The Monster Hunter games have never been able to hook me, but it’s not for lack of my trying. From Monster Hunter Freedom and Freedom 2, to Tri and 4 Ultimate, they’ve just never clicked. A big part of it was always the sluggish gameplay, poor controls, and generally obtuse design, but more than anything it was this constant feeling that the game’s designers expected me to already know what I was doing. It was almost as if the creators of past Monster Hunter games only wanted their existing fans to play their games and were just as close-minded towards new players as the rabid, sometimes unwelcoming fanbase.

But with Monster Hunter: World that’s all changing. It’s made for the big league consoles from the ground up finally and is coming to PC later this year. Tutorials explain almost every feature in the game reasonably well, it guides you along with breadcrumbs, and above all else, it doesn’t make you feel like an idiot. Finally, World is a Monster Hunter game that’s been designed for everybody.

Taking the First Step

In Monster Hunter: World you’re a hunter employed with a well-known Guild that’s been tasked with taking down big, bad beasts in a new, unexplored region aptly titled the New World. You’ll progress through increasingly difficult missions to tackle increasingly enormous baddies, calling on friends and strangers for help when needed, as you slowly grow in power and notoriety. Progression is very slow-paced but impactful, so you steadily feel like you’re becoming more powerful as you get better and better at the game.

That being said, Monster Hunter: World has a slight issue with understanding how to welcome new players, but you’ll quickly overlook it once the action starts. In short, it both tries too hard to be accessible at times while also disregarding the fact that a player may not know what’s going on. A great example is that, early on, you’ll get a steady stream of tutorial boxes and tooltips on screen that explain things well (good!) but don’t always let you perform the things they’re explaining (bad!) which means you just end up forgetting eventually.

There were very few instances in which I was totally lost about what to do and if I was there was usually an answer in the game somewhere, which is more than I can say for a lot of other AAA titles that tout a high degree of difficulty.

One of the most important early decisions you’ll make in Monster Hunter: World is that of picking your weapon. You’re not locked into anything at any point since you can freely switch at any point without a penalty, but the type of weapon you use will define your playstyle. The Sword and Shield are about as different from the Charge Blade as the combat in Zelda games is different from the combat in Bloodborne.

A Land of Myth and Wonder

Each of the game’s environments are as vast as they are varied with unique monsters that adapt and live based off of each individual ecosystem. In the desert waste location you’ll find heavily armored monsters that are evolved to survive in dry areas, whereas the jungle-themed forest is home to monsters that build nests and climb trees.

When you’re out on a mission you’ll be able to use Scout Flies, which are glowing green bugs that will help you track down and find your target. As you explore they’ll uncover footprints, skidmarks, and other clues about where they’ve gone. Each time you find a track or clue it contributes to your research points, which feeds into another game system that runs behind the scenes.

Monster Hunter: World is a game with so many moving parts it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the depth and complexity. You’ve got an ecological research scientist back at base camp, someone in charge of managing your bounties and delivery quests, someone that sells you basic gear and items, a forge for making your own equipment, cats that cook you food, and about a billion other things. It’s a lot to take in.

Keeping Up the Grind

Once you settle on a weapon type by trying them all out in the training ground it’s important to jump right into a hunt. Fighting a creature that moves and attacks is very different from fighting a wooden barrel that doesn’t do anything at all.

Each environment is drastically different in terms of its layout, hazards, and types of monsters so skills and strategies that work in one area may not work in others. This is also when World’s multiplayer features can really shine.

When you start a new mission you can choose how many players are allowed (from 1, meaning just you, to 4, meaning you plus three others). If the quest has a limit of only three total faints (or deaths) then that goes collectively for the whole group.

If you’re just hanging out in the main city area then you can also just join someone else’s currently active quest or even respond to an “SOS” which is when a player shoots out a flare on their mission asking for immediate help. If you don’t feel like progressing the story or really working on anything in particular, jumping on to do events or respond to SOS flares is a great way to have some fun and still collect loot.

Running on the Gear Treadmill

Monster Hunter: World does not have a traditional leveling system. When you complete a quest or kill a monster you don’t receive any XP at all, but instead gain materials that can be used to craft new weapons and armor, such as fangs, scales, and pelts. As you complete missions and take down bigger and badder beasts, your hunter rank will increase, which is the general barometer used to measure how far someone is in the game or how powerful they are.

The general gameplay loop consists of killing specific monsters enough times to craft a full set of armor to gain the maximum bonuses, keeping your weapon upgraded, and then taking on harder monsters and continuing that same loop ad nauseum.

It sounds repetitive and boring on face value, but in practice it’s incredibly rewarding. Each creature moves and fights so differently than Monster Hunter: World is more like a game that features several dozen different boss fights, rather than just some monsters to track down and kill.

Putting it All Together

That feeling you get when finally beating a tough boss in Dark Souls, or completing a difficult shrine in Breath of the Wild, or taking out your first griffin in Dragon’s Dogma, are all the same as the feeling you get at the end of each and every hunt in Monster Hunter: World. It can be a punishingly difficult game, but also one that rewards careful planning and playing smart.

Between involved Assigned Quests with dedicated storylines, cutscenes, and great set piece moments, Optional side quest content, ongoing Investigations, timed Events, responding to SOS flares, and even just open-ended exploration-based Expeditions, there is never a lack of things to do in Monster Hunter: World.

That simple fact -- that you feel like you can never really finish it -- may be off putting to some, but it’s part of the magic (and mystery) of what makes this series so special. This latest entry is hands down one of (if not the absolute) best in the whole franchise and does a great job of opening its arms to players both old and new.

Now excuse me while I go back to farming scaly monstrosities for their insides so I can make some new hats.

For more, read our new player guide for Monster Hunter: World, weapon type guide, and guide on capturing (not killing) monsters.