When you think about taking down gigantic beasts and making equipment out of their parts, Capcom’s Monster Hunter series has been the gold standard. In fact, it is usually the only game in town, such is its standard and the fervent support from the fanbase. Now, EA and Koei Tecmo/Omega Force are trying to muscle in with the recently revealed Wild Hearts, and for all intents and purposes, it is set to do a mighty fine job of being an alternative.
Launching early next year on 17 February, we had the opportunity to test out Wild Hearts in an early preview build for about three hours, starting from the very beginning of the game. While much of it seems mighty familiar, the overall feel of this game is different by way of two key elements, the Kemono and the Karakuri.
A key part of the Wild Hearts experience lies in hunting down the Kemono, animals that have fused with nature, and are now a threat to the world. This can be smallish animals like birds or rabbits, right up to humongous boars and rats like those we fought in the preview. While you can pet and befriend the smaller ones, the big beasts are there to be slain, and for good reason. Players will be able to harvest parts to improve their equipment, but also to open up more Karakuri to use in their adventures.
Speaking of which, the Karakuri is the crafting portion of Wild Hearts that is truly interesting. These are items that can be placed in the world to help you with the hunt, whether it be boxes to block items or traps to set up an ambush. Certain Karakuri can even be combined to form new types of Karakuri, such as the Bulwark, that will be invaluable against certain enemies.
It is always fun to see the Kingtusk boar just get blocked by a Bulwark, get stunned, and allow for a small window to whittle down its health. To better take advantage, building a tower of boxes grants additional height that leads to a more damaging jump attack that does ample damaging while looking cool as hell.
Otherwise, there’s always the option of a Karakuri torch that ignites your weapons and set the Kemono on fire with enough hits. The system does use a finite resource in terms of Threads, but those can be harvested around the world or through exploiting weak points found on the Kemono.
All of that, plus a faster pace when it comes to action and manoeuvring in the world, helps distinguish what Wild Hearts is bringing to the monster hunting table. Depending on the weapon you choose to use, attacking always feels quick and impactful, and there are certain combos that can be unleashed using the various attack buttons.
Weapons can also enter the Unbound form, unlocking more powerful attacks that can stun or catch enemies off guard, allowing you to make the next move in order to bring down any hulking Kemono milling about.
And while the game is not exactly open-world, each zone is big enough to warrant plenty of exploration to obtain materials and to hunt down different Kemono to keep things moving forward at a decent pace. It also helps that specific Karakuri are persistent, representing tangible progress in that particular zone that will make things easier. You could construct zip lines that can go both up and down heights, sensor towers that can be used to locate all nearby Kemono, or even a well that can replenish your healing water in Wild Hearts.
Of course, there wouldn’t be any challenge if you could just sprinkle useful buildings all around, but the underlying Dragon Karakuri system, which governs what can be built outside of combat, ties in nicely with the overall Kemono hunt. The more you hunt, the better resources you can get, and theoretically, more useful buildings can be built to help aid your progress while navigating towards a target.
The developers also made a point that difficulty in Wild Hearts will scale with how many players are in a party (up to a max of 3), and although we didn’t have the chance to team up, going solo didn’t necessarily feel too difficult or easy. There are some robotic companions that can be collected in the world to help, but by and large, utilising Karakuri smartly can even the odds against even the largest of foes.
That naturally leads to some repetitive routines in terms of a hunt. Locate a quarry, start the fight, use Karakuri to your advantage, and send the beast packing to another location and the cycle repeats. Thankfully, the Kemono demonstrates an ability to transform during the fight into something more fearsome, with new attacks and abilities, and helps to keep things interesting. However, it is clear that your success will largely come down to being a master at using the Karakuri system.
At this point, it wouldn’t be fair to compare Wild Hearts with Monster Hunter in most areas. Sure, there are some similarities in how the gameplay is, but EA and Koei Tecmo are going in a different direction with the addition of Karakuri and the Kemono themselves, and the visuals differ somewhat too. Whether that will pan out, in the end, is still yet to be decided, but as far as we are concerned at this stage, things are looking exciting come February 2023.