Monster Hunter is a series we've always wanted to like more than ever actually enjoyed. Its pattern of hunting monsters, then crafting their remains into stronger weapons and armour to tackle even tougher enemies creates something that's less gameplay loop and more weaponised grind – an endless power creep of gradually increasing numbers but no story, and no point.
Enter Monster Hunter World, the latest instalment in Capcom's fantasy RPG series, which redefines the entire franchise – for the better. There's now a stronger emphasis on story, at least enough for anyone similarly narratively obsessed to find a reason to get sucked into that gameplay loop. As a hunter in the Fifth Fleet expedition force, you're off to the New World to help uncover why the colossal Elder Dragons make regular migrations in that direction. Of course, disaster strikes when the terrifying, island-sized Zorah Magdaros attacks, shipwrecking you and leaving you to build up your hunting arsenal from scratch and help the nascent society of colonists survive in this unfamiliar territory. It's not a hugely intricate story, but it provides some structure to engage with. It's lengthy, too – playing through the main campaign will give you at least 35-40 hours entertainment.
Mechanically, it's still got everything series adherents love, but it's all far more accessible. Each weapon class – there are 14 to master, from slow but powerful hammers to speedy double blades and ranged tools such as lances or bows – offers an entirely different play experience, but the statistics governing their strengths, and the benefits of each upgrade, are far clearer. World is still a very numbers-heavy game, but you're not going to go cross-eyed from menu-diving to figure out the differences between weapons.
Monster Hunter World offers one of the most absorbing fantasy settings you'll see all year.
Even preparing for hunts by preparing and eating meals to earn buffs serves to better ground you in the setting, whilst foraging for ingredients is an optional side activity during the course of quests, not the direct subject of dull but mandatory missions. Other tweaks, such as making armour spheres – used to improve equipment – more readily available, serve to reduce the sense of relentless grinding.
The other big shift is moving to PS4 and Xbox One (and, later this year, PC). While not the first time the Monster Hunter series has appeared on a home console, it's always been more of a handheld presence – not surprising given the series' popularity in Japan, where players teaming up on their PSPs or 3DSes is a far more likely occurrence than in the west. The strong online services of Sony and Microsoft's platforms, along with the global launch, means you're now far more likely to find a group of players to team up with to take on the tougher beasts.
The leap to current gen consoles also makes for a game that's visually far richer than its predecessors. Environments are simply breathtaking, rich in detail and character, each area offering an entire ecosystem but adding up to an expansive whole that more than earns the "world" moniker. Meanwhile, the monsters you'll be hunting are a fascinating assortment of imaginative and terrifying zoological oddities. If you have a 4K set up and you're playing on PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, Monster Hunter World offers one of the most absorbing fantasy settings you'll see all year.
The visual punch carries through to the near limitless customisation options, both for your user-created avatar and your Palico assistant – adorable feline helpers who aid in quests. The level of detail you can go into, from fine facial detailing on your human character to fur patterns on your Palico, can eat up hours, and that's just at the creation stage. Once you start hunting down armour sets to match your personal aesthetic, the options are endless.
Monster Hunter World is by far Capcom's biggest push to make the series a mainstream hit in the West. With the care and attention it's been given here, it deserves to. A spectacular game.