Every so often, Monster Hunter: World will really test your mettle. The massive wyvern Diablos is one such test, and my mettle almost didn’t make it through.

Near the end of World’s story, you’re tasked with taking down the apex predators of both the Ancient Forest and Wildspire Waste. That means you have to hunt two massive winged wyverns, Rathalos and Diablos, and kill or capture them. Rathalos is a tough beast to defeat, all jaws and wings and deadly fire attacks. But it’s nothing compared to Diablos.

Diablos wanders the sand-covered Wildspire Wastes, spending most of its time stalking around the central open desert or resting in a nearby cave. It’s a real bruiser, big as a house and covered in thick armor. Its beady little eyes are dwarfed by two massive horns, and boy, does it like to use those horns.

Diablos is not small.

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I’d done okay against Rathalos and was feeling cocky about Diablos. I started the quest, dropped down into its cave, and whipped out my Charge Blade. This’ll be fine, I thought. I’ve fought wyverns before.

The Diablos charged me, and I dodged to the side. Cool. I approached from behind and it whipped me in the face with its huge tail. Less cool. I closed in to attack and it rushed me again. Before I could get up, it rushed me for a second time, and I was down for the count. Oof.

Okay, so this thing hits hard. I went back and tried again… and it knocked me out again. And then a third time, which caused me to fail the mission.

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I went back to base, chastened, and decided to step up my game. I treated my hunter to the best meal on the menu. I packed all the traps and other gear I could fit in my pack. I headed out into the field, sure I’d do better thsi time.

Diablos beat me again. I failed the mission two more times, in fact.

The difference between “You’ve Fainted” and “You Died” kinda encapsulates the difference between Monster Hunter and Dark Souls.

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For the first time since I started playing Monster Hunter: World, I felt annoyed with the game. What was the deal with this stupid thing? It was so huge, and it seemed nigh-on impervious to my attacks. It was almost too big to dodge. It was also so big that, when it hit me, I lost half my health bar.

I took a break from the game for a few hours. I did some house-cleaning, went for a walk. I knew I needed a break, but wasn’t sure for how long. Maybe a few hours... or maybe forever? I had plenty of other things to play, after all. I’d played more than 40 hours of Monster Hunter: World, and maybe that was enough.

When I sat back down at my PS4, I decided I’d give it one more shot. I was going to do this. First I did some Googling, and was heartened to find plenty of people online who were hitting the same wall I was. No one had a silver bullet tip that’d make the fight “easy,” but I did learn a few things.

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For example: When a Diablos tunnels underground, you can use Screamer Pod ammo to make it surface early. You can obtain that ammo from the flying creatures (“Noios”) in the desert near where Diablos roams, though I had to drop some meat on the ground to tempt them into coming within range of my blade. I also learned that if you can goad Diablos into ramming one of the stone pillars in the cave it hangs out in, its horns will get stuck and you can get in some free hits.

It wasn’t much to go on, but I hoped it’d give me an edge. Before I set out, I burned all of my stored Armor Spheres and maxed out my armor. It had already been decent, but now it was stronger. I packed a bunch of potions, buffing powder, and traps, and ate the most expensive meal I could find on the menu. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

After arriving in the Wastes, I didn’t seek the Diablos out right away. I loaded up on Screamer Pods—turns out the quest gives you some in your item box, I just hadn’t paid enough attention to realize it was telling me to use them. I headed to the cave where I’d died so many times and, before the Diablos turned up, I had a look around. Okay, there’s a pillar over on the far wall that I can probably goad it into charging. And hey, look, there are a bunch of Flashbugs around this cave! I’ve never thought to use those, but I bet I could stun the Diablos with those when it’s charging me.

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With my traps loaded, my armor maxed out, and my strategy set, I attracted the monster’s attention and got to fighting. Almost immediately, it was clear I was going to do better. I played more carefully. I spent more time running around with my weapon sheathed. And I used every single trick I could come up with.

When Diablos dug underground, I scared it out with a Screamer Pod.
When it charged me, I ignited a Flashbug.

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I snared it with a pitfall trap and used my full charge blade attack (with charged shield!) for maximum damage.
I snagged it in a shock trap and smacked it repeatedly in the face.

Fifteen minutes passed, then 30. I kept on fighting. I carefully avoided every attack I could, taking my time in between bouts to regroup, recharge my blade, and craft new traps. I took a five minute detour to go hunt more Noios and get more Screamer Pods. I kept slowing myself down, making sure I was really ready for the next round. As I waited for another stupid Noios to fly down to where I could reach it, I thought about how much it would suck to lose the fight because I’d needed a Screamer Pod and hadn’t had one. I kept waiting.

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As the fight wore on, I started to notice that I’d done some real damage. The Diablos had lost one of its horns, so I could actually see my progress on the horrible thing’s head. A few solid hits later it limped off to its den, which meant it was time to follow it home for the final showdown. This was it.

If I hadn’t burned through all my traps, I would definitely have tried to take the Diablos alive. Unfortunately, I had burned through all my traps, so there was nothing left but to kill the creature.

Fighting Diablos in the relatively confined space of its lair proved about as difficult as I figured it would be, but it was tired, and I had plenty of opportunities to get in some good hits. I hit it again and again, but it refused to go down...

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Why... won’t... you... DIE

....until finally—finally—it did.

That victory music has never sounded sweeter.

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Monster Hunter: World has a number of “skill check” moments like the Diablos fight. This one tested me in a few specific ways, and I came away from it a stronger player. I grew more comfortable using my chosen weapon. I learned how to read Diablos’ tells and predict its moves. I also got better at playing the game in a broader sense. I learned to slow down and pay attention to my surroundings. I got better at listening to what the game was trying to tell me. I began to play according to a plan, instead of relying on my instincts and reflexes.

The harder Monster Hunter: World gets, the more I’m forced to pay attention. The more I pay attention, the more details I notice and systems I learn to exploit. Like the best difficult games, it uses challenge to distill and enrich the experience of playing it. Each failure is a new opportunity to go deeper. So far, at least, there’s always been somewhere deeper to go.