A Stranger In A Strange Land

I’ve never played Monster Hunter before. I’ve heard encouraging things, that if I had any appreciation for Souls gameplay, Monster Hunter would be right up my alley while also being only slightly less impenetrable to newcomers. I’m only a few hours in, so these are my initial impressions of the game from a newbie’s perspective.   

Most of this article is ghostwritten by my Monster Hunter: World character, Blake Toughtoes. Italicized text was is written from my point of view.

Sitting in this ship’s dining area I see long wooden tables under firelight, people clad in armor, steins in nearly every hand, and cats… also clad in armor? Some are walking around on their hind legs, carrying trays of food above their heads as they make their way to various tables. They seem to be serving people. This is a very strange ship.

A man sits in front of me and begins talking about his time with some hunting organization, the Commission. It’s strange, I can understand the words he’s saying, but his mouth seems to be moving way more than it should. It’s as if he’s speaking a different language, but my ears translate it to English.

A woman approaches and asks if I’m a fellow hunter; I guess I am. Her mouth is doing the same thing, so I guess it wasn’t limited to that other guy.

That other guy’s mouth moves in double time again, but I hear him ask for my name. Why, it’s Blake Toughtoes, of course.

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Everyone loves Pumpkin Spice!

I know I’m being harsh on this game’s lip sync, but man is it jarring. Everything is obviously animated around the Japanese language, but I’ve seen my fair share of anime with more convincing lip sync. It’s really difficult to truly pay attention to what anyone with voiced dialogue is saying. It almost makes me thankful for a silent protagonist, something I usually find to be disengaging and unnecessary. The quality of the voice acting itself is mostly good, though. I continue on to finalize creation of Blake Toughtoes and his feline friend, PumpkinSpiceOreo.

Suddenly, we feel rumbling. The ship begins to tilt. We run out onto the deck to find what looks like some gargantuan hunk of volcanic rock hoisting the ship up. We begin to slip as the ship arcs straight upwards. I hold on as hard as I can but it’s no use. I find myself airborne and eventually crashing onto the beast, as does the woman, who goes by The Handler. Through a series of impressive rock climbs, we eventually make our way off the creature and are transported by a flying beast to an island.

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Picturesque if not for the looming sense of foreboding.

It’s replete with beauty, dense vegetation, dinosaurs, pristine water, and overlooks of ocean and rock. We make our way through. She informs me that if I ever get lost I can follow these glowing green bugs, Scoutflies. I’m not sure how I could get lost with her yelling her location at me every five seconds. Her voice doesn’t compliment the beauty of the island well, and detracts from my enjoyment of wandering around a bit, though I can’t do very much of that either.

We continue on. Some way in, something pops out of the grass. It’s a beast, but it doesn’t look friendly like the ones we saw earlier. More show up and it’s not long before we’re surrounded. Luckily, these things don’t look very perceptive and we’re able to hide with ease. Unfortunately, our luck swiftly runs out and The Handler is pounced on by another very large creature. All of a sudden, a man with a sword that looks too big to wield pounces on it from out of nowhere. He instructs us to run and my body obeys. I don’t stop until I’ve run into what appears to be a sprawling outpost.

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Isn't it just the cuddliest thing you've ever seen?

I know it’s the tutorial, but I was a bit surprised at how hand-holdy the game had been so far. At least everything is real nice to look at. Once I got to this town I had the feelings things were about to open up at rapid speed.

It doesn’t take long to discover this is a hunters’ outpost. The man who rescued The Handler and me gives me a brief tour before I’m shown to my quarters and am outfitted with a weapon. I’m presented with a shockingly large variety to choose from, each useful in its own way.

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Ah the town, where all good quests begin.

As I get a feel for combat in the training area, I learn that no weapon feels without its purpose. Some are clearly designed to hit hard, others to hit quickly. I enjoy the feel of them all, from the simple to the complex. I pick one that feels most suited to me, a long staff with blades on both ends, and head back.

The Handler gives me my first mission; it’s time to start the hunt.

The first assignment is good and bad, but mostly good. On the up side, it introduces me to my first taste of combat. And hey, the combat is very, very good.

I try every weapon in the training area, and everyone is beautiful to watch. From the laboring swings of the buster sword to the twirling flurries of the iron blade, it’s clear that an exorbitant amount of work went into animating these weapons being used. While it’s encouraged to learn and utilize combos, mashing looks cool enough that you still feel like you know what you’re doing.

However, I am having difficulties repeating some combos that I learn through random button presses. There don’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why Blake does a combo one time and not another when I seem to press everything the same way. Eventually I learn that actually hitting something with an attack allows me to perform certain combos that I can’t do if I’m just swinging at the air. Definitely something that could’ve been more clearly communicated.

On the bad side of the first mission, it introduces some mechanics such as gathering supplies and crafting without finishing the explanation until after the mission is complete. I have no idea why I am skinning creatures and collecting honey. I’m still not sure about the honey.

Speaking of not being sure about things, what’s going on with all the cats? Why can they talk? Why can they cook? Why do they wear clothes and walk around on two legs? Why is one of them so jacked? Maybe this will remain a Monster Hunter mystery, and honestly, I’m okay with that.

Overall, Monster Hunter: World presents complexity with transparency. There’s a lot to learn, from the screen filling up with possible combos during training to menus being dense with numbers. That jacked cat probably offers too many meals to choose from, the bug that comes with the iron blade is super confusing to use, and you shouldn’t need to sheath your weapon to open your item box. But for the most part, all of these seemingly unnecessary things add to an authentic monster hunting experience and are presented with clarity. Monster Hunter: World always tells me what buttons do what, so I’m never fumbling through anything for more than a few moments, even if I’m not sure why I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing in the first place.

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Hopefully I don't end up in some creature's belly in the near future.

I’m excited to continue playing. Hopefully things become easier to understand as I go on without becoming monotonous; it's a fun game, but maybe not the most new player accessible. Toughtoes out.