Wild Hearts Hands-On Preview – Hunting the Forces of Nature

Francesco De Meo
Wild Hearts

Having created the entire hunting genre from scratch, there hasn't been a single game yet that could challenge the Monster Hunter series in terms of popularity. This, however, did not prevent other developers from trying their hand at the genre, with Koei Tecmo and Omega Force creating the Toukiden series, which is among the very few series that managed to offer a monster hunting experience that was tweaked enough from that of Monster Hunter to set itself apart from the series that started the genre.

The Toukiden series has been left dormant for a good while now, suggesting that Koei Tecmo and Omega Force were done with the hunting genre, but that wasn't the case, as the two Japanese companies have been working together with Electronic Arts on Wild Hearts, a game that has a serious shot at becoming as popular as the latest entries in the Monster Hunter series, thanks to a more accessible action-oriented experience and some exciting gameplay mechanics.

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Wild Hearts' basics are not that different from those of the Monster Hunter series. Traversing some luscious locations, such as the Hanagasumi Hills hunting ground, players take control of their fully-customizable character in search of the powerful Kemono, mysterious beasts who have the power to manipulate nature. Smaller Kemonos are no threat to humans, but larger ones are, and it is up to the player to restore balance by taking them down. First appearances, however, can be deceiving, as the game starts feeling very different as soon as the player obtains the power to use the ancient Karakuri technology, which allows for building a lot of different contraptions.

Karakuri plays an extremely important role in the Wild Hearts experience even before a hunt begins. Thanks to it, it is possible to build extremely important facilities, such as a campfire where to cook food and initiate online play, a tent that serves as a checkpoint, and a forge useful to craft new weapons and armor (which all come with unique skills) and switch equipment. Among the most interesting facilities that can be built are the Hunting Tower, used to locate target Kemonos, and the Flying Vine, which creates a zipline network to speed up traversal. The most interesting thing about these crafting mechanics is that these facilities can be built pretty much anywhere on the map, allowing players to set up a camp wherever they wish, something that makes quite a lot of sense in a game such as Wild Hearts, considering the good level of verticality shown by the only hunting ground available in the test build, the aforementioned Hanagasumi Hills.  In case it is not possible to build Flying Vines or Crates, players can use their own strength to climb up rock walls and the like, with a stamina system that is very reminiscent of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Where the Karakuri mechanics really shine, however, are in combat. At the start of the game, players can only build Crates, which can be climbed upon not only to reach greater heights but also to attack Kemono from the air and damage weak points that would not be accessible otherwise. As the Wild Hearts campaign progresses, it becomes possible to craft other contraptions such as Springs, which can be used to perform a quick leap that works as a great evasive maneuver.

The best thing about the crafting mechanics is that they are very quick to use and feel nicely incorporated into the moveset of each of the weapons available in the preview build. Players can start off a basic weapon combo and quickly get out of the way in case the Kemono is about to strike using a Spring crafted on the fly. Or a player may be striking a Kemono during an opening and knock it down, then quickly craft a Crate to unleash a powerful jumping attack before the monster can get back up on its feet. These maneuvers are quite easy to pull off, highlighting how Wild Hearts is way more accessible than the Monster Hunter games, also thanks to a more action-oriented experience that feels easier to get into. Karakuri mechanics are set to become more intricate with the campaign's progression, thanks to the fusion Karakuri mechanics, which allow players to build a sturdy wall using multiple crates that can block the charge of big Kemonos.

Better accessibility, however, doesn't mean Wild Hearts will not present its own challenges. While the basic Karakuri Katana is easy to pick up and use decently, a few other weapon types are not, like the huge Nodachi, which limits player mobility in the vein of the Monster Hunter series' Greatsword, requiring good knowledge of a Kemono's moveset and good positioning to be effective. Some of the weapons are surprisingly creative, like the bow with the two types of shots that play off each other well and the Battle Bladed Wagasa, which offers a parry as well as a versatile and aerial moveset at the cost of high complexity. Not all of the eight weapon types were available in the preview build, but those that were all had their distinctive movesets and quirks, so it will be very interesting to see what Omega Force has come up with and how they will interact with the amazing crafting mechanics.

All of this wouldn't matter much if the Kemonos weren't well-designed and fun to take down, but thankfully it seems like this won't be the case, judging from the ones available in the preview build I tried. Visually and mechanically, Kemono all have their unique identity, and learning their patterns to find openings is extremely fun. Difficulty also seems to be on point, offering players a decent challenge without feeling overwhelming, although the first few hunts require a few adjustments coming from the Monster Hunter series, mostly due to the tracking of some attacks which require players to use the Spring rather than the regular dodge or the sliding dodge. The up to three players multiplayer also works rather well, with the systems in place easily allowing those who are having trouble with a hunt to request assistance.

It should be said that the performance in this preview build leaves quite a bit to be desired, as you can see from the captured gameplay footage below. Still, the three hours or so I spent with Wild Hearts literally flew by and left me hungering for more. Even in this very early stage, the game developed by Omega Force shows incredible promise, and I can't wait to see which crazy contraptions I will be able to build to hunt down Kemono when the game releases on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S on February 12th, 2023.

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