Wild enough, and a lotta heart
When I first picked up Dynasty Warriors 2 from a Blockbuster Video over two decades ago, I never expected that I’d play so many Omega Force games throughout my lifetime. The cover called to me like a siren’s song, and I was introduced to what would become an endless onslaught of hack and slash games pretty much every year from there on out.
But many folks have forgotten that they also helmed the Toukiden series: an action romp planted firmly in the hunting genre. Well, now they’re back with Wild Hearts, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Wild Hearts (PC, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: February 17, 2023
Wild Hearts doesn’t ask too much of the player outright, and is one of the more accessible hunters I’ve played to date. You mainly just need to learn a few terms (Azuma is the game world, Karakuri are basically magic structures/tools, and Kemono are big monsters) and you’re on your way. The game’s tutorials are thorough, but woven throughout the storyline so that the onboarding isn’t tedious, even upfront. A few hours in though (or way sooner depending on your pacing), and Azuma is your oyster.
The flow of the game generally relies on hunting monster after monster (traversing new themed regions, which are like giant sandboxes in a semi-open world format) until the end, but those regions are a blast to walk, zip, and jump through. One thing I really harped on in the review in progress was how stunning the setting was: and that feeling lingered throughout my entire experience with Wild Hearts. While the PC version of the game is apparently having some issues with certain rigs, the PS5 edition didn’t give me any major technical trouble to speak of.
Initially, you’re introduced to a Karakuri platform that also serves as a springboard. The design is simple and elegant, and showcases Wild Hearts‘ core strength of ingenuity. You can simply place these platforms on top of each other and climb them to traverse a cliff. You could also use them in battle to spring up and land a jumping slash on an enemy. Or, you could arrange them like a barricade to trip up a Kemono. As you acquire more Karakuri, more of these strategic options pop up, both expressed and implied. Ziplines are one of the more popular elements from the pre-launch period, and will likely result in a lot of fun highlight reels.
The key is that you’re creating your own structures, both permanent and temporary. While normal Karakuri are often fleeting, the tier above (Dragon Karakuri) operates more like a base building simulator. You’ll be forging fast travel tents, upgrade stations, and points of attack, all of which can be enjoyed online with up to two other people. To expand and conquer you’re encouraged to explore, which will in turn lead you to more materials to create stuff, Tsukumo (cute little robot things that serve as combat companions and a collectible), and more Dragon Karakuri resources.
More than any other hunting game I was inspired to play online (which I was able to do even in this pre-release period), and I’m happy to say I had a blast. Teamwork really makes Wild Hearts, and feeds into the creative expression I was mentioning earlier. You’ll see completely different weapon types, builds, and ways to use Karakuri if you play online. Instant matchmaking options as you enter a hunt are key, as I’d simply press a button and be on my way.
Combat is engaging, but also forgiving. Wild Hearts’ secret weapon is the over-the-top slide dodge, which will allow vigilant players to move out of harm’s way in a super satisfying manner. Plus, multiplayer and the liberal use of Karakuri will help you feel like a genius while having a ton of fun in the process. Combos for each weapon type are simple but effective, with a few specials and super moves thrown in to ensure that the skill ceiling is high enough to propel veteran hunter fans.
I was also encouraged to go out of my comfort zone constantly. I’d throw Karakuri up just for fun to see what happened. Or try out a completely different and wild weapon type (like a killer umbrella) while still contributing to the hunt (or doing fine solo). This is a fantastic hangout game, both solo and with friends (or even randoms). I spent more time with Wild Hearts than the developer-recommended 30 hour campaign completion run because of this principle.
Although many core genre elements have been streamlined, there is a bit of clunk here. Some folks may find Wild Hearts slow going at first, especially in terms of traversal. Monsters running away multiple times in a bout can be frustrating, even when you have ample fast travel points and ziplines available. There isn’t a lot here story-wise to latch onto, but again, I found myself wholly buying into the allure of Azuma itself, which is one of the more fascinating and pronounced game worlds I’ve seen in quite some time).
While the community will ultimately decide whether or not Wild Hearts lives on as long as any given Monster Hunter iteration, I hope it does; and that the team delivers on whatever confirmed free content is on the way. It’s not every day a high budget hunter arrives on the scene, and there’s more than enough room for several of them.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]