Monster Hunter Rise makes no bones about what kind of game it is.
This is a game where you hunt monsters. That’s pretty much it.
The sixth mainline title in the Capcom series is the successor to 2018’s Monster Hunter World, which arrived on PS4, Xbox One, and PC to thunderous acclaim. World has since gone on to become the company’s single best-selling title, moving more than 16 million copies as of August 2020.
As a series newcomer with Rise, I’d heard a whole lot of good things about Monster Hunter’s strategic combat, satisfying grind, and immersive environments. Those elements are indeed present here, and satisfying in the bite-size chunks in which they’re wisely presented. Still, the action is almost wholly devoid of narrative urgency. It’s tough to care about getting your ass whomped by another giant swamp lizard when you can’t be bothered about what happens next.
Monster Hunter Rise sees you tasked with defending the picturesque Kamura Village from a cyclical event known as the Rampage, a periodic influx of terrifying creatures hell-bent on chomping everything in sight. You’d be forgiven for wondering why these people don’t simply relocate — it’s probably because Kamura has basically every biome you can think of right on its doorstep. You’ll venture out to balmy deserts, frosty islands, and verdant jungles to track down prey, gather supplies for the villagers, and hoard materials to enhance your massive personal arsenal.
Missions get tougher as you progress, starting off with one-star challenges and going all the way up to the seven-star tier. Each new level opens up a variety of optional tasks in addition to those required to rank up. For the most part, you’ll be able to do them in any order you choose, which offers a pleasant way to get comfortable with the terrain and wildlife unique to each area. That knowledge will come in handy once you’re bringing down some big baddies, which tend to lumber off elsewhere after you deal a certain amount of damage. Each mission has a time limit — often 50 minutes — but many can be done and dusted in far less time, making it easy to play in bite-sized chunks without losing track of your progress. Multiplayer hunts are an even better way to while away an hour or two with friends.
But fistfuls of snacks, however tasty, do not a meal make. This is not a game you’ll binge for dozens of hours in a frenzy to see what’s next, because the story is essentially nonexistent. Kamura Village is your home base throughout the game, and its inhabitants mainly exist to barf missions and tutorials at you. You won’t feel a particularly keen urge to protect them.
Every so often, you’ll need to defend the village walls from a full-on assault known as a Rampage Mission. These mix up the action but do little to raise the overall stakes. In fairness, Capcom’s never presented the Monster Hunter series as a particularly narrative-driven experience, even though World took Best RPG at the 2018 Game Awards. (It managed to beat Dragon Quest XI, an all-time treasure.) Still, I was awfully surprised by just how little there was to chew on.
Jack of all trades
After a few introductory cutscenes, Monster Hunter Rise unleashes its own version of the Rampage on the player: an unrelenting torrent of text-box tutorials. It’s an odd choice for a game that so pointedly eschews anything resembling world-building, and it might have felt less like an infodump if it was integrated more elegantly into some early battles. While the fun-factor of slashing giant critters to ribbons picks up after the first hour or so, it’s all a bit of a slog at first.
Monster Hunter Rise gives you access to fourteen different weapon classes right out the gate, and each of them can be upgraded into dozens of forms using horns, pelts, and other bits you manage to hack off of your prey. These enhancements run the gamut from elemental damage to increased durability. Crafting and upgrading armor functions similarly — there often isn’t a clear “best” option, but a robust variety to choose from depending on your playstyle.
In theory, this means you’ll need to change up your gear depending on the beast you’re hunting. In practice, you’ll probably just gravitate to the same one or two that are the easiest to figure out straight away. (In my case, the best picks were the Dual Blades and Longsword.) Curiously, a comprehensive weapons explainer is not among the too-many tutorials Rise throws your way, though multiplayer hunts can be a good way to see what the rest of the arsenal can do. As you progress to more difficult missions, the game will steer you toward specific weapon types, but it would be more gratifying if you were encouraged to mix it up right from the start.
Monster Hunter Rise is all about the grind, and though its many customization options feel superfluous until the late game, each mission — even the mundane mushroom-foraging jaunts — offers a reassuring sense of progress. You’re always right on the brink of unlocking a new weapon or upgraded armor for your hunter and animal buddies. It’s all just within your grasp, if you’re willing to invest the time.
Kicking it old school
The maps you’ll explore during hunts feel intricate and broad, if not particularly dazzling. Each one offers plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Load times are pretty quick; you’ll wait 10 seconds or less to start a new mission or wrap one up and head back to town. But terrain textures can often look muddy, even while the Switch is docked. This is particularly obvious in areas that tend to be largely monochromatic, like deserts and canyons. That can leave you spinning in circles to figure out how to get where you want to go.
Rise’s tough to parse mini-map doesn’t help matters, and the UI can be cluttered to the point of illegibility in portable mode. Frenetic fights with large monsters are also prone to a fair bit of clipping, as are the custom armor sets on your hunter and Palamute (the in-game term for a ride-on dog friend).
Thankfully, Palamutes never get tired or suffer fall damage, which makes retracing your steps across Rise’s numerous maps a breeze. It’s too bad that the game’s other traversal gimmick, the Wirebug, isn’t quite so nimble or reliable. Essentially an insect-powered zipline, the Wirebug allows you to ascend sheer cliffs and narrow the gap with large enemies in a flash. But you’re limited to a couple of uses at a time, each with its own cooldown period. Even while exploring, it’s awfully easy to misjudge the aim or timing for a second jump needed to clear a cliff, sending you crashing back to where you started or goofily flailing over the other side.
Experiencing Monster Hunter for the first time on Switch is an awkward reminder of the limitations of Nintendo’s hybrid console, particularly a few months after the launches of Series X and PS5. Rise often feels like a throwback — and not in a good way. 6/10
Monster Hunter Rise launches March 26 for Nintendo Switch. A PC version is slated to come to steam in early 2022.
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