Wild Hearts is a new Hunter-like game from EA and Koei Tecmo releasing February 17th, 2023. Set in a world of Edo-era Japan filled with large monsters known as the Kemono you get to take up a sword/hammer/bladed umbrella to fell these beasts, become more powerful, and take on the next challenge. This past week we had a chance to check out the first three hours of the game, so how does it stack up to other Hunter games?
In Wild Hearts, you play the role of a wandering monster slayer. You're informed by a mysterious masked man that there is a city called Minato nearby that has been plagued with issues brought about by large monsters known as the Kemono. On cue a number of ice wolves appear, opening your path toward the city while allowing you to test your sword skills.
From the moment you have control over the player character, there's a persistent driving force and a very clear understanding of your character's path and the role they will play in saving this region. Not much more of the story was revealed in this slice of the game, the start is somewhat cliche but I'm definitely interested to hear how much more involved the story gets as the narrative continues or if it's just a means to loosely guide players towards their next foe.
The Monsters are the large setpieces of the game, while you might encounter wolves or deer traversing between the arena-like wide areas, the denizens of Minato's comments about disturbances by the river or in other locations assist players in tracking down their quarry.
During my play session, I primarily utilized the Katana weapon but was able to lightly dabble in the use of the Bow, and Hammer. The Katana performed excellently with a healthy mix of light fast slashes that could be combo'd into a Twin Blade Slash Storm, but there were also options to remain poised and launch slower deliberate attacks. Each weapon had a pretty unique array of combos, the Hammer even had an extended hammer spin that could be perfect for crowd control.
One thing I definitely loved about the movement and action of this game is how responsive and fast-paced it is. In other Hunter games I've tended to feel like the time between getting to begin an attack, and when I've been able to connect with a monster and deal damage hasn't been satisfying. In Wild Hearts, each connection feels quick and satisfying with a weight behind each impact.
The building system of the game, Karakuri, has a lot going for it but the lack of variety and ability to overly depend on the system for quick high damage does leave me with some concerns about gameplay variety. Karakuri I was able to build included Boxes to be stood on, a spring pad to allow for quick traversal, and a torch. Dealing damage on the ground with my sword I might see damage numbers between 5-15, up to 40 if I had activated my sword's charge meter, but by quickly stacking three boxes and performing a strike from the sky I'd reach damage number of 600+.
When your options are to awkwardly navigate between a Kemono's legs and hit it 50 times, or strike down once for an incredible amount of damage I found myself relying on the sky strikes far too much. Couple this with how easy it is to restore or overload your Karakuri threads, what you need to build in battle, and Kemono are suddenly far less threatening. For the Karakuri to not be so broken to the point of making battles somewhat boring there will need to be a lot of variety in the Kemono movement and attacks.
Each Kemono is a fusion of an animal and some kind of natural element. The first three Kemono that you get to face are a large Rat/Flower hybrid called the Ragetail, a Tanuki/Sap monster called the Sapscourge, and a Boar/Tree called the Kingtusk. This approach to a fusion of beast and nature is something that was extremely appealing to see in monster designs. It served to not only inform on how they might move but what kinds of larger-scale attacks they might perform. For example, the Kingtusk's major attack is a large charge that it will perform at you, but it also has the ability to eject seed pods that will cause writhing roots to spring up from the ground. Since these pairings also invoke imagery from Studio Ghibli's works like Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, I wouldn't be surprised if mankind vs nature was part of the overarching plot.
There were a number of technical difficulties that I did experience in this early build of the game, some that the dev team is already aware of but also frequent pop-ins of whole models during cutscenes, some missing textures, and unfortunately even a game crash. The game is still four months out from release though so I'm definitely expecting that these kinds of glitches will get ironed out by February.
While it was only the first three hours, Wild Hearts proved itself to be a fun game with tight movement, combat, and gorgeous monsters that I'm looking forward to slaying more of. I'm interested to see what direction a storyline would take once reaching Minato too. My biggest worry about Wild Hearts is how abusable the Karakuri system is and how future Kemono will be designed in a way to force players to employ different strategies.
TechRaptor previewed Wild Hearts on PC via Origin using a copy provided by the publisher