With the release of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate drawing ever closer, one of the most obvious questions is “what makes this one different”? Other articles on Siliconera will be covering some of the more specific new features and changes, but for this one I want to focus on the meat of the game: the hunt itself. A lot of elements go into establishing that experience, from context to game mechanics, but I think the feel of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate really starts at the very beginning of the game.
One of the first things I noticed after booting up the game was that 4 Ultimate seems to be aware that the beginning of the previous games weren’t the most exciting introductions in the world. In the opening for 4 Ultimate, you’re quickly thrown into action and forced to fend off an attacking monster from destroying your ship. After firing off a few cannon balls, the day is saved and you’re ready to begin your adventure.
Having a narrative certainly isn’t something new for the series, but 4 Ultimate takes it up a notch by introducing you to a caravan of NPCs. These people serve as a consistent cast of characters that develop over time, but are there mainly to push the plot forward and spout silly dialogue. Narrative-wise the game feels a bit more focused right off the bat, rather than establishing itself slowly over time like the previous titles. After some brief conversations introducing you to the crew, however, you’re set to go into the familiar Monster Hunter routine.
Reaching a hunting map for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was the increased emphasis on vertical terrain. Areas are often split between multiple levels through natural formations like cliffs or giant webs. Maneuvering around these environments thankfully isn’t too much of a hassle, and in many ways the increase in environmental obstacles actually adds to the experience. These level design focuses heighten the sense of the hunt, making the quieter moments feel more like a chase scene when you’re in hot pursuit of a monster.
This change to the overall map design isn’t just to make you climb a lot of stuff, though, as the monsters themselves will also take advantage of their environment during fights. I could swear that some monsters know exactly when you want climb up or down a cliff, and will be ready and waiting to charge you into oblivion. Many spots will often feel like a monster’s “home turf,” like areas full of webs that allow monsters like Nerscylla to quickly transition between attacking the top or bottom levels of the area, making no place feel truly safe. Other monsters will be powerful enough to completely destroy sections of the landscape, leaving crumbled cliffs in their wake.
Thankfully you can use the multi-level terrain to your advantage as well. Landing an attack on a monster in mid-air after jumping off a cliff not only looks awesome, but also gives you a chance to mount the beast. When you’re on it, gameplay switches to a Shadow of the Collossus-esque mini game where you alternate between mashing buttons and holding on for dear life. As one might expect, grabbing onto the back of a giant monster like Rathalos manages to be an amusing spectacle. While mounting seems like a simple idea in practice, it works really well because it lets you take advantage of your surroundings while also helping to reset the pace during intense fights.
Another major change comes from the mysterious Frenzy Virus. You’re first introduced to it during battles with the game’s feature monster, the Gore Magala, but it soon after spreads to the other monsters as well. Monsters infected by this virus are much more aggressive, and even worse, can pass their ailment on to you. Getting contaminated by the virus (which usually involves getting hit by certain attacks) will make a bar appear at the top left of the screen. This bar slowly fills as time goes on, but also increases faster the more you get hit. If the bar fills completely, your hunter succumbs to the virus, resulting in taking way more damage from monster attacks. It’s almost a death sentence.
Total infection can be a nightmare, but the virus also has the potential for good. Landing enough hits onto a monster cures you of the ailment and additionally boosts your attack power. The tug-of-war system that the Frenzy Virus introduces makes getting infected quite exciting, as you will want to take more risks in order to cure yourself where you previously might have been more cautious in your approach. Getting nailed with a status ailment generally annoys me, but I can appreciate that they add new dimensions and factors to consider while playing. Out of all of them, I think the Frenzy Virus might be the most interesting one yet. Not only does it add some tension to fights while giving incentive to take more aggressive risks, it also works as a narrative tool. The story of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate ties closely to your encounters with this virus, and I found myself genuinely curious about it throughout the game.
Your quest for answers about the virus and other mysteries pushes you on a grand adventure distinct from other Monster Hunter games. You’ll travel along with the caravan across of a variety of towns, recruit new members, and meet a ton of eccentric village folk, all while participating in the basic Monster Hunter format. The journey aspect of the game works surprisingly well. While certainly not vital to the experience, it’s entertaining enough to add some extra flavor to the game.
Going from Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate to 4 Ultimate, I think the key differences lie in the amount of depth added to the experience. The feel of the hunt has expanded greatly due to the way areas are designed and increased ways you interact with the monster through elements like mounting and the Frenzy Virus. Not only has the gameplay itself advanced, but the game wraps itself around a more fulfilling contextual aspect provided by the stronger narrative. Make no mistake—at its core, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is still Monster Hunter through and through, but with all of the new elements combined, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate feels like the strongest, most complete game in the series so far. We’ll be elaborating on this much more in the days to come, so look forward to that.