I do love me some Monster Hunter games, but I've never been able to engage with them on a super-fan level the way I would like to. Due to the constant flow of incoming reviews on my plate, I typically beat the campaign of the game I'm playing, dabble a bit with the end game, and move on to the next thing. As a result, I've not really touched the fantastic Monster Hunter Rise since I wrote my initial 9.5 review around 16 months back (outside of a short dalliance with the PC version to check out the graphical upgrades). I know that some fans make Monster Hunter almost a lifestyle, but I've never had time to go that deep.
So jumping back into Rise after over a year away has been beyond daunting. Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak was released a few days ago, bringing all sorts of new content and monsters to the game. This is a significant expansion, with a new hub city, new abilities, and a new quest type. But it will be days before I ever see anything from Sunbreak, because I have to relearn how to play Monster Hunter Rise. I think I'm over the hump, but when I first loaded up my Switch save file, I had the sinking feeling that I was taking on a task that was damn near impossible.
It's tough to return to any game after extended time away. I remember trying to hop back into my late-stage DLC playthrough of Fallout 4 after a year or so, and being so bewildered and frustrated that I eventually gave up and went on a murder spree. I had the same experience with The Witcher; a sixty-hour save file down the tubes because I just couldn't get a handle on what was going on in the game. But Monster Hunter is far more complicated than any namby-pamby Fallout or Witcher game. Monster Hunter is a world to itself. Just the contents of my Item Box alone were enough to sink me into a mild depression.
Trying to come to grips with things, I went to the courier kitty in the hub city to see what all I had missed since I last played. The courier kitty proceeded to donk me over the head with fourteen (FOURTEEN!) pages of new quests, items, and monsters that have been added to the game as either part of Sunbreak or as free DLC since Rise's release. This was utterly overwhelming.
It turns out that I have quite a task ahead of me if I want to actually play the Sunbreak content. I initially beat the campaign of Monster Hunter Rise by playing through single-player Village quests. I was playing before release, so there weren't many opportunities to play the multi-player Hub quests. As part of my review, I wrote this:
"Accessed through a separate hub from solo hunts, team hunts have a completely separate progression, allowing solo players to complete the 25-ish-hour campaign in its entirety before ever jumping online to team up with friends or randos – both of which can be surprisingly fun and rewarding. The separate progression paths allow slower-moving folks like me to get accustomed to each monster, learn our weapons, and gear up with some decent weapons and armor before ever setting foot into the wild west of online play. This is a wonderful boon, as no matter how many Monster Hunter games I play, I still feel like a noob for the first 15 hours or so."
I read online that to access the Sunbreak content, one had to have beaten the primary game storyline and one particular seven-star quest. No problem! I was taking on seven-star quests when I quit the game. Well, it turns out that I was taking on seven-star Village quests when I quit the game. My character is only on three-star Hub quests, which means that I now have to grind through four star levels (about 24 hunts) to actually even access the new content. The separate progression model that I praised so much in my review totally bit me on the ass, as now I have to hunt numerous monsters I've already defeated any number of times. Luckily, I have some seven-star-level armor and weapons to help push me through.
All I could do was jump in, trying to remember the controls and mechanics as best I could. Monster Hunter Rise was never great at onboarding new players, and after so long I found myself struggling to put the pieces back together. How do I ride my Palamute? No idea. What do all these bugs do again? Guess I'll just pick them up now and Google them later. What combos can I pull off with my duel blades? Hell, how do I even pull my duel blades out of their sheaths?
I haven't come close to reaching the Sunbreak content yet - I'm just starting on my five-star Hub quests, so I've got a while to go. The game has it's hooks in me pretty deep, but I can't help but feel like I'm playing through content I've already experienced. Still, Monster Hunter Rise is an incredible game, so I'm feeling pretty committed to seeing this through. Good thing this is a long holiday weekend and my kids don't mind watching me play Monster Hunter Rise.
One of these days I'll get to the new stuff. I just hope I'm not burned out on the game by the time I do.