The partnership between EA Originals, KOEI TECMO and Omega Force to publish a fresh take on the hunting genre seemed to come out of nowhere, but it’s one I welcome. Monster Hunter rules that market, and although recent games like Epic Games’ free-to-play Dauntless attempted to capture some of the magic that fans love in Monster Hunter, it didn’t even get close. Wild Hearts isn’t shying away from the comparisons it’ll obviously get to Capcoms massive monster franchise, which was evident in the media event I attended. However, the combined efforts of KOEI TECMO and Omega Force have teamed up with EA Originals to publish this new IP worldwide because they believe they have something special; a fresh take on the genre to entice players of Monster Hunter and those who may want something a little more beginner friendly.
From the outset, Wild Hearts ticks all the boxes you’d want in a hunting game. There are giant creatures with varied designs, crafting of armour and gear, plus a unique world to explore with flora, fauna and secrets to discover. The combined nature of Wild Hearts beasts, called the ‘Kemono’ and the ‘Karakuri’ technology players wield, make this game feel fresh and visceral in its combat in a way most Monster Hunter games do not.
In the 2-3 hours I got to go hands-on with Wild Hearts, I made my way through an introductory chapter that filled in some backstory for my player character, whom I could customize and choose their pronouns. In early character moments, I made the backstory of my character one of mystery: they’ve travelled across the sea to get to the land of Azuma, the fantasy landscape where Wild Hearts takes place — a world that feudal Japan heavily influences. I was here to hunt, and hunting the Kemono beasts is what I set out to do.
Early battles against small creatures introduced the simple mechanics of the action-RPG genre that Omega Force carried forth from other games they’ve worked on, like the Dynasty Warriors franchise. The light and heavy attacks feel good with the basic sword I started with, while building up enough attacks lets me execute a more powerful finishing move. But this is just the introduction, of course, because, as with most hunting games, it’s not so much about your combo-finesse as it is your preparation, timing and use of your surroundings. When I entered my first battle against a one-star Kemono, it was a rat-like creature that had infused with the green and flowering nature around it, a swollen or rotten bulb threatened to explode on its tail, while a flower began to blossom over one eye. This Kemono moves fast and flips through the air looking to land down upon you with tremendous force. Attacking its limbs and body when able does some damage, but it’s not enough to take it down at anything beyond a snail’s pace, which is where the Karakuri comes in.
Early in the game, you have a near-death experience and are saved by a “death stalker” who infuses a piece of the ancient Karakuri into your body. This allows you to craft a manner of different objects which the player can use in battle and traversal. The first of these you unlock is a simple box that lets you jump into the air, helpful for climbing up mountains sides and coming back to my battle against the rate-Kemono, performing devastating aerial attacks. It was here when the pace and dance of Wild Hearts took hold of me. This isn’t a simple hack-and-slash adventure; it’s one where the tools you craft are integral to victory. Dodging an attack and creating a box in front of you to launch into the air and perform a downward-spiralling attack feels terrific.
After taking on the first Kemono by myself, I wandered into some more story beats, which I’ll skip for the sake of this preview. There is a story here and more than what I’d expect to get out of a Monster Hunter game; it’s neither thrilling nor boring in the early stages, but having some AI character the be introduced to and help flesh out the world and terror of the Kemono did help Wild Hearts.
When I attempted the second battle against the next Kemono by myself, I died very quickly. It was my fault, the flame-infused beast came at me, and I decided to launch myself directly at it with the new Karakuri I’d unlocked, which is something of a bounce pad. Nonetheless, when I went back for round two, I decided to open up my game and let anyone else join, which they did, and straight away, I felt like this was the way I’d want to be playing Wild Hearts at launch.
You can team with two other players and play through the entire game of Wild Hearts if you’d like, or matchmake like I did when taking on any of the Kemono. Wild Hearts will also support cross-play (but no cross-progression) at launch, so it doesn’t matter where your friend is playing. Seeing two other players building and using each other’s Karakuri made for a much more exciting battle, and even without any voice-coms on, I could hear the other players sigh of relief when we took down the last boss in the preview. This was the giant boar seen in the gameplay reveal trailer (as seen below). The twenty-plus minute battle required several revives and moments of regrouping, letting the beast freak out and plan out attacks around its mistakes. I loved it, and I can’t wait to do bigger and longer battles when the entire game releases in February next year.
Karakuri can also be used outside of battle and are persistent unless a Kemono destroys them. This means bounce pads can be set up to make it between two points quickly, and after I unlocked a grapple gun of sorts, quick up-hill and down-hill transitions took just seconds. When a player joins your game, they’ll see all your persistent Karakuri as well, while if you join their game, you’ll be able to see any shortcuts they’ve set up.