Wild Hearts Hands-on Preview – Kemono Hunter

Posted on October 11, 2022

The recently revealed Wild Hearts from EA and KOEI Tecmo is an exciting prospect, aiming to provide a AAA experience to rival Monster Hunter, but with some unique twists along the way to help it stand out. Developer Omega Force has a history of developing flashy, musou-style action games, and has even dabbled in monster hunting in the past with Toukiden, so the project certainly seems to be in safe hands. Add in a stunning fantasy feudal Japan setting and some on-the-fly crafting that can turn the tide of battle, and quite quickly you can really see the pieces of this beast-battling adventure coming together.

I’m a huge fan of the Monster Hunter series, and we’ve now had some hands-on time with the preview build of Wild Hearts, along with getting to pick the brain of Lewis Harvey, Executive Producer at EA Originals, about what makes it so special.

The core gameplay of Wild Hearts will be familiar to anybody with monster hunting history; you will be tasked to take down giant, nature-infused beasts, called “Kemono”, who are able to modify their environment to meet their needs. In our time spent with the game so far, this can include sprouting trees out of the ground or impacting the weather in the area, which modifies the battle while also looking visually impressive. The fantasy feudal Japan setting really looks a treat across the board. Dilapidated temples are lost within hidden pathways, cherry blossom trees loom and bamboo forests surround you. The world is full of vibrant wildlife, with separate open world areas connected to a hub city where you’ll go back to for supplies or to mingle with others, along with receiving quests and progressing the story.

A real twist on proceedings is the fact that you have access to “Karakuri”, an ancient technology that allows you to build structures or even weapons on the fly that can assist you in battle. Early on, this could mean building platforms that you can climb and jump off of to gain higher ground, or a launcher that means you can dodge out of harms way quickly like a pinball being hit with a flipper. More advanced technology like catapults and other weaponry will be unlockable down the track as you progress.

While Monster Hunter has been a menu-heavy experience that can be daunting, with many weapons and terminology that can seem foreign, Wild Hearts aims to be more accessible from the jump. Harvey says that they have created an onboarding and tutorial experience that really helps establish the weapons, the Karakuri, the player in the world and all the systems together, trying to make it more welcoming for new players.

“…returning to your camp to craft weapons and upgrades as you collect beast-bits from the world is a simple and satisfying process.”

In practice, this feels right. The opening area does a really great job of establishing the world you’re in, and introduces new elements to combat progressively in a way that makes sense. The menu system is a lot less cluttered than other games in the genre, so navigating them feels logical, and returning to your camp (that you can place by dropping a tent and a firepit in a safe location) to craft weapons and upgrades as you collect beast-bits from the world is a simple and satisfying process.

Even the Karakuri are easy to build quickly when in the heat of battle; you’ll need to use these ancient mechanisms effectively to take down the trickier beasts, who have weak spots out of range. Karakuri aren’t quite as easy to chuck down and build as say, Fortnite, but they’re still pretty nifty in a pinch and once you learn how to use them properly they’re not arduous or frustrating, either. I’m looking forward to seeing what other mechanisms I can muck around with.

While it may be more accessible to newcomers, Wild Hearts is certainly not “easy” by any stretch. Similar to other games in the genre before it, taking down these giant boss-like creatures will take time and effort. They hit hard, and you’ll be wallowing away on them for a while before you’re able to lop a piece off of them or send them scurrying off to another part of the map to recover. This monster hunting “formula” is very familiar, but it works just as well here. Kemono come in all different shapes and sizes, but they’re typically much larger beasts so climbing them is a core component; climbing strategy is about exposing weak spots by causing damage, and then using the Karakuri to climb them in different ways and get height advantages.

Traversal in general seems faster, which means there’s a speedier flow to combat and exploration, too. The developers experience with musuo Warriors titles in the past means that there is a smoothness to combat animations, meaning I didn’t feel like I was “locked” into an attack with an oversized weapon; instead, I was building platforms, leaping into the air, firing arrows and landing on a Kemono’s back in a quick motion. Where sometimes chipping away at a giant beast has felt repetitive and almost never-ending in the past, Wild Hearts seems to have found a balance of what makes those encounters fun in the first place, and focuses in on that fully, allowing for additional creative flare and flexibility when taking on each specific encounter.

Tackling the adventure as a lone wolf certainly makes things quite challenging, but you are able to part with two friends seamlessly, and testing this out also felt simple and worked well when I was partying up within the limited pool of media playing during the same period. You can party up in town and then go out together on a mission, or you can just drop-in on the fly, or call out for help during a tough fight. It seems dynamic and makes a lot more sense than its competitors, where multiplayer can feel like a chore to set up. When asked why the party limit is three players, Harvey says that when you consider the Karakuri mechanics, playing with four players  was just too imbalanced and “easy”, but they’re happy that Wild Hearts supports cross-platform play to keep things simple and the servers populated.

Wild Hearts might seem like a bold addition to EA Originals, especially when you consider their recent award-winning It Takes Two is quite humble by comparison. Harvey adds that EA Originals “really stands for finding the best and boldest developers in the world.” He says that the hunting genre is something they’ve been fans of for quite some time, so having KOEI Tecmo wanting to bring an original take on it made sense, as did partnering with EA to broaden their reach globally.

Ultimately, the game seems to be nailing what it sets out to achieve already, which is incredibly promising. The setting is excellent, the visuals (including the monster design) are wonderful, combat feels good, the mechanism-building is a cool riff and the foundations that have made Monster Hunter such a compelling franchise all seem to be there, with cooperative play and upgrade systems that are far less convoluted. The fluid nature and smart tweaks to the formula kept me from getting anywhere close to bored after several hours of play, which can only be a good thing.

Wild Hearts has a whole heap of potential, and could very well be the perfect entry into the hunting genre for those who were perhaps too intimated by its inspirations.

Wild Hearts will release on February 17, 2023 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC.