Wild Hearts from developer Omega Force doesn’t run from the inevitable Monster Hunter comparisons—it embraces them and expands on the formula in must-see ways.
An action role-playing video game that sees players go off on hunts for mythical monsters of staggering scale, Wild Hearts mixes in crafting, strategy and long-requested modernizations to the gameplay loop to stunning results.
While Wild Hearts seems familiar on first pass, it doesn’t take long to carve out its own identity. There are a handful of performance issues that dampen the experience, but what’s there at launch is an unexpected heavyweight in what was once thought of as a one-game show of a genre.
Graphics and Gameplay
Visually, Wild Hearts has the ability to stun and disgust in a manner of minutes. The colorful, varied world features biomes of absolutely shocking scale. The world towers around the player, be it in verticality or draw distance that players can eventually reach.
And while some areas seem to offer high-fidelity graphics with immense detail, others—especially when weather effects like snow come into play—lack all of that fidelity, to the point of looking like a last-generation game.
Muddy textures don’t help, instead making things feel rather bland at times, though it’s one of those games where it’s clear that is just a tradeoff. The game engine and hardware resources of various game systems allocated its energy toward scale of levels players can modify, never mind places big enough to house these towering, five-story-tall monstrosities.
Graphical downturns won’t majorly harm a player’s enjoyment regardless given the scope of things. But it helps that sound design is so good, with weapon attacks carrying good sound feedback, as do the monsters themselves.
Monster design leaves a little something to be desired, though. Some are awesome folklore beings pulled from Japanese mythos. Others are… a big version of a normal animal. But again, a catch—players encounter so many different monsters so quickly that it’s a wonder they’re all unique. And some of the most unique are unforgettable, like the Lavaback—a giant molten-rock-slinging gorilla.
On the surface, gameplay seems simple enough. Players use one of eight weapons to hunt monsters, from unwieldy, powerful swords to hand cannons. The idea is to chop up monsters in real time by removing weak parts for them while learning a distinct attack pattern to avoid before the target becomes enraged. It’s fun, barring some camera woes at times.
How the weapons synergize with the Karakuri system, though, is one area where Wild Hearts dramatically stands out from other games.
It’s when using Karakuri crafting to tackle these Kemono (monsters) that Wild Hearts really begins to separate itself from the pack. Players begin with only a few things they can craft on the fly in the middle of battle, placing them in the world itself to impact the fight.
Something as simple as a crafted box has quite a few possibilities. Players can, for example, stack a maximum of three to gain height, then launch a powerful downward strike at a foe while leaping off them. Or, stack them in order to take defensive maneuvers against an attack.
This versatility in otherwise oft-basic craftable items such as gliders or springboards opens up something of an easy-to-pick-up-difficult-to-master feel and skill gap. It’s a system that will get a Fortnite comparison but would-be players shouldn’t feel too intimidated, as the actual on-the-fly crafting process is much slower and easier to handle.
What’s nice about the system is there is more pressure than simply trying to come up with something creative on the fly against a towering monster.
Players also have to balance the currency and resources that enables the creation, with the most valuable being Celestial Thread. This resource comes from hitting weak points on monsters or out in the wild in Minecraft style by breaking down rocks and trees. It adds another layer of strategy that wouldn’t necessarily be there, whether players take on a monster alone or with others.
Eventually, players unlock Fusion Karakuri and things get even… wilder. While these are technically just new, more complex combinations of basic Karakuri, the results are massive and useful.
Playing with others isn’t totally necessary, though one can feel the grind required to switch up builds and strategies just to get past a boss that feels like it would normally be felled much easier with friends. That said, leveling up little A.I. companions dubbed Tsukumo for solo play is a fun time.
Luckily for players, Wild Hearts smartly modernizes from some of its contemporaries by permitting players to revive one another while the hunting party juggles the three-life pool.
And that’s just a small thing compared to another gap-creating feature that leaves even Monster Hunter feeling dated.
Wild Hearts, in a stunningly unexpected and welcome twist, draws inspiration from Death Stranding’s persistent multiplayer open world. Crafting Dragon Karakuri—things like zip lines, gear stashes, fast-travel spots and giant drivable wheels—makes subsequent hunts faster and the items constructed remain in the worlds of other players, too.
Meaning, there’s a very real sense of community. It’s not just the ability to craft a player’s own camp and put all the buildings where they prefer. It’s running over to a zip line someone else put in the player’s game days ago and still relying on it to traverse the level faster. Frankly, it’s a genius implementation of Death Stranding’s prominent social feature and a little astounding it hasn’t come to this genre until now.
Control-wise, there is a big adjustment players need to make while tackling all of the game’s systems. It starts out intentionally slow for this reason but, even when looping in crafting under duress, begins to come naturally enough.
One thing that doesn’t get better is a clunky lock-on targeting system that has a hard time keeping up with the pace of the action on screen. Another is the camera, as it’s one of those games where players might often accidentally pan it on themselves when they need to see an attacking enemy.
These drawbacks, including the graphical ones, aren’t new to the genre or shocking. Disappointing, sure, but hardly enough to suggest players shouldn’t take a look at this gameplay mixup that will change said genre forever.
Story and More
Chalk this one up in the expected column, at least—Wild Hearts’ story is a cookie-cutter offering in the genre.
In the land of Azuma, inspired by feudal Japan, mystical monsters right out of Japan’s folklore and otherwise terrorize the world. That power the player wields? Humanity used to be protected by this ancient technology. Naturally, then, the player’s task is to reawaken said power and save the day.
That is… about it. And frankly, while a little deeper story and more interesting characters might be nice, the general pace of gameplay and the staggering number of different enemies encountered might make a rich story to keep track of on top of it all a little overwhelming. Interacting with chatty characters still amounts to…go hunt this massive beast and bring it down, then do it again. And who are we to complain?
Wild Hearts apparently reserved some of that depth for its progression systems. The weapon and skills tree is absolutely massive. And in another nod to smart modern game design, there is a super forgiving rollback feature in the skill trees that refunds points if players want to mix it up.
That said, players hoping this game goes away from Monster Hunter in terms of actual speed of progression will end up disappointed. The pacing is grindy just like other games and requires farming of enemies and certain materials, even early. Even progressing and upgrading weapons and armor is a slow process that doesn’t offer the biggest stat boosts.
Visual problems aside, it’s very easy to get distracted in the beautiful world. Thankfully, the game provides lore scrolls to uncover that provide further detail about places and items.
The social suite of options in Wild Hearts registers as exactly what players should want. Hopping online to play with others is as simple as finding a lobby that includes specific hunts, assisting others who have asked for help or asking others for help.
Again, basic, but it’s cool to ask for help or throw up a lobby and start a hunt knowing the game will eventually find players to drop into the world alongside the players, especially because the game has cross-play across platforms.
Another major quality of life item that Wild Hearts smartly leans into is the simple ability to choose the next hunt or activity from the map. That sounds basic, but it’s something the bigger brother in this genre shied away from doing for too long.
Wild Hearts also features the expected gauntlet of options, be it performance and visual settings, modifying things like subtitles and accessibility options.
Unfortunately, Wild Hearts has notable performance problems with framerate drops. Not totally unexpected given the scale of things and fixable with post-launch patches and help, but still worth a note, especially combined with some of the graphical missteps.
As one might expect, the Monster Hunter series is a nice point of comparison for Wild Hearts speedrunning.
Given that 2021’s Monster Hunter Rise still has world-record speedruns happening recently (and checking in with times under one hour), it’s safe to say Wild Hearts could carve out a nice speedrunning community for itself.
Interestingly, pro runners will have a tough debate when it comes time to route this game. Running around the map for resources in order to tackle the biggest and baddest monsters with the crafting side of the game feels totally necessary. Players get some just for hitting monsters, but it’ll be interesting to see what world-record runs feature.
The best-timed runs will surely feature some of this, though it might come down to impressive displays of skill against the last monsters with minimal upgrades.
Uncertainty about the nature of runs aside, skipping dialogue and scenes where possible is a must. So too is quickly equipping weapons with elemental strengths against specific monsters in order to get an advantage. At launch, the Katana feels like the strongest, most versatile weapon to invest in for much of the game.
Wild Hearts has its problems that will receive a lot of publicity, but it’s one of those rare instances where it’s hard not to recommend it anyway—the mixups to a tried-and-true formula are that good.
So much so, this effort surprisingly upgrades on the Monster Hunter formula in a way that might make it hard for some players to go back to the tried-and-true series.
It’s the sort of upgrade players surely wish would happen to several stagnant video game genres where one or two series prevent newcomers from even attempting to elbow into the space.
And despite the comparisons, Wild Hearts draws so well from games like Fortnite and Death Stranding of all places and implements them so well that were it not for the fixable blemishes, it would be on Game of the Year lists.