The Monster Hunter franchise has seen many games now, and nit-pickers will be happy to know that this is the first in which you actually hunt the monsters that you fight. Monster Hunter World is also the first game in the franchise to be aimed at a Western audience and, according to Capcom’s sales figures, this was a success.

The game takes place in a fantasy world in which monsters roam the wilds. Humans, including you, hunt and kill them. The previous games suggest this is part of a larger spiritual balance between the wilderness and civilisation of the world, but that justification is brought into question in World. World’s story and marketing campaign focuses heavily on the fact that you are on an expedition to “The New World”, and the majority of the gameplay sees you mercilessly murdering the native populace. To say it has colonialist tones is an understatement.

This mass murdering is easy and fun, unfortunately, because of how smooth and well-designed the gameplay is – it could be argued that this is the most well-designed combat system ever. Fighting the monsters isn’t a battle but a dance, with the simple yet surprisingly nuanced controls letting you leap over and around the monsters, pirouette through the responsively-designed maps, or interact with various natural features like weak cave walls or suspended boulders to influence the events of each battle. It’s impressive how even the simplest of actions feels rewarding and dynamic.

Gameplay has always been well-designed in the Monster Hunter series, but this game more than any of the previous ones embraces the “easy to difficult, hard to master” mantra, and most weapons keep surprising you the more you use them. A function new to this game is the “hunt” part of “Monster Hunter”, in which you run around finding and following tracks before you find the monster. This gives each hunt a more natural feel that grounds players in the atmosphere and world, but it can sometimes slow down the fight when monsters run away. Beloved returning features include a cat companion who helps out in quests, and a village full of strange characters who help you prepare for each mission.

The downside to the maps and monsters being so beautiful is that there are therefore fewer of them. World has five proper locations and thirty-one monsters to fight, as opposed to the nineteen maps and eighty-one monsters of previous installation Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. The dearth of content is understandable, as a sacrifice had to be made through striving for better graphics, but it’s still a startling contrast from previous games. There is a noticeable knock-on effect in terms of a lack of depth in the weapons and armour you can create, and the usual third tier of difficulty is missing completely along with the gameplay changes this brings. Many people hope more content will be added through free DLC, but that remains to be seen.

One of the main aspects to the Monster Hunter series is the online co-op mode, in which you fight the same monsters in teams of up to four. These battles are always hectic and very rewarding, but with the choice by Sony and Microsoft to make players pay to play online on consoles, user count is rather low. Those that do play have been reporting issues in connecting to the servers, but this is to be expected upon release of any online game.

Monster Hunter World is a beautiful and immersive game, and the combat far surpasses any other fantasy RPG. Players for whom World is their first dalliance with the series will find it incredible – but for series veterans, the knock-on effects from the reduced content strips the game a little bare compared to previous games. In translating itself to Western audiences the game has made some great improvements, yet it seems to have lost a little of the soul that hooked its original players.

★★★★