Monster Hunter World beta impressions: A balancing act for newcomers and longtime fans

Capcom kicked off a second beta for Monster Hunter: World over the holiday break. I was bummed out that I'd missed the original beta a couple of weeks ago, so I took this second chance and spent some time with the upcoming action-adventure title

I'm not exactly a die-hard follower of the genre who plays every single one of these games, but I've still spent quite a bit of time with a few installments; 2009's Monster Hunter Tri took up a lot of my free time that year.

While I may not be a part of the dedicated Monster Hunter fan base that's been with the series since its PlayStation 2 beginnings, I've always admired what these games offer. World might actually be the perfect Monster Hunter game for me and other individuals who aren’t die-hard fans, because World streamlines a few of the more esoteric gameplay systems.

That's not to say that World dumbs down the defining characteristics that have made the series a hit, but it's certainly a lot more inviting this time around.

Creating a Welcoming Environment

Upon loading up the Monster Hunter: World beta, I was worried that I'd have to play through a long, monotonous tutorial. As it turned out, that wasn't the case. Though I've played Monster Hunter before, it's been a long enough time that I'd forgotten some of the game's systems. Even then, the combination of fiddling around with the game and talking to a couple of NPCs pretty much allowed me to brush off the proverbial dust and be on my way to hunting some big game.

This introductory design ensures that hardcore players aren't bored to death with needlessly long-winded tutorials, and it offers enough context to welcome newer players — or folks returning after an extended absence — into the world of Monster Hunter. Because this is a beta though, it's still unknown if the final game will have a more elaborate tutorial. If it does, hopefully it’s optional.

Simplifying Things

One of the biggest changes coming to Monster Hunter: World is the new inventory system. Rather than having to open a massive menu or cycle through a bunch of health and status items, a quasi-hot key system has been implemented. I call it “quasi-hot key” because it's still not as simple as pressing a single button to select a health potion. Instead, you press L1 or LB to bring up the favorites menu, use the D-pad to select one of four mini-menus, and select items or actions within that mini-menu with the control stick.

This new menu system makes healing or using your whetstone a bit more intuitive. It's still a bit clunky, but it beats having to sift through a bunch of useless items to find the one you actually need. Overall, it's an improvement, and that's really all that matters. This system is also used for communicating with your partners if you're playing co-op.

The Thrill of the Hunt

At its core, the Monster Hunter series has always been about hunting big, or rather massive, game, and World is no different. You and up to three other players will go on quests to find the biggest, baddest monsters and take them down. The World beta featured a few quests, and they were all exhilarating.

In the beta, players were provided with plenty of health items right from the get-go. This caused the entire experience to feel a bit more fast-paced, and as a result, a sense of urgency common in the series was lost. When World launches, it's probably going to be a lot more hectic, and hunts aren't going to be quite so simple.

Even with the generosity regarding items, hunting beasts in the World beta was a total blast, and there were even a handful of blissfully cinematic moments. There's really nothing quite like running toward a monster, sliding beneath it, and then hacking away at it.

Another rad moment I experienced was when my group ran into other monsters, and one of these massive beasts began to fight the monster we were hunting. It was pretty awesome to witness, and it allowed us to get in a few free strikes while our target was distracted, but once our monster was on the run again, the creature we thought was helping us turned its attention toward us and began to attack.

One World

In the past, when you'd chase down fleeing monsters into a new area, you had to deal with pesky loading screens. This is exactly the kind of thing that can break your immersion, especially when the adrenaline's pumping and you've got a monster just a few licks away from death.

That's not the case here. True to its name, this latest Monster Hunter game features one big world, interconnected seamlessly so you don't have to worry about running into an annoying loading screen while chasing down a monster.

Not only is the game world seamless, it's also beautiful. World is easily the best-looking Monster Hunter game. Its massive environments are a sight to behold, its monsters are imposing and majestic, and flora and fauna pop quite nicely. Even little details, like the way the sun glistens as its rays hit bodies of water are absolutely stunning.

Unfortunately, that beauty came at a price. I was playing on a base PlayStation 4, and I did notice that the frame rate had a few issues. It wasn't exactly game breaking, but when there's a lot going on, it's not uncommon for the frame rate to dip.

If the beta is indicative of anything, it's that this is the biggest, most ambitious Monster Hunter to date. This time around, Capcom is trying to cater to newcomers while still providing what fans know and love. It's hard to say if World will shoot the franchise into the mainstream — I played with two friends who weren't exactly super-fans of the series to begin with, and they told me that the beta didn't do much to win them over.

One thing is certain, though: if you've ever been curious about playing Monster Hunter, this will be a good place to start. And if you're already a fan, it definitely seems as though there's enough to bring back folks who already like these games, especially with the introduction of a new interconnected world that's free of load times and stacked with big, glorious beasts to seek out and kill.

Monster Hunter: World is due out early next year on January 28 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with the PC version coming sometime after.

We’ll be following this game closely, so stay tuned for more coverage.