Wild Hearts

  • Online Co-Op: 3 Players
  • + Co-Op Campaign
Wild Hearts Impressions and Stream Recap
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Wild Hearts Impressions and Stream Recap

Monster Hunter for the Fortnite generation

Over the past 20 years, there have been a number of action-RPG titles that fall in line with the reductive/encompassing idea of "Monster Hunter-like." The latest entry into this field - Wild Hearts - comes from Koei Tecmo and Omega Force and published by Electronic Arts, and it shows a lot of promise... if it can just get out of its own way.

Before going any further I wanted to talk about the graphical performance of the game. If you go to the Steam store page or Steam discussion for Wild Hearts, you will see a number of reviews/discussion where players discuss the title's poor framerate and graphical performance. I've encountered this myself and it is an issue about which the developers are aware and working to fix. The console versions appear to be fine for the most part though there are some reports of late-game play has weird slowdown issues. All of this points to optimization problems within the game engine itself, which is called the "Katana Engine" and Koei Tecmo/Omega Force developed alongside the title. That is a monumental task to do and it is clear that both needed some more development time, but here we are. Ideally all of this will be improved over time, just consider this your "caveat emptor" if you're concerned with framerate.

For me, while the dips in framerate aren't great, I largely haven't cared as I've just been enjoying my time with Wild Hearts. Set within the fictional land of "Azuma", which is loosely based on feudal Japan, players go on hunts to take down large beasts (kemono) and then use the spoils from these hunts to make new armor and weapons. What sets this title apart from Monster Hunter is the faster-paced combat, a gear crafting system that lets players choose what skills their weapon will have, and the ability to make mechanical devices (karakuri) in the middle of a fight to either counter a kemono's attacks or get you out of the way entirely.

You'll start with just a couple basic karakuri that launch you vertically or horizontally in order to deliver aerial attacks with more getting unlocked as you progress through the story. You will also unlock "fusion karakuri" as you battle certain kemono; these combine multiple of a single basic karakuri or multiples of two different ones to create something new, like a giant wall, a giant hammer, and even a time bomb. The fusion karakuri are the counters to certain kemono attacks - for instance, the bulwark (giant wall) will stop a charging kemono - and leave the beast in a stunned state so you can get in a lot of attacks. Whereas Monster Hunter relies more upon providing players with brief windows of opportunity between attacks or occasionally creating their own by stunning the monster, the karakuri system gives players the tools needed to make their own opportunities provided they can read the kemono's wind-up animations, know the appropriate counter, and can successfully pull off the build in-time. There's an almost fighting game feel to it and it's extremely satisfying to do. It also fits in well with Wild Hearts' generally faster combat compared to the more deliberate/slower feel of Monster Hunter.

Once you've felled a beast and taken your spoils, it's time to head to a forge and make something from all those parts. Armor crafting isn't too dissimilar to Monster Hunter, i.e., gather the necessary materials and then make the armor. The main difference is that some armor pieces have a little symbol next to the skills they provide, which represents whether you're more aligned with the "human path" or the "kemono path." You can choose which path to go down (there's only two levels to each) by modifying your armor to be human or kemono aligned using additional materials. This alignment has no other bearing on the game, so it's not like you're committing to a "renegade" or "paragon" option here. Choose the alignment that grants you the skills you want and keep going. Some of those alignment skills will also show up on your weapons, but you have a greater choice in those than you do in Monster Hunter.

When you craft a weapon in Wild Hearts, you'll make a very basic version of it. From there, though, you have choices to make. The weapon crafting tree has three main branches that culminate in two or three (depending on the weapon) endpoints. You can move all the way down a particular branch or go across multiple branches, choosing the "Inherited Skills" you want your weapon to have along the way. For instance, in the screenshot above you can see that the "Ice Cannon: Celestial Barrage" I have selected has an "Inherent Skill," which is a skill only included on that weapon, and an "Inherited Skill," which is a skill that can be passed along to another weapon in that branch. If you follow the lines from that particular node backwards, I can get to that Ice Cannon directly by crafting the base version of the hand cannon and then going to the node just before it, or I can go down the left-side of the tree - picking up Inherited Skills along the way - and zig-zag my way over to it. I'll still end up with the same weapon but the latter provides me with more Inherited Skills from which to choose (and in this particular case would result in a cannon with a lot of critical attack modifiers).

Outside of those key differences, Wild Hearts plays out similar to other titles in this genre. There's a story campaign that's divided up in to five chapters and unlocks new areas and new kemonoas you progress through it. You'll transition into the equivalent of "high rank" hunts (beasts hit harder and have more health) around chapter three, and there are endgame versions of kemono to take on as well. There is a hub town - Minato - where you can pick up some side quests for various rewards as well as various NPCs with which to interact (sorry, no chef cats). You can hunt kemono directly by selecting the appropriate hunt on the map, or face off against them in a side quest, or you can just encounter them in the wild while free roaming. Every time you start a hunt or engage a kemono you can request help and have two other players join you. You can also setup a private online session if you just want to hunt with friends. It is possible to play through the entire campaign with friends, but it's worth noting that the story progresses with the host's campaign; meaning if you're behind them, you won't earn any progress at all and you may not able to even join them for some hunts if you haven't unlocked the appropriate area.

While I am not particularly bothered by the technical issues of the title as I trust the devs to work those out eventually, there has been one outstanding, non-technical problem that sours the experience some. Like Monster Hunter World and Rise, Wild Hearts has plenty of open space to explore. In fact, unlike the Monster Hunter games, getting around the environment sometimes feels more like an Elder Scrolls title where you're forcing your way to certain areas thanks to physics and the karakuri. As you move around, the "arenas" where you actually fight the kemono quickly become apparent, but they also stand out for a different reason. In Monster Hunter, these arenas feel very curated; no corners where you or the monster could get trapped, not a lot of small terrain or geometry for you or the monster to get caught on, and no destructible environments that could be confused for cover or safe spots. In Wild Hearts, none of that curation feels present. I've lost track of the number of times I or the kemono have gotten caught on terrain making it very difficult to dodge an attack, or had the camera get stuck inside a kemono because I dodged into a corner and it followed me. Much like a Souls game, the camera and terrain tend to be your greatest foes in Wild Hearts and it is just as frustrating.

Despite that, I've been enjoying Wild Hearts overall. The karakuri system gives more agency to the player in combat, the weapon crafting system lets you build (to a certain degree) your weapon of choice, and the kemono feel like forces of nature - summoning trees, lava geysers, or domes of ice when they enrage. There's a lot of potential here and I really hope that Koei Tecmo/Omega Force are given the time to fix the technical issues so more folks give it a chance.

Wild Hearts sells for $69.99 on Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 5, and Steam.