Let’s take a break from my litany of whimsically playing 15+ games in as many days to talk about my new current obsession.
Yeah, the base game that launched on PC way back in August 2018.
It started with watching too many Youtube videos on one half of the screen, while playing modded Minecraft in the second half.
In the last week or so, it seemed like my entire recommended videos feed was 80% Monster Hunter Rise – no doubt due to me subscribing to a bunch of weapon guide tutorial makers once upon a time when Monster Hunter World was still the new shiny.
This self-inflicted advertising had the effect of egging me onto the Nintendo Switch e-store, where I stared at the latest Monster Hunter game to be released, debating with myself if I had the time and attention budget to pick up a Monster Hunter game for the Switch. That, and whether my cost budget was prepared to pay launch day prices for the newest thing, or if I should bite now for Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate (something I’d been eyeing every time it went on discount), except that it wasn’t really discounted right now.
The thing that held me back was the knowing part of my brain that said that Monster Hunter games really weren’t quite my cup of tea.
I’d played a PSP Monster Hunter before – Monster Hunter Freedom Unite – for some definitions of the word ‘play.’
That is, I went through a couple of the first few levels before remembering to charge the PSP got more onerous than the desire to keep playing.
In August 2018, I’d played Monster Hunter World at my own pace, slowly ambling my way through low rank Tobi-Kadachi before I got bored and distracted. The amount of repeat monsters I’d have to kill to upgrade weapons and armor got to me. The pace wasn’t right for me at the time.
I’d liked the Charge Blade I was slowly learning. But there were also just too many other things to learn and grok at the same time, not just in the Monster Hunter game, but among the other games I was playing at the time.
I put Monster Hunter World down, and only popped back in Dec 2019, when Iceborne was just around the corner.
I didn’t buy the expansion. Still haven’t.
The endgame didn’t interest me. The whole repeatedly killing a monster to get parts to make numerically better weapons and armor schtick is something I’m still on the fence about.
It seemed like I could be having almost the same monent-to-moment combat fun with lower level monsters, as compared with high level monsters with different skins, more attacks to over-complicate matters for a simple brain, and heaven forfend, artificial elemental resistances and susceptibilities that necessitate grinding new gear just to re-attain the same kill times on easier monsters.
I’m sure it works for those heavily invested in the franchise to the point where they need all that complexity just to reach a flow state. Just not for someone already overwhelmed just staring at their inventory.
What got me back in Dec 2019 was the news of Defender armor and weapons being introduced, aka ludicrously numerically overpowered gear designed to boot newbies and/or slow and clumsy players kicking and screaming to the end of the base game’s story, so they had an excuse to buy the expansion and join the rest of the population in the ‘new’ endgame.
While the presence of said gear put paid to the ol’ vertical progression lie, making it very obvious that all the fancy tiered gear/loot were mostly arbitrary goalposts rather than the treasures achievement-oriented players were making them out to be, I was not above making full use of the Defender sets to just brute force my way through the storyline. (After all, I did pay for the whole game.)
I’d switched weapons to Dual Blades, having analyzed myself and realizing that I like my action games faster paced. Slow and steady big hits -sound- fun, but in practice, I’m bored before I can get to the next hit.
If Dual Blades didn’t hit fast enough for me, then I could pretty much write off all Monster Hunter games…
They were fine.
More than fine.
I lacked the patience and finesse to learn the really fancy moves you see in all the Youtube videos where the player pretty much runs up walls and plays a blade sonata on the poor monster’s back, but the basic shit saw me through the main missions.
Left click and hit things with slashy blades. When meter charges up, hit another mouse button to go into berserk Demon mode and continue hitting things with glowy slashy blades.
When monster obligingly stays still (perhaps they’ve fallen down), run up to monster’s head, hopefully in Demon mode, and hit both mouse buttons at the same time to go into a long animation that is the human approximation of a food processor for BIG DAMAGE.
Rinse and repeat.
Granted, there were a few trouble spots. Mostly getting blown up by monster attacks that I had no clue about, nor any real practice regarding. I had no idea how to reach certain flying monsters, nor could I hit any weak points on the Anjanath – until I figured out that I pretty much just had to bang away at his protected legs until he fell over obligingly so I could hit his head.
The Defender gear turned all these possible gating stopping points into a couple speedbumps that could be glossed over.
Started Dec 17, 2019 and in a week, on Christmas Day, I’d knocked out Xeno’jiva and felt pretty much done.
Yes, there was plenty of endless endgame grinding, if I wanted, but I did not so want.
Thought I’d closed the chapter on Monster Hunter World. Saw the story, good enough place to end.
Fast forward to April 2021, and while Monster Hunter Rise mania was all over the interwebs, “Self,” I said. “Given that you’re not terribly attracted to the Monster Hunter franchise to begin with… if you just want to hit big monsters in a measured fashion for a while, why spend more money when you can just reinstall MHW and hit some monsters?”
Self, you are a genius.
So I re-installed.
Shortly after, I realized I had outsmarted myself because I logged back into a High Rank hunter character that had completed all the main story, inventory in goodness knows what state (I’d never tamed it, or my toolbar to begin with), Investigation/Optional/Event missions slinging at me every which way, competing for attention with all the helpful TIPS and NEWS and HEY, HAVE YOU HEARD OF OUR NEW ICEBORNE EXPANSION popups.
It’s like logging back on to a max level MMO character after not playing the game for two years.
There are all these THINGS, and a gazillion and one activities you could be doing… except you have no clue even what they are, and you don’t even know where to start, because your bags are in a giant mess – what do these do, anyway? – and waitaminute, how do my skills/attacks even work?
Well… if you’re going to relearn everything from scratch anyway…
Yep, I made a new character on a completely new game save.
Since I wanted a different, discovery experience (simulating playing Monster Hunter Rise perhaps), plowing my way through with overpowered Defender gear was out of the question.
Since all this numeric stuff is arbitrary anyway, I was going to play the game as initially intended with the original weapons and pretend the Defender stuff didn’t exist.
And perhaps… just perhaps, I might be able to try out a different weapon, rather than cling on to dual blades.
There are 14 weapons in Monster Hunter World. Some which were thrown right out of consideration from the get go.
I have a simple brain. Overly complex weapons and combos are generally not for me. That took insect glaive, hunting horn and switch axe out of the running. (I still do love the feel of charge blade though, so that was mentally bookmarked as a possible.)
Light bowgun, heavy bow gun and gunlance I’d messed around a bit with before, and they felt a bit alien and slow and not terribly enjoyable, so those were out. Bow seemed the most attractive of the ranged options, so I earmarked that for a trial spin or two.
I gave the rest a try in the training practice grounds.
Greatsword shortly fell out of favor – too heavy, too clunky – if I was going to learn how to deal with a heavy weapon, I may as well whole hog it and learn Charge Blade.
Sword and shield seemed average, okay, but you know, similar issue… Charge Blade basically is a cooler-looking sword and shield, with the added bonus of a big elemental axe, minus being able to use items with weapons drawn and presumably, some sword and shield advanced move/combos, if any (not like I was going to be good enough to use a weapon to that level of potential.)
Longsword seemed fairly cool, very flashy, able to sever monster limbs… just a little bit more complex on combos than I’d like to deal with, coming in like a fresh-faced newbie.
Hammer was rather tempting. I have a simple brain, as I’ve mentioned before. It’s pretty easy to wrap one’s mind around the concept of bonk the monster on the head. Left click to basic attack three times. When monster is stationary enough to cooperate, unleash the right click BIG BANG BONK five times. Very tempting.
Alas, the theory was easy but the execution was somewhat lacking. Aiming for the head was difficult. Missing was not very fun. Especially if the monster could gore you in the meantime. Slow, heavy weapons and all that.
Bow was okay. I stumbled over some of the combos, some of the aiming – it would presumably get better over time, like all things after more learning. It just didn’t seem very damaging. And it was way easier hitting a stationary barrel in the training grounds, over a moving, squirming, evading ANGRY monster who was intent on getting in your face and destroying you.
And then there was lance.
You know, I’d never really given much thought about the lance.
I had the vague impression that it was perhaps more of a team-oriented weapon. Sorta like hunting horn can support, as well as damage. Sorta like hammer would play a part in bonking monsters on the head so that it falls down and gets stunned for the whole team to wail on. Lance sounded like the tanky guy who would just face down the monster head on, and laugh in its face while poking it with a stick, doing low to medium damage, while the rest of the team went wild.
But I gamely gave it a go, since I was giving all the non-eliminated weapons a try.
It surprised me.
The first attraction was the simplicity of its basic combos. You poke three times. Poke-poke-poke.
Your only strategy here is you get to choose where to poke. Left click to poke ahead of you – the middle poke.
Right click to poke high – the high poke, great for reaching heads and wings and tails lifted off the ground. (Remember, this was the BANE of my noob dual blades life.)
Then you have a supreme defensive guard/block option with your shield (so proclaimeth all the videos and Reddit threads.)
I vaguely understood there was some way to counter attack if you got the timing of monster attacks right – which seemed like a promising future thing to look forward to learning and getting the hang of.
Then shortly after, the videos completely confused my head when they started talking about evasive hops, dash charging, even more ridiculous advanced combos, fancy vertical wall running and easily mounting monsters.
My main take-home was: Wow, this pointy stick can do a lot. I don’t know if I will ever get to that point, but let’s deal with that later, if we are ever ready for it.
What I really liked, as the pundits stressed, was that the lance was a consistent weapon. Keep up the pace, and do decent dps. Don’t, and well, don’t.
It seemed just right for my basic brain to grasp.
1. Just start with Poke-poke-poke.
Forget everything else for the time being, just get in there and choose middle or high, and poke-poke-poke.
The perfect level of complexity.
I went through a good quarter to half of the Low Rank story missions just poke-poke-poking away and enjoying myself thoroughly.
If these are the 10 levels of Lance, rest assured I was playing at -10 level.
Eventually, the issue that annoyed me grew more obvious. Re-positioning was hard just doing poke-poke-poke.
Having semi-grasped poke-poke-poke, it was time to throw just one more teensy layer into the mix.
Re-watched ye olde standard Arekkz’s tutorial video for the next step in the loooong learning process.
Apparently, if I could deal with micro-managing another keypress, there is a hop.
2. You can poke-poke-poke-hop. Then repeat poke-poke-poke-hop. Pretty much forever. If the monster cooperates.
Obviously, that’s not the case, but again, something to worry about another time.
So the next bunch of missions were all about practicing poke-poke-poke-hop. Forward, backward, side hop. Just try. Level 0 of Lance Mastery, go!
Things still got extremely awkward when the monster ran too far away, or more likely, when the monster just decides to pound me into the dirt.
I’d been semi-mangling my Guard button to attempt blocking/countering through the poke-poke-poke process, but I hadn’t really fully grasped what was going on.
3a. So. Getting back down to basics. I stopped trying to re-create the glowy shield aka Power Guard, or trying a fancy Counter-Thrust, and just COWERED behind my shield with the Guard button held down. Full stop.
Monster not attacking? Don’t care. Still turtling.
Eventually, you’ll hit me.
Sure enough, the monster frequently obliged. Observe, the attack bounces off with a satisfying clanky THUD, a miraculously tiny amount of my health drops, and holy heck, I can actually SEE the monster attack animations.
Without dying shortly thereafter because I mistimed a dodge while running around like a chicken with my head cut off.
This made me exceedingly gleeful because it seemed like a future promising step. I could learn individual specific monsters and their attacks super-safely, and then re-use that knowledge for other weapons.
3b. It’s a short sidestep from just cowering behind a forever held down shield, to perhaps timing the block such that when the monster hits, you can retaliate with a counter-thrust.
There still seems to be some nuance to this – basic guarding seems much safer for now when multiple hits are coming in short order, whereas the counter-thrust is a more offensive retailiation when the monster is only going to hit once and leave itself open for follow up attacks.
The other problem was when the monster was too far ahead of me to reach with a simple hop step forward.
I eventually figured out some possibilities, though each took a few monsters’ worth of practice to get the basics down and it’s still very much a work-in-progress on the nuances.
A multitude of options open up after cowering behind a shield, hence the brain confusion.
It eventually hit me that if I was not moving, and pressed the button for basic mid attack, I would do a little stabby poke. Good for just filling time being mildly annoying, while too scared to move out from behind my protective turtled shell.
If I was moving forward while guarding with the shield, and pressed the same button, I would jump forward with the shield.
Spam that button one more time, and now your hunter swings with the shield as an attack. I’m less fond of this, and prefer the other option, to hit the basic high attack while mid-jump. This goes into a leaping thrust and covers a fair bit of ground, and bonus, you might just stab three times into the monster as well.
(Provided the monster doesn’t hit you while you’re mid-fancy attack animation.)
After a few monsters, doing my best to cover ground through hopping and leaping thrusts, rather than wussily putting away the lance and running like a chicken, I turned my attention to the running lance dash.
The vaunted COME BACK HERE, we’re not done yet move.
I’ve barely got the hang of it and it’s already a joy. Guard, then press both attack buttons together, and your hunter essentially recreates a joust, running forward at full tilt and ramping up in speed as long as you have the stamina to do so.
The second speed will chase down running monsters fairly easily. Since the monsters are running away, by default, they can’t attack you as you plow headlong (or lancetip-long) into their tail and ankles, hitting for multiple hits if you stay in contact with their hitbox, and you might be able to finish off with a decent damage thrust too.
I’ve been using a poison lance, so hopefully all the multiple hits proc some decent poison as well.
I’m sure there’s still a long way to go. There’s getting the timing down and putting all these moves together more effectively. There’s one more level to the guarding shield, where you charge it up to make it glowy and stronger, and there may or may not be combos after that. There’s maybe actually figuring out the vertical/aerial attacks one day, and how to consistently mount monsters.
But it’s been surprisingly, joyously fun to steadily work on smoothing out the poke-poke-poke dance.
I suspect it has to do with not dying.
It’s always been frustrating for me to mis-time something while learning, and then get blown to pieces, and get sent back to camp in a cart.
You can’t actually learn anything if you’re not fighting the monster, and spending all your time running back to the monster instead.
What’s worse is that your health and stamina drop, making it more likely to have subsequent deaths. It’s hard to keep preparing consumables, being as disorganized and un-inclined to long, tedious preparation as I am.
With lance, I prep everything once, and generally do my best to not ever die.
Yes, there have still been a few almost insta-death mistakes when I opened myself up being greedy attacking, versus some distinctly over-the-top monster while my armor still isn’t shored up for high rank fights. But they’re few and far between.
Mostly, the action is constant and consistent. Poke-poke-poke whenever there is an opening (or worse case, poke-poke or poke) eventually wears down any monster.
(Or in a really worse case scenario, they just run off and escape the map without dying – but you know, we’re talking Azure Rathalos and Deviljho in an expedition while I’m still barely HR 12, so I do think my current gear might be an issue.)
Either way, it’s pretty addictive, and should probably hold my attention for a couple more days at least.
No promises after that.
I do have the gaming attention span of a puppy, after all.
But being a little angry turtle is a lot of fun.