Monster Hunter World - Beta Impressions

I think I played that Monster Hunter beta for about 20 hours. It’s three missions long, and it’ll probably take the average person about an hour, maybe two, to play through. On multiple levels, digging beneath the surface is what compelled me to keep playing.

The primary opinion I hear from friends of mine whose first Monster Hunter experiences were in the PS Plus beta is that it was a fun game, but it was also hard to understand. I completely agree. As a Monster Hunter vet, I still had a hard time wrapping my mind around most of the systems. Some of this is due to me not having touched the series since Monster Hunter Tri was a new game, almost ten years ago. Most of my confusion, though, came from how much they throw at you in the beginning of the beta.

You get a packed inventory filled with potions, traps, powders, bombs, ammo, nets, food, and other nonsense like mantles. Most of these items have helpful descriptions if you hover over them, but taking the time to read them isn’t exactly tempting, since each beta quest has a 20-minute time limit. Most new players are going to spend almost the full quest duration just trying to kill the hunt target, so stopping to figure out each and every item just feels like something the game doesn’t want you to do. If the final game sticks to tradition, most hunting quests will have a 50-minute timer and this won't be an issue.

I cleared the first hunt target, a Great Jagras, using a weapon I’d never tried before. It was obvious there was more to both the game and to using the feathered spear I’d selected, so I hit the Training Room, a practice area new to the series with this game. It’s a pretty bare-bones area, but it has what you need: a dummy, targets to hit, a grappling point to try out aerial attacks, and a chest to change equipment.

It was here that I started to see the depth of World’s combat. I played around with all the combos the game listed on screen, as well as the ones buried in the pause menu. I dallied with all the forms of my feathered spear weapon, until I started to understand what the purpose of the weapon was. It turned out, I’d been using the weapon the wrong way the entire time I hunted down that Great Jagras, so I decided to give it another shot, with my newfound knowledge.

I destroyed that thing. It took barely three minutes to kill it after the time I’d put into the Training Room. After having such a positive result, I decided to hit the Training Room again and try a new weapon. Ever since, the charge blade has been my weapon of choice. I played with that thing in training for maybe two hours before attempting a quest and still had no idea how it worked. Even after clearing the other two quests several times, it wasn't until I'd spent hours trying to kill a Rathalos (a dragon that you're clearly not supposed to fight with the gear the beta provides) that I finally started so get some proficiency my sword/axe thing.

The second quest takes place in a part-swamp, part-desert area. The target was harder to locate than the Jagras was, so this was where I was really forced to make use of the new scoutflies. Scoutflies are little glowing bugs that fly from object to object as you play the game, but they can also help you find targets as the name would imply. In the first quest, I simply followed the scoutflies until I found my target, not really paying attention to how they worked. In the second, however, I realized the scoutflies are actually learning about the target as you find tracks.

A footprint might simply say “??? Footprint” at first, but once you’ve inspected your first footprint, your scoutflies will learn to look for more of them. After finding a certain amount, their tracking ability will level up, and they’ll be able to lead you from print to print. Eventually, this reaches a point where they can find other information about the target and its location. For example, I once found a dead animal that was labeled as just an animal carcass at first. Once I’d leveled my scoutflies and returned to that area, they informed me that the animal had been killed by the monster I was tracking, which means it eats those creatures. From there, the scoutflies led me to an area where those guys hang out, and, sure enough, my target was there fighting them.

I’ve said on our podcast several times that Monster Hunter World seems like the game MH fans have always wanted Capcom to make. Figuring out how to use the scoutflies showed me that not only is World the game the series has always needed, but the developers have gone beyond just meeting those expectations.

The environments of the beta support that feeling, too. Monster Hunter games have always sent you out on quests to large areas, but those places were always separated by loading screens. In World, each quest area is one large, continuous zone. If that was the only change, it honestly wouldn’t have made much of a difference, but the scoutflies and the way monsters behave take it to that next level. Those aspects of the game make quest areas feel like realistic ecosystems. There’s a greater feeling of tracking a monster based on its tendencies, rather than simply running all over the map until your target shows up.

This first beta was an incredibly strong showing for Monster Hunter World. I can admit I had dangerously high expectations for it. This game needed to justify the transition from portable series to home consoles, while also maintaining what made the 3DS and PSP games so memorable. It was also tasked with functioning as an ambassador for the new players in the home console audience, drawn to World after seeing all these fantastic trailers. I feel like it checked all those boxes and then some.

I expected fantastic graphics, I knew the combat would be as good as ever, and I assumed all the weapon types would return. I could not have predicted how well-realized the game’s environments would be, how much deeper the combat options have become, or how complex, but also user-friendly, the scoutfly system turned out.

The 20-minute time limit makes the beta feel like it’s an old build from a gaming convention, rather than something intended to be played at home, and that’s incredibly frustrating. However, with enough exploration, there’s a ton to dig into, even if you’re digging 20 minutes at a time. Another open beta for Monster Hunter World is coming up, and it’s open to all PS4 users, with no PlayStation Plus requirement. It starts this Friday, December 22nd, at noon ET and ends at the same time on Tuesday, the 26th. From what I’ve heard, this beta will be identical to the last one. I strongly recommend giving it a shot (and spending time in the Training Room!) if you like awesome video games. It’s available to pre-load right now. 

I'll totally play it online with you if you ask.