About a year ago, Fortnite introduced a new way to play, with a mode that eschewed its building gameplay for something more like a regular shooter. Now that style of building has appeared in the most unlikely of places: Wild Hearts, a new take on the hunting genre that Monster Hunter has firmly established.
Wild Hearts — which is developed by Dynasty Warriors studio Omega Force and published by EA — is, at its core, a riff on Monster Hunter World. Like that game, it takes place in a vast wilderness that’s not an open world, per se, but rather a series of connected spaces. In this case, they’re large islands, each with its own ecosystem and, naturally, different creatures to hunt and battle. There’s also a sprawling human city where you can go to get quests, meet people, and use the bits you cut off of animals to improve your weapons and armor.
There’s a whole story about the animals getting aggressive and encroaching on human land, but it’s not particularly compelling and really just serves as an excuse for the meat of the experience: the hunting. Like MonHun, Wild Hearts is a game built around a very particular cycle. You take on a hunt, go out and fight that particular creature to the death, and — if successful — take your spoils back to base to upgrade your gear so that you can take on even bigger hunts.
It’s a satisfying cycle that works especially because the hunts are so much fun. Again, it plays out a lot like MonHun. You have a range of different weapon types to choose from and upgrade — I’ve settled on a kind of bladed umbrella that makes my hunter particularly dangerous in the air — and the battles themselves require both planning and patience. You need to make sure you have the right gear and a fully stocked cupboard of healing items before heading into battle. And once you make contact with the beast, you need to carefully follow its patterns, finding the right time to strike.
It’s a long and, at times, grueling process. Some of my hunts almost hit the one-hour mark, with the monster moving to different locations and shifting its form as it became enraged. This makes it especially frustrating if you fail, but it’s hard to put into words the satisfaction of finally pulling off the kill. The sweeping orchestral score and the sheer size and power of the monsters make even the one-star hunts feel like an epic battle. There’s also a sense of tragedy to the combat. It’s hard not to feel guilty watching these beasts limp away after you hack off their tail or climb around them like some Shadow of the Colossus monster in search of a glowing weak spot.
The creature designs are a particular highlight. They’re almost all reminiscent of real-world animals but fused with natural elements to make them seem like some kind of ancient forest god. You’ll be fighting against towering lava apes and gigantic warthogs made of wood and moss. Early on, I fought against a cross between a flying squirrel and unicorn, which inexplicably made dolphin noises before attacking.
So far, so MonHun.
What makes Wild Hearts different is its building mechanic. You play as a rare hunter who can harness ancient technology called karakuri, which basically just means you can craft cool gadgets on the fly. It starts out simple, building large crates that you can climb to reach new areas or use to get the drop on an unsuspecting monster. But slowly, you unlock new tech that gives you a huge range of flexibility for how you approach a battle. You can use a glider to gain an aerial advantage, a torch to infuse your weapon with fire power, or fireworks to temporarily stun your opponent. Some karakuri help you move around faster; others give you more options for offense.
Once you have a few different karakuri unlocked, they change the way you approach the game. Now preparing for a battle means not just having the right gear and items but also a plan for how to best utilize your gadgets. I’ve mostly been channeling Obi-Wan and utilizing the high ground, but there are plenty of other options. And this helps keep the game feeling interesting for dozens of hours, even as you’re essentially just doing one thing: hunting. But how you go about that changes dramatically as the game progresses since you’re constantly unlocking new gadgets.
To be clear, as fun as these gadgets are, they don’t fundamentally change the experience. This is still Monster Hunter at its core, a game that requires patience, demands a lot of time, and forces you to kill cute creatures. If Monster Hunter World — the most approachable entry in the series to date — didn’t sell you, I can’t imagine Wild Hearts will, either. But if you’re already a fan of this style of game, it offers just enough differences to feel both familiar and refreshing simultaneously.
Wild Hearts launches on February 17th on the PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X / S.