If the Monster Hunter series has one problem, it's in finding new players. Common complaints from newcomers are the controls being clunky, and attacking too slow and unresponsive.
While I can't say these issues have been resolved - they're an integral part of why old hands still love the game - 4U does its very best to drop you into the core experience right away.
You're the only hunter in a new caravan of misfits, so it's your job to help out your crew and other NPCs by defeating big ol' beasties and completing the odd fetch quest as you travel from one base camp to the next.
Most quests from the guildmarm revolve around slaying, or capturing, a monster. These beasts would be bosses in any other game. They're often large, and can take the better part of an hour to defeat if you aren't experienced.
Indeed, a few monsters near the start of my journey took several attempts (a few hours) to get past. I was too hasty with my attack style at first, so I kept being knocked around until I failed the mission.
Monster Hunter is all about learning each monster's attack patterns and weak points, and which weapon type your play style is best suited to. It's a huge time sink, but once you're on the hook you won't even notice the hours melting away.
You can't level up your character in Monster Hunter. Instead, you boost stats with weapons and armour. These can be bought ready-made from the armoury, but it soon becomes apparent you need the smithy to fashion your gear if you want to make any progress.
The smithy can only make weapons and armour from monster drops, and it's recommended you work towards a custom set built around the skills you want to use most.
There are many more advantages in completing an armour set rather than mixing and matching. It's not just about defence, but also skills like improved evasion, resistance, gathering skills, or even chances to stun enemies.
Peculiarly, there's a shared sentiment between Monster Hunter and Animal Crossing. Acquiring monster parts to complete sets of armour isn't unlike maxing my feng shui rating with a furniture set, and there's a seemingly neverending number of weapon and armour combinations to discover.
That's not all you're collecting though. Scattered across each map are ore deposits, bug nests, fishing spots, and berry bushes. Many of the items you'll find at each can't be bought, and combining them is key for stronger potions, ammo, and even smithy goods.
You'll start the game with a default Palico, formerly known as a Felyne. This kitty will join you on the battlefield and help fend off monsters, heal you, and gather the occasional batch of spoils.
More are recruitable once you reach four-star quests, at which point you can also start playing two minigames that reward you with scraps for Palico armour and weapons. One is a simple fishing game and the other is a short, cutesy battle adventure.
Your cat crew can level up through these minigames by joining you on quests, resulting in their abilities improving. Each kitty has a certain focus and special ability, like healing or treasure gathering. However, you can only take two cats with you in single player, so think carefully as to what you need assistance with most.
Aside from quests, you can also go on expeditions, where you'll fight two monsters and have a chance to discover rare items, a new Palico, or even a new outfit for your pet Poogie.
There's also the multiplayer mode, which is where most experienced hunters will say you'll have the most fun. As you can imagine, the gathering halls are a tad sparse at the moment, but the few quests I've had with three other players have been an absolute blast.
The most fun battle I've had so far was in single player though, on a ship between two base camps. There, I fought the Monster Hunter 4's flagship monster, Gore Magala, in a great mix of close quarters combat and cannon fire.
Some areas in the new stages are tiered, meaning you can attack monsters from above, and even mount them to give them one heck of a beatdown. One of 4U's two new weapons, the Insect Glaive, also enables you to launch yourself into the air for repeated mounted attacks even in flat areas.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate seems like the deepest Monster Hunter so far. I haven't yet tried my hand at wielding each weapon type and, despite 40-odd hours of game time, I feel like I've barely scraped the surface.
We'll have a review for you with more details on multiplayer and what to expect later in the game ahead of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate's February 13 release date.