The Monster Hunter series, as the title suggests, has primarily been about striking down massive beasts and using their remains to fashion new armor, weapons and food. While Monster Hunter: World certainly maintains that emphasis on killing giant beasts, the game also asks us to care about the monsters we slaughter, and understand our own hand in maintaining and destroying the ecological system.
Astera, the game’s major hub, surprised me in how diverse its population is. Ecologists, biologists, scholars, cooks, welders, and so on all live in Astera to help survey the surrounding areas. Players are tasked with hunting and gathering materials to help keep the community afloat. I was thrilled to see so many women in the town, of different skin colors and ages, some with hair I wished was available in the character customization but unfortunately was not. In fact, any curl beyond a loose beach wave was missing. I decided to have my hunter be bald since there weren’t any hair options remotely similar to my own.
Previous Monster Hunter towns were small, and they were primarily just a place to upgrade armor or eat a large meal before embarking on a new mission. But Astera doesn’t revolve solely around the hunt, and there were times where I associated myself less as a hunter and more of a gatherer of herbs, ores and insects.
My favorite moments while playing Monster Hunter: World were exploring new areas through expeditions. Unlike hunting quests, expeditions have no time limits. These missions provided an opportunity to survey unfamiliar areas, find new campsites, and observe animals in their natural environment. It is possible to hunt monsters in expeditions, but beasts eventually disappear from the areas. I loved learning the places specific plants grow, and observing animals in their habitat. At these moments, I wasn’t a hunter, but merely a bystander, watching the world move without me.
Even on timed missions, I couldn’t help myself from picking up plants along the path or collecting old mucus for further research. I’ve gathered so many herbs that I can spot the plant before the game identifies it. Monster Hunter: World allowed me to play around as a fledgling scientist, not only to help the citizens of Astera, but to understand the environment and the animals, even if I must kill them sometimes.
Slaying monsters is the bread and butter of the series, and Monster Hunter: World continues its trend of battles that are frightening and tense but also satisfying. The game encourages multiplayer, so much so that it immediately tries to place you in an online session. But single player doesn’t feel like a lonely endeavor into the unknown. Most of the greatest battles for me were when I was alone with a giant beast and my trusty Palico.
Sometimes I wasn’t alone, though, as other monsters can always enter into an area and fight you or your beastly target. Monster Hunter: World’s ecosystem emphasizes how connected all the animals are to each other. Crouching in a bush as a Rathian lifts and drops Anjanath for thousands of damage made me feel insignificant in my paltry pecks with my bone hammer. It was yet another reminder of how tiny I was in this overwhelming world of monsters. Sure, I could drop a few creatures with enough potions or help from friends, but nothing I do will ever be as monstrous as one of Rathian’s aerial drops, or a Diablo’s underground attack. Even if I am at “the top of the food chain,” as the game claims, I could quickly be replaced by any imposing, monumental beast.
Monster Hunter: World brings a new level of discovery to the series, and it’s something that I greatly appreciate. I enjoy tracking monsters, and using their resources to advance scientific research, but I also love spending time away from the hunt where I can learn the movements of not just the giant monsters but the smaller animals, too. Sure, any animal can be hunted, and I know the name of the game means some will have to die. But the moments of observance recreate the circle of life more than the game’s story and left me most excited to return to Astera with my new discoveries, whether they were monster parts or something less grisly.
Monster Hunter: World was developed and published by Capcom. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for PC and Xbox One.
Shonté Daniels is a poet who occasionally writes about games. Her games writing has appeared in Kill Screen, Motherboard, Waypoint and elsewhere. Her poetry can be seen at Puerto del Sol, Baltimore Review, Phoebe, and others literary journals. Check out Shonte-Daniels.com a full archive, or follow her for sporadic tweeting.