I knew there were other monster hunting games besides the quintessential Monster Hunter, but none had caught my attention or hooked me in the same way. Maybe until now. You have to see more before you can be sure, but after playing more than 10 hours of Wild HeartsI can say this could be the one. So far, Wild Hearts feels like an exciting mix of hunting and crafting, beautiful semi-open world environments, and snappy building mechanics that make it stand on its own.
First of all, some information about the game and what everyone wants to know: Wild Hearts will be released on February 17, 2023 for PC and next-gen consoles. Yes, cross-play is supported in 3-player co-op, which is very important for a co-op game like this. It may seem like an odd number, but during the digital presentation, EA Originals Executive Producer Lewis Harvey said that bringing together two friends is easier than three, and that four-player balance didn’t work well due to the mechanics of building. Also, we already know that there are no restrictions on joining friends: drop in whenever you want, regardless of how much of the story you’ve completed.
In these hours playing Wild Hearts I reached the “end” of the story content available in this first version pretty quickly. I just wanted to play more, and ended up completing all the optional quests there were. The hunt-creaft-hunt loop in Wild Hearts is not so unfamiliar to me, but presentation and flow of narration were unexpected. This could change later, but it looks like there will be main story quests that will be active in the world, displayed at the top left of the screen, separate from optional quests that you’ll have to manually trigger. These main quests can range from hunting down a specific Kemono (the huge beasts that have merged with nature itself) to reaching a new point on the map. In the midst of all this, you can take “breaks” to hunt specific monsters you’ve already encountered in the story by starting optional quests from any bonfire or the map.
Completing them unlocks more optional quests, awards points to unlock new building skills, and earns you those sweet mats to upgrade your gear, which is an easy to understand and streamlined process. This worries me as far as the longevity of Wild Hearts, but it may be music to the ears of others who prefer less annoying and less minuscule experiences. This might also change as the game progresses: after all, I was only able to fight three monsters and unlock four different upgrades.
There are eight totally different types of weapons that must be mastered, with a technical difficulty that ranges from the easiest to understand, such as the Karakuri katana, to the simplest but demanding, such as the Wagasa, which looks like an umbrella, or those that require both understanding and skill, such as the bow. There’s a mechanical bear friend to help you learn, but these tutorials are pretty sparse and forced me to put two and two together to figure out how to best use the weapon.
There’s more to Wild Hearts than just wielding huge weapons against giant animals in order to make new pants.
Usually, Wild Hearts combat feels good and gives rise to many moments of emotion. In the version I played there were problems, especially with the camera and the lenses. It usually happens when fighting large, agile creatures in games in general. There’s more to Wild Hearts than just wielding huge weapons against giant animals in order to make new pants, though: you can build things on the fly in the middle of combat.
This Karakuri mechanic really sets Wild Hearts apart from any other game in the genre., far as I know. (No, Fortnite doesn’t belong in this genre.) With Karakuri, I could do things like build boxes in an instant to jump off of them for devastating attacks, or build springs to run away instead of dodge when my stamina was low. The third “basic” Karakuri I unlocked is the torch, which, once erected, allowed me to cover my weapon in flames or perform a satisfying fire attack on the vulnerable plant-based Kemono.
Building Karakuri in certain ways leads to completely new structures. If he built six boxes in a rectangle formation, he created a Stronghold. This great wall stopped the Kingtusk in its tracks and hilariously pushed it away, if he built it correctly. Over time I will develop the ability to do this under pressure, but losing more than six Karakuri at once without reward can be a costly setback. You’ll see, to build Karakuri you need thread, which is usually left over, but had been scarce in the area where we fought. You can get on any Kemono and attack weak spots to replenish these materials, but frustratingly I couldn’t get to the only spots left. Not being able to build, avoiding the monstrous beast’s attacks became very difficult, especially with the katana kit. I took an embarrassing number of hits before finally claiming victory.
Despite the difficulty I have described in this case, I only “died” once, and I never failed a mission. I also can’t help but blame my own inexperience with Wild Hearts at the time, and that frustrating (almost) failure made discovering what worked all the more rewarding. I killed the Kingtusk in much less than half the time with the umbrella-like Wagasa, as I could rely on the parry instead of trying to break through a wall of fleshy vines.
out of combat, you will have to use the Karakuri to move. Luckily, the things you build are persistent. That is, once you build something, it stays in your world forever. At least, until a Kemono (or you) destroys it. There is also another kind of Karakuri, called “Karakuri Dragon”. This category includes structures that you’ll probably want to make more permanent, like the hunter’s tent, which allows you to rest; or the flying vine, which allows you to mount giant zip lines to move better. Once the Dragon Karakuri are built, you can always destroy them to free up the resources they originally used, but finding them again was a bit of a hassle since they weren’t marked on the map.
Exploring is a reward in itself: some of its corners are impressive
Although I was able to explore almost every corner of Wild Heart’s first “hunting ground”, Hanagasumi Hill, there are still more things to do. Exploring is a reward in itself: Some of those corners are stunning, the kind of scenery you call a friend over just to show them around. But there are many more reasons to investigate further. There are cooking ingredients to make stat-boosting meals and resources needed to upgrade weapons and armor. There’s even a collectible that unlocks a small round hunting robot, with each one leading to unlocking more and more upgrades for it. Plus, adorable robot friends are stacked around camp to keep you company. I also found more secrets, but I’ll leave them as a mystery for now.
And just to be clear, this is just one of the four hunting grounds, each styled after one of the four seasons. There’s also the central city of Minoto, which can be accessed beyond this first version, and which should play a pivotal role in Wild Hearts.
Hunting games are not new to Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force. Although best known for the Dynasty Warriors series and its spin-offs, such as the recent Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, the studio has also made several Toukiden games. However, they made sure to say that Wild Hearts is not a spiritual successor to Toukidenbut a completely new game that they hope to turn into their own saga.
Definitely, Wild Hearts is promisingand I’m looking forward to exploring more beautiful environments, inspired by feudal Japan, and hunting monsters with my friends.