As if it wasn't obvious enough from the stage upon which Capcom chose to introduce the newest Monster Hunter, this one's going to be a little different. Monster Hunter World, which opted out of the series' traditional Japanese debut to break cover during Sony's conference at this year's E3, is a hard play for the west, an attempt to win over an audience that the series has been wooing for a while now. Will it manage to do so? I'm not entirely convinced it can, but also I'm not entirely fussed - because either way, Monster Hunter World ushers in some very welcome changes for the series.
The first, quite obviously, is the platform itself, and some ten years after Satoru Iwata first announced Nintendo's remarkable coup in wrangling the series away from Sony with the Wii's Monster Hunter Tri there's something slightly strange about playing it on PlayStation hardware again, even if it is a homecoming of sorts. The past few years have seen Monster Hunter carve its way into the heart of the 3DS, and making the leap from the handheld Generations to World can be quite the eye-opener.
There was some confusion around the announcement about why this - ostensibly the fifth mainline entry in the series, with the directing team of 4 and 4 Ultimate returning after the compilation piece that was Generations - isn't carrying the number 5, but in truth the generational leap feels like it's worthy of more than a simple ticking over of a digit. The vistas are vast, complex and beautiful things (not that its predecessors were any slouch, as playing a scaled-up XX on the Switch attests), and the most profound improvement is how they're now all linked-up, no longer partitioned by loading screens.
If you're a newcomer to the series the idea of swooning over a seamless open world might seem cutely outdated, but such is the way with the strange traditions of Monster Hunter. World's biggest, boldest trick is doing away with all the curious baggage the series has acquired over the years, and some cuts will be welcomed more than others. There's now one path of progression, with the quests for single player and multiplayer, high rank and low rank now part of a single narrative thread rather than being part of what would often feel like two separate games. Drop-in/drop-out four player co-op is new, and players can summon help at any point by laying down a red flare wherever they may be.
It's certainly the most accessible Monster Hunter to date, and it's a lot more readable too. Slash away at a monster and you'll see the amount of damage you're dealing out with multicoloured numbers floating forth. Nothing you won't have seen before in Destiny or any MMO, of course, but in the world it can all feel like a big step into new territory for Monster Hunter. There's more, too; a Fable-esque golden trail leads you to your mark, and the act of tracking monsters by observing their tracks is now baked deeper into the hunting loop. Take a glug of a restorative potion, meanwhile, and you'll no longer be locked into that old triumphant animation that would render you vulnerable for whole seconds at a time.
It's an odd one, that last edit, the kind of thing that might sound plain dumb to outsiders but that's been around for so long it's become part of the series' fabric. Remove such eccentricities, as unnecessary as they might seem, and you risk stripping away some of Monster Hunter's character - which, for all its hard edges, has always been brilliantly, boisterously stupid at heart (and what's much more immediately problematic for me is that I've still yet to see the prance, that quintessential Monster Hunter emote, in all I've seen and played of World).
Rest assured, though, that this is still your Monster Hunter. I bumbled through the recent Tokyo Game Show demo, tracking a Barroth through Wildspire Waste, a vast desert where the occasional swampy plain bubbles up with its own surprises. Pushing through thickets of pink heather while stalking the prey, it's immediately obvious that Monster Hunter has never been prettier - seeing Capcom's exquisite art brought to life on a much bigger canvas can be a real thrill.
And, once the long sword is drawn and battle commences, it's clear that Monster Hunter has never been more dynamic than this before, either. There's a warm familiarity to be found in the combo strings - which have, I'm told, all seen various amendments and improvements - and to the dance that ensues, the blade bouncing off the bony bastard's exterior as the fight begins to sprawl out across the map. There are some neat twists that World introduces - at one point I'm pushed back into a pile of the Barroth's bum-slurry until I'm slick with its mess. Impressive stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.
The demo's show-stopping moment, however, sees a Jyuratodus - an all-new monster being introduced in World - joining the fray as the fight infringes on its territory, the wyvern winding its way around the Barroth and bringing it down. It speaks to the more intricate ecosystems that Monster Hunter World introduces, where your actions are a small part of a much bigger picture and where there's much more capacity for surprise than ever before.
It speaks to a Monster Hunter that's looking more exciting, complete and accessible than anything that's gone before, and even if some of that old character might be lost in these early demos a lot more's been gained in its place. I'd be surprised if it isn't one of the highlights of 2018, and if there's any justice in the world it'll find the mass audience that Monster Hunter has always deserved.
Within the halls of the Makuhari Messe there's the same buzz that accompanies every new instalment in the series, with the day's tickets for the demo all gone within an hour of the doors opening every morning. Over in Birmingham at EGX, meanwhile, the reception to a demo that sat in an unassuming corner of the PlayStation booth was reportedly a lot more muted - and you certainly didn't have to queue quite so long to get a look at Monster Hunter World. This is looking very much like being the best Monster Hunter yet, but Capcom's clearly got a little more work on its hands to make this one stick.
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