All Monster. No Hunter.
I like Monster Hunter. I’m not the most diehard fan of the series like so many people who have played the almost dozen iterations of the title. But I have played a handful of games in the series and enjoyed all of them to various extents.
I started with the Freedom spinoff series for Playstation Portable and was enthralled by the addicting gameplay loop that involved getting a lay of the locales, looking for clues on the whereabouts and behaviors of your target, the gathering of materials, and the constant drip of upward mobility through gear advancement via collecting parts from hunted monsters
Monster Hunter has always been a series that’s a bit inaccessible and this was always part of the intent. It’s a very obtuse and deliberate game. For instance, many things in the games aren’t tutorialized and come from experimentation with the game’s mechanics. It gives you just enough information to do that, but it never holds your hand.
The actual combat is no different. It’s a very intentional affair. Your hunter is slow, clunky, and has to commit to any action taken. This is a far cry from the action games many players are used to. You don’t get to cancel animations if you make a mistake. Doubly so, depending on whether or not you’re using one of the game’s more sluggish weapons like the great sword.
But because of those things, Monster Hunter has always had great pacing and an immense sense of satisfaction. The combat is weighty and meaty. Each slash or bash of your weapon sets off a miniature endorphin-fueled fireworks display in your brain.
When you are finally able to track down and defeat one of the game’s titanic beasts or craft a weapon you’ve been grinding parts for, it’s immensely gratifying because you’ve learned and applied your knowledge.
In that way, it’s not dissimilar to Dark Souls, one of my favorite series. In fact, some may argue that Monster Hunters is a huge influence on the Souls series in the way both series have a very calculated design philosophy.
Monster Hunter Rise doesn’t have much of that.
This started with Monster Hunter World, a game I am admittedly a big fan of. I felt that Monster Hunter World did a sublime job of making the game a bit more accessible for a wider audience of players without eschewing the series’ idiosyncrasies.
World made the combat slightly less deliberate by speeding up player movement, allowing certain actions (but not all) to be cancellable, and gave the player an easier way to track down monsters–with the inclusion of the scoutflies which would guide players to the approximate area of clues to track down a monster.
The latter being one of the most drastic changes (replacing a system in which players will use tracks and markings to find monsters and then mark them with paintballs to track them as they move across the map), it still nonetheless didn’t outright replace the whole “hunting” aspect of Monster Hunter.
World also made some great additions to the formula as well. It gave the player a grappling hook that can be latched onto contextual objects in the environment to do things like speed up traversal and bring objects down onto monsters for massive damage.
What I really mean is that World, while having some rough edges shaved off to appeal to a more mainstream audience, is still very much a Monster Hunter game. It’s a rare instance in this industry of a company getting to have its cake and eat it too, and the results speak for themselves with over 16 million units sold.
But it seems like the bittersweet reality is that World was just the first part of a rapid step into a completely different direction for the series — one that I do not find compelling.
There are some good things that Rise does. The combat is the slickest it’s ever been and the addition of the wirebugs expand upon the grappling hook from World. Now you can use the wirebugs to navigate pretty much anywhere in the environment, regardless of elevation. You can do your best Spider-Man impersonation with how the wirebugs allow you to zip around and latch onto surfaces.
The game also makes great use of them in combat. They expand the moveset for all weapons to a capacity larger than World, with weapons having different abilities that can deal damage and block or dodge attacks.
It’s also very intelligent in its implementation because you only have a finite amount of wirebugs that recharge (two permanent ones and a temporary third wirebug can be picked up from the environment). It gives the player another resource to manage and helps keep combat engaging.
The moveset isn’t quite at the level it reached in Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, but it is nice to have one of my complaints about World addressed.
It’s also a very pretty game, perhaps one of the best on the Switch. The fact that the game looks this good and runs as well as it does is impressive. In my 50-ish hours of gameplay, I only really had performance issues when four players were on screen at once.
But honestly, that’s about where my praise for Rise ends.
Remember the whole thing about learning the environment, gathering resources, tracking monsters, and grinding for gear? All of that is gone.
You no longer have to hunt monsters in Monster Hunter. When you accept a hunt, even if it is your first time accepting it, you will be given a very clear idea of where the monster is on the map by having it identified as a large question mark.
Worse, on repeat hunts, you’ll just see the monster’s icon on the map. This means there’s no incentive to stop and gather, to really pay attention to your surroundings because you want to get straight to the monster and kill it.
The game is also ludicrously generous with its loot tables. There were maybe one or two occasions where I did not have the required parts necessary to craft a piece of gear and even then, it didn’t take very long to get those parts because the game throws them at you.
You just get so much loot for completing a quest and it’s only compounded by how fast these hunts are over. Another contributing factor to this issue is the game’s new companions, Palamutes.
In older games, you would have either Palicos or Shaka Lakas, little cats or dolls that would accompany you on your hunts and fight by your side, heal, and offer support. Palamutes still do the former but their main purpose is to provide speedy conveyance to the player.
You can mount Palamutes and get across most locations in under a minute. They get you into the action staggeringly fast.
To compare, hunts in Monster Hunter are given a 50 minute time limit. If you don’t complete in that time period, you return to the hub area and have to try again. This happened to me many times in other Monster Hunter games, even World.
There are two types of hunts in the game, village hunts which are meant to be soloed and hub hunts which are meant for four players. Most of my village hunts were completed in under seven minutes and most of my hub hunts were completed in under nine.
Not once in my entire time playing Rise did I have a hunt time out.
It doesn’t end there though. In previous games, the endemic life (the smaller monsters that litter the environment) would provide a legitimate threat at times and at the least be a noteworthy presence at others. The endemic life in this game may as well not even exist because they do little to no damage to the player, don’t stagger the player, and are very passive.
What you’re left with is a game that’s incredibly easy–and I’m not even someone who is that good at these games, especially in comparison to some of the game’s best players. I can count on two hands how many times I failed a quest due to being knocked out by monsters.
This is in stark contrast to the previous games which offered the player a real challenge to overcome.
Monster Hunter games also have what they call siege missions to break up the typical flow of gameplay. In some games these are events where the player rides sand ships and uses artillery to take down much larger monsters and in others were literally being on the monster itself because of its size.
Rise has by far the worst version of this in its Rampage missions which are nothing other than glorified tower defense segments. In rampage missions, you fight larger versions of monsters from the relative safety of easily replaceable artillery equipment. There’s not much strategy other than shooting the monster with the turret until you reach one of the phases where you fight on foot.
They’re absolutely unbearable because they remove one of the only good things that the game still has going for it for the majority of the mission. And you’re required to do around five or six of these just to complete the main mission.
But even the combat isn’t without issues. The game’s art direction favors lots of particle effects that result in bright neon flourishes and explosions. This can make it difficult to tell what is going on a lot of the time. Even worse, since every player has their Palamute or Palico in combat with them, and having eight characters on screen–all contributing their own visual noise to the fight–encounters can become overly hectic in the worst way.
I often ended up doing hub missions myself simply so I could learn the monster’s moveset and telegraphs without all the visual clutter obfuscating my view.
There’s also the way Rise handles the mounting mechanic from previous games. Before, you would have to both tire a monster down as well as position yourself above them to mount them. When mounted, they stop attacking other hunters and receive damage from the mounted player while other hunters attack.
In Rise, the monsters still stagger but you can mount them by pressing a button. When mounted, you can attack other monsters or also ram the mounted monster into a wall for massive amounts of damage before temporarily incapacitating the monster for everyone to freely attack.
This exacerbates another problem, that the monsters pose zero legitimate threat.
Although the combat itself is fluid and intuitive, it hardly matters when the monsters get bullied the way they do in Rise. Seriously, you aren’t clearing hunts as fast as you do with the majority of the monsters putting up a real fight. Especially when playing with a full party, you’re going to be beating the ever living shit out of these monsters.
In previous games, World included, you had options in how you approached encounters. Some monsters had elemental damage you would want to have resistance buffs to counteract. Others would have elemental weaknesses to exploit. You could make use of traps to take huge chunks of health out of monsters while they were sleeping.
Combat may have been “clunkier” but it was far more dynamic and open-ended. In Rise, you and your party will do nothing more than mindlessly rush the monster down without giving a second thought because that’s all that the game demands of you.
Maybe when the G rank (higher level hunts) are released in the future, it will ameliorate this problem. But that remains to be seen.
When I finally finished Monster Hunter World’s main quest, I had put about 80 hours into the game and around 200 into the game before I decided I had my fill of it. I beat the main quest of Rise in under 20 hours and decided there wasn’t really anything left to do within 50.
Even getting new gear seemed pointless because although the weapon variety is wider than in World, the balancing is so broken that there are one or two weapons of each type that are significantly better than the others. You don’t really get an incentive to keep playing the game if you already have the best gear before beating it.
Rise is over just as quickly as its hunts. At least it’s consistent?
Honestly, Monster Hunter Rise doesn’t even feel like it’s a complete game and it’s one of the most disappointing titles I’ve played in recent memory. What I’ve been given is a game that removes so much of itself that I struggle to even call it a Monster Hunter game. It is series built around thoughtful, incremental progression that has been replaced by a game laser focused on instant gratification.
What’s left is far more hollow than anything that preceded it. For those people who want a faster, more accessible game, more power to them. I just have little faith in Capcom crafting more traditional experiences after this, especially with its impressive critical acclaim and sales numbers.
Who knows, maybe there will be a change of attitude towards the game once the honeymoon period is over. Maybe Capcom will still offer a lower budget, but more traditional, Monster Hunter experience alongside this new direction for the flagship titles.
Either way, Rise is a Monster Hunter game for people who hate Monster Hunter.