Monster Hunter: World is the perfect way to get into the series

It's out next week, but you can get a head start in the final public beta opening tonight.

Outside of Japan, Capcom’s Monster Hunter series has long had a reputation for its difficulty and steep learning curve. While joining up to three friends to take down monsters of all shapes and sizes should be appealing to a wide range of players, complicated systems -- with few to no in-game explanations and a heavy reliance on passing knowledge via word of mouth -- turned many potential fans off of the series altogether.

But Monster Hunter has slowly been taking steps over the years to be more welcoming to newcomers. Monster Hunter: World, due out on consoles later this month, may be the most accessible Monster Hunter game yet.

In an effort to unite the international player base, Capcom is releasing Monster Hunter: World worldwide on January 26th for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a PC release following this fall. Not only is this the first time a Monster Hunter game to receive a simultaneous worldwide release, but the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC versions are a further attempt appeal to an international audience where action games are generally better received on home consoles than on handhelds.

Speaking with Polygon, Monster Hunter: World producer Ryozo Tsujimoto notes that over the years the team has garnered “a sizeable following” of western players who’ve wanted to play Monster Hunter on home consoles. Though the series has its origins on the PlayStation 2, it has seen great success on handhelds in Japan. Only a handful of recent games have made it back to home consoles, and the last to see an English release was Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the Wii U in 2013.

But a home console release doesn’t ensure an instant hit with western players. This time around, the controls have also been completely revamped to be more like other action games. For example, Monster Hunter usually requires players to press the R1 button to run when their weapon is sheathed, but Monster Hunter: World will include the option to click in the left stick to run instead. After spending some time with the second beta, it’s clear the gun weapon controls have also been updated to feel much more like other third-person shooters, making it easier for new players to quickly jump in and understand how to use those weapons.

Another new addition is the scout flies (pictured above). These little green bugs direct players to areas of interest, such as items that can be gathered for crafting. They’ll also point out footprints or other signs that players can investigate in order to track a monster down during a hunt. Previously, there was often no direction as to where a monster would be on the map, unless you had an ability equipped that allowed you to see them or knew the special hot air balloon wave trick. Instead of requiring players to run around, find monsters, and remember their usual habitat for future encounters, scout flies make it easy to get straight to the heart of Monster Hunter: fighting big, awesome-looking monsters.

The fights themselves are also more accessible this time around, not just through the control updates previously mentioned, but also through other tweaks and features. In the beta, weapon controls were displayed on the top left corner of the screen, and promotional footage of actual gameplay that includes these controls indicates that they’ll be in the final release, as well. Considering that there are 14 different weapon types in Monster Hunter: World to choose from, being able to easily see the controls during battle will help players feel more comfortable trying a wide range of play styles.

Another quality-of-life update -- that admittedly jarred me at first, as a series veteran -- is the fact that you can now see exactly how much damage you’re doing to a monster. Monster Hunter is known for immersing players in realistic fights, right down to not including health bars for the monsters. There's still no visible health bar -- that could be a step too far for fans who appreciate the skill it takes to read a monster’s tells. However, this should make it easier for new players who want at least some idea if their attacks are doing enough damage.

Now, when you hit a monster, numbers appear on the screen indicating exactly how much damage was done, making it easier to tell which parts to hit to do the most damage, or whether or not the element of your weapon is effective against your current target. And if your current weapon isn’t working for you, all you have to do is run back to camp and change up your gear however you choose!

Changes such as these have the potential to alienate long-time fans of a series that is known for its difficulty, but Monster Hunter: World seems to be striking the right balance between offering accessible options for newcomers and catering to hardcore fans. After spending time with the second beta, I’m confident that Monster Hunter: World still plays like the Monster Hunter I know and love. 

If you want to give Monster Hunter: World a spin before it launches on January 26th, there will be a third and final PlayStation 4 beta from 6 pm PST on January 18th (that is, today) to 6 pm PST on January 21st. Completing any of the four quests will reward you with a special face paint in the full game, while completing each of the four quests for the first time will earn you item sets to help get you started in the retail version of the game.