Two are the pivotal moments in the life of any Monster Hunter worth their salt. The first is a release of a new entry in the series. The second is the release of its expansion which usually introduces not only more content in the form of new hunting grounds and powerful beasts to take down but also new gameplay tweaks and mechanics that can change how each game is played quite a bit and make it realize its full potential. This is what happened with Monster Hunter World, as the Iceborne expansion introduced a lot of gameplay tweaks and tons of new content that elevated the experience far beyond that provided by the base game.
With Iceborne having shattered all expectations, many fans of the series expect the Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak expansion to be as massive as Capcom implied. I am pleased to say that the developer delivered on all fronts, as Sunbreak brings not only tons of greatly designed returning and new monsters, but also some gameplay tweaks and new mechanics that massively improve the already excellent experience of the base game. Sunbreak may be going even beyond what the Iceborne expansion did for Monster Hunter World, especially regarding the new gameplay mechanics.
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is set right after the end of the base game. Having put an end to The Rampage and saved Kamura Village in the process, the hunter has become known as the Fierce Flame of Kamura, their reputation having become legendary not only in Kamura but also beyond. At some point after the end of The Rampage, a new monster called Lunagaron appears in Kamura's Shrine Ruins for an unknown reason, hinting that someone or something may be affecting the environment, forcing monsters from a land known as the Kingdom to venture outside of their typical habitat. It does not take long for the hunter to meet the knight of the Royal Order Fiorayne and to journey with her to Elgado and beyond, where they will face the monsters known as the Three Lords - Garangolm, Lunagaron, and the Elder Dragon Malzeno to solve yet another crisis.
Just like in the base game, the story in Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak isn't particularly complex or well-developed, serving mainly as an excuse to venture out into all existing maps and new maps like the Jungle and Citadel to hunt down Master Rank monsters. While characters are generally not all that interesting, they still manage to be somewhat memorable thanks to a brand new gameplay addition, Follower Quests, where characters from both Elgado and Kamura accompany the hunter in the field. In the Support Surveys Quests, it is possible to pick which characters you want to bring with you, so some faces will eventually become very familiar to you in the long run.
Just like for the base game, Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak shouldn't be played for the barebones story but for its gameplay, and in this regard, the expansion fully delivers without any doubt. Even before engaging Master Rank monsters, hunters will find plenty of new mechanics as soon as they get on the field. There are new types of Wirebugs, Golden and Ruby, which temporarily increase the number of items dropped by monsters and the power of Punisher Attacks during Wyvern Riding respectively, and new Hunting Helpers like the Marionette Spiders, which allow the Hunters to temporarily bind monsters in place. The new Wirebugs may seem like a small addition, but they improve the game's pace, as the Golden Wirebugs, for example, significantly reduce grinding for items.
The biggest gameplay additions are the new Switch Skills for all weapons, and the Switch Skill Swap mechanics, which both add a new dimension to combat. Thanks to the swap mechanics, it is possible to switch between two Switch Skills loadouts on the fly and even perform a dodge maneuver with generous range and invincibility frames that can be further increased with the Evade Window and Evade Extender skills. It does take some time to get used to swapping Switch Skills on the fly, but when it becomes natural, it truly brings combat to a new height. Swapping Switch Skills at pretty much any time on the field also makes some underused Switch Skills from the base game shine. This is the case, for example, of the Long Sword's Silkbind Sakura Slash attack, which was useful but not comparable to Soaring Kick and Spirit Helm Breaker, especially in terms of damage.
The introduction of the Switch Skill Swap mechanics also allows the creation of some unique builds that were impossible in the base game. For example, I made a somewhat decent Charge Blade build based around Counter Peak Performance and Axe Hopper, two skills that couldn't be simultaneously used in the base game. It is not an optimal build, considering it depends on Wirebugs, but the fact that it is possible to get so creative sets Sunbreak apart from pretty much everything we have seen in the series, except for Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate and its Style mechanics.
The new Switch Skills for all weapons are clearly designed with the Swap mechanics in mind, complementing each weapon's base moveset quite well. The Long Sword still dominates not only thanks to some new Switch Skills that will probably end up being meta, like the extremely damaging and relatively easy-to-use Sacred Sheathe Combo, but also for the generous opportunities to use Switch Skill Swap. It is possible, for example, to swap Switch Skills right after Silkbind Sakura Slash and Special Sheathe Counter connect with a monster, essentially allowing the hunter to cancel the sheating animation and get back into the fray much faster than before. Other weapons, like the Great Sword, have received Switch Skills that not only make it easier to use them, such as Strongarm Stance, but also slightly change how the weapon plays, such as Surge Slash Combo, which grants access to a few new slightly faster, non-charged, combos. Not all new Switch Skills are on the same level, to be sure, and the increased number of counters will undoubtedly disappoint some, but the added versatility is a definite plus, no matter which weapons you like to use.
Adding new Switch Skills isn't the only change Sunbreak brings to weapons, as many of them have received a variety of tweaks. The Long Sword's Soaring Kick, for example, has been nerfed with a higher cooldown; the Insect Glaive, on the other hand, has been massively buffed with the introduction of Powder Kinsects and a new move that makes all powder left behind explode for terrific damage. Pretty much every weapon has been tweaked in one way or another, even the often mistreated Lance, showing how Capcom has listened to players' feedback.
With so many powerful tools at the hunter's disposal, monsters had to be designed accordingly. Even in this regard, Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak does not disappoint, although it doesn't fully deliver when it comes to the challenge level. All monsters from the base game are back in Master Rank quests, and they are actually the main target of most quests from Master Rank 1 to Master Rank 3, so for the first few hours, hunters will be dealing mostly with monsters they should already know how to take down, only that they are much faster, hit harder and have a few new moves and patterns that could throw hunters off. One thing that is impossible not to notice, however, is how a base game endgame build can carry hunters through most of the quests from the first few Master Ranks, as it was only in late Master Rank 3 quests that I truly felt the need to get new weapons, armors, and Decorations. The difficulty jump from High to Master Rank was way more noticeable in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.
This, however, is not to say that Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is a complete walk in the park. The new subspecies are markedly stronger than their base versions, such as Blood Orange Bishaten and Pyre Rakna-Kadaki, and some returning monsters like Astalos and Seregios will give hunters a run for their money. The three Lords are also exceptionally designed and can provide a challenge, although they are not on the same level, as Garangolm, the first Lord you will face, is not as difficult as the other two Lords. Malzeno in particular is among the most interesting monsters in the series, featuring a coherent visual and gameplay design that nicely represents the vampire theme used as the basis.
The new Switch Skills and the Skill Switch Swap mechanics aren't the only new tools available at the hunters' disposal in Sunbreak. Alongside new weapons and armor sets, some of them coming with brand new skills such as Focus Master that finally makes Elemental and ailment-focused builds viable for Great Swords, the expansion introduces new Palicoes' Secret Support Moves, powerful new support moves that can be assigned regardless of the Palico's type, and Swap Support Move which introduces some welcome customization options for the feline buddies. Palamutes have also received improvements, such as the ability to carry items in excess found on the field, and new weapons, such as the Bowgun Attachment, so they are no longer useful just for quick transportation. Speaking of customization options, Sunbreak introduces level 4 Decorations which make it much easier to create optimal builds, and Rampage Decorations which are meant to replace the Rampage Skills of the base game. This was a required introduction to Sunbreak as the expansion doesn't feature Rampage quests anymore, something that should make many players happy, as these quests were far from fan favorites. All these new customization options work great and feel coherent with the overall game design of Monster Hunter Rise, and they are extremely welcome additions.
The welcome removal of Rampage quests, however, doesn't mean there isn't any new quest type to spice up the experience. As mentioned above, Sunbreak introduces Follower Quests, where non-playable characters will accompany the hunter on a variety of hunts, essentially giving solo players a taste of the multiplayer experience at the franchise's core. And surprisingly enough, the AI-controlled Followers are quite competent, using their assigned weapons well and even riding monsters when the going gets tough. Fiorayne, for example, uses the Sword and Shield as her default weapon, and she is quite good at doing so, even going as far as parrying monsters' roars with the Metsu Shoryugeki Switch Skill.
Despite being just an expansion, Monster Hunter Sunbreak offers something new in the PC release regarding visual options. The game now fully supports NVIDIA DLSS, meaning it will be easier than ever to play the game at high frame rates without sacrificing visual quality for those with NVIDIA RTX cards. AMD FSR, unfortunately, is not supported, at least at launch. Still, thankfully, Monster Hunter Rise and its expansion are not particularly demanding games. Hence, a relatively recent machine has no trouble running them at acceptable frame rates and resolutions even without an NVIDIA RTX GPU. Visuals have also been touched up a bit, with some subtle but noticeable changes to lighting and more.
With so many tweaks and additions, Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is truly a massive expansion that improves upon an already excellent game in every possible way. The challenge level is still generally on the low side compared to previous entries in the series, but no hunter worth their salt should be stopped by this, as the new monsters and gameplay mechanics make the journey to Elgado and the Citadel one to remember.
PC version tested. Review code provided by the publisher.