No matter how many times my coworker, a Monster Hunter veteran, explained what he loved about the franchise or showed me videos of expert players taking down monsters with style, it just seemed too complex for me. I couldn’t see myself enjoying the obtuse fight mechanics or nesting doll style of managing systems. I figured this would be a franchise I appreciated from the distance but would never need to devote any time to.
Even after trying the last beta before Monster Hunter: World‘s release and still feeling overwhelmed, I got caught up in the hype train (and the cute cat train) and decided to buy it. Watching my coworker stream the game for hours, I couldn’t resist how gorgeous the world was, how charming the monsters were, and–more convincing than anything–how awesome it was to see a hunt interrupted by another giant monster wandering in and joining the fray. Seeing the huge dragon, Rathalos, send the equally huge T-Rex Anjanath flying with an explosive fireball as it tried to take a bite of my coworker’s hunter had me shook. I had never seen creatures this huge and beautifully rendered fighting each other in real-time outside of the crazy clashes of angels and hair-demons that would occur only in the background of Bayonetta‘s boss fights.
So there I was, insect glaive in hand and making my way through the tutorial missions of Monster Hunter: World. Though I was warned the insect glaive wasn’t an ideal weapon for beginners, I loved the feeling of vaulting through the air, twirling my glaive in the hopes of landing a hit or two on the neon colored raptors called Jagras that would scurry underneath. The kind of verticality World offers through the glaive and the multi-layered environments sets the game apart from other action-RPGs like Bloodborne which also offers complex and rewarding weapon mechanics on a more horizontal basis. Leaping from the vine filled brush and crashing down on a monster on the forest floor feels very satisfying and looks cool as hell to boot.
Executing these moves takes familiarity with your weapon’s mechanics which requires time and patience. The first couple hours I spent in World (after the hour or so I spent in its delightfully thorough character creator) were spent in the training room just trying out the different weapons and seeing what felt right. If you take the time to read the in-game handbook which explains basic combos and mechanics, you can narrow down which weapon is best to start with. This probably means spending a lot of time in a training room before your first hunt even begins. Though the in-game notes helped a lot, they still don’t explain everything about how your weapons work, so I found myself texting back and forth with my coworker as he filled in the missing gaps. While there’s plenty of discourse in gaming journalism about the degree to which a game should “hold the player’s hand,” I wish the in-game notes could include even more details than they do. I do appreciate the opportunity to bond with my coworker as he explains the more nuanced aspects of the game.
Once I played through the first few quests, I found myself slowly acclimatizing to my glaive’s play style and getting better at positioning myself to best maintain the buffs the Kinsect (the insect that rides your glaive) yields as I vaulted through the air to land attacks. If that sounds complex, it is, but just like many a skill-dependent game, practice makes perfect and after ten hours I am far from perfect.
The beginning quests do a good job of easing you in even though you fight a large monster almost immediately. Luckily, a hunter never has to hunt alone, as you always have a bipedal cat helper called your Palico to distract when you need to heal, sometimes even throwing a healing item onto the field which you can use mid-fight. Though the game has a lot to learn and the monsters are fierce, there are little mechanics like this that make it more forgiving and manageable.
The last quest I completed as of writing this was my first hunt for Pukei-Pukei, a green chameleon-like wyvern that spits poison and swings its huge pink tongue around to bat you from afar. After hunting small fries like Jagras and medium fries like Great Jagras, I went into the hunt for Pukei-Pukei with some confidence from besting the smaller beasts, but still a bit nervous that the winged monster might get the better of me. When I found Pukei-Pukei by following my guiding Scoutflies as I discovered footprints and traces of poisonous mucus on the lush foliage, I crept up behind its bulging tail as it lumbered about, steeling myself for the ensuing battle. What followed would be a fight I will never forget as the moment the game clicked with me and I officially became hooked.
As Pukei-Pukei and I traded blows, I got progressively more into the rhythm of my glaive’s attacks and was able to line up my vaults in a way that let me rake the monster’s spine as I flew over its back. After landing, I’d immediately vault up again, this time assailing its wings. There were plenty of times it knocked my hunter flat on its back, but my Palico was always there to draw its attention as I got back up to chug a potion or antidote to cure the poison from its spit. After fifteen minutes of skirmishing, chasing it down when it would fly away to recover, and clashing again, I realized Pukei-Pukei and I were engaged in a kind of action-packed dance. The fights in Monster Hunter: World are long, but by the end you feel like you and the monster really know each other as you both fight to survive the day. Near the end of my fight, there was a cinematic moment where Pukei-Pukei and I leapt at each other, my glaive spinning and its wings flapping as we clawed each other midair before landing on opposite sides of the clearing like a scene straight out of an anime.
When I finally struck the killing blow, I whooped out loud and had enough sense amidst the adrenaline to hit the “Share” button on my controller and post the climactic end to Twitter. I’m sure my fight with Pukei-Pukei would be just another kill in the grind for veteran Monster Hunters, but I felt a genuine sense of pride in how well I grappled with the initially cumbersome controls and performed with what felt like the kind of style I would watch my coworker achieve. I immediately sent the video to that coworker and took part in one of the best parts of the Monster Hunter franchise, sharing stories of the hunt with a friend.
I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of all Monster Hunter: World has to offer and there are far bigger and crazier fights to come, but that fight with Pukei-Pukei was some of the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long time. My backlog of games is about to get even dustier because Monster Hunter: World has sunk its claws in deep.