Wild Hearts' gameplay shows a very different take on Monster Hunter

Wild Hearts
(Image credit: EA)

Wild Hearts probably wasn't what we expected from developer Omega Force. Long famed for the Dynasty Warriors series with its hectic hack-and-slash combat, the Japanese outfit has now turned its attention to battles with gargantuan monsters, trading out hordes of tiny foes for one or two mammoth fights.

Wild Hearts is, at its core, a monster hunting game, as publisher EA originally billed it as when announcing the game last month. Developers at Koei Tecmo aren't fazed by the comparisons one might draw between Wild Hearts and Capcom's Monster Hunter series, with game directors Kotaro Hirata and Takuto Edagawa saying such a comparison is an "honor" while speaking with GamesRadar+.

Bristling beasts 

Starting at the beginning, the comparisons between the two games are apt. Wild Hearts has the player characters setting out on missions to slay huge beastly enemies called Kemono, a fusion of nature and animals like pigs and hawks. Edagawa says the monstrous Kemono, like a hog fused with tree-like vines or a gigantic rat with a bulbous tail, were specifically styled around real-world animals to give players some familiarity when facing down the creatures. 

Just like in Monster Hunter, the business of tracking down the creatures themselves is half the battle. Wild Hearts employs a system of contraptions called Karakuri, by which you can create any number of items from the palm of your character's hand with a few button presses. You might create a campfire to huddle around and eat a meal providing you statistical bonuses, or a watchtower by which you can track down the Kemono.

Wild Hearts screenshot

(Image credit: EA)

When you've found the beasts, though, the differences between Capcom's series and Wild Hearts become clear. Omega Force's adventure has a rapid flow in the heat of combat, with players chaining together quick attacks with swords, bows, mauls, greatswords, and even massive umbrellas, pelting the Kemono with a barrage of strikes.

It's a beautifully fluid combat system in the early hours. A restrictive stamina system walks a nice line between being flexible and overly punishing, meaning you've really got to think about whether you've got enough left in the tank to dodge an attack after you're done ripping into a Kemono. The weapons themselves are a greatly varied bunch – the greatsword and maul hit like a train, while the more rapid swords and umbrella feel elegant and refined.

The Kemono don't just fall to the ground and disappear once they're finished, either. At the end of a fight, the monsters will collapse, and you'll be prompted to execute them with a single button press to end their suffering and reap the rewards of the end. This was a very deliberate design decision, Edagawa tells us, that's intended to set Wild Hearts apart from its hunting game contemporaries and have the player decisively conclude battles.

Star of the show 

Wild Hearts screenshot

(Image credit: EA)

Combat is also where the Karakuri really shine. Aside from building camping equipment, the Karakuri are rigged for battle – you can construct a wall to block a charging Kemono, for example, or a springboard with which to dive out of the way around an arena. There's no hard limit on the amount of Karakuri a player can construct, Edagawa tells us, meaning there's plenty of room for experimentation on the battlefield.

The materials with which you construct Karakuri devices are all derived from simply attacking Kemono. It's not a case of sitting back and letting the Karakuri do all the work – you've really got to go toe-to-toe with the monsters if you want to reap the rewards of being able to construct a giant Karakuri bomb, or a comically huge hammer Karakuri that'll give the Kemono a bonk.

The Karakuri, in the early hours, are an inspired design direction from Wild Hearts. The devices succeed in empowering the player instead of taking over from them and dominating the battlefield, perfectly complimenting any weapon. Using a heavy weapon? Build up a small tower and jump off it for a devastating plunge attack. Battling a Kemono that's fast and furious? Consider constructing a springboard to dodge their rapid attacks.

Wild Hearts screenshot

(Image credit: EA)

The act of constructing the Kemono is also mercifully simple. Any concerns about Karakuri being a nuisance to build in the heat of combat are wiped away by the device's menu being rooted to the left bumper on a controller. Simply hold down the button, and tap the corresponding button for a Karakuri structure to instantly spring out of the ground. It's that simple.

Omega Force very explicitly wants players to experiment to discover new Karakuri combinations. A presentation from EA asserted that you won't just be handed recipes for gigantic Karakuri contraptions, so if you want to construct a wall capable of knocking down the fearsome Sapscourge, you're going to need to go out and uncover how many building Karakuri blocks it actually takes for such a contraption.

Technical troubles 

Wild Hearts screenshot

(Image credit: EA)

Unfortunately, the promising start to Wild Hearts comes in a beleaguered PC package. Stuttering was rife throughout the seven-or-so hours played, and other technical hiccups like crashes and freezes left a sour taste. Still, there's time yet for Koei Tecmo to right the ship, as Wild Hearts is a number of months away from launching in February 2023, and the beta build will no doubt be somewhat dated.

That being said, Omega Force isn't committing to a public version of the new demo. Developers Hirata and Edagawa couldn't comment on whether players around the world would get hands-on with Wild Hearts before launch, and likewise wouldn't address post-launch plans, so it remains to be seen how Wild Hearts will be affected both prior to and after launch. 

Aside from the technical troubles, Wild Hearts is an undisputed good time in its opening hours. Combat feels like a re-tuned version of the Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash style, with more deliberate pacing for its towering foes. The Kemono themselves are a charmingly horrific blend of animals and nature, and the Karakuri is an inspired original direction bringing impossible variations to the battlefield. 

Wild Hearts launches for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S next year on February 27, 2023.

Hirun Cryer

Hirun Cryer is a freelance reporter and writer with Gamesradar+ based out of U.K. After earning a degree in American History specializing in journalism, cinema, literature, and history, he stepped into the games writing world, with a focus on shooters, indie games, and RPGs, and has since been the recipient of the MCV 30 Under 30 award for 2021. In his spare time he freelances with other outlets around the industry, practices Japanese, and enjoys contemporary manga and anime.