Potentially, PlayStation’s very own Horizon might have their own take on the genre, on the, well, horizon but this sudden surge in demand sees EA and Omega Force‘s Wild Hearts step up to the plate first.
Does Wild Hearts set itself apart from the genre defining game it is inspired by? Well, let’s get into that, shall we.
Wild Hearts Review (PS5) – A Solid First Outing That Can Only Get Better From Here
At a glance, Wild Hearts may seem like a Monster Hunter clone, and whilst its inspirations are apparent, there is certainly some core aspects to it that set it apart.
Wild Hearts mostly feels light, smooth, and responsive, save for a few caveats. Throw in some snappy building mechanics and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an interesting and creative core gameplay loop.
Wild Hearts is about hunting and fighting monsters, or Kemono as they’re named.
Tearing or breaking various parts and pieces from the beasts, and then using those resources to craft new outfits and weapons, then going back out to do it all over again. Sounds familiar, I know.
The player created, voiceless protagonist can be equipped with one weapon at a time, from a small but diverse selection. However, there is a lot of depth to the weapon upgrade trees, with a ton of different effects, and aesthetics available for each type.
Alas, what seems to be a recurrent theme in games, is that the UI and HUD are way too convoluted and cumbersome. The reliably intuitive nature of the gameplay, can feel at odds with its menus.
Each weapon has its own unique style of play, offering different special moves, and overall approaches for hunting the beasts. Whether that is a standard ranged offence with the bow or cannon, or something more adept, such as an umbrella to parry the Kemono.
However, you can can opt for the same no nonsense approach as me, and choose the biggest sword available, as if its been taken right of Beserk, and wail on the beasts for big damage, until the fight is done.
Trust me, it doesn’t get old, but make sure to manage that stamina bar, as I’ve been caught out by that, all too often. Having multiple weapons for various enemy types is all part of the fun.
As mentioned, the gameplay loop isn’t just limited to standard attacks and special moves, though. Wild Hearts has a building mechanic, that uses a resource the game calls thread.
Thread is essentially ancient science that is effectively magic, that allows you to conjure constructions that Wild Hearts refers to as karakuri.
Karakuri comes in multiple forms. Basic karakuri are small parts such as spring boxes, or torches, that either allow for mobility, or an instant but brief weapon buff.
There is also more passive karakuri that can be built and placed permanently in the environment, in the form of camps, hunting towers, or the ability to craft with a forge, and most satisfyingly, zip lines!
Shadow Of The Kemono
The real fun is in the dragon karakuri, though. Combining the basic karakuri with specific inputs will, in turn, create various constructions that will help you in battle. On paper, it sounds convoluted, but in practice it is very intuitive and easy to perform, and extremely satisfying.
Creating a harpoon mid-battle and holding the kemono in place whilst you get in close for some free hits feels great, and the only issue is that you will run out of thread to perform these constructions quickly. There is some thread to found dotted around the environments, but not enough in battle.
More satisfyingly, when you open a wound on a beast, you can jump on it and pull thread from the lesion, if the camera and wailing kemono allows it.
Climbing over them to pull thread from the wound can feel something akin to a less cinematic, and more janky Shadow of the Colossus at times.
Unfortunately, Wild Hearts isn’t flush with enemy variety. Certain fusion karakuri works better against certain kemono, and given that lack of variety, it won’t take long for it to feel less organic and more habitual. However, there are upgrades, and room for player creativity to keep things fresh.
Who Let The Gritdog Out?
The East Asian inspired enemy design itself is very cool. Each kemono, is based on real animals, and looks distinct, colourful, and often imposing. Learning the attack patterns of the kemono, and successfully using the right karakuri is awesome.
A detail that I found really impressive is that on occasion, the kemono even learn to avoid the karakuri traps you have placed, forcing you to shift your tactics.
Whether you play solo, co-op, or in a group of 3, most of the beasts feel balanced. However, some kemono can one hit you with a devastating attack, and that can be really frustrating.
A minor gripe overall, as the majority are fun to fight. Except for the Gritdog, who I now hold a deep disdain for.
Hopefully, over time, continued support for Wild Hearts will see more enemy types added, with perhaps more building mechanics to counter them.
All in all, despite some janky camera issues that would even give Dark Souls a run for its money, the moment to moment combat is intuitive, fun, and satisfying. It provides an often addictive, creative, and approachable alternative to Monster Hunter.
A Forgettable And Obnoxious Story
Despite having multiple biomes you can explore, with chapters you can cycle through, that will change the beasts and the surroundings somewhat, I don’t feel as though they’re diverse enough. In terms of presentation, the game has its moments, but I wouldn’t say it’s a looker.
On the other hand, Masashi Hamauzu‘s soundtrack is beautiful. The music lends itself well to making the fights feel epic, and provides a sense of austere grandeur, even when the games appearance is found lacking.
There is a main hub named Minoto. A town which can upgraded through various fetch quests, and is under constant threat of annihilation, which along with the rest of the narrative feels rather uninspired.
The game often gets in the way of simply hunting with extremely drawn out exposition that can’t always be skipped. It doesn’t help that the English voice acting is not good, and pales in comparison to its Japanese counterpart.
I would argue that the stakes didn’t need to be so high, and the main character didn’t need to be a saviour. The core concept of hunting, and being a hunter, is more than enough.
It can be frustrating when you just want to get back to the exciting, and addictive gameplay loop that Omega Force have crafted.
Unfortunately I did run into some performance issues. At times, the FPS seemed to drop when I played in a group of 3, there was some jarring lighting issues, and on the odd occasion, some texture pop in.
There is a lot of replay value to be found in Wild Hearts with the sheer amount of depth to the upgrades, and a core gameplay loop that facilitates experimentation to keep you coming back.
Finding a group of friends to play Wild Hearts with could go a long way too, as I felt it shines most as a multiplayer experience.
Wild Hearts has a such a strong core, that with continued support it can only improve from here. If, like me, you’re looking for a more accessible entry point into the hunting genre, then look no further.
With the energetic and responsive combat, fusing with kinetic building mechanics, Wild Hearts offers up a highly addictive core gameplay loop, that will make you want to skip the exposition, suffer through some technical hiccups, and get right back to hunting monsters.
Wild Hearts is now available for PS5.