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Wild Hearts review - crafty monster hunting

Wild Hearts scratches that Monster Hunter itch as its beasts present a unique challenge, but persistent frame rate issues keep the hunt from being perfect.

Wild Hearts review - the blacksmith standing next to her foundry as another worker shovels coal behind her.

Our Verdict

In theory, this is a massively entertaining game that introduces some unique twists to the monster-hunting formula. In practice, however, technical issues on PC continue to mar what should have been a slam-dunk hit.

As a diehard Monster Hunter fan, I want to give Wild Hearts more of a chance. It’s a gorgeous-looking action game in which you can fight creatively designed behemoths with some ridiculously powerful and, at times, unorthodox weapons. The monsters’ savage attacks require you to use the game’s unique Karakuri system to defend yourself. It has a lot of potential, and I want to like it so much more, but unfortunately, the performance issues – partially improved since launch, but still significant – make fights feel like trudging through a boggy swamp when they should be snappy and action-packed.

This is a massive shame because my experience with Wild Hearts has sometimes felt as fresh as my first time playing Monster Hunter World. You take the role of a nameless hunter who arrives in the Azuma region only to fall in battle against an icy wolf, one of the many Wild Hearts monsters, or ‘Kemono’. As your hunter lays dying, a masked man seems to put something inside of them, enabling them to use long-forgotten Karakuri – ancient technology employed by hunters from years gone by to control the beasts.

Wild Hearts review - a Ragetail is bouncing around as a hunter sets up some Karakuri blocks.

As I descend the stairs into my first hunt, I get a sense of the scale of this open-world game. The first area of the four maps is a colourful jungle where nature has overrun long-abandoned buildings and monsters roam free. Wild Hearts makes a striking first impression here; vibrant flora dance in the wind, and majestic animals graze in the sun. The larger monsters all have an ethereal, elevated quality that Monster Hunter Rise’s equivalents lack. When I square off against even my first monster – a grass-covered mouse called Ragetail with a flower bud at its tail – it feels more like I’m fighting gods than mere beasts.

The excitement withers as I discover the game’s biggest issue on PC: constant performance drops. In my case, I’m running the game with an Nvidia 3080 Ti, i7-7700K, and 32GB DDR4, and the chugging frame rate is compounded by other issues ranging from occasional screen tears to frequent and nearby texture pop-in. Many players, as well as colleagues within PCGamesN, have reported similar problems, which perhaps isn’t surprising given the rather hefty Wild Hearts system requirements. Those using older hardware should approach with caution.

Wild Hearts review - the hunter is speaking with a masked monk named Mujina.

Developer Koei Tecmo acknowledged this issue soon after launch and pushed out a week-one patch. Wild Hearts is significantly more playable now than at launch – the random dips in frame rate are now gone – but I still find it has a hard time reaching smooth frame rates during intense activity. That includes combat, which is a bit of a deal-breaker in an action game. There are promises of further improvements coming soon, but it’s still not quite right.

Timing with weapon strikes is vital in games like Monster Hunter, and this seems especially true with the unlockable Wild Hearts weapons, which appear shortly after my first hunt. I instantly swap the boring katana for the weirdly wonderful umbrella, as its serrated edges and fast movement appeals to my preferred play style. However, the key to making this weapon do any notable damage to a monster is its parry ability, which requires precise timing. Executing parries in actual combat against a monster is trickier at lower frame rates, so I opt to use the hammer instead. It also requires precise timing to get the most damage, but I’m able to muddle through.

Wild Hearts review - the hunter is using a zipline to launch a sneak attack on the giant boar down below.

Progression in these games means slaying the same monsters repeatedly to get enough items to craft the next gear level. Eventually, these weapons and armour have strengths and weaknesses against elements, much like Monster Hunter’s gear. In fact, the only real difference I see here is that Wild Hearts locks away some weapon types behind progression. For those unfamiliar with Monster Hunter games, limiting the weapon choices to the more straightforward gear keeps things simple while you’re getting your bearings, but veterans may find it counterproductive to lock away a potential main pick for such a long time when they’d prefer to get used to its quirks from the get-go.

Monsters have wildly different designs and attacks, so no two fights have felt the same. In one hunt, I’m trying with much frustration to bonk an agile cockerel on the beak as it flaps around the field, occasionally nipping in to peck at my back. In another, I’m rolling around desperately, trying not to get kicked in the face by a furious fiery ape. Because of the size of the maps, two monsters rarely interact. However, when they do, watching them beat the snot out of each other is a spectacle, and it leaves them wide open for me to get some hits in. Monster Hunter was also like this, but the enemy attack variety in Wild Hearts goes far beyond boring tail swipes and charges. For the most part, even the easier opponents here are refreshing fights for hunters with years of experience.

Wild Hearts review - a Sapscourge is becoming enraged while the hunter is about to smack it with a giant mallet.

As in Monster Hunter, each monster in Wild Hearts has two states. Their enraged forms can use a broader range of attacks, making them temporarily more dangerous, but you can avoid some of these with the clever use of Karakuri. This is the game’s central mechanic, allowing you to erect structures from threads obtained by shattering rocks or chopping down trees. You can avoid some attacks with Karakuri that are harder to dodge, such as erecting a massive wall for a charging Kingtusk to plough into. With a gratifying clunk, the wall holds and sends the giant boar soaring into the air, but not even this overgrown piggy can fly, so it crashes with a reassuring thud, leaving it vulnerable to follow-up attacks.

Activating Dragon Pits that you find near designated camping areas can help you set up outposts, so if you faint, you don’t have to travel far. This also allows you to set up other gadgets in the local area, such as the zipline, to make it easy to get around the map quickly. Setting up bases, shortcuts, and structures to counter monster attacks takes a bit of getting used to for Monster Hunter fans, but it will eventually become second nature.

It is possible to fail these fights by falling in battle three times, much like Monster Hunter, though there’s no time limit by default. I can also rechallenge the monsters I’ve slain from the world map at any time, but doing so adds the 60-minute time limit Monster Hunter fans will be familiar with. As for endgame, Wild Hearts encourages players to team up to hunt down the powered-up versions of the monsters, which have new attacks to keep their fights fresh, and free title updates will add more new creatures to the already significant roster.

If you’re hoping for an RPG game gameplay of similar complexity to the Monster Hunter games, but with a little extra spice, then Wild Hearts achieves that. Or at least, it does in theory; in my experience and many others, the developers still have plenty of technical gremlins to hunt down even after their first patch. I’m being as generous as I can when I say that the foundation of what’s here is worth waiting for and I hope we can one day enjoy it with no issues; it may require a bit of relearning if Monster Hunter is deep in your muscle memory, but there are plenty of fun new ideas that make hunting in Wild Hearts different enough from Capcom’s hit series.