There aren’t many games that can make me feel obligated to keep playing them, and even when I don’t like a game that I’ve (stupidly) bought the most expensive edition for, there is very little to stop me from just dropping it. Things like generic design and predatory practices all play a hand in making me lose interest or just stop playing out of frustration, but no game has annoyed me as much as Monster Hunter: World. Never before have I played a game with such blatantly bad design that I felt obligated to work through it to see if it ever improved. It’s a game that fails on various counts of fundamental game design and uses some poorly implemented ideas that make progression feel like a bloated chore. Now before I go on, I must state that I do enjoy Monster Hunter: World when it isn’t trying its hardest to stop me from using mechanics within the game.
Being my first Monster Hunter experience, I wasn’t expecting the game to be easy by any means. I was expecting a challenge and I relished the idea of something proving difficult enough for me to get stuck and have to really work to move forward. Getting that sense of pride and accomplishment (no, not the EA DICE kind) for overcoming a difficult challenge is something unparalleled in a lot of games and it’s something that Monster Hunter: World does for the most part, but not always for the right reasons. For the uninitiated, Monster Hunter: World is an action game where the goal is to find monsters to hunt and build better gear so that you can more easily hunt bigger and badder monsters. I’m sure there’s a story somewhere within the game as well but it’s so negligible that I found myself tuning out whenever there was any form of story exposition, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
Monster Hunter: World is a game that is very much designed for co-operative play. Speaking from experience, I find that it’s much more enjoyable when myself and a few friends jump on to slay douchebags like Nergigante and Diablos, and to this end it does a fantastic job. When you are slaying gigantic beast with your friends, defying all odds and just having a fun time, the game can be spectacular. Where the issue lies is engaging in co-operative play whilst you make your way through the story. Monster Hunter: World does this ridiculous thing where others are unable to join in one of your main hunts until you have encountered the target monster once and queued the cutscene as a result. Once you’ve done this, then people can join. Why the folks over at Capcom deemed this necessary is beyond me. I’d understand it for SOS flares (which are the game’s implementation of public matchmaking), but for co-operative play with your friend it’s just a hassle.
Once a friend joins in, the game scales the monster that you are facing but it doesn’t do it incrementally. Unlike games like Dark Souls or Destiny, which scale enemy health and density based on how many players there are, Monster Hunter: World has only singleplayer scaling and multiplayer scaling. There is no difference in the monster’s health scaling between two players and four players, which means that the game is almost discouraging playing with less than 4 players. Sure, when there are only two players you get to retain your Palicos (adorable feline friends which are basically my sole reason for playing the game), but the difference these make when compared to two other players is marginal. Unless you end up with particularly bad or lazy players from your SOS flare, having the extra two players will prove much more beneficial. Once a friend (or friends) have completely loaded in they will be left at a campsite which is usually quite a distance from the monster that you are hunting. This means that the player is forced to fight against an enemy scaled for four people by themselves until backup arrives, making an already tough fight temporarily more punishing for having called in help. Now there are some workarounds like losing the aggro of the given monster and fast traveling back to camp once you have found the monster or just by leaving the mission altogether, but these are band-aid fixes for issues that are just a result of poor game design. On top of this, when making your way through the story, there are missions that can only be done by yourself and these are fairly frequent until you have found every area. I have never seen a game work so hard at preventing players from using its own mechanics.
A dragon from outer space
From here on in we move in to very minor spoiler territory, so if you haven’t progressed very far through the game consider closing the page now. Once you have taken down Zorah Magdaros (which is one of the most boring and poorly designed fights in the game) you begin to move into what is known as “high rank” (HR). These are basically harder hunts and monsters which reward you with better materials that are required to make better gear. In essence this a great idea as it really feels like the game has removed the training wheels at this point, especially once you begin to make your way through the Elder Dragons. Where Monster Hunter: World fails is using menial and tedious design to artificially bloat progression and extend how long the whole game takes. You will encounter strange Rathian tracks and the game requires you to find a fairly substantial amount of tracks to find what created these unusual markings. Once again, this design is fine, in theory. In practice though, the game does this really silly thing where you can only find a small number clues about this monster per instance. This means you’re forced to repeat the same thing for a while until you hit a point where the game throws a random HR Anjanath your way as a means of impeding your progress towards finding this Rathian. Undoubtedly, this Anjanath was thrown in here to try and break the monotony of looking on the ground for four or five clues only to leave and come back over and over again. A better developer, however, would recognise this monotony and end it there rather than attempt to hide it with an unnecessary encounter and then go back to being tedious straight after. Now I will concede that completing other hunts and such will help with your progress through this point, but it doesn’t make this design any less poor. Games make an effort at extending play time through various means, but where most games try to be subtle about it, Monster Hunter: World doesn’t even try to hide it.
Take a look at Warframe, a game that is entirely grind, much like Monster Hunter. Where it differs though is the way that it paces its progression. Yes, there are story quests to make your way through, but getting gear requires you to engage in all of the various activities the game has to offer. Collecting different Warframes (basically classes) is essential when it comes to increasing in power and accessing different gear and getting the majority of these frames is relatively easy. Most of the game’s bosses will have a chance at dropping a blueprint for each of the required pieces that you need to make a new Warframe. These missions/bosses can be relatively short and the game doesn’t kid around when it comes to giving you something to work towards. If you don’t have horrible luck with RNG, you can get a new Warframe being built in the foundry in around 30-40 minutes, sometimes even faster. Compare this to Monster Hunter: World, where it can take much longer than 40 minutes to find a bloody dragon because you kept having to go in and out of the Wildspire Wastes.
This new Devil May Cry game rocks
Even on the technical front, Monster Hunter: World just misses the mark. Unless you play on the PS4 Pro or the Xbox One X, the game’s performance is just not up to scratch. I wouldn’t say that the game pushes any boundaries with its scale or visuals, either. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Battlefield 1 and even Assassin’s Creed Origins are more technically demanding than this game would be (though I’d need to wait for the PC version to find out for sure) yet it’s an outlier in its performance. I originally started the game (near launch) on my base PS4, I didn’t have a PS4 Pro until recently, and its joke of a framerate was the cause of a large amount of discomfort for me. Even though I prefer higher, I can deal with 30 frames per second, but Monster Hunter struggles to even hit that on the base console models. I remember walking through the first area of the game where making my way through the long grass would cause so many frame issues that I would begin to feel physically ill; not even Dark Souls or Bloodborne were able to do this. The performance on the Xbox One S wasn’t much better as dynamic resolution scaling was put into play here so not only was the framerate bad, but it was noticeably blurrier compared to the PS4. If it wasn’t for me getting a PS4 Pro, I probably would have left the game as good as dead on console and just waited for the PC version, assuming that Capcom don’t mess that up. It’s ridiculous that you can’t even get decent performance on (what should be) the industry standard hardware and it says a lot about Capcom’s development priorities for this game.
I am fully aware that the Monster Hunter IP has a serious cult following which will more than likely mean that I will be chastised and ridiculed for calling out what I consider to be major issues. I do recognise that there’s a lot to love about the Monster Hunter games. The challenge they offer, the scale of the fights and the slow but steady power climb offer what can be a fairly long and fulfilling experience, and the fact that the game relies on a solid mix of gear power and player skill means that having the best gear doesn’t diminish the challenge. It just seems to me that people are willing to ignore poor game design and terrible optimisation and instead try to silence anyone who believes things should be better now that the series has finally made its return to mainline consoles. Also, don’t get me started on Nergigante’s dive bomb hitbox; that shit is ridiculous.