Monster Hunter Generations preview

New combat skills! New monsters! Old monsters! Cat people! Assorted usability improvements!

Monster Hunter Generations is like a greatest-hits mix tape.

The game — released in Japan last year as Monster Hunter X — takes the improvements which Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate added to the series and mixes them with elements both new and old, drawing from the series’ ten year history, including elements from games not previously released in the States. Generations brings both big and small changes, further refining and remixing the Monster Hunter formula. It's a fond look back at the series, but with one foot stepping toward the future.  

You'll find familiar locations in MH Generations, but the maps have all been retooled with the changes MH4U brought to the series. This means that there are ledges and vertical attacks (e.g., mounting monsters) even in maps from games in the series that previously didn't have them. 

And along with the old, there's also a lot new. MH Generations has four villages -- Kokoto, Pokke, Yukumo, and Bherna -- and not one, not two, but four different flagship monsters. Aptly named The Fated Four, these are the big bads you'll be tasked with hunting down. There's the Astalos, an electric Flying Wyvern; Gammoth, an awesome-looking woolly mammoth; Mizutsune, a Leviathan with a new Bubbles status ailment; and Glavenus, the big Brute Wyvern with a nasty tail.

The armor crafted from these monsters also has unique abilities that relate to the nature of those beasts. For instance, the set of armor I was wearing in the demo had Repeat Offender, courtesy of Astalos, which meant that my critical rate would increase the more I continually attacked, similar to how Astalos can use electricity to charge up its own attacks. 

Along with the new monsters, old favorites are joining in the fun as well. Returning monsters include the Nargacuga (a fan favorite request) and the Lagiacrus, which has been retooled to battle all on land, instead of the half-water, half-land battles from Monster Hunter Tri.

MH Generations also has two big additions to the series, in terms of actual combat: Hunting Styles and Hunter Arts.

There are four Hunting Styles, which grant your hunter different abilities. You can use them with any weapons and all four are unlocked from the get go. Guild Style is the most similar to how combat worked in MH4U, and the more traditional Monster Hunter experience. Striker Style has a focus on the new Hunter Arts, and can equip up to three of these moves at a time (more about them in a second). Aerial Style lets you jump at any time, giving you myriad mounting monster options (can I get a hell yes?). The last is Adept Style, which focuses on blocking and counter attacks, to reward hunters who really pay attention to animation cues and how monsters telegraph attacks. 

Hunter Arts are new special attacks that are charged up throughout the course of a battle as you attack monsters. Different styles can equip a different number of arts, and the various arts are unlocked through quests and throughout the course of the game.

Some of the arts include weapon specific arts, and some can be used by any weapon class. One that I used enabled me to play all of my hunting horn songs at the same time (!!!), but their effects only buffed me, instead of the whole group. Arisen Phoenix wipes all your stats back to normal, but heals you in proportion to what was wiped away.  Another art, Hunter’s Oasis, lets you create a little safe haven on the field that heals players.

I got to hunt three monsters during my time hands-on with the game -- the Great Maccau, Astalos, and a Nargacuga -- and got to try out two of the new styles, as well as a few of the arts.

Aerial Style is a great addition; mounting was one of my favorite things in MH4U, and being able to jump around and mount whenever I want is pretty exciting. The differences for Striker Style were a little less obvious: It let me equip three arts at once, more than the other styles, giving a larger pool of arts to use at a time. 

I was a little worried that the new art system might be too over-the-top and that they wouldn't fit in well with the rest of the game's tone. But it looks like they’ll add another layer of depth to the core game play, while also maintaining its balance. Three battles isn't a lot of time to come to terms with something the size of Monster Hunter, but I'm looking forward to the full game to see just how much the arts and styles add to the game in the long-term. They seem to provide another interesting level of strategy, and offer a bit more depth and variety to the actual hunting monsters segment of Monster Hunter.

Alongside the mixing of new and old, MH Generations also has a bunch of little tweaks everywhere that may seem small, but are really game changers in a lot of ways.

For example, mounting was one of my favorite new additions to the series in MH4U, but it had one problem: People playing online could very easily (and often) knock you off the monster while you were mounting it. Well, no more! Now other players can see the mounting gauge of the player who is mid-mount, and their attacks actually help contribute to — not hinder —  bringing the monster down to the ground.

Other small tweaks include auto-carving and gathering: If you hold down the A button your hunter will now auto-carve the remains of monsters, meaning there’s no more delay for them to have to bend down, stand back up, and start carving every time. The hugest deal? Maybe not, but it's one that makes everybody's lives easier in the long run. The food menu (now a cheese fondue pot) tell you right from the start which buffs you’ll be getting. You can also put sriracha on food now, and well, sriracha just makes everything better.

One other key addition in MH Generations is the introduction of Deviant Monsters. These are versions of monsters that have fought with other hunters in the past...but have survived to tell the tale. They have adapted to how hunters fight and offer new twists on old monsters. The Dreadqueen Rathian, for example, now relies more on poison to attack instead of just focusing on fireballs. Again, it's a remix of stuff you've seen before, but in interesting ways, and it gives bit of personality and uniqueness to these specific iterations of the monsters. The armor you craft from deviant monsters is also totally new, and if getting shiny new armor isn't what Monster Hunter is all about, then I don't know what is.

For Palico fans, I should also mention Prowler mode, which we've written about already, But, I do want to add a little bit of new info: Yes, the mode that has its own quest line, but if for some reason you wanted to play through the whole game as a Palico...well, that's possible too.

I'm getting caught up and excited about little changes, but all the changes, from my time with them so far at least, seem to be progressive movement and refinements on 4U -- interesting ideas thrown into what was already probably the strongest entry in the series.

I am slightly concerned, or at least curious, about the balance of new versus old stuff, given that MH Generations is being billed as something separate from a mainline, numbered title in the series. Since that I’ve never played the older titles before Tri, I don’t think that’s a problem I’ll run into; and given how long the games are anyways -- we're talking in the hundreds of hours -- it's not like Monster Hunter games have ever been able to be criticized for their lack of content. And Capcom has said MH Generations will be on par in scope with 4U.

But I am worried MH Generations might end up feeling, to some extent, just like a rejiggered take on MH4U, that is a little too familiar, with some new elements sprinkled in.  I'm hoping there's as much new content and new monsters as there is remixed stuff, and that the additions and changes are enough to justify the stand-alone— and now yearly— release in the series. MH games can be huge time investments, and hopefully Generations will be just as rewarding to sink hours into at MH4U was.

But either way, mix-tape or not, more MH Generations is still more Monster Hunter, and that's a good thing. I’m looking forward to picking up my hunting horn, jumping into MH Generations, and losing a couple hundred hours of my life to the game when it releases later this summer. Hunt on.