A Newcomer’s 40-Hour Impressions Of Wild Hearts, How Hard Is It?

Monster Hunter intimidates me. I know people who are deep in the monster-hunting genre and the way they talk about these games scares me.

It’s amazing that you can be that technical and minute in what is essentially a co-op game about beating big bosses on repeat. The depth is fascinating but I just never felt like I could be any good at timing iframe dodges and memorising attack patterns.

That said, I have played hunting games before. I did give Monster Hunter World a shot for about 18 hours, and even tried Dauntless for a bit, but it’s God Eater, of all things, that really made hunting games click for me. Yet still, I never got stuck in with hunting games, but I enjoyed what I played despite only understanding a mere fraction of what the genre offers.

That long explanation should inform you of my perspective, who has dabbled with some hunting games but is far from what you would call a seasoned player, so basically a newcomer, a noob.

And from the 40 hours I’ve spent on Wild Hearts, I can safely say, with all the context of where I’m judging this game from, this game’s phenomenal.

Kemono (Not) Friends

Wild Hearts is all about hunting down giant monsters, kemono as they called here. You go around the map looking for one to hunt, then engage in what’s essentially a boss battle. You have one weapon at your disposal, with each of the eight weapon types available having completely different movesets. And you also have the power of ancient technology called karakuri to conjure building blocks to aid you in battle.

You can hunt solo- accompanied by a little roly-poly Tsukumo should you wish- or hunt as a party of up to three players.

The core gameplay loop is undoubtedly familiar to fans of the genre. But Wild Hearts gets really, really close to MonHun territory in how the gameplay feels. Movement around the map is fluid when going at fast speeds (and janky when precise small movements are made), plenty of different routes to take (or make- put a pin on that) to the various areas, and weapons feel astoundingly satisfying to use should you grasp the way how each weapon operates.

But Wild Hearts is no MonHun clone. It has a trick up its sleeves in the form of karakuri. You can conjure crates, springs and gliders- among a few others- that can help out either during exploration or during battles.

We Have The Technology

But what’s a stack of boxes and a Fortnite-esque building mechanic add to the hunting genre, you ask? A lot. The basic karakuri can be used either offensively or defensively. Take the springs, it lets you leap over a vast distance which you can use to close in the gap (and do a leaping attack out of it) or to get out of harm’s way from a major kemono attack. The same goes for the crates. You can use them as a vertical launcher, jump and leap into a dive attack, or use it to cover yourself from an attack (to a certain extent- they break easily at first) or avoid a floor-based attack that damages anyone on the ground.

Then there are the fusion karakuri, specific karakuri combos where a successful input combining different basic karakuri creates special buildings. Stack six boxes and the crates become a bulwark, strong enough to stop a looming charge attack and open up an opportunity to strike back. But if stacking six boxes is too resource-heavy, you can combine crate-spring-crate into a Shield Wall, which only appears for a few seconds but it will bounce back any charge attack. It’s in some ways a parry.

You can use the karakuri for exploration as well. A cliff too high and you can’t climb it? Stack some boxes. Want a shortcut to get down from a high ridge quick? Call up a glider, which you can even do so while mid-air. These are useful not only to run around and familiarise yourself with the map, but also a time-saver.

There’s also Dragon karakuri, permanent buildings you can plop around so long as you have the memory budget to do so. Wild Hearts doesn’t let you just discover camp areas. The game lets you create your own camp areas. Know a kemono fight that will kick you hard and make you want to get back into battle fast once you respawn? Just set up camp literally outside of the battle area. There are other cool things you can plop, like buildings that auto-gather resources over time and ways to prepare food (there’s a whole processing chain to be had here). And you can place zip lines, Flying vines, to get across vast areas quick, Death Stranding style.

No same player will have their dragon karakuri setup the same (unless everyone is following some meta setup once the game is live for everyone). And it’s really cool to see how different players use their karakuri. This mechanism mechanic is robust, versatile and so much fun to mess around with. Fun (useless) fact: You can have about 500 of those basic karakuri in one map.

How Hard Is Wild Hearts For A Newcomer?

But what compels me to keep on playing Wild Hearts this long, despite never really been a person who plays hunting games like this on the regular? Other than the obvious (I want to see the post-game if I want to give a proper review), the challenge is for the most part surmountable.

It feels hard at first trying to get a read on a Ragetail, but after a few more fights, say five times, I get the hang of it and now have the number of the giant rat that makes all the rules. It’s the satisfaction of witnessing and realising self-growth and development. The satisfaction of having the game says “git gud” (figuratively) only for you to come back and actually got good at it.

The controls should be familiar to MonHun players, but if you’re not- it’s kind of quirky. Attacks are bounded to square/X, triangle/Y and R2/RT while sprint is at R1/RB. The button input window will take some getting used to- if you press buttons too early before your character ends an animation the input is ignored so you better double-tap them just to be safe (or better yet, learn the actual timing of when input is accepted, especially after getting knocked down). The camera and lock-on system can work against you, so that’s also another thing that you’ll need to wrestle with. Yet all of this is something that isn’t too hard to adapt to. You’ll get the hang of it after a few hunts.

There are major difficulty spikes, I should warn you. The chapter-ending kemono hunts (like the first encounter with the three-star kemono Lavaback) will certainly be a proper challenge that will either turn you off the game or make you a fan of Wild Hearts. Those hunts are gear checks and skill checks to see if you learn the game or not. Have you crafted the right armour and gear with decent defence and the right elemental resistance? Do you know the kemono’s element and prepared the appropriate weapon? Have you prepared the right food with the buffs you need to challenge the kemono effectively? Do you remember the attack patterns of the kemono to react accordingly? Do you know which fusion karakuri works best for the hunt?

It can be a pain, and trust me, I have had nightmares of a flaming gorilla and an icy doggo for a few days now as my story progression is being blocked by them. It can be that painful. But it’s surmountable when you do what Wild Hearts ask you to do. You gotta learn.

Of course, the pain can be eased a bit via co-op. Having a player who clearly understands what they’re doing to join you mid-fight is oh-so-helpful. The request assistance feature is something you should use if you’re inexperienced as me. Even if they carried you to victory, that should allow you to return the favour to other players by joining their struggle (you can only join hunts that you yourself have cleared). Though I have to admit that many times I joined in to help others, I was the first to be downed and added hassle to the host. That is something I’m trying to get better at.

That 40 hours is the amount of time I played to complete Chapter 2, and by this point, I’ve seen all the zones (all beautifully themed around the four seasons depicted beautiful lands of fantasy feudal Japan in ruin) and most of the kemono. This game is steeped fully in its influences, you cannot not see elements Japanese culture, folklore and language while playing Wild Hearts.

Closing Thoughts

I am in no position to compare how different Wild Hearts is to Monster Hunter World or Monster Hunter Rise. But when viewed on its own merit, Wild Hearts truly has the making of a great game that players will lose many hours to. The dopamine high of a 20-minute fight (or less if you’re good) is fulfilling, and when all of its gameplay mechanics click, it’s a goosebumps-inducing, edge-of-your-seat, butt-clenching assault on the senses. It is astoundingly satisfying to slay down giant monsters that at first appear daunting, to be able to surmount a daunting challenge.

Should you wish to try your luck jumping into Wild Hearts, there’s a trial available for EA Play subscribers today ahead of its full release on February 17. Give it a go, and see if the call of such a challenge beckons you as I did. Bring friends. Happy hunting.

Stay tuned for our full review of Wild Hearts.

Played on PS5. Review copy provided by EA

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