Monster Hunter: World is a 200-hour tutorial for the other Monster Hunter games

It's not just the most accessible entry in the series; it's also the perfect way to learn how to play the rest of them.

Monster Hunter: World is a demanding game. Even ignoring the 200 hours it’s taken me to feel truly competent with a handful of the game’s 14 weapon types, World retains plenty of rough edges not sanded down from the long impenetrable series’ history on handhelds. It does a poor job of explaining monster mounting and certain stats. Many of the crafting materials you grind in its early hours become useless as you cross into “high rank” quests. Getting into multiplayer parties is a disaster.

And yet World is so, so much better at easing in players than Monster Hunter‘s PSP and 3DS games-not because it sands down the series’ hallmark complexities, but because it shaves off the meaningless time between learning weapons, monsters, and the flow of dinosaur-on-puny-human fights.

Scout flies-magical insects that point to marked objectives-are the prime example. Among other things, these glowing breadcrumb trails effectively replace Monster Hunter’s previous paintball system that lets you tag and track creatures with time-limited globules.

Consider the unnecessary number of moving parts in that system. Paintballs were consumable, and thus repeatedly needed to be restocked. Every second spent farming the item and reapplying it was time taken away from Monster Hunter’s core loop of killing, collecting, and crafting. World takes that time sink and makes it damn near automatic. The core idea of tracking monsters remains the same, but the time spent learning the tricks of the trade that need to be learned is much denser.

And that’s just one example. World erodes the sheer cliff of mechanics that’s hidden the Monster Hunter series’s satisfying depth, if not into an accessible ramp, at least into a manageable flight of steps. Each new height is a new combo committed to memory-a monster’s attack patterns made instantly recognizable. Nobody wants to make Monster Hunter easy to master, but the small successes along the way are just the carrots on sticks I needed to continue studying for hundreds of hours.

My “problem,” such as it is, kicked in when there were no more steps to climb. World does its damnedest to delay just that-for better and for worse. It recycles enemies in “high rank” and eventually “tempered” forms to pad out a thinning trickle of new monsters. But the center can’t hold forever. Eventually there are no more fire-spitting lizards to conquer; at least not in World.

That’s where Capcom’s latest game stops being something I need more excuses to play and starts seeming like an excuse unto itself. Its latest of the late-game beasts aren’t the only things that grew tempered over time. Now, after years of looking up to the older games’ cliffs with envy, I finally feel ready to go back to the series so many dedicated players have enjoyed before me.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Monster Hunter before World. I’ve checked in with 3 and 4 Ultimate, Generations, and even a PSP entry or two over the years. But I could only dip my toes in by comparison to the hunger with which I consumed this latest game. There are whole new worlds (pun intended, I’m sorry to say) for me to retroactively explore now that I accidentally put in the legwork to appreciate them. Monster Hunter: World is a tutorial to prepare you for the rest of the series.

One of my prime problems with Monster Hunter: World’s apex predators is that they’re much too similar. There are an awful lot of two-legged, two-winged, fire breathing wyverns roaming the game’s so-called New World. The series’ backlog, however, has a menagerie of horrors and deadly goofballs to test my newfound skills on. Hippo-headed apes, woolly mammoths, and this awful thing are unlike anything I’ve already (happily) killed 30 times before. I’m exciting just thinking about meeting them in the wild, much less learning their attack patterns. And now I can skip much, much closer to that action.

But for as excited as I am to turn World into my personal 200-hour tutorial, I’m also nervous. Thanks to Monster Hunter’s glacial change of pace over the years, I’m confident I can bring my skills with the Gunlance or Switch Axe back with me through time. I’m less confident I won’t burn myself out.

That’s often the way it is with me. Final Fantasy XIV, Dota 2, Darkest Dungeon: like the biting, clawing creatures of Monster Hunter, they’ve all got their nasty streaks. I revel in quelling those risks-whether that’s learning to instant kill spells or a Diablos’s vicious tail swing. If games have rules, they can beaten, and the more demanding those rules the more I take it as a challenge to do so. Just look at any of the combative metaphors I’ve used to describe “mastering” and “conquering” World so far.

Monster Hunter: World ran out of new things for me to see before I felt like I completely surmounted its systems. If I jump back into the rest of the series now, I might reach that plateau before I reach the next logical endpoint. Will I need to beat all of 4 Ultimate’s high rank quests before I’m happy? Generations’? Will I just get plain sick of it before dipping into World’s upcoming-presumably much more smoothly integrated-DLC hunts?

It’s happened before. For my money, Final Fantasy XIV is the best MMO going. Instead of better gear and new monsters, its hooks take the form of the best story that series has ever produced. There’s more of it now, too. I haven’t even seen all of it. Why should I? My beloved Dark Knight is at the game’s current level cap. They likely will be until the MMO’s next expansion. And while that’s not what truly draws me to the game, it was my unexpected limit. I won’t play more, even to see the plot and characters I love, until I feel like I’m ready to make tangible progress again.

I’m still happy to have what World gave me. Even if I decide not to continue experimenting with the big, wide realm of Monster Hunter games that are now more open to me than ever, it’s an investment for the future. I’ll be ready for the next Monster Hunter in a way I’ve never been able to approach one of these games. That alone will be a new kind of experience.

But in the meantime, reaching the limits of Monster Hunter: World might force me to test the limits of my own obsessive nature.