A hunter’s life

April 12, 2010 by Tim

So this week I’m planning to play a lot of Splinter Cell: Conviction. However I’m going to be talking a lot about Monster Hunter Tri, which comes out next week.

I’m a huge fan of the Monster Hunter series. If you’re not entirely familiar with it, you aren’t alone. It’s got a huge rabid following in Japan, and a smaller but no less loyal fanbase here in North America. Since I enjoy the series and since I’m very excited about MH3 finally making it stateside next week, I’ve decided to spend the week sharing that excitement with you, and hopefully get some new eyes on Monster Hunter that may have overlooked it before.

The premise of the game is simple, and there is little to no storyline to speak of. You play a monster hunter, an individual whose sole purpose it is to track and hunt various creatures of assorted size and ferocity. When you kill a monster you can carve it for pieces, everything from raw meat you can BBQ to sustain your stamaina to teeth, claws, scales and hides you’ll use to craft/upgrade bigger and better armor and weapons.

While out on a hunt you can also forage, mine, and fish, and while back in town you can tend to a farm to grow various crops you’ve planted. It’s a game about collection, because literally everything you can scrounge up can be used to create items that make your life as a hunter easier and more productive. You can buy certain items, of course, but just about anything and everything you’d need can be crafted out of raw materials.

These materials help you out on your hunting or gathering quests. Quests are timed missions out in a large area comprised of a handful of different zones. Each area has a unique ecosystem and each environment presents its own challenges. Sometimes you’re out there gathering items, or thinning herds of troublesome creatures, but most often you’re out there hunting a specific boss monster (by yourself or with up to three other hunters online). If you manage to take it down, you can carve items used to make better weapons and armor, which in turn allow you to go after bigger and tougher monsters. It’s a simple, straightforward premise, but one that offers hundreds of hours of deep and challenging gameplay.

There are no character classes or levels (in the traditional sense). Instead the biggest choice that determines your playstyle is your choice of weapon. Every weapon (six melee and three classes of bowguns in MH3) affords a different style of play. Some have better reach, some have longer combos, some offer better protection via shields, some slow you down in exchange for damage, etc. Two hunters using different weapons will have to approach the same boss fight with entirely different tactics in order to succeed.

And this is where a lot of Monster Hunter’s depth comes in, because it’s not enough to simply upgrade to the more powerful hammer, or lance, or greatsword. There are strengths and limitations to each weapon, and each monster has a unique and varied set of abilities. You will rarely get a chance to stand in one spot and beat on a monster (shock traps etc aside). Learning how to use your chosen weapon, learning when to strike and when to dodge, when to run, is what separates a good hunter from a great hunter.

Once you start getting into the skill stats tied to armor and the decoration slots (think gem sockets in WoW) you’ve opened up a whole system that lets you alter and tweak the way you play your character, and trust me, you’ll need the help. Monster Hunter is not a pushover game series. It is not a game that you can “finish” in ten hours. Some fights are incredibly challenging and will take time to master.

Some fights are best only attempted online with other hunters as backup. Fortunately for us westerners, Capcom has chosen to waive the monthly fee for playing Monster Hunter online, so we can party up to our hearts content. As such we’ll also be getting scheduled timed event quests, online-only quests that take the place of DLC, and offer hunters and their parties chances to win rare items. All packaged in one of the most graphically impressive games on the Wii.

I’ll talk a little bit more in depth about some of the actual hunting and game mechanics alonside Wednesday’s comic.

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