I know many of you are likely going to want to see me drawn and quartered for this, but I’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before. Okay, sure, I fooled around a little once on a friend’s PSP, but I don’t really remember much of what happened. Maybe it’s because I’m determined to make sure that I actually use my new Nintendo console this time, or maybe it’s because last week about a hundred people started talking to me about it (which, to be honest, had never really happened before), but I picked up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the WiiU on launch-day last Friday and I’ve been having a lot of trouble putting it down since.
If you’ve already played Monster Hunter 3 Tri on the Wii then you’ll probably know a lot of what I’m about to say, as the opening portion of the game is practically identical, but for those of you that, like me, are heading into this ‘expanded content version’ of MH3 for the first time, you’ll be happy to know that it starts out something like an old-school JRPG would; you watch a beautiful CG cutscene that perfectly encapsulates the world you’ll be playing within, and is immediately followed by a juicy amount of non-voiced (and often hilarious) character dialogue before thrusting you sword-first into a simple ‘kill giant dinosaur, return with large chunk of its flesh’ task.
During the aforementioned CG cutscene, an earthquake strikes the small, peaceful Moga Village - this creates the premise for most of the opening phase of MH3U. As a passing Monster Hunter, you offer your services in the restoration of the village and will spend the first few hours of gameplay doing just that. This is achieved by the accumulation of Resource Points, which are awarded for killing various monsters and completing tasks. Tasks, which are offered by villages, are not to be confused with quests, which are offered by the Hunters Guild after you finish the basic restorations of the village.
Quests make up a large portion of the gameplay in MH3U. Unlike tasks, which take place in the persistent world area of Moga Woods, quests, once accepted, create a separate instanced area of a zone, with specific monsters, items and a variable time limit for completion. They’re something like missions, really: you’ll be asked to kill or capture or collect something, and upon completion receive a reward for doing so. Each are rated with a star rating, and after completing a certain amount, you’ll usually find a new story task becomes available; after completing that, you’ll be able to accept quests from the following star rating and, usually, be allowed to hunt in a new area.
Having only played about 20 hours in what I hear is a world offering several thousand, I can’t comment on how things change in the later phases of the game; however, I’m definitely starting to see a pattern: accept quests, complete quests, collect and combine items to create better items, and use the rewards to create better weapons and armour so that I can accept tougher quests and take down bigger monsters. I imagine this mostly remains the same for the majority of the experience.
Which is great, because it works so well. It’s almost like an MMORPG, except it isn’t. There’s no real level indicator other than the quality of your gear and the star rating offered by the quests (though, I’ve heard of a Hunter Ranking in multiplayer elements that I can’t wait to experience) and, unless you specifically invite other players to your party, you’ll always be playing alone. That said, the world outside the quest instances reacts to you much like an online persistent world would; climates change, as do the monsters in each area, day becomes night and, at later levels, locating, tracking and finally killing or capturing a specific monster so that you can obtain that specific type of weapon or armour for your character quickly becomes more important that feeding the cat.
Of course, if you’ve played Monster Hunter 3 Tri on the Wii then you already know most of this, and you’re probably wondering why you should bother picking it up again on the WiiU (or the 3DS, as the case may be - it’s very much the same game, and your save files can be transferred between both making it a great way to keep playing if you’re regularly on the move).
First, the obvious: the Ultimate Edition is bigger and better than Tri in basically every way. You can play it in 720p and 1080p, there are hundreds of a bunch of monsters and quests alongside a number of changes made to the core gameplay, such as the ability to use several of the weapons under water (which was previously unavailable), the new Target Camera which allows you to lock onto a large monster to keep track of it (most useful when they start running away), and the new dynamic shadows add something to the overall visual style (though, I will say this: MH3U still looks mostly the same as MH3, and it’s a huge disappointment; with the new power available on the WiiU, I expected some retexturing that just isn't there, and while graphics don’t hold a candle to the awesome gameplay offered, it still would have been nice to see the extra effort made to justify the steep price tag).
Though, naturally, the biggest difference offered in MH3U comes with the controller; on the WiiU, the GamePad acts as a fully customizable panel interface that, quite literally, allows you to size and place most if the HUD options in a way that best suits your playstyle. Regrettably, most if it’s redundant, as accessing the same information via the normal control inputs generally offers a quicker (if less visual) experience. This is my biggest gripe with MH3U - for the most part, this is a port with expansion content, and it could have been so much more. The WiiU GamePad isn’t at all utilised in any meaningful way, and though it would have required a significantly larger amount of development time (and, likely, further delaying the upcoming Monster Hunter 4), I think in doing so we could have seen a definitive edition of the game that would be remembered forever as a stalwart example of the awesome capabilities of the WiiU.
Too, elements like enemy carcasses disappearing quickly after the enemies are slain, and phasing between zones when chasing monsters (that don’t phase into the next zone, even if they are further back than you are), which, while not possible on the Wii due to hardware limitations, could certainly have been achieved on the WiiU - really irritate the hell out of me.
Though, in the end, the lack of attention given to this port will always be overshadowed by the amazing content offered by the game, and moreover, the new multiplayer elements, seamless 3DS data integration (while you can't party with a 3DS player while you’re playing on your WiiU, you can take your save data and move it between both version - great fro gaming on the move!) and general additions and improvements made are of such brilliant quality that you’ll only ever be disappointed for a few moments.
Though it’s possible that many caSUAL players would enjoy exploring the world, catching bugs, mining ore and combining the thousands of available items, in the end, this is a game in which almost every battle is a difficult boss encounter requiring quick reflexes and, sometimes, hours of preparation before a hunt. HardCORE players only.