Monster Hunter and Progression (Part 1)

With the announcement of Monster Hunter: World at this year’s E3, I wanted to ramble on about Monster Hunter’s design for a while. Even if you don’t know the series at all, or were just intrigued by the E3 trailer, hopefully this will help clarify what makes the series unique and beloved.

(Monster Hunter: World, Capcom)

Monster Hunter (MH), in my opinion, presents a sort of perfect formula for a game. The series isn’t for everyone, being very repetitive and initially difficult (especially the obtuse early games), or at all ‘perfect’ (everything has its issues), but the core gameplay elements feed into each other near-perfectly to create an incredibly satisfying cycle.

If you don’t know, MH is built on a cycle akin to Diablo or any other loot-based game. The player’s objective is to earn better equipment, so they can progress through the game, so they can earn better equipment, so they can progress some more. It’s a rhythm that encourages relatively mindless but consistently satisfying gameplay. Most games work on the same principle, but loot-based games like these typically strip away most everything – story, characters, atmosphere – to focus entirely on the action.

In MH, the game proceeds in three steps: hunt, carve, forge. You hunt a monster – chosen from a list of missions, like chasing a bounty – and kill (or capture) it. You carve from the monster and obtain a variety of materials – horns, hides, various organs. Then, back at camp, you forge those materials into new weapons or armour for the next hunt (if you have enough of the right materials).

The idea is to focus on something you want to forge (usually something that would make you stronger) and hunt the specific monster that rewards the materials you need. For example, if you want a sword made mostly of Rathian parts, you go and hunt Rathians until you can forge one. No shortcuts: you want that sword, you go hunting and earn it the hard way.

As a result, progression is essentially player-directed. It provides players a higher level of agency in their own journey, progressing at a pace that’s both inherently organic and motivational, with a variety of disinct paths. For example, a player can build up their armory and stock of items (potions, traps, etc.) at their own pace, focusing on the easier monsters to forge complete armour sets and stronger weapons for the next tier of hunts; another player could just rush ahead, relying on skill and knowledge to climb the ranks towards High Rank and G-Rank from the get-go. Each player will also focus on a single or handful of weapon types to forge and upgrade (each weapon and upgrade requiring specific materials unique to itself), further distinguishing their personal path through the game.

(Monster Hunter: World, Capcom)

MH games also differ in its relative lack of RNG (random number generation), the lack of random chaos to drive the player’s progression. Unlike loot-based games, where players are expected to play and play until finally something useful drops, MH rewards players far more consistently. In MH, the effort typically comes down to success at all, rather than just getting lucky in a certain instance of success.

Loot games are typically built on easy but very satisfying and mechanically rewarding gameplay, where good loot is rewarded largely to dedication and less to skill – the process varies but its rewards are still binary: you’re rewarded the loot you want, or you’re not. MH offers the same at times, but its loot is generally worked for by gaining materials for creation, and these materials and their probability is often dependent on player gameplay (for example: cut off a tail, you should get a tail). While this process is inherently repetitive – and occasionally very repetitive – it isn’t exploitive of the player the same way games like Destiny and Diablo can be, expecting players to dedicate time and effort to the random chance that a piece of equipment will drop.

MH has its moments – certain materials have a very low chance of dropping, and it’s possible to kill or capture a monster dozens of times without a single drop. But by-and-large, every material of a monster can be obtained by either defeating the monster outright and likely receiving the drop, or; damaging the monster a certain way – like breaking a horn or chopping the tail – to likely receive a specific drop, or; capturing the monster for better chances at certain parts. Either way, players are given far more agency in their progression, with faith that their efforts will likely be rewarded as long as they succeed.

Overall, Monster Hunter has a distinct theme of workmanship in its player progression. Players work for their rewards and the games keep random chaos to a minimum. It’s a big part of why the playerbase have become so attached, offering a sandbox-like progression system that, combined with its strong gameplay (more on that later), hasn’t really been matched by other games in the industry.

Thanks for reading! Return for Part 2 in the coming days – focused on core mechanics and enemy design. 

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