Monster Hunter Rise Review
There’s nothing quite like piloting a fire-breathing T-rex like a runaway train through an overflowing volcano before using it to beat the crap out of a dragon. In a series already known for providing thrilling battles you can’t really get elsewhere, Monster Hunter Rise still manages to surprise and delight. Its scope and progression can feel flatter than that of Monster Hunter World at its launch (including a conspicuous lack of Elder Dragons), making it seem like a foundation waiting to be built upon – but after spending dozens of hours with Rise’s wonderfully enhanced mobility and faster pace, it’s going to be hard to ever go back to the way things were before.
For those new to the series, Monster Hunter Rise is all about killing or capturing giant, spectacular monsters and turning them into pairs of pants (among other pieces of gear), this time with an awesome feudal Japanese theme throughout. Each hunt is essentially an epic boss fight against a specific monster or two, all of which are incredibly diverse in both visual design and behavior; a successful hunt earns you materials used to craft better equipment that will, in turn, allow you to take down harder monsters – and so on and so forth. Success relies on a healthy balance of preparation and skill, and it’s kept fresh by the variety of 14 radically different weapons types you can swap between, the strategic puzzle of breaking and severing specific parts of a monster rather than just whacking at it mindlessly, and the everlasting allure of that next piece of sweet gear.
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The systems that house all that depth have given Monster Hunter a reputation for being daunting to learn, but 2018’s Monster Hunter World shattered that barrier by streamlining many aspects and making the series accessible to a wider audience than ever before. (For context, World outsold the previously most popular game in the series by at least 11 million copies, so for a huge chunk of current Monster Hunter fans it’s all they’ve ever known.) That’s relevant here because Rise feels a little more like a follow-up to the most recent Switch entry, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, that benefits from many of World’s impressive evolutions rather than a successor to World itself – which makes some sense, given World never came to Switch and Rise is a Switch exclusive (until it comes to PC next year).
That means there’s a mix of old and new ideas here, some of which are more successful than others. For example, much of the streamlining World did has been carried forward, including tweaks like load-free maps, weapon-sharpening whetstones not being consumable, and healing items being usable while walking – all of which feel vital after spending hundreds of hours with them in World. Meanwhile, other things like separate Village and Hub questlines for single- and multiplayer and the ability to tweak a weapon’s playstyle a bit return from older Monster Hunter games. This mishmash of old ideas with some compelling new ones of its own makes Rise feel like a huge mechanical step forward compared to Generations Ultimate, but more of a sidestep in the context of World and its Iceborne expansion.
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Story has never been the point of a Monster Hunter game (Capcom has a series literally called Monster Hunter Stories for that), so it’s no surprise that the one in Rise is as thin as tissue paper. It’s told through a scant few cutscenes where English voice acting is stutteringly dubbed to match what appear to be unaltered Japanese lip flaps in a way that does neither any favors. That doesn’t make the fights around those scenes any less exciting, but it’s important to point out that the improvements World made weren’t only mechanical. Its story wasn’t much thicker, but it did provide a nice sense of discovery and continuity that made it feel like you were actually exploring its new continent. I missed that a little in Rise, where unlocking new areas or being sent on key hunts rarely had much relation to the story or your actions in it – and again, that’s not a deal breaker by any means or even necessarily something I’m looking for from Monster Hunter, but it’s still a place Rise takes a noticeable step backward from World.
But minor issues like that are far overshadowed by the massive (literal) leap forward Rise takes in the hunts themselves. Monster Hunter is about hunting some dang monsters, and here the options available, locations to fight in, and techniques to do so with are, on the whole, superb. And while the Switch’s comparably weak hardware means things don’t look quite as crisp as I got used to with World, it’s frankly remarkable how close Rise gets. That includes how well it generally runs, as well as load times that are shockingly fast both in and out of hunts. Capcom also deserves a special shoutout for making an online system that just works, letting you join the lobbies of your Switch friends with little to no hassle. That’s become a frustratingly infrequent standard of living on the Switch (I’m looking at you, Animal Crossing).
I was impressed with the immediate variety of monsters Rise throws at you too, using a more straightforward variation on the older Key Quest system to let you pick from a wide variety of hunts right away, and then only requiring you to complete a set handful of your choice before you’re able to move on to the next tier. Story be damned: that flexibility is greatly appreciated. The only drawback is that the variety of monsters also feels like it peaks quicker as a result – there are plenty to fight, but it seemed like I had also seen the bulk of them by the time I finished Rise’s singleplayer Village questline, leaving the second half of its progression in the Hub a little less surprising.
But one of Monster Hunter’s oldest and best tricks is that reaching High Rank – a harder tier of Hub hunts that up the difficulty and rewards – doesn’t just tack on more health and damage to each monster’s stats, it fundamentally alters their fights. You’ll see some new moves and more aggressive behavior across the whole menagerie, making the higher numbers that accompany them only part of what reignites their sense of danger. This is by no means new to Rise, but it’s one of the most important things Monster Hunter does because it helps keep fights against the same monsters fresh and exciting.
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And goodness gracious, what good monsters there are this time around! There are more than 30 to take down, about a third of which are brand new to Rise (though there are a handful imported from World as well, so Generations Ultimate players will have even more fresh tails to chop off). Best of all, pretty much every single new addition is an absolute banger. They’re all excellently designed, both in their looks and their combat styles, and easily account for some of my favorite hunts in Rise. That includes the ridiculous bird-monkey Bishaten throwing persimmons at you, the sumo-inspired platypus-turtle Tetranadon, and the elegant fire-crane Aknosom who has some of the coolest looking armor and weapons available.
Speaking of weapons, visual variety is immediately noticeable across the board here, which feels like a direct response to a common complaint with World. Almost right off the bat designs range from incredibly badass to incredibly silly, though their looks then don’t evolve as much as you upgrade them. Similar to the monster variety, that can leave Rise feeling a touch flatter in its last half than I initially anticipated, both in visuals and power level; for example, I was a little surprised to find I basically didn’t need to switch off the simple Insect Glaive from the Ore Tree (which, hilariously, just looks like a rifle) for nearly all of High Rank.
Regardless of the weapon you wield, the most powerful new tool at your disposal in Rise is available to everyone: the Wirebug. Wirebugs are a recharging resource that let you jump through the air, scale any wall, recover from big hits, and use special Silkbind moves of your own. It’s hard to overstate how much they influence the pace both in and out of combat. Suddenly, Rise not only doesn’t have loading screens between its map zones, it barely has boundaries at all as you scale mountains and jump vast distances. And when you are in the heat of battle, Wirebugs can instead be used on special moves unique to each weapon, ranging from epic attacks to more maneuverability.
But probably the move with the most impact when it comes to changing the pace of combat itself is also the most subtle: if you get knocked back by a big hit, pressing ZL+B will use a Wirebug to pop you back onto your feet with your weapon sheathed. That may not sound like a gamechanger on the surface, but the amount of downtime it cuts out during a fight is potentially huge. Taking a hit is now an opportunity instead of a setback, letting you quickly re-engage without missing a beat or immediately heal up while stepping aside (with potions now giving you half their healing right away to speed things up even further). This move is Rise in a nutshell: trim the fat, fill the dead air, and get you moving ASAP. Simply put, it absolutely rules, and I’m not sure I ever want Monster Hunter to go without Wirebugs again.
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You can see that philosophy clearly in other places too, such as how Rise takes Iceborne’s excellent monster riding concept a step further by giving you full control of a rideable doggo buddy that’s way faster than sprinting around on foot. But more than that, some of the pre-hunt prep, like certain food buffs and tool choices, have been simplified or moved into mid-mission collectibles. While preparation is still key, you can now dive into a mission and pick up stat buffs and useful Endemic Life to fill some of that gap while you go.
The most important of these are the colorful Spiribirds dotted around every map, each color of which will increase either your health, stamina, attack, or defense up to a certain cap. I really enjoyed that these not-insignificant stat buffs were earned through exploration rather than menu management, and figuring out the optimal routes on each map to collect them before heading toward the fight was an amusing puzzle (one I could ignore against weaker monsters to save time). On the other hand, spending five to ten minutes at the start of most hunts following the same trail of birds in order to max out my stats can become a different type of tedious, and I did begin to miss simply selecting the additional buffs I wanted more directly through meals. It’s ultimately an interesting experiment that takes advantage of Rise’s enhanced movement, but one I wouldn’t miss nearly as much as the movement itself.
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I get a similar feeling from the newly expanded monster riding system, which is equal parts cool and insane. Dealing damage with certain attacks (or if another monster lays on the pain itself) will eventually put a monster into a rideable state, but unlike previous games where that monster is then still ravenous and unwieldy, Rise gives you complete control of it. You can pilot them like your dog, ram them into walls at will, and even use their light and heavy attacks with a combo and parry system that’s surprisingly nuanced in its timings. You have a lot of time to do all this too, letting you drive monsters all the way across the map in order to do kaiju battle with another one, dropping extra materials and doling out some serious damage.
It’s an absolute blast, but the side effect is that the other monsters on a map are transformed from beasts to be feared into tools to be used. Gone are those thrilling moments where another monster shows up unexpectedly and throws a monkey wrench into your fight in hilarious fashion – maybe some people will be happy about that lack of chaos, but it makes those monsters barely different from the tiny Endemic Life waiting to be picked up, which is a little strange. There are copious ways to easily ride or lure monsters into fights, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to use three or four different monsters to beat down my actual target in the course of a 20-minute hunt. Again, that’s exciting, but it also means that Rajang I used to fear is now little more than a club to be wielded. (The notorious Deviljho and Bazelguese aren’t in Rise, but I’m honestly not sure their imposing interruptions would even work here.)
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This is a feeling that persists a bit in Rise’s new Rampage hunts, too. Rampages are basically a weird blend between Monster Hunter and a tower defense game, letting you setup ballistas, cannons, and more to defend gates against waves of monsters. It’s an odd but fun novelty of a thing, reminiscent of past siege fights like Kulve Taroth but with significantly more customizability and a lot less pressure. The monsters that plow toward your gate are significantly weaker than usual, and you’ll spend a decent amount of each rampage at a turret peppering them with bolts, bombs, and even machine gun fire rather than on the ground with your weapon which can be a neat change of pace.
It’s a very entertaining side mode, and one that greatly benefits from a party of friends so you can share the multitasking madness of base defense – one person could man a turret while another sets up new defenses and a third shovels coal into a kiln that reduces the cooldown on powerful superweapons like the recognizable Dragonator and what is essentially an aerial nuke. I’ve certainly enjoyed completing Rampages, but they also don’t change much from run to run, really only modified by a variety of straightforward subgoals to increase your final score, like stunning a certain number of monsters. There are only four possible stronghold layouts to defend, and while the monsters attacking might change visually, a Khezu and a Basarios will basically break your gate the same way. The real return draw of them is taking on the super-strong Apex monsters that cap off some High Rank Rampages, but eventually I just wished I could fight those out in the field instead of having to do the same tower defense song and dance again before they appeared.
That said, Rampages do reward you for your time fairly well, offering a smattering of crafting materials from every type of monster present and boatload of Defender Tickets. These can be used to customize your weapons with a new system called Rampage Skills, allowing you to tweak them with your choice of one of three additional bonuses. That could be between simple stuff like increasing attack, defense, or affinity, but some also offer more unique effects like increasing damage as your weapon dulls or dealing more damage to airborne enemies, among other things. Rampage Skills are also accompanied by a nifty Rampage weapon of each type, which is basically a blank slate onto which you can apply three Rampage Skills instead of one, letting you design your own custom tool of destruction.
Couple that customizability with another new system called Switch Skills, which lets each weapon swap out a few specific moves for alternate ones, and Rise returns some of the previous playstyle nuance that World streamlined away. These choices generally didn’t have a clear correct answer (although I am sure min-maxers will figure out some optimal combination before long), presenting choices like swapping a strong overhead strike with a fast forward spin and emphasizing personal preference more than pure power. There seem to only be three Switch Skills per weapon as of now, one of which is a Silkbind move, but that’s at least enough to change how a weapon handles in a noticeable way.
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It’s a shame, then, that Rise currently lacks any sort of endgame to really push the limits of all the choice it offers. It took me just under 50 hours to see basically everything there is to see and finish the story – that’s certainly not short, and I still have a few optional quests to unlock improved meal options or Switch Skills for other weapons, but Rise ends with an unsatisfying cliffhanger and feels like it’s missing that last layer to really test you. I was disappointed to see there’s no additional challenges unlocked once you reach this point, no Tempered monsters, no replayable area like Iceborne’s Guiding Lands, and no Elder Dragons – some of Monster Hunter’s most challenging and exciting adversaries – apart from a couple that can only be fought in special encounters (which, avoiding spoilers, are at least extremely cool).
Couple that with its relatively flat-feeling equipment and progression and Rise ends up looking more like an excellent foundation for Capcom to build upon rather than a deep game of its own at launch. That’s not to say there’s nothing here as is though, and the excellent support World received gives me plenty of faith that Rise will grow in one way or another. Its first free content update has even already been scheduled for the end of April – but it’s probably good it’s that soon, as I’m running out of personal goals to keep me hunting faster than I expected to.