He’s a zone unto himself.
MHW has 3 phases. Low Rank (LR), High Rank (HR), and Tempered (T). Each tends to focus on an Elder Dragon – some mean buggers. Low Rank is all about Zora Magdaros.
The missions with Zora are not at all like other hunts. They start off on his (it’s?) back where you need to destroy 3 cores that do fire damage. You also have the option of fighting Nergigante – but that is seriously a bad idea. While roaming on his back, you can mine a few ore spots, for much needed material to craft some decent gear. The next part varies but the repeatable version includes you shooting canons, a dragonator (a giant spike), and ballistae for about 10 minutes until he finally drops. The only difficulty here is not dying to the magmacore fire attacks.
If you luck out, you can do this quest 2 more times after the first, and that should give you at least 1 HR piece of Zora armor. Which is a significant boost.
From here you reach the first major interlude. The goal of which is to enter HR areas and find some Rathian clues. Just regular exploring will work, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time doing it. You can boost this by completing some rank 6 quests. I’m at this spot now.
If I recall, the game then takes a more open approach following this step. You’ll get a bunch of optional quests, but the main one will be about finding the 3 elder dragons, killing Nergigante (super death mode), killing the 3 elders, then finally Xeno’jiva. From that point forward you’ll have access to Tempered monsters.
On paper, I’m about 75% of the way there since I have 7 monster kill quests to go. In reality… not so much since I’ll need to improve my gear to take on those 7 monsters.
My previous playthrough was focused on Dual Blades. It was extremely visceral and had little to do with thinking. Sure, there was a skill ceiling higher than just mashing buttons – but mashing buttons was so fulfilling! That generated a lot of hard walls to climb. Anjanath, Pink Rathian, Nergigante… those buggers were death incarnate. I had to really learn the game mechanics to get past them – in particular monster weaknesses, attack patterns, and the i-frame dodge. That last one is extremely useful for Nergigante’s attacks that can/will 1-shot you. If your weapon is sheathed, and you dodge, you’ll actually throw yourself to the ground and be immune to damage for about a second. Given you need to sheath, it’s not something you can quickly react to.
The Charge Blade has that dodge as well as a thing called Guard Point. I’m pretty sure the Sword & Shield have this too. The thing here is that you have 3 particular movements that present your shield in front of you, and if the monster hits that shield they take damage and you take none. It took a while for me to learn the timing of this, and Diablos is the best one to try this with first.
When I figured out how to properly use Guard Point, my gameplay changed. I tend to be somewhat conservative, looking for an opening, and then striking. Effective use of Guard Points means I can go all out, and counter 90% of physical attacks. And with a boosted shield, I can do even more damage, countered with an immediate SAED.
It took a while to figure out the timing, but wow, does it ever make combat more engaging.