedly grindy quests in the game than in the Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 combined. By level 7 I had something like 60 open quests, not that I felt great urgency to do them, instead focusing on the main quest line.
Gameplay on an input level is a pain in the neck initially, but improves as you get used to the eccentric command layout. There is a considerable learning curve involved, in particular for someone who is not a student of manuals or small print. Time is short, and instructions are for toddlers, right?
You are exposed to the bulk of the game after an intense info barrage at the start. There are enough weapons to suit a multitude of playstyles. Early experimentation with various weapons spices up the first couple of more combat focused hours considerably. When you are done with mastering one weapon, there are plenty of others that will change the way you play and how you beat each monster.
Each monster has a a set of moves to learn, and there is a clear sense of satisfaction in learning how to beat them, and turn them from a lethal foe to a monster you regularly farm for parts.
Crafting is totally interlinked with your hunting objectives, and whilst varied, it may take you some time to get all the ingredients, which nicely closes the loop and seems to be nicely balanced in terms of progression. Oh yes - you can't jump, as in, there is no jump button for you to skip and hop. One of my pet hates.
The game's online component clearly was not a priority for release. Matchmaking is essentially non-existent. I am yet to be matched with anyone for a quest, and there are a large number of people playing, meaning that at the time of writing, something must be broken.
A brilliant bit of functionality and the game's community come to the rescue. We learned quickly how SOS flares can significantly improve your day. They list your current quest on an SOS screen, and players have taken to dropping in to help with amazing efficiency. I am sure this will get improved, but in the meantime - make some in-game friends for regular squads.
I had some reservations after first picking up Monster Hunter: World. It looked dated, the commands were a pain, online matchmaking was a mess, and I was hit with a tsunami of information to get to grips with. For players looking to casually drop into a session - not a great start. And not a situation that encourages longer-term engagement.
If there ever was a candidate for a game to be rebuilt as an MMO, it's Monster Hunter: World. A few hours into the game though, I was gripped. Totally immersed, if not into the story, then definitely into the world. This game has a fair bit of complexity to it, even though it doesn't seem like it straight away, and will certainly keep you engaged for a while.
Monster Hunter: World is a solid 8/10, and this score would be higher if not for the somewhat dated looking graphics. If you are looking for a game designed to ease you into a daily routine with lots of replay value and mechanical depth, then look no further.