And I did not expect it to.
Oh sure, I expected to enjoy it. To be challenged by it. But I didn’t expect it to be so charming, so comforting, and so…happy! For a game about hunting innocent creatuers, killing them with huge weapons, and harvesting their corpse Monster Hunter: World fills the player with simple, light-hearted joy (once you get past the interface).
A perfectly reasonable weapon.
Fresh and Unexpected
Before we dive into how Monster Hunter does this, I think it’s important to point out how rare and refreshing it is for a game to have such a light tone.
The last big budget video games I played were Witcher 3, Dishonored 2, and Destiny 2; all great games, but they could be very grim. These games were filled with betrayal, untrustworthy scoundrels, murder (lots of murder), tragic love stories, and much suffering.
Grim elements are not a bad thing! They add depth to stories and make you care about the characters. You cheer for them when they face hardship and guide them through difficult situations. Some would even say that this suffering, this pain, is a key part of what makes video games so engaging. There is always a terrible tragedy, or a plague, or a dark lord that the player must overcome.
Lots of video games have these elements in them. So many in fact that their absence in Monster Hunter inspired this article. Let’s talk about what makes Monster Hunter feel so happy and light.
It’s the cats, obviously!
We’re All Friends Here
In Monster Hunter: World you play as a Hunter of the Fifth Fleet headed to the New World. The previous 4 fleets have prepared the way and are in need of reinforcements and supplies for their growing colony.
You are greeted with enthusiasm and appreciation; no resentment, no awkwardness, no dark plots against the newcomers. Everyone is happy to explain how things work and trust you with difficult tasks. There is a deep sense of comraderie: not through hardship, but through shared purpose. On an island filled with nasty monsters, humanity has banded together and thrown aside personal differences.
At every point in the story Monster Hunter bends over backwards to avoid any conflict among humans. At one point you meet a hunter from the First Fleet who abandoned his post. He left the colony and has been wandering across the land. When you tell the colony leader about it, his reaction is:
“Ah, I’m so glad he’s still alive. We were worried about him. Thought about sending out some people to bring him back, but if he feels called to the wilderness we must let him be.” paraphrased for length
I fully expected there to be SOME resentment towards a man who abandoned the colony and set out on his own. But no; everything’s fine. Why harbor resentment when we all share a common goal? So let’s talk about the goal:
Learning the Land
And what a beautful land it is!
The goal is survival in this new and untamed land. But rather than making the land “safe”, they wish to live in peace with it. Scientists speak about the monsters with respect and wonder, asking how they can avoid their territory when making new camps. Hunters train to study and capture monsters. Blacksmiths equip them with non-lethal options (stun darts, traps, sleep arrows, etc).
Most of the mechanics of the game are about learning monster behaviors and patterns. Take the Great Jagras as an example:
I’ve played the game for about 15 hours as of this writing, and off the top of my head here’s what I’ve learned about this creature:
- Prefers to be around similar lizard creatures
- Like to rest in the cool, damp caves
- It prefers to roll over and crush its prey
- Avoids the trees, and stalks amonth the underbrush
- After it’s eaten a big meal it can vomit it out as an attack
- Smaller when they are hungry
It really feels like I know these creatures. I probably spent 2-3 hours tracking them, learning their behaviors, and discovering how to hunt or avoid them. There are over 20 monsters in the game, each one created with unique behaviors and patterns.
In fact, now that I think about it, the player and the characters in the game share the same goals: survival through learning. But in the end, it’s a game about killing monsters with crazy weapons. Isn’t that kinda dark?
Monster Hunter does a great job of showing respect towards the monsters you hunt. Here are some of the ways it does this:
- Hunting, not killing. It always refers to your job as “hunting” rather than killing or exterminating.
- Capturing monsters offers better rewards, and the scientists always encourage you to capture rather than kill.
- Every part is used. You make food, weapons, armor, ships, even homes from the remains of the creatures. That’s one of the Monster Hunter aesthetics: bones, skin, beaks, and wings are all re-purposed.
- Always more monsters. It never feels like you’re killing the last of a majestic species. Monsters are everywhere and can always be found if you know where to look. It feels more like we’re part of the food chain than apex predators.
My favorite weapon: it transforms from a sword and shield into a huge axe!
A Refreshing Experience
I think Monster Hunter could still be seen as offensive. The killing and the carving could be seen as grisly and cruel. Another story of humans destroying nature.
But I don’t think that is the intent of the designers. They’ve put a lot of thought into the tone of their game and it shows. Monster Hunter: World tries very hard to be a cheerful, uplifting experience.
And in my case, they succeeded wildly. If you enjoy challenging games with deliberate combat and a light tone it might be worth checking out!