People seem to be really into Monster Hunter World. It seemed like the first big game to come out in 2018. I think it looks okay. But me, I was looking forward to another game that was coming out the same day. For me, the first "big game" of 2018 was Railway Empire.
Not that I'm some big train fanatic or anything. I mean, I think trains are fine. But I've never built a model train myself. I don't own a conductor's cap. Heck, I don't think I've ever played another train sim in my life actually. But I have found myself immensely enjoying builder-sim type games over the past few years. I cannot even tell you how much joy I've gotten out of things like Cities: Skylines for instance. I approach these sorts of games like I would a zen-garden: it's all about gradual tweaking for continual feelings of happiness, and relaxation. Unfortunately my time with Railway Empire has been far less meditative than I had hoped.
Booting the game up the first time I decided I'd try out the campaign since it was basically a glorified tutorial that would teach me how to play. Daunting is the word that came immediately to mind. Put it this way, I had to restart the first chapter twice before I even got the hang of some of the most basic of the basics. But okay, fine. At least I started to wrap my head around how the systems worked. And soon enough I was finishing up the first chapter and moving on to the second of five.
This is where stuff started to get bad.
After a solid six hours into Railway Empire it was still frustrating me. At least the campaign was. There's just so much to juggle. Each chapter offers you a list of tasks to complete within an allotted time frame (in-game years).
Oh, I should at least make note of how great everything looks in this game. It's not super overly detailed, but it's pretty. And the variety of camera angles is appreciated. I loved "riding" my trains in first person mode. The music is... there. Sometimes. Sometimes it just fades out and leaves you with not much to hear at all. Hmm.
On my first attempt at Chapter 2, I had knocked off most of the tasks, and was working on the one that said "deliver 20 shipments of clothing to New York." Seemed easy enough. By that point I had cotton going to Pittsburgh; textiles going from Pittsburgh to Baltimore; and clothing going from Baltimore to New York. But NY wasn't getting the clothing! At first I thought it was the stops between Baltimore and NY... I thought other towns were intercepting the deliveries, but on closer inspection, nope. Baltimore grew too big. They consumed all the clothing leaving empty trains going to NY.
On my second attempt I fixed that and got all the clothing to NY first before expanding any further to fulfill other tasks. Everything went swimmingly, although I had to take out some loans early on to just get the stuff to NY right away. I worked my way down the list of tasks, checking off each one. Except the last. The last one was to own 20 shares of stock in another railroad company. Except I'd given the other companies like two solid hours to expand while I was focusing on these specific tasks. I had also gotten myself into a bunch of debt, so I couldn't afford more than two or three shares of another company, never mind twenty. Ugh.
And then after reading some reviews of Railway Empire it turns out it's not just me. And because Rock Paper Shotgun is much smarter than me, they even took the time to notice that the AI is a cheater! And I'm not talking about taking some advantages. I'm talking about how the AI literally does not have to conform to the rules of the game that you're playing. So like the big one is this: you have to be bothered with the reality that two trains can not occupy the same space at the same time. So you have to make side tracks, and add switches and direction/stop signals. Your trains will have to wait for your other trains to get out of the way. But the AI? They get to just drive their trains through each other like ghosts. So yeah. A strategy game where only one of the three players (you, the player) has to be burdened with strategy.
This revelation is a huge ball-drop in what should be a fantastic game. And sadly not my only complaint. The controls took me hours to get comfortable with; the menus and pop-ups are overly complicated. Even though there's a wealth of tutorials and in-game "hints' and videos to watch, there's still a lot of rather poorly explained systems. I mean, I'll keep the game around for pure sandbox mode, but as a game with a goal... I'm all set. And disappointed.
At the start of the year I had started doing this thing that I've always been interested in. Basically, if I'm not sure what I feel like playing, I check Metacritic's list of highest rated Xbox One games of all time and just let that list pick for me based on whatever I haven't played already. Generally speaking you'll see a lot of titles in there that you'd expect: your Grand Theft Autos and your Witchers and so on. But it's always sort of surprising and exciting when a new release pushes its way into the list. Especially since I'm still working on the Top 10 right now.
I'll be honest when I say that I wasn't actually all that excited about Monster Hunter World when it was first released. I hadn't bothered with any of the previous entries. I don't know. It's just hunting monsters right? It sounds like Pokemon for grown-ups or something. Plus I've heard that the fights are long. So just one long battle? I don't know. It just sounded so tedious to me.
But it turns out I was super wrong. Although there's no doubt that the early hours of the game are filled with what amounts to tutorials and lots and lots of reading and poking around menus and well... confusion, it doesn't even matter because the game is just so absolutely compelling so immediately that you can't help but get caught up in it all.
Before actually starting you're given access to a rather deep character customization system. I like this. And what I like even further is that you're granted access to this system even after you've started playing the game so it's totally possible to continue to tweak your character's physical appearance as you see fit throughout the campaign. This is a nice touch. Me, I always do the same thing. Back when I played the first Dragon Age game I really liked the default character name/appearance that was generated for me, so I always just recreate her in any other role playing game that I can.
What I did not expect was what came next: The ability to make my cat. See, each player has a little cat who accompanies them to help in battles. Oh, and they also have a little raft for water sections. It's adorbs. So yeah, I made my oldest cat, Pierce in the game. And then I got my ass out there; first tackling the obvious tutorial bits and then piecing together how to upgrade my armor and skills and how to interact with other players in the game.
Of course a big part about what makes this game so brilliant is exactly what makes Phantasy Star Online or Destiny so brilliant: The blurred lines between a single player story campaign and the open world anything-can-happen multiplayer game. Monster Hunter World is the sort of game that gives you a world and a series of systems and lets you go and make your own anecdotes.
There will be naysayers whose biggest complaint about World will be its repetitiveness. And that's valid I suppose, though no more so than in the aforementioned Phantasy Star Online or Destiny or Diablo III. And in fact that repetitiveness may well be its biggest selling point for some. There's a certain compelling comfort that comes from getting into a kind of groove in a game like this. It's like each new quest - each new monster - is different, but the same.
There's also a very constant progression, it's just so much more gradual than in something like Destiny 2. Rather than being overburdened with choosing from a dozen new guns you picked up in a single mission, here it's all about finding parts to craft new gear. Between missions you might have enough materials and money to slightly upgrade one piece of armor. It's a different kind of gearing-up, with tougher decisions to make. And it takes a long time to really feel like a badass. Which is good. You're constantly reminded that YOU are the underdog in each battle. Perhaps that's why it feels so great when you finally find yourself the victor.
I'm just now a little past the midpoint of the main story quests, and am about ready to start treating Monster Hunter World like Destiny. Which is to say that instead of focusing solely on this one, it's be a game I continue to come back to making gradual progression throughout the year (and looking forward to the various seasonal events). Not to mention I've barely touched any of the optional side-quest stuff yet. So as it stands now, I know it's still early in the year but Monster Hunter World is probably the first game to have a shot in the running for my 2018 GOTY.