Wild Hearts

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: Feb. 17, 2023


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PC Review - 'Wild Hearts'

by Cody Medellin on March 7, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Wild Hearts is a unique twist on the hunting genre where technology gives you a fighting chance against fearsome beasts infused with the ferocious power of nature itself.

The Monster Hunter series started on the PS2, where it was regarded as an interesting curiosity when that console's online play began to take shape. The PSP iterations elevated it to cult status, but the game's appearance on Nintendo consoles initiated its ascent into a bonafide hit. That's when other developers started to make Monster Hunter clones, and one of those companies was Koei Tecmo. It seemed odd to employing Omega Force, known primarily for its Musou line of titles, but the gamble paid off, as the Toukiden duo of games found some success on the PlayStation consoles and the PC. Going for a third game would've been the logical move, but Koei Tecmo thought otherwise. It kept Omega Force as the developer but sought out EA to help with publishing duties on Wild Hearts, a sort of spiritual successor to the company's previous monster-hunting line.

Wild Hearts is set in the land of Azuma, which stands in as an analogue to feudal Japan in terms of architecture, landscape, and naming conventions. Creatures known as kemono roam the land, and while their size makes them formidable, they're dangerous because they can change the environment to their will. Hunters used to be numerous and worked to keep them at bay, but as the kemono became more powerful, the hunters began to dwindle in number, thus forcing the humans to flee to safer grounds. You play as one of the few remaining hunters, a traveler who moved to these lands with the desire to hunt. A solo encounter with one of the stronger kemono is almost fatal, but you survive to fulfill your hunting duties.

Much like the game by which it was inspired, the story isn't a big draw in Wild Hearts. There are a few characters that you'll converse with, but no one stands out as being too memorable. The same goes for the narrative, which spews lots of history but nothing of importance. It exists to put a framework around the game, but chances are that you won't care for it much by the time the credits roll.

Before you create your character, you'll take part in a small tutorial hunt against one of the smaller and less threatening animals: a deer. You'll learn the basics, from running to fighting off smaller creatures to climbing walls and sneaking; it ends in you either killing the deer or petting it — one of the rare instances where you don't kill something. Only then will you be able to create your character. There's a decent selection of options for each face and body type to create just about any monstrosity or masterpiece before heading to your first boss fight, which you'll be forced to lose.

Get past the opening boss fight, and the game lets the tutorial fade away to expose the core gameplay loop, which doesn't stray too far from the established genre formula. You can sprint and do so without tiring yourself out; you'll wish this was the case with wall-climbing, as it never seems like you have enough stamina to do that. There are various elements you can pick up, such as food or ingredients for crafting, Perhaps the most important things you'll find are dragon wells, which need to be unblocked and upgraded if you have the means to do so.

Opening dragon wells exposes you to one of the big features in Wild Hearts: karakuri. You can think of this as crafting something out of thin air, and it starts with simple items like a crate for elevation or a spring for a boost. Karakuri also leads to creating bigger things, like tents for camps to respawn and recover or forges to upgrade armor and weapons. You can craft radar dishes to track kemono or flying vines to create ziplines. It's worthwhile to scout the area for items that help you be better prepared for fights. One issue you'll have with the karakuri is that you can't deconstruct whatever you've built. While that might not be much of an issue when it comes to the small things like crates, create a flying vine in a place that doesn't need it can be foolish, since you won't be able to recover those resources when mistakes are made.

Traversal has transformed greatly if you use the karakuri frequently, and combat is similar. For the weapons, the selection has been pared down to eight distinct offerings. There are standard offerings, like a bow and arrow and a katana. Wielding a large hammer or a cannon might seem ridiculous but are as expected in the genre as giant claws. The most unlikely weapon has to be a bladed umbrella, especially since it is the only item in your arsenal that requires you to play defensively to use its countering ability. You may have favorites, but no matter which weapon you choose, you won't suddenly feel hamstrung when forced to switch between them. There's some depth to them, but they're aren't as complicated as the weapons in Capcom's game. The same holds true for the weapon and armor upgrade system. There are only a few stats, and while weapons have large upgrade trees, there's only choice paralysis when deciding between one weapon ability over another. There's a concentrated effort in making sure that players don't spend their time in menus and use that time in battle instead.

Karakuri also makes a big difference when engaging in any kemono fight. As with traversal, the basic stuff is great for adding distance to general movements and allowing you to do things like take leaping strikes from higher elevations. The benefit comes from discovering recipes to combine several basic karakuri into something more powerful. For example, stacking crates in a particular fashion can get you a solid wall that's good enough to knock some kemono into the air. There's enough variety in Wild Hearts to make fights feel strategic yet chaotic in a good way.

The presence of karakuri highlights a few previous issues and a few new ones. The aiming system for karakuri is finicky enough if you're not on flat ground. Since that's paramount, as only precise item placement gets you the transformed karakuri you want, it also highlights why deconstructing stuff that you created is essential, especially if you're playing with others and they mess up when trying to help you build something. Unintentional mistakes are also damning when you realize that there will be moments when the amount of celestial thread you can harvest is finite unless you get lucky enough to land enough blows to harvest it from the large kemono you're fighting. Your robot helpers can also dig up some, but the process is slow enough that mistakes in crafting have big repercussions.

Battling solo is completely feasible, but multiplayer is what makes these games live or die. Battles against kemono can be tough with multiple players around, but standard abilities make the fights easier, such as reviving fallen players or drawing attention to give others more recovery time. The weapon variety means that there's a low chance of two different players with the same loadout. You can call on players at your campsite to join in, and that ability extends to the middle of battles, giving you an easy means to get backup when you've underestimated a foe. The online performance is very good, but the highlight is cross-play support. We tried it out with players on PC via the EA App and Xbox Series X, and it was fun since no online lag was detected. We hope to see this feature adopted by other offerings in the genre, since it expands the player pool.

One of the more interesting things Wild Hearts does is have a sense of permanence in the world. Have a kemono break a few buildings and trees, and they'll stay broken when you revisit the area. This kind of thing also applies to the karakuri that you create. If you're playing solo, you can pepper the palace with all sorts of things to ensure that future visits and hunts are easier. The same applies to anyone visiting your game and vice versa, which goes a long way to encourage everyone to help each other, similar to games like Death Stranding. It's a neat feature that adds some character to the world and makes this game feel distinct when compared to its contemporaries.

The fights against the large kemono are tough and exhilarating, depending on whether you're going solo or with others, but they also expose one of the flaws that Toukiden also suffered from. Namely, the bestiary is rather limited. Equating to just about half of what's seen in any Monster Hunter game, it doesn't take long before you encounter the same beasts that look very similar to one another but only have minor differences in color or ability. The fights can become repetitive, since the minimal changes mean that the same strategy can be employed, which saps away the excitement. The developers have stated that the game will get free updates to increase the kemono pool, so the complaint might not be warranted if they follow through.

The soundscape that was created for Toukiden was rather good, and this game proves it can also follow in those footsteps. The voice work is strong no matter which language you choose, and it is never drowned out by the music. The sound effects are also well done, but the music is where the game shines. There's a good mix of action-oriented tunes to go with more contemplative stuff, and it's all done with more traditional Japanese instruments to add some character.

Graphically, Wild Hearts can look stunning. The human characters look well detailed, far above what Omega Force has done in the past, and their animations are also smooth. The kemono look quite nice and detailed if you get the chance to see them when they're not rushing to kill you. The environments look fine until you start running through them, at which point you'll see loads of pop-up from a decent distance, and the particle effects (like snow) look less than ideal.

While all of the above can be applied to console players, PC players are in store for a rougher experience. The most prominent is the frame rate, which fluctuates wildly due to the game's constant stuttering. We're playing on a Ryzen 7 5800X using 32GB RAM and a GeForce RTX 4090, and while we can hit over 60fps easily with everything maxed out, the game stutters often when doing just about anything. The fluctuation from 30fps to over 60fps when going from in-game cut scene to playability is also a nuisance. Tutorial videos run at a much worse frame rate and barely break 15fps. Lowering the settings and resolution does nothing, and neither does using the game's undisclosed upscaling techniques. The developers have promised to address this and add both FSR and DLSS, but as of this writing, the patches haven't appeared yet.

If you're planning to play this title on the Steam Deck, prepare for disappointment. Like the Windows experience on Big Picture mode, launching the game for the first time installs the EA app, but at least you'll see it happening. Several minutes later, the game begins, but the Windows performance woes are amplified on the Steam Deck, with moments where the game stops for a second or two before continuing with your last input still being recorded, leaving you in a different place from when the pause began. The frame rate fluctuates wildly no matter your settings, and while the in-game cut scenes show up fine, the pre-recorded videos bring up the missing codec screen. It doesn't take long before the game crashes prior to the first big kemono fight, and it does so in a way that forces you to hard reboot the Steam Deck. At the moment, those who want their monster-hunting fix on the go are better served with Monster Hunter itself or the other genre games, like God Eater.

There's potential in Wild Hearts. The building aspects alone add some depth to the exploration and combat aspects of the hunt, while the weapons feel right in a fight. There are many compelling reasons to give this a go: a drip feed of abilities, near-instant multiplayer with cross-play, and permanently affecting a player's instance. The sometimes-finicky building system can be an annoyance, while the lack of kemono variety is a knock, even if more beasts are promised later as free updates. The PC performance is what really drags down the game, and the lack of fixes combined with the game's high price tag are enough to hold off for now. On consoles, Wild Hearts is a fine counterpart to Capcom's offering, and it's worth checking out. PC players will want to wait and see if the game can make efficient use of the platform and hardware variety before jumping in.

Score: 6.5/10

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