I'm not sure there's a video game series I've wanted to like more than Capcom's Monster Hunter. The cult favorite action-RPG franchise sounds like a dream to me on paper: slick swordplay, huge monsters to take down, co-op action and a whole bunch of Capcom fan service.
But since the series mostly exists on the Nintendo 3DS these days, I've simply found the controls too clunky -- and the visuals too shoddy -- for me to get fully engrossed. The upcoming Monster Hunter World, which finally brings the action to PS4, Xbox One and PC next year, looks like it will change all of that for me.
I got a behind-closed-doors demo of the upcoming monster slaying adventure, which was one of the surprise announcements of Sony's E3 showcase, and I'm officially hungry for more.
The presentation I saw tasked the player with taking down a towering, T-Rex-like beast, in a battle that spanned an entire jungle over the course of an exhilarating 25 minutes. I was immediately taken aback by just how good Monster Hunter looks on a modern console -- the game's lush environments and smooth animations were gorgeous and cinematic in a way that the 3DS simply didn't allow for.
Capcom describes Monster Hunter World as having a "living, breathing ecosystem," and it's not kidding. You won't just have to worry about your main target during a mission, you'll also have to factor in the various wildlife who might want to kill both you and the monster you're hunting, as well as a dynamic day-night cycle that changes your visibility on the fly. As a result, Capcom says, no two playthroughs of the same quest will be exactly alike.
The mission started with the player going about things tactically, sneaking past smaller monsters and gathering resources. They eventually arrived to the main beast, who was asleep in a small cave. The player was smart enough not to start a fight with a huge monster in a tight space, so they prodded at the beast and eventually lured it out into the open. Here's where the real action began, and where I realized just how dynamic and strategic Monster Hunter World's combat could be.
The new Monster Hunter is filled with destructible environments, meaning you can break through weak walls to get away from danger or knock out your enemy by destroying chunks of land above their head. You can still mount the game's huge monsters to do direct damage, except now you can leap between different parts of their body to avoid being thrown off like a ragdoll.
We also saw the player don various outfits to turn the tide of battle, alternating between a "Champions Mantle" that lured the beast towards him and a ghillie suit that served as camouflage. Other beasts in the world eventually got involved, culminating in an epic showdown between the main beast and a flying, fire-breathing dragon.
It was completely nuts, and looked like something out of a Godzilla movie. Thanks to a mix of sword slashes, gun blasts, stun bombs, environmental hazards and help from an unlikely friend, the player eventually slayed the target and emerged victorious.
While I witnessed a whole bunch of mechanics that I'm too much of a Monster Hunter noob to explain, I can say that the game will feature all 14 weapon classes from previous installments -- from the classic sword and shield to the more dynamic gunlance. As always, you can look forward to fighting alongside your cat-like Palico companion, and dressing it up in adorable monster armor.
The game will feature drop-in, drop-out cooperative play for up to four players, and for the first time in Monster Hunter history, will allow stateside players to hunt with folks in Japan.
I came away from my Monster Hunter World demo impressed, not just by how smooth it looks and plays, but by the seemingly endless options the player has for tackling each mission. Do you book it right to your target and try to win with brute force? Or do you use the environment to your advantage, provoking other monsters to fight your enemy and setting traps throughout the world?
It's this layer of variety that I'm most excited to explore when the game arrives sometime in 2018. After years of trying and trying, I think I'm just about ready to call myself a Monster Hunter fan.
Image Credits: Capcom