BY OLIVER ROBINSON: As I’m writing this, it is less than a week to go until Capcom’s newest instalment in their monster-killing, bug-catching, fashion simulator, Monster Hunter: Rise releases exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. I am extremely excited for this, and I’ve been anxiously gobbling up any and all news that’s come out about any feature of the game at all. The wirebug that opens up all sorts of movement options and new moves for every weapon? Incredible. The ability to switch out certain weapon attacks with others, allowing you to customise how you play with each weapon? Rad. The fact that I can ride a dog into battle? 10/10 game of the year.
But that isn’t what I want to talk about in this article. Because, whilst I am undeniably very excited to play Rise, I’ve also felt somewhat… sad about leaving the previous entry, Monster Hunter: World behind for good.
I had never played a Monster Hunter game before World. I was acutely aware that the series existed throughout my time in Sixth Form as I had several friends who all played Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate on their 3DS’ together. I did have a 3DS, but it was pretty much solely reserved for Smash Bros. I did try the game out very briefly on a friend’s 3DS during a free period once, but I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that the pre-World games didn’t exactly hold your hand when you started playing. So I didn’t (couldn’t?) get into it, and it very rarely crossed my mind for years.
That is, until Monster Hunter: World released its first demo in December 2017. I was barely even aware that the game had been announced, and I really only downloaded said demo due to a campaign of, what we’ll politely call ‘pestering’, from one of my aforementioned friends. I was a second-year university student by this point, and so anything that was free was definitely going to hold my attention a little longer than it might have done otherwise, and so I figured ‘what the hell.’ A couple of hours later, even after the fire alarm had gone off in my friend’s uni accommodation leaving me to get absolutely pulverised on my own by an Anjanath, I was hooked. I ended up buying World on day one and, along with my friend, we put over 100 great hours into the game.
I think there were several reasons that my first real experience with a Monster Hunter title was such a positive one. The game was great, obviously, and it had been specifically made to be more accessible to newcomers like myself. But I think the main reason I had such a good time with my first experience of World was most likely due to the fact that it allowed me to kind of virtually ‘hang out’ with one of my closest friends. Our close circle of friends had been split up by 2017, with us all going to different universities, spread across the country (especially me, having gone all the way up north to Lancaster.) Because of this, we were only really all able to get together a couple of times every 2-3 months, in-between terms. World I think gave us the next best available option. We were able to speak to each other through Playstation’s voice-chat, and our in-game hunters were able to hang out virtually. Plus I got to beat monsters to death with a ludicrously big hammer in these sessions, which I wasn’t quite able to do in real life.
But this isn’t the experience of World that has left such a mark on me. After a while, I stopped playing World. I was halfway through my third year of university, and my workload had started piling up (not to mention the dreaded dissertation.) After I graduated I ended up moving to a city I’d never been to before, to work what we’ll politely call ‘unsociable’ hours at a new job. All of a sudden, I hadn’t so much as looked at World in almost 2 years.
But then, and let’s be honest this was pretty predictable, 2020 happened.
We all know what happened by this point. Worldwide pandemic, life as we know it changing, people across the world suddenly being stuck at home for months on end. 2020 was rough – and I wasn’t an exception to that. My flatmate moved back to his parent’s right at the start of the UK’s first national lock-down, which left me alone in the flat, in a city I had only moved to half a year prior, and in an awful retail job that classified me as a ‘key worker’ (although you wouldn’t guess it based on how both customers and the company itself continued to treat me and my co-workers, something I’m sure anyone who’s ever worked in retail can attest to.) My first lock-down pretty much consisted of me waking up, going to work, coming home, eating, and then going to bed every day. It wasn’t great!
But if there was one small silver lining to this 4 or so months, it’s that this is what got me back into Monster Hunter. One night, about a month and a half into the lock-down, I was browsing the PS Store and happened to notice that World’s expansion, Iceborne was on sale for half price. I ended up texting my old MHW-playing friend about it, and we impulsively bought it together. And once again, my decision to buy a Monster Hunter game was one I do not regret.
Iceborne, for those unfamiliar, is a huge expansion to the base game of Monster Hunter World. It is, essentially, another game pasted on top of the pre-existing one, adding an entirely new story, as well as new monsters, areas, gameplay mechanics and more. If ever I need an example of value for money, Iceborne would be my absolute go-to pick. It only took a couple of hunts for me and my friend to feel like we’d never even put down the game – in fact, we ended up playing through the entire thing again, just to get the full experience.
And more importantly, similarly to the original World, I think that Iceborne played a large part in keeping me sane during the first lock-down. Much like when I first started playing World at university, I wasn’t able to see any of my friends or family physically (albeit for much different reasons), and much like that first experience, Iceborne allowed me to ‘hang out’ with my friends in the closest possible way to normal. I couldn’t say that Iceborne single-handedly brought me through the first lock-down because that wouldn’t be true, those months still sucked. But being able to come home from another bad day at work to sit down and actually talk to a friend whilst getting annihilated by the world’s most aggressive monkey did make a difference, and I needed that sometimes. Plus there are not many experiences in my life that have matched the absolute elation of finally beating the Raging Brachydios. My god.
And by now we’re pretty much caught up. Was MHW perfect? No, of course not. Even as a complete newcomer to the series, by the end I was starting to wish there was a little more monster variety in the game. My friend had told me tales of fighting giant crabs and leviathans and spiders, but World and Iceborne focused more on traditional dragon-like monsters. Cool dragon monsters, don’t get me wrong, but there were a lot of them by the time I finished Iceborne. I think the lack of monster variety suffers even more if you take a look at some of the monsters announced for Rise as well. There’s still dragons of course (wouldn’t be a Monster Hunter game without Rathalos after all), but there’s also a giant spider, some big bears, and even a weird mermaid-looking thing.
There’s no denying that I am massively excited for Rise – the new monsters, the crazy movement, the dog companions. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel a little bit sad to finally be putting World aside, probably for the last time. It’s a game that I’ve associated with my friends very closely, and it definitely helped me through a difficult time. I’ll be playing Rise with my friends as well, no doubt, but with restrictions (hopefully) beginning to lift, and vaccinations being doled out, it won’t be occupying the same, strange place that World did in my life.