The Japanese juggernaut that is the Monster Hunter series has never really managed to break the west despite dominating sales charts back at home for over a decade. Its learning curve is steep, its stat management systems are complex, and its many razor-toothed behemoths can be a real test of your patience (and sanity). First teased at E3 2017, Monster Hunter: World is the next chapter in the series and attempts to address the concerns of sceptics with a more relaxed point of entry and a more focused narrative to weave everything together. It brings the action to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC (later in the year) for the first time, allowing players to hone their hunting skills in luscious environments with ecosystems filled with many mysterious creatures.
While most Monster Hunter games have been pretty weak from a narrative perspective, World has a fully-fledged story which unfolds over the course of its 40-50 hour campaign. Playing as your own customised character (and kitty cat) the stakes are now higher than before and now there's more of a reason to support your lust for monster blood. The story sees you venture to the newfound continent of the New World and assist a research team who are tracking the movements of an Elder Dragon known as Zorah Magdoras. We won't spoil too much here, but it's not long before you and your team are met with disaster and thrust into the world to hunt and explore.
We can't talk about a Monster Hunter game without first talking about the monsters themselves. Each of these formidable beasts has their own distinct attack patterns and movements with some throwing you up into their jaws and others spewing deadly purple gunk towards you. Among our favourites were Tzitzi-Ya-Ku, a blue lizard-like creature that stuns its prey by emitting paralysing beams from its ears, and Anjanath, a furry fire-breathing T-rex that tries to crush you with its tail. These monsters are often the focus of the main quests and you'll hunt them down with your accompanying swarm of fireflies by examining their footprints, claw marks, and discarded feathers.
Bloodborne is definitely a title that springs to mind when thinking of World's brisk-paced and tough as nails combat. Similar to the gothic action-RPG, you'll manage your stamina, dodge telegraphed attacks, and land a mix of light and heavy blows accordingly. There's a sense of rush and urgency to combat as you have just 50 minutes to complete a quest and monsters will often try and flee back to their nests when injured to rest and recover. Adding to the stress of things is that your blade will become dull with frequent use and requires you to pause completely to ensure its sharpened. The same goes for potions, antidotes, and other consumables, meaning that you'll either have to retreat to a safe distance or resort to hiding.
World also offers players plenty of weapon classes (14 to be exact) to experiment with. Among the long list of gear available, there are closed-ranged duel hatchets for swift combos, bows and chain guns for long-ranged attacks, and bulkier weapons like the iron hammer which can prove devastating. What the title does a great job of is offering you a choice of all these weapons upfront and by visiting a campsite during a quest you can easily switch between them ensuring you'll always have the right tool for the job. A lot of our playthrough was spent switching between different weapons and really finding a feel for how we play the best, and we were pleased World gave us the freedom to do so.
The environment also plays a huge role in combat and can be used to your advantage. As you're hunting, monsters that grudgingly share the same territory will often break out into a turf war; when tearing off each other scales and they're essentially doing your dirty work for you. You can also climb vines to jump on monsters, riding them like a rodeo bull as they viciously struggle to knock you towards the ground. There are areas where monsters will get caught within vines too, and whilst hunting in Wildspire Waste's vast stretches of desert we found the sandy ground beneath us crumble causing us to fall and the monster to be stunned as a result.