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Monster Hunter 4: Big, big changes - but will we be waiting until 2014?

All-swinging, all-prancing, and all... clambering?

This article originally appeared in Nintendo Gamer magazine.

Monster Hunter 4 is radical, and not in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sense. The fourth proper entry in Capcom's flagship beast-bashing series makes the kind of sweeping changes that could go very right, or all sorts of wrong. Going on what we've seen so far, there's a good chance of the former.

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MORE MONSTER HUNTER 4: First Monster Hunter 4 trailer | Extended concept art gallery

The biggest influence is Capcom's own Dragon's Dogma, a recent action-RPG which clearly began life as a Monster Hunter before morphing into a distinct title. The similarities are legion, but the differences are what's important for Monster Hunter 4 - the ability to grapple beasts, a story-led quest structure, and most of all an open world.

It's not an open world, but the environments have been hugely expanded...

The idea of an open-world Monster Hunter is enough to make you go ZOMG, but hold those horses. An all-encompassing overworld a la Dragon's Dogma hasn't been confirmed, and in truth is unlikely, but what is clear is that the environments in Monster Hunter 4 have been hugely expanded. In previous games each was split into roughly a dozen smaller areas, separated by loading screens, through which you'd chase down monsters and explore. It's one of those things that's a bit of a pain, and a tiny bit immersion-breaking, but you deal with it.

HUNTER GATHERER

No more. MH4's battles take place in sprawling landscapes dotted with features - and the hunting has changed accordingly. Hunters are now capable of clambering up certain walls, jumping across gaps, and even hanging on to the monsters themselves. Though previous titles have featured flying enemies and climbable platforms, hunters have never had this kind of mobility or traversed such vertical environments.

It is a huge change. The footage Capcom have released so far shows all the ways they're using it, from desperate hunters scrambling away from a fearsome ground-based enemy to sudden environmental collapses that leave you hanging onto an outcrop for dear life.

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The potential battles are mouth-watering: one scene shows a hunter climbing a column, being harried by a fire-breathing Rathalos (big dragon). After a few missed shots, the Rathalos loses patience and lands on the column right over the hunter, ready for lunch. The hunter stabs wildly, forcing it off for a split-second, before jumping and grabbing on to the beast's back in midair. As the Rathalos roars, the hunter rains down blows until, shocked and off-balance, the beast crashes to the ground. It looks absolutely awesome.

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