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Written by Eric Hauter on 2/16/2023 for PC  

I love WILD HEARTS, but like most good romances, it wasn't always that way. It took me a while to warm to WILD HEARTS. I was up and down on the game for quite a while before it finally got it’s hooks in me enough that I was able to decide whether I liked it or not. In the end, I determined that I liked it quite a lot, but first the game and I had to come to an agreement. I was going to have to step it up and try harder than I normally do to meet WILD HEARTS’ difficulty, and WILD HEARTS was going to have to stop screwing me over with technical glitches. And once struck, we both stuck to our side of the bargain.

After making a strong first impression, WILD HEARTS had me stuck in the mire a little bit, with insane difficulty spikes that are best overcome by dipping into multiplayer – something that was in short supply during the pre-release review period. It probably didn’t help that I seemed to be much further in the game than most of the gang of pre-release players, so I spent a lot of my time waiting for everyone to catch up so they could help me. This had me fighting a lot of the game’s most difficult enemies solo, which can be done but requires a fair supply of patience and curse words. But as time went on and more and more pre-release players joined the fray, I was able to see how the game would perform in wide release, and it is fairly glorious.

WILD HEARTS is an amazing new monster hunting game developed by Koei Tecmo and published by EA Originals. Genre fans will find the flow of WILD HEARTS familiar, but not so much that I would go so far as to say that they will “feel right at home”. WILD HEARTS shares some DNA with its famous competition, but I would never call this game a clone. WILD HEARTS is definitely its own thing, putting a stake in the ground and proudly proclaiming its differences.

The primary new mechanic in WILD HEARTS is the presence of “karakuri”, the Fortnite-like devices that players can construct on the fly in the middle of fights. In less than two seconds, you can make giant bulwark walls out of thin air, then climb them and leap down onto monsters’ backs to do powerful attacks. Construct a huge hammer to crash down onto a tired monster’s head. Make a little healing pod that sprays a helpful mist around the battlefield. The number of karakuri you can eventually unlock is kind of overwhelming, and it opens battles up to a crazy amount of creativity, especially when you have three players slapping these things down all over the field of battle.

The monsters themselves (known as Kemono) are a revelation in creative design. They are usually a mixture of some recognizable earthly creature/plant life/minerals, but their features and behaviors are wildly varied and unpredictable. Kemono have any number of attacks, often elemental-based, and they are not above busting out some pro-wrestling moves when all else fails. They will eat you, peck you, pick you up and hurl you into walls, douse you with fire and ice and poison and acid, cause rocks and lava to spawn from the ground beneath you, spawn an army of miniature followers to attack and distract you, and they will look great doing it.

The first time facing each Kemono, I found myself creeping up on them with a mixture of excitement and dread. Fighting these things is a blast, and while you will get better at it, and your advanced armor and weapons will help, you’ll never be able to take them for granted. As the game progresses, players will be hard pressed to beat some of these Kemono without taking the time to really study and learn their attack patterns. Bringing along a few buddies won’t hurt either.

Luckily, multiplayer is a breeze to get in and out of. You can throw out a request for help at the beginning of every fight, and multiplayer portals dot the landscape, easily allowing you to dip into hunts already in progress, making the material grind a bit more palatable. If you have specific friends you want to play with, you can easily set up a session, with full crossplay capabilities. The system is a little different, but well thought out – and certainly better than the nightmare that is setting up a MP session in Monster Hunter.

So yes, I’ve had a really, really good time with WILD HEARTS. It’s amazing fighting some of these monsters for the first time and barely surviving by the skin of your teeth, just to come back later and whoop up on them with some friends. And I didn’t even mention a lot of the other fun little systems that help bring the world to life – those are best left as surprises for new players. However, I did experience several technical hiccups that are worth noting, particularly for early adopters.

To set the stage, I should mention that it is very possible to get in way over your head by following the story too quickly. Players should take their time in each zone and hunt the creatures there – a lot – before moving ahead with the next story mission. Otherwise, you will find yourself flat on your back after being one-hit by some monstrosity.

I went too early into one very important boss fight with the Lavaback - a gorilla the size of a school bus with a very bad temperament - and afterwards, the game locked up on me and refused to load after the rather long cutscene. Upon crashing the game to desktop reloading, I discovered that WILD HEARTS had not saved after my battle, which was mad difficult. I had to go back and battle ol' Lavaback again. Losing to him the next two tries stung like hell, as I had already beaten him. (No worries, btw, I've now beaten Lavaback scores of times, and can proudly rock a full set of Lavaback armor that I've made from his body parts).

Though this scenario never played out again, I had a lot of problems with the technical side of WILD HEARTS. And sure, all of this is likely to be resolved with patches once the game releases. But that doesn’t negate the 10-or-so times I tried to join hunts in progress, just to have the game load up, say “never mind”, and dump me back out at my camp. It feels like there might be some networking issues at play here, which makes me a little nervous for when the game goes into wide release.

I should also mention that when I made it far enough into the game to encounter a snowstorm, I experienced some pretty serious framerate drops. I normally don’t mention stuff like this unless it impacts gameplay, but in this case I was pretty much unable to function in the fight I was pursuing until I went into the settings and dropped everything way, way down. It was only this one area that gave me a problem, but it was significant. Multiplayer also seems to give the PC version of the game some difficulty, as the animation on the folks you are playing with sometimes seems drop a lot of frames, sending them skittering around the battlefield like one of those ghosts in House on Haunted Hill. 

Other parts of the WILD HEARTS experience feel a little underbaked as well. Fighting the monsters in the game is an absolute blast in the moment. But WILD HEARTS wants you to fight them so many times that it becomes almost punishing. The recipes to create new armor and weapons feel almost punitive with the number of materials needed to advance, even at the beginning of the game. The menus for advancing armor and weapons are kind of confusing, with a bunch of unexplained stats, and entire threads that are hidden for no apparent reason (pro-tip - click sideways on the d-pad). Things are also visible but inaccessible from the beginning of the game, which can be frustrating, particularly when you have your eye on a new weapon, but have no idea how to access it. What causes new types of armor to unlock? Who knows? Fighting new monsters, I guess.

All of this is to say that while wildly creative and a mountain of fun, WILD HEARTS feels like the first game in a new franchise. There are some hiccups and frustrations that players have to contend with in order to get to the good stuff. But it’s kind of like the way you have to break through a crab’s shell to get to the delicious meat inside; it can be kind of a mess, but the end result is so delicious that it’s worth the hassle.

There is no question that WILD HEARTS should be the beginning of a new series of games; it is strong enough that a community will doubtlessly form around it, creating mountains of fan-driven guides and content. And the game’s creators have already announced a pretty robust schedule of free updates that will keep WILD HEARTS lively for some time to come. The good stuff here is utterly stellar, and while there are a few frustrations at launch, they will likely smooth out over the next couple of months. If you are wondering if WILD HEARTS is worth your time, the answer is a resounding yes.

WILD HEARTS marks the emergence of a worthy new AAA franchise. While the game suffers a bit from some minor technical issues on PC, the core gameplay is astoundingly strong. The mixture of wildly creative Kemono monsters and player-built karakuri creates a strong, addictive cocktail of fun. The challenge level is high, but victory feels triumphant. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.


About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS VR2, Quest 3, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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