I see my quarry sleeping in the room of a cave. A large Anjanath snores... think a T-rex with a nose that blows up like a bullfrog's chin when it tries to sniff out prey. I think I'll call him "Pumpkin." I carefully place a couple of large, explosive barrels by its head and quietly walk a few paces away. I aim my slinger at one of the barrels and set off a chain reaction that ensures Pumpkin wakes with the worst headache imaginable. As expected, he is a wee bit cranky, roaring at the top of his lungs, and prepares to chase me down.
One step ahead, I have already begun to sprint out of the cave. Once there, I quickly lay down a shock trap. His blind rage driving him, Pumpkin runs straight into it, shooting thousands of volts of electricity right through his thick, leathery hide. This stuns him, allowing me an opportunity to pull out my insect glaive, a deadly staff with blades on each end. It also allows me to direct a large distracting insect, sapping enemies' essences to provide me with buffs.
I use my large insect partner to sap red attack essence away from Pumpkin while he is down, significantly boosting my own. As Pumpkin begins to stand back up, I vault into the air, landing squarely on his back. Pumpkin protests, of course. I hold on for a few seconds while he thrashes about in an attempt to throw me off. Failing to do so, he pauses to take a breath. I go to work, dancing up his back, stabbing him with both ends of my glaive. This pains him to the point that he falls over, writhing. I quickly go to work, slicing and dicing. Unfortunately, my bloodlust causes me to get a bit sloppy as Pumpkin suddenly springs up, whips around, and knocks me back several yards with his tail, taking off a chunk of my life. I need to be careful lest the hunter becomes the hunted!
Welcome to Monster Hunter: World! Monster Hunter, as a series, started on the PlayStation 2 well over a decade ago. In these action RPGs, you become a hunter, hell-bent on slaying huge monsters of numerous types, carving off their shiny parts, taking them to a blacksmith and turning them into really awesome weapons and armor. This, of course, enables you take on larger, more dangerous prey in the hopes of transforming their remains into even better weapons and armor! All of your character's stats come from these items. Without any leveling mechanics, your only way to improve your chances against harder monsters comes solely from developing your combat skills, upgrading your gear, and properly preparing with the best lineup of traps, potions, ammo and more.
This formula proved very successful for Capcom, with the series selling over forty million games since its inception. However, the majority of those sales have come from Japan, where handheld iterations of the games sold easily. Outside of Japan, Monster Hunter has a small, yet strong following. Many western gamers found the series unapproachable, turned off by the high learning curve, and unintuitive controls.
Based on what I've seen in the beta, Monster Hunter: World seeks to truly bring the entire world on board with its latest release. Not only will the game release on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but the beta reveals that the graphics have taken a huge step up. Lush flora, beautiful vistas, glowing caves, and truly terrifying looking creatures make it easy just to stop and watch the world around you. Changes go deeper as monsters interact more naturally with their environment and each other, really drawing the player into the experience. On more than one occasion, I saw one monster hunt down another unfortunate enough to exist lower in the food chain. Even small bugs and frogs seem much more in place than previous games, where they tended to pop out a bit too artificially.
The beta allows you to choose from all fourteen weapon type common to the last few games in the series. Each weapon feels very solid and Capcom clearly paid a lot of attention to feedback from older iterations. Weapons such as the longsword, sword and shield, and hammer feel a bit snappier and combo smoother, though clunkier choices, such as ranged weapons and hunting horn have received more attention and love. They certainly handle better than ever before, and join the others as strong, viable choices. Indeed, the hardest part of Monster Hunter: World may simply be choosing what weapon you like the most.
While a huge part of the Monster Hunter experience lies in upgrading weapons, armor, and other preparations for the fight, the beta focuses on the thrill of the hunt. After choosing from a pre-set pool of hunters, your Palico (Felyne hunting companion), and your starting equipment, the game throws you onto the field with twenty minutes to find and kill your quarry. By looking carefully for footprints, mucus, feathers, and other evidence of your prey, you can figure the direction to head with the assistance of scouting flies, who head off after the monster similar to a bloodhound.
Once in the fight, both novices and expert hunters will feel the changes to combat immediately. For new players, Capcom modernized controls to be friendlier. While combat in previous iterations was always smooth and snappy, things such as item management, ranged weapon combat, and monster targeting could prove frustrating. Newcomers will feel right at home here, yet veterans of the series still have many, if not all, of the old options available. While the new quick menu for item choice and consumption will work well for novice hunters, those used to utilizing the L button in conjunction with square/circle to cycle through the list can still do so. As a veteran with over a decade of muscle memory formed hunting countless dragons, I appreciated this dual approach.
Another change easily seen in the beta is that the map is no longer segmented into a dozen sections. Whether running from a monster, or chasing one that runs from you, the game no longer forces you to go through loading screens that threaten to pull you completely out of the experience. Each map provides plenty of space, twists and turns, and hidden surprises that literally beg for exploration. Unfortunately, the twenty-minute time limit discourages doing too much along those lines. However, Capcom has assured us that the vast majority of missions in the actual game will allow much more time to explore and gather whatever resources a hunter may need.
Many improvements and surprises await including faster gathering, easier item creation, and more. Monster Hunter games have always been enjoyable solo experiences. Yet, the games have always shined best when gamers share their hunts with friends and Monster Hunter: World makes this easier than ever before. Clearly, Capcom is aiming to bring as many players as possible into this series with its latest game. If the rest of the game lives up to the experience of this beta, RPGamers will have a deep, thrilling action RPG to sink their teeth into. Thankfully, they will not have long to wait, as RPGamers who own a PlayStation 4 can try the final beta this weekend while the retail release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One takes place the following week on January 26, 2018.