On the 11th of March, Monster Hunter commemorated its 17th birthday with a demo for its latest title, Monster Hunter Rise. In general, Monster Hunter is a series that prefers to gradually refine its formula over the course of multiple releases, but with Monster Hunter World and now Monster Hunter Rise, the franchise has embraced a more drastic approach. Rise, the latest outing in the series, is expected to be a mix of older titles, such as Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, combined with the modern features shown off in World. However, as we’ll see later, getting the best of both worlds is no easy feat. You may run the risk of alienating the player base, giving neither tenured veterans nor series newcomers what they desire and leaving players feeling underwhelming in the process
- Genre: Action-RPG
- Release Date: March 26, 2021
- Platform: Switch
- Developer: Capcom
- Publisher: Capcom
- Price: $59.99 from Amazon
Welcome to Kamura
Let’s not beat around the bush here: in Monster Hunter, the plot merely serves as a device to get you up and hunting gigantic beasts. Monster Hunter World made an attempt to offer more narration whilst still keeping things light on story and Rise does the same, even if it tends to gloss over some of the inconsistencies produced by the already paper-thin setting. You play as a novice hunter from Kamura, a idyllic incarnation of a classic Japanese village nestled within the mountains. This is quite a contrast to past titles, but it is implemented effectively. The atmosphere, characters, and soundtrack are all charming, making the town a real pleasure to explore.
It’s sometimes hard to believe that there’s an imminent disaster looming over the town given how cheerful the residents are, what with the calamity that nearly destroyed the village a century prior fated to make its inevitable return. Inspired by Hyakki Yagyo – the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons – from Japanese Folklore, the village is set to become a battleground once the demons arrive and attack for unknown reasons. Your role in this event is to transform the awaiting demons into pieces of equipment. Later on, you’ll make the unfortunate discovery that any events, dialogue, or revelations pertaining to the plot simply just aren’t in the game, meaning that the plot solely exists to drive you towards the finish line. In its current state, Rise’s ending is an incomplete experience that requires you to come back again once the full ending is patched in to the game. We’ll touch back on this later, so put away your pitchforks for the moment.
Games with strong storylines know how to get the best out of their protagonists, and that’s something that Monster Hunter Rise does in spades. But we’re not talking the hunters here, nor the musical Wyverian twins. Instead, it’s the monsters that get the spotlight, with each beast the recipient of a personalised cinematic introduction inspired by classic Japanese cinema. This can be seen in the use of film grain, letterboxing, and poetic narration, which can be switched to Japanese to make it even more evocative of that cinematic era. This really makes it feel as if you’re chasing a real monster with a unique personality and its own set of tendencies. This is especially true of the original monsters introduced in Rise, all of which feel like distinctly sinister Yokai from Japanese folklore.
All of this comes together to provide Rise with a strong sense of personality, which is readily apparent when you consider that it’s far and away one of the best looking games on the Switch. Rise offers players a stable 30fps, fast loading times, and rather well-detailed environments – even on the big screen and in open maps. It even works marvellously in multiplayer. Rise reaches level of performance you don’t typically expect from a Switch game. When docked, there are some minor flaws when it comes to the quality of some models and how the loads their textures, but in handheld mode, rise is simply sublime.
Get Ready for Rampage
The core elements of what makes a game a Monster Hunter title are preserved from game to game, meaning that players who have tried out previous entries in the series shouldn’t find themselves too lost with Rise. Using the Action-RPG combat system, you’re looking to take down the biggest beats around, not necessarily their smaller underlings. A single hunt can last up to 50 minutes for a first-timer and can be executed either solo or in a cooperative group of up to 4 players. With its rather polished gameplay based on 14 different types of weapons, the game asks you to collect materials, ingredients, and consumables, then to use what you’ve gathered from your latest fight to gear up to take on your next challenge. You’ll need to learn when to dodge, when to block, and when to attack or not, as well as be able to anticipate your target’s movements. Monster Hunter is one of the few series in its genre that makes no attempt to hold players hands in melee combat as it instead asks them to take responsibility for aiming their own attacks. You may well find your attacks falling short of the mark, even if your target is the size of the room – albeit quite a mobile and aggressive one at that.
Overall, this broad distinction is a simple and effective way of giving the series a unique feeling that can’t be replicated by other franchises. And the game has more enjoyment to offer than ever, whether playing solo or in a group. Players are offered quite a bit freedom when it comes to planning out fights and using the terrain to their advantage. Outside of a bit of a railroading from urgent story quests, you’re generally free to pick your targets in the order you see fit, either because they pose a challenge, or for the equipment they offer. Kamura village also functions as a multiplayer hub and brings all of the ever expanding supporting content all under one roof. Players can visit the Canteen, the Blacksmith, and the Buddy Plaza, as well as a strikingly interactive training room – the perfect place to master the mechanics and combos offered by each weapon.
The reason that this game is known under the Monster Hunter Rise moniker, instead of just opting for a number, comes down to the fact that there’ll be plenty of climbing this time round. For this release, expect to be doing a lot of climbing on the backs of monsters and using them as puppets during combat. This feature replaces the grapple mechanic players will have gotten accustomed to from Iceborne. Using a huge monster to take on other beasts can quickly flip the script, especially if they’re normally allies. Turf Wars and melee encounters with three or more deadly monsters are more chaotic and more enjoyable than ever. And whether you’re trying to flee an encounter or chase down your prey, you can also climb onto your new adventuring companion – a Palamute. This adorable and loyal canine can either fight alongside you with a weapon in its jaw or be ridden as a mount, helping you speed across the map in no time at all.
Death from Above
But perhaps the most striking new gameplay addition to Rise is the introduction of the Wirebug, a flying insect that lets you pull off both acrobatic aerial manoeuvres and devastating new combo attacks. The Wirebug opens up a whole new dimension for a number of weapons and can even rival the Insect Glaive when in the air. You’ll need to manage its recharge time effectively to dodge certain attacks, reposition your character, or even to attack yourself. Making complex, twisting movements through the air before landing a deadly blow on an unsuspecting monster can even make Rise feel like a combat scene from Attack on Titan at times.
The Wirebug is also a key part of exploring the different zones you’ll come across on your many hunts. Say goodbye to the tiny zones and frequent loading screens the series was once known for – maps like those seen in Generations Ultimate (also available on Switch) – and say hello to the singular expansive zone introduced in World, this time with even more bells and whistles. Between the Wirebug and your climbing ability you can explore almost every corner of the map, uncovering animals as well as resources that can drastically change a fight. In one instance, we happened across a sort of weasel that could be used to bait a monster into following us, letting us draw him into another zone to fight another monster and allowing us to fight both at the same time – killing two birds with one stone.
Players would just justified in thinking that that these new additions to the franchise may turn out to be too strong and may wreck the game’s finely-crafted balance, but in Rise, the monsters are even faster and stronger than ever. The advantages these new features offer aren’t too excessive, and they can even work against you if used incorrectly. On the other hand, by mastering the Wirebug’s arsenal of moves, you can really show off your prowess in combat. The gameplay is quicker, deeper, and more satisfying than ever, even if the game feels a bit tricky to pick up, given how there is for players to sink their teeth into.
More than ever, the game rewards players that not only know how to mix up their playstyle, but that also come well-prepared for the hunt. In this aspect, Rise shares a lot of similarities with Monster Hunter World, but is even more committed in this sense. You can refuel during quests and even change your equipment and combat abilities. Removing hot and cold drinks might give players the impression that they’ll have fewer things to worry about, but having a ton of collectables on the map – which can be used to set up the perfect conditions for an encounter – more than makes up for it. Later on, having to follow a set path on the map to get the perfect setup for a fight can even feel a bit tedious in the long run.
Monsters Must Die!
Hunting monsters, whether in the wild or in the arena, is the very heart and soul of Monster Hunter, though the addition of a new way of playing the game is probably long overdue. Given how much the series likes siege weaponry and fights that require you to use them, it’s perhaps little surprise to see what the new Rampage mode holds in. Instead of hunting down monsters, you’ll have to hold back waves of them by setting up siege weapons and defences at predefined spots in your fortress.
In principal, this mode plays similarly to a tower defence game, as you’ll have to use different types of automatic and manual towers, as well as super weapons that take time to charge up (like the Dragonator) to back hordes of enemies. After you’ve set up your defences, monsters will arrive in waves. While some will fight the hunters, others will focus on taking down towers, and others will focus breaking down the gates. If the final gate is destroyed, then Kamura village will fall and you’ll fail the mission. This gamemode does feel quite well designed, as pushing back monsters or fulfilling secondary objectives will unlock new towers and the ability to call on some of the village’s residents for aid during critical moments.
Rampage is more than just a simple tower defence mode however, as once the final boss appears, players will be encouraged to engage it head-on if they wish to receive a special bonus at the end of the mission. A series of special bosses have been created specifically for this mode, such as Greater Arzuros. Far from simple punching bags for novice hunters, these ferocious beats will force you to abandon your Gatling guns and will take you head-on. These bosses have a number of special abilities perfectly suited to fighting in the fortress, meaning that hiding on top of towers is a futile endeavour.
Taking this mode on by yourself is a bit of a struggle, even if it is doable once you master the encounter – though that at its core is a real knock against the mode itself. Rampage was designed for multiple hunters. Players are supposed to each take on different roles, split up the monsters between themselves, and fulfil secondary objectives. A solo player, however, may well find themselves quite frustrated when they get swarm by monsters, making using the towers impossible. What is more, objectives that require you to collect a certain amount of items dropped by monsters are simply impossible as a solo player in the majority of cases. Nevertheless, this mode is still a great way of farming materials for exclusive equipment. It can be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s incredibly fun in multiplayer and it also allows players to experience the game in a completely new light.
A Patched Future
The sheer amount of content in the game and the amount of time needed to beat it have long been the series’ main selling points, and while Monster Hunter World appeared to take a departure from these values, a series of patches and a DLC expansion would resolve that over time. Unfortunately, Rise has a very unwelcome surprise in store for players expecting a full title out of the box. The developers have made an effort to stress that the optional endgame content that usually follows the story’s conclusion simply isn’t in the game. Rise may well be just another victim of the pandemic, with high-level content taking the brunt of the stain, or this could be just another step towards adopting the Games as a Service model.
Monster Hunter Rise features 5 regions to explore, alongside Kamura village and the fortress used in Rampage mode. The main story is split between low-level quests that have to be played solo and quests that fall into the expert category, which can either be completed by alone or in a group. The bestiary features just shy of 40 major monsters and the main story can be completed in around 30 to 45 hours on average. For a typical game, this would be seen as more than plenty, but for a series like Monster Hunter, these are very sparse offering. For example, there aren’t a lot of quests or hunts to speak of, and farming a specific monster often requires you to replay the same mission over and over, provided they’re not a Rampage endboss
Random contracts have been removed, as have Monster Hunter World’s event quests, which were a great way of adding variety to farming, a key element of the game. The absence of the classic Elder Dragons is also quite striking if you overlook the new ones that are tied to the main story, so there’ll be no Kirin, Teostra, Kushala Daora, or Nergigante this time round. Also, don’t expect to encounter any special variations similar to the Alpha, Hyper, or Deviant creatures from past titles. In short, once you’ve defeated the final boss, there aren’t any more challenges for you to face. All that’s left for you to do is occupy yourself with farming hundreds of weapons, armours, and talismans so that you can eventually craft all the best items and wait for the next content patch to drop. This may not seem too much of a loss for new and maybe even returning players, but veterans of the series accustomed to the serious challenges of past titles may find themselves feeling unappreciated, no matter how polished the game might feel, leaving them with a bad taste in the mouth.
Announced even before the first copy was sold, Rise’s preliminary update is planned for the end of April, barely a month after its global release. It will introduce new monsters like Chameleos and remove the cap on hunter ranks – all things which Monster Hunter games typically feature at launch. After the catastrophe that was Cyperpunk 2077, which has still yet to receive any serious patches since its release, players are very much within their rights to be wary of a developer’s promise. There’s nothing concrete to guarantee that these features will arrive at the end of April, and it seems that the ending to the game’s story, as well as other monsters, are still quite a ways off. This is a bit of a letdown, and it’s something that you’ll have to consider if you’re thinking about picking up Rise. Officially, Monster Hunter Rise will probably get better and better as new patches are released. A PC release is planned for 2022, but whether that will receive a graphical update or benefit from the patches in question is still unclear.
Monster Hunter Rise propels the series towards new heights. Rise plays better than ever and is complimented by incredible graphics that are perfectly suited for the Switch. It’s a real pleasure to be able to explore the map on the back of the mount, pull off fancy aerial manoeuvres, and hunt giant monsters, whether alone or in a group. Rise has the promise to be a fantastic game if it can produce quality updates, though it’s clear that having to wait for endgame content to be patched in won’t be to everyone’s fancy. That said, patience is a virtue, and Rise seems to have a bright future ahead of it.