Strategy is also a big part of the four-player hunts (ad-hoc only, unfortunately), and while it's fun to just run around hacking at stuff with your friends, you'll do a lot better if you can each specialize in one of the game's five weapon types: quick, defensive lances; huge, powerful hammers; giant broadswords, sort of an in-between weapon; bowguns, which range from crossbows to firearms and allow for first-person sniping; and knife-and-shield combos that might as well come with training wheels attached. Unlike the original Monster Hunter title, Freedom actually gives you all five to start with, sparing you from trying to kill things with a flimsy starter knife. You can't change your weapon in the middle of a hunt, though, which sucks.
Fighting and butchering monsters makes up the meat of the gameplay, but there's much, much more to it than that. Crafting items from the things you find is cool, and simple minigames allow you to cook meat, catch fish and collect bugs. We also liked exploring the vast, beautifully rendered countryside, although the long load times between areas are a drag.
As you get into the game, you'll eventually become the caretaker of a full-on farm and a pajama-clad little pig, whose affection you'll have to win. There's also the Felyne Kitchen, a new addition that lets you hire comical cats to cook for you between hunts. Aside from being cute, each one comes with a special ingredient that can upgrade your abilities before a big hunt.