I’ve often heard it said that the best lessons are the ones you learn by yourself. If I’ve made up that saying, and no one notices, then I want to make 2 things perfectly clear from the outset: Firstly I’m copyrighting that phrase to make my millions, and secondly it’s clear not enough people have played Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.
For those who caught my Demo Preview of MH3U, you’ll know that not only did I propose a MH3U theme tune sung by an 80s throwback, but the reason for said song was due to the game itself being a test of perseverance and self-discovery. Now, if there’s one thing that this reviewer likes given recent events, it’s when a demo is just that – a demonstration of what to expect in the main game. But if you think that MH3U showed its entire hand with its demo, you are very much mistaken – there is much more on offer here.
If you hadn’t already guessed from the game’s title, you assume the role of a hunter of monsters and at the start of the game, find your way to the little Moga Village. On your arrival, all is well and good with the world, with everyone helping each other out and full of smiles. Then in a bout of storytelling originality, a large, overpowered enemy comes along to destroy the idyllic setting before you’ve even had a chance to sit down, take in some rays and sample the local cuisine. The uninvited guest comes in the form a serpent-like creature known as Lagiacrus, who rules the sea, and has the left the village not only full of fear, but also – luckily for you – in need of someone who can hunt monsters.
So yes, the story isn’t going to win any awards for originality, or indeed substance; but this is one of those games where story takes very much a back seat in proceedings. Where the game provides excitement is in the way it plays – or more importantly, the way it makes you play. Cue theme tune.
As a start-up hunter you’re geared up with a variety of weapons to choose from, and a basic armor set to protect you from harm. Each weapon brings not only varying pros and cons to the table, but also different strategy requisites for success. You could, for example, opt for some twin blades that are low on power, but attack at pace; or you could pick a lumbering hammer weapon that is heavier, so takes longer to swing, but inflicts large amounts of damage. You could even opt for a ranged weapon in the form of a bow or blowgun to attack from afar. Each requires different strategies to maximize their effectiveness, but what’s rewarding about all of this is that there’s not an obvious “best” option; any weapon can work well if you learn how to use it, and this premise certainly sets the scene for rewarding those players keen to hone their skills and tactics on various enemies.
Aside from the weapons in this game, the other deal-breaker would be the monsters you’re expected to be hunting. If they were a bunch of unimaginative palette swaps, then Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate would get very boring, very quickly.
Thankfully, and mercifully, this is one area where the game truly excels. Each of the plethora of creatures looks vastly different. As a hunter you’ll be tackling anything from a humble herbivore to a vicious meat-eater. You’ll be tackling mammals, birds, lizards and fish of all shapes, sizes and attack patterns as you progress. But as well as looking very different, these monsters also act differently. You’ll find that some will react cowardly to your attacks and try to flee, whereas others will engage you in a fight. Some monsters even attack you just for being in their territory or you’ll find parent monsters guarding their young from danger. All of this serves to give each monster group a very distinct personality that means that when someone refers to a particular enemy – you won’t just recall their size and colour, but how they act, and how best to defeat them.
Speaking of how best to defeat each monster, the other added layer to the game is that there are specific tactics related to taking down various different monsters; the basics of which – albeit a crucial part – is that of learning the enemy’s movements. How can you avoid their attacks, and be in the right position to land those all-important hits on your enemy before the next wave of enemy attacks? It’s here you realise that this game evolves from being a simple button-basher, and that simply spamming the attack buttons won’t cut the mustard against the bigger enemies. You need to learn when and where to use the dodge button, when would be a good time to heal, and what the best strategy is for using other items, to ensure that you give yourself the best chance of victory against your foe. And as I mentioned in my Demo Impressions piece, don’t expect any life bars in this game (save your own). Your only indication of victory for the smaller enemies is when they lay slain on the floor. Larger enemies that take time to wear down, show more signs of wear and tear such as wheezing, slobbering and limping around the battlefield to indicate they are close to meeting their maker. Watching out for these signs is also crucial if you want to end up victorious.
At this point in the review, it’s worth reviewing the items that you can acquire in the game and their uses. To say this game has a fair few items would be an understatement. To say it has a shed-load would be much nearer the mark. Items are found in two main ways throughout the game, the first being pillaging concentrated item locations, such as rock sections you can mine from, or plants you can harvest. The other is by accruing items from the carcasses of fallen animals that you successfully kill. A lot of these latter items can only be obtained by killing a certain type of enemy, and some such enemies – as discussed previously – can be a challenge to overcome. This makes certain items quite rare, but it makes the reward of attaining that elusive item all the sweeter.
But, what’s the point, I hear you ask? Why do I care about the myriad of items available? Well, another layer of this game is in the combining of certain items to make new ones – that serve a more obvious and useful purpose. Many items, for example, are required to make new (or improve existing) weapons and armor which in turn will make fighting the current behemoth just that little bit easier. You can make all sorts of ammunition for your ranged weapons, or make traps to hold your enemy in place whilst you unleash hell on its weak spot. You can also combine other items to make useful health potions, or make items that aid in other item gathering – such as pickaxes or bug nets. The game adopts a sort of middle of the road approach to combining items. It doesn’t tell you straight away what items you can combine to make a desired end result, but then it’s not as trial and error as Skyrim’s Alchemy skill either. MH3U will tell you what items you can combine with each other if you have that item available, and then once you’ve discovered a new combination; it will permanently keep a record of that combination for you in a Combo List that can be reviewed at any time. A great feature of the Wii U gamepad is that you can quick access any Combo you have discovered or are able to discover at any point just by tapping the appropriate tab on the screen, it means you can make potions or ammo in the field of battle, and keeps the action fresh and fluid.
Progress comes through the distribution of Quests for your monster hunter to undertake and complete. These quests will either require you to kill a monster or three, or perform resource gathering quests. These quests in turn reward you with money and items to be used to better equip your hunter as they progress. These quests occur out in the battlefield which is comprised of a set of interconnected mini open spaces where monsters and resources appear. These are all numbered and have their own identity, and the map at the side of the screen aids navigation. This method of having lots of mini sections allows for a much larger world, without the need for it all to be visible at once, and its useful that there’s normally two or three ways to get from one section of the map to the other when chasing a fleeing monster.
One of this biggest pulls of the game is its online functionality. Playing in Network Mode allows up to four hunters to take on a quest at once. It means you and up to three friends can party up to take down that giant chicken that’s been playing you for a fool for the past three hours in solo play. It means that hunters with different weapons, armour and game experiences can work together, discuss strategies and share tips for tackling some of the game’s more challenging sections. The voice chat functionality that comes with the Wii U gamepad works well with minimal interference, and makes this teamwork and camaraderie all the more possible. You’ll find yourself shouting – “I’ve found the monster, he’s here in 3” or similar to help each other out – because it’s very much a team adventure. In single player, you are only allowed to die three times before you fail a quest. In multiplayer those three lives are spread amongst everyone, so each hunter is there to support everyone in the party or face failing the quest and losing half an hour’s work.
It would be remiss of me not to further delve into the Wii U gamepad’s functionality in this game. As well as the microphone functionality, you can also customise the panels available to you on the touch screen, to make the pad work for you mid-battle. As well as the Combo List feature I mentioned earlier, there are also other things such as camera control, signalling to other players and more that you can customise in or out to suit your needs and make the Gamepad work for you. It’s a nice touch as rather than you being told how to use the Gamepad, you can – to an extent – let the Gamepad know how you want it to work.
My only real gripe with the game is in its complexity. There’s a lot packed in here for your money, and to use a bad pun, it really is a monster of a hunting game. There’s so much going on with the item combinations, the various weapons, the hundreds of quests and monsters, the strategies, and tactics that the game is sometimes guilty of assuming you know so much. It does lead you in gently, but there were numerous times when I felt uncertain of what to do or how to best achieve what I wanted. Sure, this promotes the idea of practice and self-discovery, and even highlights the benefits of partying up online with more experienced hunters to learn a trick or two; but fundamentally it can lead to frustration. I admit that for most this challenge and reward will be the appeal – and I myself probably fall into this category – but this learning curve will not be for everyone. The item grinding will not be for everyone. The similar nature of some quests will not be for everyone. Especially if you’re more of a pick-up-and-play gamer looking to relax and kill some time.
Most games adopt the familiar narrative ploy of the underpowered protagonist needing to get stronger to defeat the main foe. Sometimes this mechanic can feel like a poor justification for the main body of a game. However, in MH3U it is the reality and purpose of the game. Unlike other games, you can attempt to tackle Lagiacrus from very early on, should you wish to have your ass handed to you on a plate. And this is not just for show, but to make a point. This game is about a journey for you and your character. To not only find and craft better equipment to assist you, but also to learn different tactics and preparations for taking down different monsters. Couple this with an interwoven multiplayer offering that plays perfectly to this end, and you realize what a rewarding title Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate really is. If you’re up for a lengthy, challenging, but ultimately satisfying game, then MH3U could mean you and your Wii U will be seeing a lot of each other in the near future.