Featured Image: Capcom Co, Ltd
Once in a great while, there is a game that releases that will absolutely engross me. Recently, that game has been Monster Hunter: World. It is a game that keeps me wanting to come back just for the gameplay. Along the way, however, I learned some interesting things about storytelling from this seemingly monster hunting grind game.
Plot ≠ Story
I hear some of you saying “But the plot of Monster Hunter World isn’t that great,” and those people are right. However, plot is not the same as story. Plot is the sequence of events that lead up some conclusion. Story, or narrative, is the depiction of a sequence of events, or plot. Story has a lot more involved in it, and if you are only looking at the exposition of the cutscenes and mid-mission characters then you are losing a bunch of the story of the game. Dark Souls has a spotty plot, but the story it weaves is a beautiful one.
On top of that, games do not have just one plot. There is usually the main plot, but there are also all sorts of side plots. Take for instances some of the optional quests in Monster Hunter: World. Some of my favorite are the ones that reward you with new ingredients to the Canteen, the place where you get buffs before going on hunts. These quests often have you venturing into something’s territory to collect that new ingredient. Where you collect these ingredients can say its own story. In one such quest the game had me looking for Wyvern egg, which could only be found at the very top of the Ancient Forest. When I finally climbed to the top, picked up the egg, and started walking back to my camp, a Rathian (a flying Wyvern monster) started to chase me down. While it was frustrating to complete, it told an interesting story of me stealing a monster’s egg. I couldn’t really be mad at the thing (aside from me failing the quest over and over) because I was stealing from it. The gold of story from this game comes not from the main plot of the game, but from all the little things you do outside of it.
Tracking the Monsters
The part of Monster Hunter World that I find so much fun is not just fighting the monsters and harvesting them to make bigger and more awesome parts, it's also tracking them down. Only recently I made it through what I thought was everything the game had to offer, I pushed back Zorah Magdoros, and unlocked the High Tier gear. I thought it was going to be a rinse and repeat of what I had played but with materials named slightly different (like “Great Jagras Hide+”). Instead, I started tracking a monster that I had never seen before, and it reminded me of how awesome it was to track down a monster for the first time. Yes, after a while of tracking down your 13th Pukei-Pukei you get a little bored with it, but the game does a great job of speeding that up.
When you are tracking a monster you have to find clues of where it once was. The most common of these are footprints, which the monster leaves behind as it moves around the map. But you can also find feathers, mucus, scales, and scratch marks. And it’s this sort of thing that I love about tracking monsters in this game. It shows all the ways that a massive monster leaves behind a trail. Sometimes you can even find doodles that lead you some creatures called the Grimalkynes, which are small cat-like creatures that can help you.
This type of detail to tracking a creature is something I don’t see in tabletop games today. It’s nearly impossible for creatures to not leave evidence behind, and even people do the same. When your players try to track something with that Survival check, what do they find? Most commonly we might say footprints or drag marks, but what if you are in a stone cave? That’s harder to justify footprints, but mixing it up some can give additional information about the creature. If they find feathers left behind at a scene that might give them more of a clue on what to go on, especially if they look into the feathers just a bit more. Maybe the players find doodles of a more civilized creature. I can see Kobolds or Goblins marking their territory to other Kobolds and Goblins on tree, warning them not to trespass.
Environments Tell a Tale
The visuals in Monster Hunter World are awesome, the level design of the world makes for great hunting grounds (even if after a while they start to get repetitive). The “low rank” portion of the game establishes what monsters appear in certain areas. The Pukei-Pukei shows up in the Ancient Forest, the Barroth is in the Wildspire Wastes, and the Paolumu is in the Coral Highlands, etc. You start to recognize what kinds of environments each monster exists in and how it can affect their physical properties and abilities. The change in environment also changes what plants and small creatures you can find (with some exceptions). All of these give you a unique sense of biodiversity to each area.
Even within a zone, different parts of the level have different environments themselves. In the Wildspire Wastes you see both areas of more arid landscape, and yet traveling a little ways will take you to a swampy area. Each of these will have certain elements to them you cannot find in the other area, such as the Paratoads (found in the swampy areas). Now this isn’t perfect because the game does have mechanics that they want to keep consistent, but even just the placement of certain harvestable materials only being found in one area is plenty of detail to tell some kind of story. For instance, the Wildspire Waste has only two locations that you can find the Parashroom, an ingredient important to Tranquilizer bombs. These locations are largely in a dark place, which could lead the player to understand that Parashrooms are located in shady areas.
This use of the environment can help you understand what monsters and plants would exist in the area. If you are deep underground you probably won’t find too many flowers, but possibly you will find more fungi and bioluminescent creatures. If the player is trying to find something specific, you can use your knowledge of the environment and the item/creature they are looking for to tell a story about where they and find it and that knowledge present your reader/player.
If fighting monsters in Monster Hunter: World makes you one, then guilty as charged. Combating these strange beasts has its own fun story to tell. To give some context, I play with the Insect Glaive which allows me to more easily get into the air and mount monsters. Now, the focus of the monster fight is not too different from many games, which is kill it without getting killed yourself. Unlike other games, this fight does not take place in the same arena every time and the arena can change quite often with the environment having to change. This happens because of the open level design and the monster’s predisposition to stay alive like most other wild animals. If the monster has had enough of the fight, it might decide to try and run away. If it is injured enough, it may even start limping away (or just fly off like a jerk if it’s physiology allows) instead to go hide and rest up. This shows that you might not fight a monster directly in its lair unless it is near death’s door. Have players encounter the creature at different locations if they are attempting to hunt it down.
Since the arena will be changing, it is important to keep in mind what the arena is going to be. Each area may be more beneficial than others for the hunters vs the prey and vice versa. Making more Interactive Environments was something I outlined a while ago. To expand upon it, Monster Hunter: World has certain mechanics that can turn a fight in your favor that requires paying attention in all three dimensions. For instance, there might be a mound of earth that is being held up with some vines (how they got there is pretty much irrelevant) and cutting the vines can cause all that earth to collapse causing massive damage to anything under it, whether it be prey or hunter. Probably my favorite instance of this was when I was combating the Rathian from the hunt for Wyvern Eggs. In one try, I decided to drop the egg I was carrying (breaking it and causing me to have to grab another one) and fight the monster and hopefully kill it. When the fight was going poorly I noticed a large damn positioned quite usefully just further up the hill I was fighting on. Moving out of the way, I shot the damn and the water took the beast to the bottom of the map which was quite a long fall. It gave me enough time to make a second attempt at grabbing the egg and leaving. While it wasn’t the most riveting story ever, it was certainly a fun experience for me, contributing to the narrative of how I still failed to collect those eggs and increased the immersion of both that area and the beast I was fighting.
I’ve talked a lot about where to fight the monsters but not what it is like to actually fight them. Early in the game, you choose a weapon to use and can switch between them, but I have found that some people find one weapon and get super attached to it (like me and my Insect Glaives). This translates pretty well to how people play games like D&D, they have a skill set and they usually stick to it. This also changes the way you approach fighting the monsters. Some weapons, like the Bowguns, have you stand plenty far away from the monster pegging it with ammunition while others have you so close you can smell the monster. Once again, pretty striking similarities. The monster will also react differently depending on how you play. If you do a ton of damage from a distance, the creature is going to chase after you while your melee pals have to chase after the monster. The monster is aware (usually) of who is doing the most damage to it and changing its focus. Likewise, if a player manages to get themselves in a strategically advantageous spot, the monster will do what they can to rid them of that advantage. They are not stupid creatures, and self preservation is on their mind. When you are riding on the creature and stabbing it repeatedly, it’s going to do what it can to knock you off like slamming the part of its body you are attached to into a tree even while its getting attacked from other locations. As a Dungeon Master, that means for most creatures you are going to have to think like your players do for monsters to make them feel natural.
One of the key elements of a monster fight is breaking parts of the monster. A very visual example of this is severing the tail from a monster. It’s actually something I rarely see in tabletop games, but that might be largely due to the lack of “targeted” attacks. In essence you are destroying something on the monster. In Monster Hunter: World this gives you access to parts you can only get from breaking such as claws, but it can also expose weak spots or change what damage type does more damage. Think about what defenses your creatures have and what it would take to mitigate them. Maybe breaking the skull plate on a monster reduces its damage with headbutts, or makes them take damage when they perform said attack.
Lastly, is the Rage mechanic of monsters in Monster Hunter: World. In the game, it is a state in which the monsters stats increase and it becomes far more dangerous. In some cases, monsters become immune to certain mechanics like Flash Pods (which cause blindness to creatures). At the same time, some creatures are able to succumb to other mechanics like Pitfalls when they might not normally be able to. This change of state is one that I’ve wanted to implement at my table for a while, and can create a mix up in the mechanics of a fight. Narratively, this is a change in the creature’s emotional state and creates a change in behavior. So before, when the monster was fighting rationally, it now might fight irrationally to the point of self harm if it means dealing additional damage.
It’s All About Crafting
While I love hunting monsters, some monsters are just too tough to beat without upgrading my equipment. One of the core mechanics of the Monster Hunter franchise is to take all the parts from the monsters that you fight and to turn those parts into weapons and armor for you to take down even bigger monsters with those weapons and armor. It's a similar complaint I had to World of Warcraft but where the experience of getting what you need for the weapons and armor, for me, is far more enjoyable. While the construction of new weapons is rare in D&D using monster parts, the desire to create consumables or tools is not as rare, which is a combination of features that Monster Hunter: World has. One of the mechanics is the creation of traps, potions, and ammunition, but they don’t use monster parts. Instead it uses plants and bugs you find in the levels. My guess is the only reason that you don’t use monster parts for consumables is how frequently and difficult it can be to get those monster parts.
That isn’t to say this can’t be used in your storytelling. That tanner who is hiring the party to get thirty wolf pelts is probably asking for them not just for the sake of killing them but probably because they want to turn them into clothing. The alchemist looking for a rare white flower that only grows in the swamps surrounded by undead is probably asking for it so they can complete a rare potion. Remember earlier when I mentioned that certain materials would likely only be found in certain locations? Well, you can use that in combination of crafting to determine what areas of your world may or may not be able to craft certain items or if they have to use alternatives. If the essential herbs for making health potions isn’t available in the region the people may have to find an alternative, possibly having different properties, or be unable to make them all together driving up the price of health potions in the area. This can also create a need that will create a market and the worldbuilding can just explode from there.
Monster Hunter: World has brought me a lot of joy and thought to adding monsters and crafting to my world. It highlights the importance of environments in how combats play out and the effort that goes into hunting down these dangerous beasts. If you have had thoughts on trying this game out for yourself I highly recommend it. You can buy a copy of Monster Hunter: World for PC on Amazon and if you purchase it through this link you will help support the content on this site. Tell me what you think of my observations of Monster Hunter: World and if you have any stories you have from the game you want to share in the comments!
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