I’ve been voraciously replaying Monster Hunter: World on PC over the last few weeks, and have been having a hell of a good time. That’s partly because it’s just a good game, but also because I’m so, so much better at it than I was on my first time through.

I first played Capcom’s third-person dinosaur fighting sim when it came out on PS4 and Xbox One back in February. It was my first extended excursion into Monster Hunter-land. I played a chunk of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on 3DS a few years ago, but didn’t stick with it because I couldn’t adjust to the awkward camera and controls. Thanks to World’s standard two-thumbstick controls, high-res visuals, and reduced busywork, I finally had the Monster Hunter I’d been waiting for. I dove right in and played a good 70 hours, right up to the post-Nergigante part of the game, when the increasing focus on grind caused me to lose interest.

Last week, the PC version finally came out. I started a little bit ahead of release thanks to an early code Capcom sent. I had been planning to play it enough so that I could assess how the PC version holds up. (Short version: The PC port has been okay for me, but it does have some problems. I’ve written up a few of the fixes and mods I’ve been using in a separate post.) After a few hours of testing performance, I was having enough fun that I decided to stick with it. As a longtime proponent of replaying video games, I figured it was just kinda the thing to do.

This past weekend turned out to be a Monster Hunter marathon weekend for me. I blasted through the remainder of the initial campaign and into High Rank without slowing down for breath. I’ve been operating much more efficiently: In a total of 35 hours on PC, I’ve reached the same point that I reached in 70 on PS4.

No sweat, I got this. (And as it turns out, I did!)

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I laughed at the first few skill checks, defeating the poison-spewing Pukei-Pukei and fire-breathing Anjanath without batting an eye. In my journey to High Rank, I fainted just once, and never came close to getting a game over. By the time I whupped Diablos—the massive, rocklike brute who gave me such a rough time on my first playthrough—it had become clear that I was simply better at this game in every possible way.

I beat the Azure Rathalos with no real trouble, and took down Black Diablos on my first try. As I took down a few High Rank Odogarons before soloing Nergigante for the first time ever—take that, you spiky jerk—I was feeling legitimately proud of myself. My mastery of the game made for such a different experience that the fact that I was re-fighting monsters I already fought on PS4 barely registered. Every fight in this game is so entertaining and unpredictable, particularly the toughest ones, that they’ve yet to stop being fun. I could fight Odogaron a dozen more times before getting bored.

It wasn’t like I didn’t have fun my first time through; I’m just having a different kind of fun now. Some of that falls under the umbrella of “things I wish I’d known the first time through,” but there are also things that I couldn’t possibly have learned without playing it myself. I read our initial tips post—and if you’re new to the game, you should, too—but there are some things that only experience can teach.

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I know how to prepare.

When I started World back in February, I thought preparing for a hunt meant having a snack at the canteen and making sure my weapon was sharpened. I now know there’s much more to it. Nowadays when I prepare for a fight, I really prepare. It makes a huge difference.

For starters, I pack flash pods. They’re an ammo type for your “slinger” launcher. They cause a bright flash to explode near a monster, and with only a few exceptions, they stun the monster and cause it to become briefly disoriented. They are so, so handy in a fight. I cannot overstate the handiness. I bring them everywhere I go, and pack extra flashbugs as well, since each one can be converted into a flash pod in the field. My botanical researchers are constantly growing more flashbugs. I cannot ever have enough flashbugs.

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[raises paw]

I bring a full trap loadout, as well, with one of each trap, along with two trap tools and ingredients so I can craft an additional one apiece. That’s a total of four traps without returning to camp, which lets me get in a lot of damage. If I’m fighting an elder dragon, however, I don’t bother bringing traps, since they don’t work. Instead, I pack barrel bombs for doing max damage when waking them up before their final phase. I’ve always got nulberries in case of some affliction or other. If I’m fighting Diablos, I bring screamer pods and screamer sacs to craft more. And so on, and so on.

Because I’m so much more familiar with the game now, I’m more prepared for every situation it throws at me. Before, I felt like a wanna-be hunter scrambling through fights by the skin of my teeth. Now, I’m ready for anything.

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I switched to a weapon I’m actually good with.

My first time through, I mostly used the Charge Blade. It’s a sword and shield that combines into a massive axe. Do damage with the sword and shield and the weapon will charge up, allowing you to dump the charge into the axe for huge damage. It’s a really cool weapon, but also an incredibly technical one.

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My second time through, I thought I’d switch to Dual Blades. They’re a more straightforward option, and using them mostly involves getting close and wailing on a monster’s face whenever possible. After a brief adjustment period, I found that I vastly preferred the simpler weapon. I move so much more quickly, and because I can’t block at all, I can focus entirely on aggression and dodging, Bloodborne-style. So far the dual blades have served me well on every monster I’ve fought, from the smaller, faster ones to the huge flying humdingers.

I’ve seen people say that each Monster Hunter game is actually several games in one, since weapon choice can make the experience so fundamentally different. I hadn’t internalized that until I put enough time into two very different weapons to experience it for myself. Now to try out the bow…

I know my way around every area.

No number of online tips or tutorials could substitute for 70-odd hours spent exploring and fighting my way through Monster Hunter: World’s different wildlife regions. Winning a fight against a pissed-off dragon is as much about exploiting the environment as anything else.

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There’s a rock-trap built into this room, and a wall I can jump off of in this one. There are paralyzing paratoads in the swamp that can stun a monster, and the Wiggly Litchi near the river’s mouth will give me a stamina boost. If I run out of Flashbugs in the Wildspire Waste, I know where I can quickly grab three, and I know right where to snag a Chillshroom in the Elder’s Recess. Knowing each map going in has given me a huge advantage in every fight.

I’m properly using charms, skills, decorations, and melding.

Keza MacDonald explained charms and decorations in her advanced tips post, but it wasn’t until I was 40 or so hours into my first time through that I began to look at optimizing my build. On PC, I immediately set about putting together a build with the maximum amount of Divine Blessing and a lot of Attack Boost. The former skill, which periodically reduces the amount of damage you take from a hit, is just brilliant, often turning what should’ve been a devastating attack into a survivable one.

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Not a perfect dual blades build, but much better than anything I had in the past.

Decorations let you add skills to High Rank armor and weapons, and are similarly useful. On PC, I’ve begun to properly use the Elder Melder, which was one of several systems I left completely unexplored my first time through. Turns out the Melder is super useful for combining stuff you don’t want into stuff you do; I’ve turned a bunch of nonsense armor decorations into a single useful Defense Charm, and converted some of my excess monster parts into Max Potions that I can use to restore my health to full if I faint in combat.

Understanding skills and decorations has caused me to refine my goals as I play, too. I now shoot for certain outfits—I wanted the Paoulumu armor, for example, since it had Divine Blessing built in—and that’s helped give my late-game play a sense of purpose. Back in February, I wrote about how well Monster Hunter: World handles grind, and what games like Destiny 2 could borrow from its more targeted approach. On my second playthrough, I’ve been even more specific in my desired outcome, which has given my time with the game a lot more structure and helped me play a lot more efficiently.

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A bunch of the other stuff I’m doing differently relates to the user interface (UI) and the game’s overall user experience (UX). They’re things I didn’t notice or didn’t take the time to fully explore at first, and they’ve combined to make for a much smoother experience on my second go-round. Things like...

I’m finally using the radial menus.

I played dozens of hours of Monster Hunter: World without taking the time to learn how to manage my items on the fly. That’s understandable—this game has a heinously cluttered user interface, and it explains itself terribly. Even after another 35 hours on PC, I’m sure there are still UI elements that I’m reading improperly and UX elements that I’ve overlooked.

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My first time through, I could not get used to the way radial menus worked. You can set up to 24 “hotkey” items across four different radial menus, selecting them with the thumbstick while you hold down a shoulder button. Sounds easy, but the actual motion required to select something with a radial menu is strange. You kind of flick your thumbstick in a given direction, rather than pressing a button to confirm your choice.

I found myself whipping the thumbstick in the direction I wanted and hoping it registered the item I wanted. It often didn’t. I regularly accidentally deployed the wrong item in the heat of a difficult fight. I began to ignore the radial menus entirely, opting instead to frantically scroll through the on-screen item tool with the D-pad. That’s a terrible way to access your gear, and makes it much harder to deploy a varied arsenal in the field.

It’s so nice to be able to do this in the middle of a fight.

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When I restarted on PC, I spent a little more time poking around in the options menu and found… there’s a second type of radial menu option! It’s radial menu type 2, located in the “controls” part of the options menu. You can set it so that you have to select the thing you want, then click the thumbstick to activate it.

Yes! This is what I had wanted the whole time! It had always been there, I just hadn’t realized it. With that one tiny UX change, I can comfortably access a ton more items while in the middle of a pitched battle. That one easy-to-miss setting in the options menu has significantly changed how I play.

6. I’m finally using custom loadouts.

A good percentage of my playtime with World back in February was spent just moving things around in my inventory, checking to make sure I had what I needed before heading out, reading back over bounties and crafting recipes, realizing I’d forgotten something, heading back to get it… and so on.

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I like to roll out with only a few herbs and pieces of honey so that I can still gather some in the field.

It wasn’t until a few hours into my PC replay that I realized that I can save loadouts. That one’s on me; I just missed that it was an option and didn’t stop to wonder if it was. That discovery has saved me hours, and made it much more pleasant to play the game. There’s still a lot of micromanaging, shopping, and inventory management, but even just having a couple of custom loadouts has removed a ton of busywork. Each time I’m heading out I can just select the loadout I want and get on with it.

I’ve rearranged my crafting menu, customized callouts, and so much more.

Did you know you can rearrange the order of items in your crafting menu? Well, you can! I’ve now got Flash Pods, Shock Traps, and Pitfall Traps right up there at the top, along with Tranq Bombs, Potions, and other things I craft regularly.

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I’ve also written up some custom callouts and assigned them to one of my radial menus, which makes it possible for me to say “Let’s capture” for a regular enemy, “Let’s set up barrels” for a sleeping elder dragon, and “Don’t rush, play defensive” to remind my pickup team to chill the hell out when fighting Nergigante, because omg everyone needs to play a little more conservatively against that thing or we’ll all just keep failing the mission.

Another co-op mission fail. This jerk causes more fainting than a Beatles concert.

Point is, by slowing down and exploring the game’s complicated and messy UI, I’ve made it significantly more pleasant to play. On the off-chance that anyone reading this hasn’t taken the time to learn the things I just laid out, well, it’s worth it!

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My experience replaying Monster Hunter: World has actually involved a confluence of things I’ve published on this website, from why I like playing games a second time to why I was glad I soloed most of this one before I started playing in co-op. If I hadn’t gotten my nose ground into the sand by the Diablos fight the first time I did it, I never would have been forced to learn so many of the lessons that have served me well on my replay.

Back in February, I said I was amazed by all the things Monster Hunter: World was still teaching me after 70 hours. My playtime has now expanded past 100 hours, and I’m still learning. Maybe if I ever get to 300, I’ll finally know all there is to know. Maybe.