Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, guides editor Glen outlines why he's in love with Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, despite the allure of the next-gen 'MonHun' experience on other formats...
My first encounter with Monster Hunter was Freedom Unite when it launched on iOS back in 2014. I've always been a Nintendo diehard so I didn't get a chance to try the first few iterations on PS2 or PSP, but the idea of a grind-intensive, high-fantasy slaying experience full of oversized swords and talking cats always appealed to me. After all, I grew up on a gaming diet that consisted of JRPGs and free-to-play MMORPGs.
And while I did initially encounter what I can only describe as the 'WTF-barrier', I managed to stumble over it and allow Monster Hunter to get its hooks into me. So much so that I obsessively sought out Monster Hunter wherever I could find it – mostly on my Wii U and 3DS with 3 Ultimate, 4 Ultimate and Generations. And boy, that core loop of slaying monsters and crafting gear out of their corpses is an addiction I hadn't felt since Dark Souls.
The comparison between Dark Souls and Monster Hunter is one you really don't hear enough, given that the core loop of both games is alarmingly similar. They both share a variety of environments with unique obstacles and enemies to overcome, they both have an emphasis on defeating enormous bosses, and they both contain really, really, big swords.
You also gain power in exactly the same way – defeat a monster and use its resources to fuel your increase in power to go and defeat more monsters. Heck, the combat system is even basically the same, with you learning attack patterns, dodging and hitting monsters really hard at the earliest opportunity. The main difference between the two experiences, in my opinion, is that Dark Souls gets its message across to players much more effectively than Monster Hunter does. Dark Souls is about the challenge, about risk versus reward, about defeating incredibly difficult bosses. Monster Hunter, on the other hand, is about, well, monster hunting?
Aside from shoddy tutorial execution, that's been Monster Hunter's biggest downfall for many years. It was originally conceived as an online multiplayer game back when that was an incredibly exciting prospect, but in an era when pretty much every game going offers that in some capacity, how do you make it stand out? Dark Souls has that challenge factor that sparks our competitive drive and plays on our survival instincts, but Monster Hunter relies on a core loop that's a really tough sell. You grind so you can grind some more so you can keep on grinding – it doesn't sound so good when spoken aloud, does it?
Ultimately, Monster Hunter is a deeply personal experience in which you literally wear your successes (and failures). The character you build is a walking monument to everything you've accomplished and by the time you hit the end game you have a deep personal connection that keeps you coming back for more. There's always room for growth, always monsters to defeat, and your friends will always need your help. It's clear as day why Monster Hunter had a niche, cult following in the west while Dark Souls thrived. So what was Capcom's solution to the problem? Monster Hunter: World – a technological marvel that you'd feel compelled to play after witnessing a few short moments of the trailer.
It promised gorgeous landscapes rich with monsters to slay, a story about killing mighty dragons, and those awesome swords we all wanted to get our grubby little mitts on. This was also a world in which Destiny 2 had just disappointed its player base, who were desperate to find a new game to go and 'play dress up' in. The allure of a never-ending 'end game' was just too much for them to resist.
And I'll admit, when Monster Hunter: World rolled around, I was a day one buyer. What wasn't to love? It was gorgeous, the environments were more open than before, it was much easier to play with friends, and the combat looked livelier than ever before. I spent months playing it deep into the night, obsessively crafting new gear, exploring new areas, and trying to make my character look as awesome as possible. This is the Monster Hunter I always wanted! Just like the good old days, I thought.
Then Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate was announced for Switch – that's the moment I started getting second thoughts. Sure, it might lack the polish of Monster Hunter: World and feel like a backwards step, but I can play it on the go! It's frustrating having to miss a hunt simply because you're not at home where your PS4 is. After plugging just a few hours into it, I quickly realised that I actually prefer classic Monster Hunter to the 'bells and whistles' new Monster Hunter. It's a tougher sell on paper for sure, but for those that really get Monster Hunter there really is no competition between the two. Classic Monster Hunter provides the better experience.
Yes, it does lack the polish. In comparison to World, it's ugly, there are long loading times, everything feels like a chore, monsters are less impressive, and the world doesn't feel quite so 'alive'. So in the face of that, how can I make the claim that Generations Ultimate is the better game? Because, as I've got older, the allure of better visuals just doesn't do as much for me as the core gameplay does, and I hands-down prefer what Generations offers. I just don't want to be held by the hand and led along, which is what Monster Hunter: World insists on right from the get-go.
Look at the intro to both of them. In Generations you arrive in Bherna Village, talk to some people about stuff you don't really understand, then get a quest that you don't really know how to accomplish. Within minutes you're on your first hunt and you're figuring it all out for yourself. World, on the other hand, holds your hand through the opening hour and doesn't really let you off the leash until you've beaten your first large monster. It basically says, "this is what the game's about – go do it" while Monster Hunter Generations doesn't really care what you do. Here's a space with some stuff in it – go have fun. I know which one appeals more to me.
Then there are the fireflies. Those darned fireflies. They are the absolute antithesis to what Monster Hunter is all about and literally hold your hand throughout the entire experience. You no longer really have to look for monsters, you don't really have to look at the environment to find resources. Just mindlessly follow the fireflies – there's a good boy! No way! Give me old Monster Hunter, where you actually have to use your eyes when navigating the environment. You have to look for the right ingredients, use trial and error, and – get this – hunt for the monsters. Imagine that!
Then there's the combat. As you can guess by this point, I'm a greatsword wielder by trade. I was always sold on the classic Monster Hunter style of waiting patiently to attack when you have an opening. It made sense to sheathe my weapon between attacks because, well, it's a massive fricking heavy blade! I enjoyed making the decision between blocking the upcoming attack or sheathing my blade. You were limited. It was always a compromise. That's what made combat so darn dynamic, fun, and absorbing.
Monster Hunter: World, on the other hand, lets you block without sheathing your weapon, run around at full speed with your weapon unsheathed, and lets you pull off ungodly combo attacks. I don't want combo attacks. I want careful, considered, difficult-to-pull-off attacks that have a risk-reward element to them. Give me actual depth – not flair that will help you shift a few more copies!
I actually feel like less is more in terms of the environment, as well. In Monster Hunter: World you have these wide open spaces that large monsters openly roam and fight each other in, while in Generations areas are more like a collection of small arenas. Each small section has its own biome and monsters too. While, on paper, a more open and dynamic space sounds more exciting, I find the smaller spaces way more appealing. The designers put a lot of work into making those spaces feel alive by including gorgeous backdrops that gave you the feeling you're in a more wide open space than you actually are. Also, the loading screen between each area sectioned them off in your mind, which gave you a better indication of where certain resources or monsters were. I don't remember thinking about any of that in World – I'd just follow the bloody fireflies.
Your imagination is a way finer designer than a computer will ever be, and Monster Hunter Generations relies on it to map out its world. Head on over to Verdant Hills and just take a moment to admire the backdrops if you don't believe me. Your mind will quickly fill in the blanks and the world will feel very much alive. Make no mistake – Capcom did an incredible job with Monster Hunter: World. It's absolutely the technological marvel it set out to be and it's one of the most gorgeous games of this generation. I understand from a business perspective that Capcom had to appeal more to the casual crowd in order for the franchise to grow, and I accept that. I'm happy that there are more Monster Hunter fans out there now as it's a good sign that the franchise will live on for many years to come.
But Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is where I'll be spending my time for the foreseeable future, and the ability to take it on the go with me is only a very small part of the equation. It's taught me that visual flair and special effects pale in comparison to depth of gameplay, a sense of wonder, and that all important personal connection to your character and playstyle.
If you want to be held by the hand, fine! All the power to you and I hope you enjoy your time in Monster Hunter: World. Me, I'm going to play by my own rules and try and figure out just what the heck is going on in Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate.