There's no denying the tremendous stature of the Monster Hunter franchise in Japan. Mirroring Japanese gaming habits, it may have started out on a stationary console back in the day (PS2, 13 years ago), but it found most success on handhelds from PSP and 3DS, with the occasional stop off on home consoles, although those were generally afterthoughts. With Monster Hunter: World Capcom aims to bring a fully fledged current-gen console experience to gamers worldwide and it feels like they're finally making a full effort to bring a broader Western audience to the party.
We were recently invited to an event where we got to play the first three quests of the game. We got to experience a turbulent arrival in the New World, we got to create a character, and we got to walk around in the main camp of Astera where the Research Commision hopes to learn more about Elder Dragons, and as you'd expect research generally means killing things and collecting the remains.
There has also been a second opportunity for us to experience Monster Hunter: World, namely the beta on PS4. Consisting of three quests set in two regions (Ancient Forest and Wildspire Waste), this beta includes content previously made available at events such as Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show. As such, they lack the sort of introduction that we were treated to when starting the game from scratch, and if you're new to the series the wealth of options when it comes to gear and items may seem overwhelming and cumbersome (even if it's just a fraction of the depth available with the main game), but rest assured that the game will ease you into its features more gently.
One thing that should be said right off the bat is that while Capcom has made a great deal of effort to make the game more accessible, the complexity and foundations of Monster Hunter are there. This is a game where you'll soon realise there is much to learn, not just about mechanics and items, but also about the world.
The character creation tools allow for some rather deep customisation and it's difficult to imagine you'll run into a player character exactly the same as yours while playing. At first, the options may seem a bit limited, but in addition to templates you can tailor and adjust these within each category. You'll also get to tweak things like expressions and voice (though we didn't hear much from our player-character). Of course, you'll also be able to customise your feline companion, or Palico as they're called.
After an opening cinematic we won't spoil, you find yourself on the new continent and in the hub city of Astera, a place which made us think of an Ewok village, where the Research Commission has set up shop. They've got high hopes for you and you'll jump straight into the action as soon as you're through a guided tour of Astera. You'll have your own home here, and there are a number of useless locations such as the Cantina, the Smithy, shops and the all-important quest board. Speaking off quests, once you've picked one you'll be swept away to a base camp and start out. All of the game is playable both solo and in multiplayer and you can either team up ahead of a quest or simply send out a signal flare in case you run into trouble on your own, at which point you might have helpful hunters join you. It's a flexible setup and given the complexity of some of the larger, later monsters we're sure it will come in handy.