Capcom’s follow up to 2018’s Monster Hunter World is a monument of game design.
When, after almost a decade of toiling, Capcom finally managed to make Monster Hunter break through in the west with 2018’s superlative Monster Hunter World, you would have been forgiven for assuming that they would try to play it safe with the follow up, whenever that ended up being. You would also have been forgiven for assuming that World’s incredible, incredible blend of depth and accessibility (which made it such a huge hit) was lightning in a bottle, a once in a decade phenomenon that wouldn’t be replicated by its sequels. Neither of these would be accused of being unreasonable sentiments – in fact, they were probably the prevailing theory among many.
Monster Hunter Rise is now finally here, three years after World raised the series’ profile, and its arrival is significant for many reasons, but for fans of World, and indeed, of Monster Hunter in general, Rise is perhaps significant for one important thing – it proves that World was not a fluke. This follow up, which changes platforms and is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, manages to not only retain everything that made that game so incredible, it somehow adds to the formula more, tweaks and refines it, and ends up carving out its own distinct identity, to the extent that it ends up being the definitive Monster Hunter experience.
For those who were unsure if World would be a one-off, and for long time series fans who may have felt a bit disappointed at concessions World made in its attempts to appeal to broader audiences alike, Rise is here to triumphantly deliver the refrain – Monster Hunter is here to stay. And in the balancing act of a lifetime, it does so while appealing to all fans and alienating none.
The basic elevator pitch of Monster Hunter Rise is simple – it’s a brand new game (so not a port or a remake), based on Monster Hunter World and its mechanics. This means that it brings over the stuff you loved from that game, such as the seamless maps, the significant quality of life and usability improvements, and the emergent gameplay spawned by stuff like the turf wars, wholesale, and in fact, improves on it all. Being a brand new game, it includes a new setting, new maps, new hunts, a mix of returning and new monsters, and some entirely new mechanics that build so significantly and effortlessly upon what came before, it’s hard to imagine going back.
"Monster Hunter Rise manages to not only retain everything that made World so incredible, it somehow adds to the formula more, tweaks and refines it, and ends up carving out its own distinct identity, to the extent that it ends up being the definitive Monster Hunter experience."
These new mechanics are immediate as soon as you start the game. Crucially, they impact the traversal, which has long been the weak point in the series, although significant strides have been made towards improving it starting with Monster Hunter 4 on the 3DS. Rise makes the traversal so fluid, so effortless, and so fun, it is a joy to simply exist in its world and move around. This includes the brand new Wirebug, which basically functions like a spontaneous hook shot meets zipline, allowing you to swing from heights, break falls, and zip to distant targets, helps speed things up enormously, and allows for a kind of verticality to map design that simply has never been present in Monster Hunter before.
Rise’s maps are enormous, curving upon themselves in three dimensions, featuring pockets hidden out of the way that look like they should absolutely not be accessible – and yet, when you try to get to them, they are, and you know they are meant to be reachable, because the developers have hidden some reward there for you, be it either a rare loot spawn point, or some lore drop.
The Wirebug in and of itself is a game changer as far as traversal goes, but Rise actually goes further. Monster Hunter has long been a series for cat people (which is to say, you’ve had cat mascot characters all over the place in the form of the furry and adorable Palicos). Rise marks its first steps into the realm of the dog lovers.
Palamutes are intelligent dog companions who can accompany you on hunts like Palicos, and help you take on monsters, but they are also a great mode of traversal. You can mount your Palamute and ride it like a steed across the map at full dash, without ever losing stamina, meaning that getting from one end of the map to the other is now a breeze, and you don’t have to stop after a few seconds of jogging to let your stamina regenerate anymore.
Collectively, the traversal mechanics are a revelation, and honestly, make it impossible to even contemplate going back to the older games in and of themselves – I can’t imagine not zipping around the place with the wirebug any longer, for example, nor can I imagine having to manage my stamina simply as I trudge across a map. However, traversal is not the only place where Rise makes changes, and a lot of its introductions bleed over into combat as well.
The nexus of these changes, again, is the Wirebug – you can use this Wirebug to make a hasty dodge out of the way of an incoming attack, and you can use it to break a fall and prevent yourself from being stunlocked (that latter change is huge, and singlehandedly contributes to battles being far less difficult or frustrating than they have in previous games). The Wirebug is also used in conjunction with many weapons in the form of Silkbind attacks, and most importantly, it can be used to trap downed monsters (whether by you, or by another monster that showed up for a turf war), so that you can then mount them. And once you have mounted a monster, you can either choose to ram it into something for repeated damage, or use it to attack another monster, which by the way is every bit as thrilling as it sounds.
"Collectively, the traversal mechanics are a revelation, and honestly, make it impossible to even contemplate going back to the older games."
The monsters themselves are fantastic. Capcom’s excellent design team is working overtime here, creating multiple creatures who not only feel believable and authentic in every aspect of their existence, but crucially, also feel like they belong to the ecosystems you find and fight them in. You can see where these monsters fit in the food chain, you can observe their behaviors, understand when they are about to attack, know when they are getting weak, and even anticipate where their nest may be where you can find them after you weaken them and they run off to get some rest and get away from the fight.
Visually and mechanically, the newcomers are a delight, with some extremely imaginative designs lending themselves to some even more imaginative mechanics – including a giant, morbidly obese platypus meets toad meets alligator that can expel all the water in its stomach, to a poison rock dragon… thing. Honestly, a lot of those are so out there (while, yes, retaining that air of authenticity), they’re hard to explain (and they’re best experienced yourself anyway, to be honest).
One of the most marketed new mechanics in Monster Hunter Rise takes the form of the new Rampages, which see your village base under threat of invasion from a horde of monsters. You end up taking on these hordes in a tower defense mode, which, while feeling more dynamic and exciting than, say, the Zorah Magdaros fights in World, still feel like the weakest part of the overall package (and unfortunately, it appears that there are at least some monsters tied only to Rampages, who won’t show up on regular hunts).
Rampages aren’t as fun, which is a shame, because if there was ever a Monster Hunter game that could pull off a mode counting on the player’s motivation to defend and protect their base, it’s this one. This series has always been known for great hubs, but Rise may have the best one yet. Kamura Village is distinctly and unabashedly Japanese in its flavor and aesthetic, and it strikes a sense of place and atmosphere unlike any locale in Monster Hunter history yet. From the cherry blossoms to the lovely vocal song playing in the background, to the distinctive architecture, Kamura is without a doubt an amazing base of operations, with colorful characters and all the whimsy and charm the series is known for present – and honestly, I’m down to protect it from whatever existential threat that arises and portends harm for it.
One reason all of this – the great hub village and its atmosphere, the fantastic maps, the excellent creatures, the wonderfully fluid traversal – works as well as it does is because of just how beautiful Monster Hunter Rise looks. Rise is actually an important game for several reasons, even outside of the contexts I raised earlier – it’s the first Monster Hunter game built on the RE Engine.
It’s Capcom’s first original game for the Switch, and also the first original Monster Hunter on the Switch, and the first AAA RE Engine game on the Switch. It is also the very first AAA third party game we have seen built from the ground up around the Nintendo Switch hardware – until now, major third party titles on the Switch have either been downports of high end multiplatform games from other consoles, or indie games, that don’t push its tech hard. Rise is the first time we get to see what a third party can do with the Switch if they try.
"Running at a crisp, clean and steady resolution, Monster Hunter Rise ends up being without exception the best looking game on the console. Whether you’re playing on handheld or on the big screen, the game looks beautiful, and the best part is it runs at a steady 30 frames per second – which is actually better than Monster Hunter World managed on base consoles."
And the results are gorgeous. Running at a crisp, clean and steady resolution, Monster Hunter Rise ends up being without exception the best looking game on the console (there are cases to be made for some of Nintendo’s own first party titles, but that will ultimately come down to preference for art style than anything). Whether you’re playing on handheld or on the big screen, the game looks beautiful, and the best part is it runs at a steady 30 frames per second – which is actually better than Monster Hunter World managed on base consoles, where the framerate, while uncapped, dipped frequently below the 30fps mark (and to be clear, this is maintained while retaining features such as turf wars and the destructible maps that were a trademark of World).
This paradox of Rise being better than its predecessor on more constrained hardware repeats multiple times over. Rise, for instance, somehow ends up having better online functionality than World did, while being on a console that has the worst online experience of all the ones on the market. Here, at least, it comes down to smart decisions made by Capcom. Unlike Monster Hunter World, which unified the singleplayer and multiplayer progressions into one quest list (causing several oddities, such as the necessity for every player to watch a quest’s cutscene before they would be able to join), Rise goes back to having separate singleplayer and multiplayer progression.
Rise also allows players to see each other in the hub, although unfortunately, the player count for hubs (and lobbies) has been reduced from 16 to 4. On the flip side, any player in a lobby can post a quest now, and players who are disconnected get a simple dialog prompting them to rejoin.
In general, this is because Rise tries to make things as easy for players as possible – it builds on World’s QoL changes even more. For example, you can now wishlist gear you want to craft at the merchant’s, which then starts tracking the materials you need (and are lacking) for it for you, also letting you know when you have all the materials gathered that you can go ahead and craft it now, removing the need for you to remember after possibly hours of grinding. Or, you can gather things in one go now – rather than pressing A at a rock outcrop or herb or hive or whatever other spawn point repeatedly, pressing A once gets you all the resources. Or, you can actually heal or use items such as whetstones to sharpen up your weapons while you are still moving on your Palamute. These kinds of wonderful QoL changes abound.
As incredible as Rise is, however, it is not perfect. In fact, it has some fairly noticeable shortcomings, that sting that much more because of how incredibly close the game gets to getting literally all of it right on the first go. The most severe of these is the amount of content. Once again, much like World before it, Rise launches with a far lower amount of content than previous games in the series have.
Now, to be fair, a lot of those games have built up to that number via updates accrued over literally years, but it would have been much nicer had Rise actually started from a large number of monsters in the base game to begin with. Based on how well World was supported post-launch, as well as the fact that a few substantial free post-launch updates for Rise are already announced, this will probably not be an issue in the long run. However, in the here and now, Rise does suffer from not having enough content.
"As incredible as Rise is, however, it is not perfect. In fact, it has some fairly noticeable shortcomings, that sting that much more because of how incredibly close the game gets to getting literally all of it right on the first go."
That hurts a little, because the content that is here is actually easier than it has ever been before. Some of that comes down to the QoL – not having to spend a while making your way from one end of the map to the other, or spending time gathering resources from spawn points with repeated button presses, obviously cuts down on the time you spend in the game. But the actual battles themselves are also easier than they have ever been. While High Rank does get challenging, and the Hub quests (which are what are used for multiplayer, though you can play them solo too) are much more difficult, the actual Village quests, the “campaign” so to say, are easy, and monsters routinely go down in under 20 minutes.
Again, it’s not as much of a problem once you get to High Rank – but then you run into the trouble of the endgame being content starved right now, and you getting to it sooner than you ever have in a Monster Hunter game before. This, too, is a problem that will be resolved soon – the first big content drop is just weeks away – but it would have been so much nicer if it never needed to be resolved to begin with.
Then there is the story – now, yes, no one really plays Monster Hunter for the story, and the series is known for its weak narratives, but even accounting for that, Rise is shockingly poor on this front. It’s baffling, because the setting and emphasis on lore seem to indicate it would actually have more narrative content than any other game in the series, but it ends up being the weakest on that front since at least Monster Hunter 4 on 3DS – if not ever.
This isn’t a huge problem (though the abrupt ending, which, again, is seemingly going to be added to with the first free update, makes the story feel unfinished), since like I said, no one is playing these games for the story. But, again, it feels like such an unnecessary stumble, particularly in light of the fact that the game had all the ingredients in place to get this right.
Like I said, these stumbles sting especially because in their absence, Rise would very literally be a perfect game – or as close to it as it is possible for a game to get. Retaining the incredible strides in balancing depth and accessibility that World made, while building on them and delivering a brand new game that manages to feel like a proper follow up (while being on a weaker system) and very much its own thing, Monster Hunter Rise is a frankly astonishing achievement.
It’s a monument of game design, a game that is so breathtakingly and relentlessly accomplished that it all but demands that you acknowledge its brilliance. Arguably the best game in its series, and the best game on the Switch since it launched with Breath of the Wild all those years ago, Monster Hunter Rise is a fantastic experience, that you owe it to yourself to play.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
Looks stunning, and is without exception the best looking Switch game; great maps; fantastic and imaginative monster designs, both visually and mechanically; the new traversal mechanics are an absolute revelation, and make it a joy just to exist in the game world; the online functionality is the best in the series; the return of several longstanding series elements World eschewed, while retaining all of World's innovations; multiple QOL improvements that make Monster Hunter even quicker and more fun; great hub village and atmosphere; extremely polished, deep, and accessible, delivering the best Monster Hunter game yet.
Short on content at launch, especially in the endgame; easiest game in the series so far; extremely lacking in narrative content, including having an abrupt end that happens before a proper resolution; Rampages aren't anything to write home about.
Monster Hunter Rise is mechanically the best game in the series yet, delivering a superlative experience to long time fans and newcomers alike, and also quite possibly the best game to have launched on the Switch since Breath of the Wild.