The hunting genre is aggressively niche. Best exemplified by Monster Hunter, it’s a genre about real gameplay value- players are willingly throwing themselves into a grind for tangible benefits.
Unlike a Diablo-like where you’re going through monotony for a few orange numbers on a spreadsheet, this genre needs every step of the grind to feel rewarding.
In that sense, Wild Hearts is definitely one of the best games at answering this brief. It’s not subtle about its inspirations in the least, no. But the fact it’s able to keep pace with Monster Hunter is just a testament to how good it is- and how the genre might finally be in for some competition rather than just a series of clones.
Build The Wall And Make Kemono Pay For It
If you’re new to the hunting genre, I’ll make it brief: these are games about long, souls-y bossfights, where you’re chasing large creatures through big maps for about 15-20 minutes on average (less so if you’re over-geared and moreso if you’re incompetent). They’re games built around not just the bossfights, but the prep themselves- be it farming lesser bosses to improve your armor set or simply gathering materials for that one utility item to turn the fight around.
Wild Hearts brings an interesting spin to this. While Monster Hunter might put a lot of stock into prep work, Wild Hearts instead streamlines it with the game’s Karakuri constructs. Every meaningful non-weapon action consumes Karakuri string- from putting up walls to block charging Kemono (the game’s monsters), to creating fireworks cannons to flashbang them out of the sky.
Rather than spend time collecting all manner of resources to make all manner of gadgets, Wild Hearts does away with this so you can focus more on hunting. To it’s credit, it works great. Monster Hunter’s downtime is one of its biggest weaknesses when it comes to appealing to mainstream audiences, so Wild Hearts finding a way around it that also happens to be a very fun mechanic is a huge win.
It helps that the constructs you make are genuinely cool- the Pounder is a massive Looney Tunes style hammer that allows for huge damage, something that’s invaluable to many of the smaller rushdown weapons in the game when you just need to get a big hit in and stagger the Kemono. My one gripe would be that they’re definitely not all made equal. Some of them are very obtuse in nature, like an Elemental Lantern that’s supposed to weaken incoming monster attacks. It’s not bad per se, but figuring out what it does is way more convoluted than the simplicity of just making a wall or a bomb.
They’re also further supported by Dragon Karakuri. These are more long-term constructs that help you with tasks like locating a Kemono, or cooking ingredients and gathering materials. The level of freedom these end up giving you are not unnoticeable, since you can make a Death Stranding-style zipline network across a map, or set up new camps to make the walk of shame when you die that much shorter.
Considering the confines of what makes actual combat good are so tight, I really have to applaud whoever at Omega Force decided to make Karakuri such an integral part of the gameplay. Sure, you can totally do fights without them, and I’m sure reddit will have no shortage of people declaring their experiences such. But it just adds a whole new layer to how you interact with the map. Yes, you’re boxed in an arena with your Kemono prey. But what about creating a glider to launch you into the air to do a jumping attack? Or how about a comically large IED to blow up all their adds? It’s just fun, man.
The Right To Bear Bear-Made Arms
That’s not to say the weapons in Wild Hearts are a slouch, either. They’re an incredibly telling portrait of how the developers think you should be playing the game- almost all of the weapons in Wild Hearts promote serious aggression, using spirit meter-esque mechanics like you’d see in Monster Hunter’s Longsword or Dual Blades.
My only problem is the level at which Wild Hearts asks of you to operate. Compared to our first go at the game, it definitely feels like certain weapons like the Bladed Wagasa were aggressively reworked so you have to follow its rules- you lose meter if you’re not so much thinking mean things about the Kemono after a couple seconds.
It definitely feels more fun to play at higher levels, but the beginner experience just feels bad since you’re punished for not learning it fast enough. The katana and Wagasa in particular are all about building those meters to access better movesets, and the Wagasa in particular requires you to land perfect parries to keep that meter going. It’s mechanically cool but I wouldn’t be surprised if players dropped the funny umbrella weapon because without its full moveset, it just feels severely underpowered.
It’s even worse because the game decides to block off some weapons behind walls of story. Some of the most fun weapons are only unlocked about a quarter of the way through the game, meaning if you’d seen how cool weapons like the cannon or Karakuri Staff are online, you’d have to go through a chunk of the game without being allowed to use them.
These are more casual-centric concerns, though. If you’re a hunting genre veteran, you’re sure to be familiar with experimenting with other weapons as well as knowing their archetypes. Off the top of my head I’d recommend a lot of players start on the Nodachi- it’s a huge greatsword that just rewards positioning and timing, letting you let off high-damage power strikes with its Iai Slash. The many deaths suffered as a result of greedily overcharging are going to be formative lessons for the rest of your time with the game.
One of the more questionable decisions with the game would have to be its skill system, though. Unlike Monster Hunter which leaves it entirely to armor sets, Wild Hearts has a pretty clever use of its weapon trees. Basically you can laterally upgrade weapons, and all upgrades allow you to inherit skills between weapons. This is a great way to encourage grinding since you’ll want to detour on the weapon tree to pick up useful skills.
The problem here is that the weapon tree can feel a little bloated as a result. While Monster Hunter aims to simplify armor skills by making them threshold based (Attack Up Lv 1, etc), Wild Hearts goes back to spreadsheet numbers (7% attack up). It’s just not as fun, especially since an inordinate amount of the game’s gear also seems to miss on opportunities for cool skills.
It’s not the end of the world, but it’s definitely a frustrating roadbump in an otherwise solid gameplay experience. There’s some interesting skills for sure, like buffs for actions like sliding or the Hunter’s Arm grappling mechanic. But when your starting skills you’re dealing with are just some variation of HP up or Attack Up it can leave you with less reason to want to experiment- which is what its skill trees excel at.
As someone constantly chomping at the bit for more hunting games, Wild Hearts has it out for me. After getting my heart broken by Dauntless, it’s great to see a company jump into the fray and actually make a viable Monster Hunter competitor.
There’s gripes to be had for sure- the story takes itself way too seriously and I’m not a fan of the literal Kemono names. These all seem to stem from one underlying issue- the feeling that Wild Hearts story needs to somehow be gritty and serious to set itself apart, when in truth I just need the deposed princess to shut up about Samurai politics and point me to the next beautiful creature to turn into footwear.
There’s also some technical issues- the camera’s absurdly close to the screen, and it makes a battle in any kind of enclosed or inclined space feel like a blind man’s trial. While it’s great the game is running with no slowdowns, I do kinda wish we’d also gotten some kind of FOV slider to fix the camera issues since being blindsided is about as fun as
Combining strong fundamentals and impressive quality of life features like fast quest-accept-to-hunt ratio and you’ve got an amazing stew of a hunting game going. It’s quite rare to see a new game just stick its landing like this, but Wild Hearts absolutely does it. It’s definitely not perfect, but goodness is it a much better shot than I’d initially guessed it’d be.
Wild Hearts Review
|Karakuri system is genuinely creative||Assorted technical gripes|
Wild Hearts reviewed on PS5. Review code provided by EA.