Impressions

A straight port with troubled multiplayer — Monster Hunter: World on PC

After eight months of heavy anticipation and over eight million sales on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the smash hit Monster Hunter: World has finally come to PC. While we already have a fantastic review from our resident expert on all things Japan, Calvin Trager, I wanted to take a deeper look at the PC port of the game, how it differs (if at all) and what sorts of settings and adjustments those of us on computers might make to squeeze as much performance and beauty out of this already-gorgeous game.

First, you’ll need a bit of space, but for as large and good looking as this game is, likely far less than you think. Monster Hunter: World is a 16.7GB download, soaking up 17.2GB when fully extracted. Beyond hard drive space, let’s take a quick peek at the requirements to run the game, as well as the recommended specs:

MINIMUM
OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 (64 bit required)
Processor: Intel Core i5-4460, 3.20GHz, or AMD FX-6300 above
Memory: 8GB RAM
Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 760, or AMD Radeon R7 260x (2GB VRAM and above)
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 20GB available space
Sound card: DirectSound compatible ( DirectX 9.0c or higher)
Additional notes: Mouse, keyboard and game pads (both DirectInput and XInput) are supported. 30FPS at 1080p on LOW graphics settings.

RECOMMENDED
OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 (64-bit required)
Processor: Intel Core i7 3770 3.4GHz or Intel Core i3 8350 4GHz or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X Memory: 8GB RAM
Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (3GB VRAM), or AMD Radeon RX 570X (4GB VRAM)
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 20GB available space
Sound card: DirectSound compatible ( DirectX 9.0c or higher)
Additional notes: Mouse, keyboard and game pads (both DirectInput and XInput) are supported. 30FPS at 1080p on HIGH graphics settings.

I think anyone can agree that these are fairly reasonable requirements. Sure, you won’t be running it at 4K resolution and 60fps with those specs, but it’s pretty likely you can punch above these stats with only a bit more hardware.

My current machine is an Intel Core i7 8700K with a GeForce 1080TI and 16GB of RAM running the game on M.2 storage, so I was eager to see if I’d be able to pull off the vaunted Valhalla of 3840×2160 resolution with a stable 60fps, or even better, something higher as the game supports an unlocked framerate. It’s also worth noting at this point that the console versions of the game, even on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, manage to eek out mid 40s and mid 30s fps, respectively, at 1080p resolution — let’s double it on PC.

Tools in the toolbox:

There are a total of sixteen settings to play with in the advanced graphics settings for Monster Hunter World. Below I’ll go over most of the settings, what impact they had on framerate, and what, ultimately, lead to the most optimized and smooth gameplay experience.

Resolution Scaling:
I could write an entire article on resolution scaling and it’d still probably turn into an argument about native resolution versus image quality. To sum this up, it’s essentially a blend of technologies that (to explain this crudely, and somewhat inaccurately) “upsamples” your image, using a lot of complimenting secondary tech like anti-aliasing, supersampling, and image sharpening to produce an output that has a more stable (or often higher) framerate than you’d otherwise be able to get. It puts a little more work on your GPU, but most often the results are better (though not as good as native, obviously) than you’d otherwise get, and at a stable framerate. It’s not unlike the ‘adaptive resolution’ setting we’ve seen appearing in more recent titles.

Texture Quality:
This setting has to do with the art assets that are loaded for the objects in the game. If they are complex textures with a great deal of detail, they cost a bit more of your GPU to display.  I did run into a few issues that I can only attribute to launch bugs. There are more than a few muddy textures that I am 100% certain were not this muddy on consoles. Some character models look more grainy (especially in the opening boat scene) and ground textures can look downright ugly. I have to imagine there is a level of detail switch not firing properly somewhere in a driver or in the game engine that can resolve this, or perhaps Capcom needs to push a high resolution texture patch. I’ve got 12GB of VRAM — let’s make use of it.

Volume Rendering Quality:
This is the droid you are looking for. As much of Monster Hunter: World takes place in swamps, bogs, forests, and other areas where you might expect a nice light fog, this is the setting that determines the quality and density of that fog. It’s also the most expensive setting in the game. There is a spectrum of settings, and each increment will gain or cost you 2-3 fps. Turning it off entirely pushed my fps up by 10 instantly, but I’d also argue that it comprises the look of the game. Turning the Volume Rendering Quality to Off does, as you might expect, remove the fog entirely, but it removes that wistful, dangerous, and mysterious look in the distance. What’s over the next hill? Is it large, scaly, and with entirely too many teeth? The fog really adds to the mystery of the game, but if you have to sacrifice a visual setting, this is the one that will be most impactful.

Shadow Quality:
There is normally much ado about shadows in PC gaming, and it’s the first setting most people look to adjust when they are looking to improve framerate. The technology allows the shadows to realistically bend around surfaces, diffuse through objects like tree branches, and otherwise paint a more realistic picture for the eye, but at a performance cost. Surprisingly, while I did see a visual improvement (albeit a slight one) in the low, medium, and high settings, I saw zero performance impact — not even a single frame’s worth of difference between them.

Foliage Sway:
This greatly affects the vegetation on the screen, and the amount of movement you can expect to see from that foliage in the distance. It adds a degree of realism, but at fairly large bite into your FPS overhead. In my testing I saw my FPS go from drop up to ten to fifteen frames moving from low to high settings. This is a pretty significant hit, so if you are looking to make the largest impact to your fps with the least amount of tuning, this may just be your silver bullet.

Anisotropic Filtering:
This filtering method is all about angles. When your polygons are viewed from an oblique viewing angle (as they would be in the distance, or at the edge of the screen) they tend to become somewhat distorted. Anisotropic Filtering helps sharpen the image to ensure that the image remains clean and doesn’t distort into odd angles that would become visually distracting. Team Capcom did their homework on this setting as I saw no impact to my FPS regardless of setting, though I could easily see a visual difference in the output.

Water Reflection:
Like the name suggests, this is how much light reflects off the water, making it realistically shimmer, and diffusing shadows through it in a natural way. Surprisingly, I only saw a single frame difference between settings, but I didn’t see a whole lot of difference in visual quality.

SH Diffuse Quality:
Diffused light is light that is passing through or off of another object. It can be light reflected off a piece of metal armor, the lighting that passes through an overhead canopy, or other “fuzzy” lighting you see in a game. This, like foliage sway, makes a big visual difference, but at a significant cost. I saw a framerate hit of almost 10 frames going from low to high, so this is another area you might consider trimming if you are trying to maintain that 60fps target.

Dynamic Range:
It’s all about the color depth here, and you have two options — 32-bit or 64-bit. That said, I’ve got pretty decent eyes and I was completely unable to tell any visual difference between these two. It will run you a frame or two, max, to use the higher color gamut, but perhaps I need a better monitor to justify it as I couldn’t see it.

Z-Prepass:
I have no way to really test this setting as it’s entirely built for low-end PCs. I’m not sure what it does, but turning it off did nothing visually, nor did it change my performance. If I’m remembering my OpenGL days correctly, Z-Prepass places certain objects into the buffer before others, optimizing the rendering pipeline, but I’m not sure how that’s helpful on a modern GPU, nor why Capcom exposed the setting for us to toggle.

Ok, with all of the technical gibberish out of the way, it was time to see how Monster Hunter: World performs. Using the most recent NVidia Drivers (398.82) and slamming all of the toggles to their highest setting, I captured the first 17 minutes of the game without any adjustments.

As you can see, the game’s framerate is all over the place. From as low as 29 at one point to an average of 43 fps, the game also zips up to above 60fps at certain points, but suffice it to say that it could only be described as erratic. That said, the game looks great at 4K, and it seemed more than possible to get it to something approaching a stable framerate. I set out to do exactly that.

Even after adjusting the game to hit the 4K/60 framerate target, as you can see, the game is still very thready. While the game remains at 60fps the preponderance of the time, there are still moments where it dipped as low as 51fps, despite having an average well into the 70s. Again, time, patches, and driver optimizations will likely bring stability, so the huge peaks and valleys should be a temporary condition.

Multiplayer and voice chat — an exercise in pain:

There are fundamental differences in the experiences on console and PC. While they continue to converge and become more similar, there are still some areas where they are still wildly dissimilar. Multiplayer is one facet where the experience is most divergent, and we see this expressed most directly in Monster Hunter: World. The expectation of a closed system in a console like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is that when you connect with your friends you’ll be able to experience the adventure on tap together, be it shooter, soccer, or monster hunting experience. It’s in this way that I believe that Monster Hunter: World is a colossal step backwards on the PC platform.

I’m sorry, what? Why not?!  They invited me, so why can’t I join them??

On consoles, to connect with other players and experience the cooperative aspects of Monster Hunter: World, you have to use a combination of job boards, SOS flares, and bizarre conditions that inexplicably restrict them. A friend and I spent literal hours fighting through the byzantine nonsense that is the multiplayer aspects of this game and encountered several bits you should know before you embark on this journey:

  • You can’t easily experience the story elements together. That is to say, you have to run through any ‘reveal’ cutscenes, and so does your friend(s) before they’ll be allowed to join your game and fight monsters.
  • Lower ranked players can invite higher ranked friends, but not vice versa. Games like Diablo III help dissimilarly ranked players join up and play, but in MHW it’s restricted.
  • Joining isn’t as simple as being in the same world. You can invite your friends via Steam, and they can join your session, but that doesn’t mean you’ll see each other (except in specific areas), nor does it group you up in any way.
  • You can repeat some missions, but not all missions, and there’s little to no reason as to why.
  • You can’t quit a mission, or even quit the game, mid-quest. If life happens for any reason, you are stuck. I should never have to use CTRL-ALT-DEL and Task Manager to end a game — ever.
  • The game is not willing to help you understand why things aren’t working. If you can’t fire an SOS flare in an area, it simply tells you that you can’t. It doesn’t tell you why, or when you’d be able to, just that you can’t.
  • Combat animations are locks — once you launch into them, you cannot dodge mid-attack. This is a throwback we didn’t need.
  • Once we got connected, the in-game voice chat sounded extremely quiet and robotic. It was choppy and generally awful. We found ourselves back in Discord rather quickly.
  • Over the course of several hours of play, we both got disconnected from the server more times than we could reasonably count. Call it launch woes or bad programming, but a simple P2P connection once we established our multiplayer game would have solved this issue. Other games have cracked this nut, but Capcom has decided to reinvent the wheel.
  • Once your hunt has ended, so has your team-up. You’ll have to repeat this pointless process to hunt again.
  • The server is currently being crushed under the launch weight of 2 million+ sales since launch on PC. Expect frequent disconnects which will drop your multiplayer session.

Connected…and then not. Crashes are currently very frequent.

…and when you do connect, good luck staying that way.

All of this leads to my central axe to grind — Monster Hunter: World is essentially a solo experience, despite the billing that it’s a primarily multiplayer experience. Put simply, it shouldn’t be this hard to play with your friends. When people have to write entire tutorials around how to use the mechanics of your multiplayer, you’ve done it wrong. Below is a video where you’ll see some of this in action. While the game is still fun, the cooperative elements are still built in such a clunky and obtuse way that it almost makes it not worth the effort.

In all, the port of Monster Hunter: World is a decent one. There are a few crash issues, and the servers are overloaded, but both of those will be easily solved by patches. In the end, the real problem comes from the design of multiplayer. This won’t be easily fixed, and it’s unlikely that it’ll ever be rectified. It’s 2018, and literally every multiplayer game is doing it better. Monster Hunter fans can be excited about this first outing of the series on the PC platform, but they should also know that it comes with one foot planted squarely in the past.

— Editor in Chief Ron Burke
— Editor Holly Hudspeth

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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