Saturday, April 17, 2021

Monster Hunter Rise Review

Developer: Capcom
Price: $60
Platform: Switch, PC in the future

Is Monster Hunter Rise a sequel to MH Generations or MH World? It's a little bit of both, and that's not always a good thing. Monster Hunter Rise definitely plays like a follow-up to MHW, but the way some things, like multiplayer and expedition tours, are implemented really feel like a step backwards from MHW.

Don't let the low spec Switch graphics fool you, Monster Hunter Rise is not a return to the clunky gameplay style of Monster Hunter 1-4. As far as the hunting gameplay and controls go, MHR feels a lot like MHW. Environments are huge and loading screen free, controls are even faster and smoother than in MHW, and things like debuffs, monster tracking, and ordering pre-hunt meals have been simplified even further. You don't even have to look at footprints or Anjanath snot to track monsters anymore. You get an Owl buddy (or Cohoot) to automatically do the tracking for you now, and it’s super cute!

Monster Hunter Rise's controls feel like an evolved version of MHW's. MHR feels faster, more responsive, and a lot of those long animations you had to wait through in the past are either shorter or cancellable with the new Wirebug mechanics. It's not quite Devil May Cry, or even Zelda, but it's definitely the best playing Monster Hunter game yet. MHR makes MHW feel slow and clunky by comparison. I still feel like this game has a problem with trying to do too many things with not enough buttons, though. And adding new mechanics doesn’t help matters. I think controls for ranged weapons especially are even more of a mess with the added Wirebug skill button modifiers.

The Wirebug is the big new mechanic in MHR. If MHW's Clutch Claw is like Batman's grappling hook, then the Wirebug is like Spider-Man's web slingers. The Wirebug is faster, has less restrictions, and is much easier to use since you’re swinging from a bug. You don’t even need a surface to grapple onto. You can use it to traverse the environment, ride monsters, do weapon-specific special moves, and even zip to safety after a monster knocks you down.

Wirebugs use the new Wirebug gauge as their resource. You get 2 by default and can get a third one by picking up an item. Most moves use 1 Wirebug and a few more defensive (or more powerful) moves use 2. The Wirebugs go on cooldown after using them and come back at different rates depending on what moves you use. If you use enough Wirebug attacks on large monsters, you’ll be able to ride them. The whole jumping on them thing is gone and so is grappling onto their face and smacking them around. You can still ram the monsters into walls when riding them, though. You can also control the monsters and have turf wars. The monsters handle about as well as a semi, but it’s fun getting a monster to fight the quest target monster. That’s actually a really good strategy to use since they do so much damage. It’s very easy to get non-quest monsters into rideable states with just a couple of Wirebug attacks too. There's so much cool stuff Wirebugs let you do. They really make Monster Hunter more fun. I love them and I hope they’re here to stay.

Another not so innovative, but much cuter addition to Monster Hunter is Palamutes, AKA dogs. Palamutes are like MHW's taxis meet Palicos. They fight alongside you and you can ride them around like mounts. Unlike MHW's taxis, though, you have full control over them. You also don't have to do obscure quests to unlock them in each zone. And unlike Palicos, they can't set up traps or healing installations. They also don’t talk. All they really do is attack. You can equip them with some heals and buffs that go off as they attack, but they're not as varied as what's available for Palicos, who get 5 classes with lots of different skills.

Where MHR strangely takes a step backwards into pre-MHW Monster Hunter is in quest progression and multiplayer. Unlike in MHW, you can't play any quest you want in multiplayer. You actually can't do any of the village quests in multiplayer. The Gathering Hub has its own set of Low Rank quests. If you only do village quests first, you'll be offered a special quest that will unlock tiers of monsters you've already killed in the hub, but besides that, Low Rank quest progression between the village and the hub is separate. I often ran into situations where I would kill a monster in the village, but didn't have a quest with that monster unlocked in multiplayer, so I either had to catch the hub quests up, or just farm a monster solo. This isn't much of an issue once you get to High Rank, but it's frustrating and needlessly confusing when you're starting the game.

Unlike in the old games, though, Gathering Hub quests aren't exclusively balanced for multiplayer. The hub quest's monsters' health scales for 1 to 4 players, so they're all soloable. I only learned that through the official Monster Hunter Twitter account, though. The NPCs clearly tell you only masochists try to solo hub quests.

Weirdly enough, once you finish the village's Low Rank quests, you have to move to the Gathering Hub to continue the story in its High Rank quests. The village has no HR quests at all. And to top off all this game progression weirdness, the story isn't even done. I mean like, the game isn't finished and they're patching in the last set of story quests later. The story leaves off in a weird cliffhanger and none of the villagers acknowledge that there are no more story related quests to do.

There is another pretty big new thing in MHR, Rampages. For some misguided reason, MHR has a tower defense quest type that's all about using turrets. Yes, those same horrible turrets from arenas and fights like Zorah Magdaros and Jhen Moran. In Rampages, you set up a bunch of turrets and kill hordes of attacking monsters before they break a gate that leads to the village. You can set up a bunch of auto turrets and get buffs that multiply your Hunter's damage, so you don't really have to manually use turrets the whole time, but somebody is going to have to use them if you want to complete all the objectives and get the best rewards. I guess Rampages aren't as terrible as fights like Zorah Magdaros, but they're not great either. And you can't avoid them because there's unskippable Rampage quests in the story and one of the last bosses only appears in a Rampage.

MHR looks really nice, but it’s nowhere near as good looking as MHW. It barely runs above 720p docked, it's capped at 30fps, the textures are lower resolution, and the lighting quality is nowhere near as nice as MHW's. Rise’s environments also lack the plants, hills, trees, and all the little things that make MHW’s zones look so realistic. MHR’s zones look very flat when compared to MHW’s. Rise does look very nice for what it is, though, and the framerate rarely dips below 30, even in multiplayer. At least docked. I have seen the game chug in handheld. Rise looks more like MHW than MHGU at least. It doesn't look like a high res 3DS game, it looks like a very nice Switch game.

I really love the Japanese theme and presentation of the game. MHR feels a bit like a throwback to MHP3rd in that sense. Kamura Village is basically a Ninja village, with tiled roofs, sakura trees, a dango stand, and a hunter who likes to hang out on the rooftops. A lot of the monsters chosen for the game are based on Japanese cryptids and Yokai, and they all get Samurai movie style intros complete with film projector filters and Kabuki theater style poems. The loading screens also feature beautiful Monster Hunter Ukiyo-e art, which really makes all this monster hunting stuff feel like it has a long history in this world. It’s really well done and it just feels like a lot of thought went into it.

I love the soundtrack in MHR. It's also very Japanese. A lot of the instrumentation used in the tracks reminds me of Naruto and Okami music. It’s full of great remixes of old themes, like Proof of a Hero, and awesome new ones as well. Including 2 new tracks sung in the Monster Hunter language by the Wyverian twins from Kamura Village. The game's sound effects are very well done too. You can really hear all the things in environments come alive around you. It's very immersive.

If you love Monster Hunter and have been a longtime fan, you’ll probably love this game too. You may be a bit disappointed with the amount of monsters in it if you’re coming from MHGU or Iceborne, though. It’s not a fair comparison, since Iceborne is the expansion to MHW and MHGU is a compilation of 15 years of MH, but I'm guessing the hardcore will most likely blow through MHR’s content within a week and be left wanting more. But I guess that also means this game is really good. I love how this game plays. It’s hard to go back to MHW now because this game is so much faster and more fun to play with the Wirebug. I think the way they split up the Low Rank progression is pretty bad, and the online is a puzzling step backwards from MHW in some ways, but it’s not a huge deal once you get to High Rank. Overall, I think this game is great and I can’t wait until they put more monsters in it.