'Monster Hunter Wilds' preview: Why this is the most impressive game I saw at SGF 2024, and a clear GOTY 2025 contender.

Monster Hunter Wilds
(Image credit: Capcom)

I recently returned from LA, where I witnessed the Xbox Games Showcase 2024 and Summer Game Fest 2024 first-hand. While there, I got to experience live gameplay behind closed doors of a title I firmly believe will be in the running for Game of the Year 2025, and one I'm almost certain will be my game of the year for 2025. 

This, is Monster Hunter Wilds

Set in the new Forbidden Lands, the famed Research Commission has arrived to chart a course through this spectacularly unforgiving landscape. Breathtaking and deadly weather storms sweep across the land, wreaking havoc on the environment and enraging the creatures that have adapted to live within its dangerous climbs. You must adapt too, if you are to survive, and luckily you won't be alone. 

Monster Hunter Wilds - 2nd Trailer: The Hunter's Journey - YouTube Monster Hunter Wilds - 2nd Trailer: The Hunter's Journey - YouTube
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At Summer Game Fest 2024, we were able to meet up with the team behind Monster Hunter Wilds. We were also treated to a 20 minute live demonstration of the game's first hunting location, known as the Windward Plains. This harsh landscape is pockmarked by glass spires formed of deadly desert lightning strikes, huge molten crags, and lush vegetation. The storms that sweep through aren't just for show, but underpin the basis of the game's bold new direction. Storm fronts will add heaps of variety to proceedings, and we were treated to a large showcase for how it all works during the event. 

Armed with a great sword, and a newly-swappable heavy bowgun, atop a new Seikret mount, our hunter went to task to take down a Doshaguma bull. All while navigating an environment that wants to murder you as much as the monsters themselves. I'm convinced that Monster Hunter Wilds be one of the best games for Xbox and best games for PC when it drops next year. 

Monster Hunter Wilds

Monster Hunter Wilds

With a focus on immersion and deadly dynamic weather, Monster Hunter Wilds looks like a huge step up for the franchise with cutting edge visuals, a fresh approach to story telling, and more. 

Wishlist at: Steam 

A big focus on immersion

(Image credit: Capcom)

I'm a big Monster Hunter World junkie, having put almost a thousand hours into the game and its prolific expansion, Iceborne. Monster Hunter Rise was decent, but the Switch-first entry in the series felt a step backwards in some regard from its predecessor, although it was designed for a handheld system first. In that context, it was very good still. But Monster Hunter World and Iceborne just left me wanting more. MORE. So far, it seems like Monster Hunter Wilds is here to deliver that.

(Image credit: Capcom)

Built on the modern RE Engine, Monster Hunter Wilds is taking the series into a more "immersive" direction, complete with larger maps, cutting edge visuals, voiced protagonists, complete with human settlements and side quests. Its headline feature, the Seikret mount, is designed to help you traverse these much larger play spaces, and your acquisition of one is tied to the story, and a Forbidden Lands-native tribe who trains them. 

From the beginning of the demo, we were shown off some of the new characters, including the (very popular...) new blacksmith, Gemma, who will help you maintain your gear and craft new ones, alongside a new mission handler Alma. The initial camp you start out with is far less developed than what we saw in Monster Hunter Worlds or Rise. This new expedition is into lands completely uncharted by the Research Commission, and as such, you'll be relying on some local natives to help you survive. Capcom were reluctant to offer details on the story for fear of spoiling, but the story revolves around a young boy, Nata, seen in some of the early trailers. Nata joins player on the expedition into the Forbidden Lands, which kicks off with a land ship of sorts, crossing a desert sea. 

Indeed, for the first time in the franchise, Monster Hunter Wilds will feature a voiced protagonist — male or female depending on how the player customizes their character. We also saw village settlements in-game too, where NPCs have daily routines, and even offer side quests and bartering opportunities. Generally in Monster Hunter Wilds, most NPC interactions took place in a hub city area, separate from the hunting grounds where the gameplay takes place. 

(Image credit: Capcom)

The settlement even had some backstory and lore to add flavor, too. This is where the locals train Seikrets, the bird-like wyvern mount that forms the basis of Monster Hunter Wilds' new core gameplay feature. Monster Hunter Rise also had riding Palamutes, but it felt a tad underbaked in some ways with regards to the overall gameplay loop. Wilds is aiming to be different, given that the Seikret serves not only as a traversal method for the game's much, much larger maps, but it also has additional mechanics baked on top — more on that shortly. 

The NPCs here can also barter and trade for Seikret cheese, which can then be combined into meals you can cook in the field. Monster Hunter has a long standing tradition of fun food animations, and Wilds looks set to be no different. I wish I had footage of the succulent, oozing cheese steak to show you here. Alas, I can only  best describe it as mmmmmm right now. And as usual, it gives you powerful buffs to help you on your mission. 

The first hunt we were treated to was against a groundhog bull-like giant Doshaguma, new to the franchise. Along the way, we were treated to a safari of other deadly creatures who added a dose of chaos, and occasionally, opportunity into the mix. 

A vast variety of new features and refined staples

(Image credit: Capcom)

The Seikret mount is not just to help you speed and glide across the Windward Plains, but also it serves as a mobile mini-base of sorts. Indeed, you can have your returning Palico cat buddy set up proper camps anywhere in the field (which, can also be destroyed by angry monsters, by the way), but for simple things like weapon swaps, the Seikret can carry back up weapons to help you adapt to the situation at hand. 

During the demo, we saw how the hunter was able to swap into great sword while on foot, to take advantage of moments the Doshaguma was stunned or incapacitated, and then switch to the heavy bowgun while mounted, for taking pot shots and applying pressure. I asked Capcom how weapon switching would impact the game's armor skills system, because previously, it was optimal to build an armor set around a specific weapon type. Heavy bowgun armor skills absolutely don't synergize with great sword skills in previous games, but that should change in Wilds. Armor skills are being reworked to accommodate this new system, Capcom explains, although it remains to be seen how it will function in practice. I expect more generalized skills, but I hope it doesn't come at the cost of depth. Capcom isn't ready to discuss those aspects just yet, though. 

In any case, we got to see how the Doshaguma fight played out in Wilds, evolved atop new features and systems to make fights even more exciting, dynamic, but also realistically immersive. Monster Hunter Worlds had this impressive attention to ecological realism, it was plausible that all of these creatures could exist in the world that was built around them — Wilds is doubling down on that ecological attention to detail. 

Monster Hunter Wilds

(Image credit: Capcom)

Doshaguma is a beast in its own right, but he's not alone. Flanked by his equally angry pack, Capcom showcased to us how hunters will have to be resourceful and adaptive to avoid getting mauled when fighting pack-based targets. Jumping right into the fray and trying to fight all of them at once isn't going to be a winning strategy, but aggravating them into chasing you on your Seikret opens up a wide array of opportunities. 

First, the hunter lured the Doshaguma and its kin into a gigantic sand trap, built by another plains creature, Balahara. The Balahara is a desert-dwelling leviathan that uses a corkscrew-shaped hide to glide through the sands. It forms pitfalls and traps of loose sand to acquire prey, and clever hunters can use these areas to ensnare other monsters. The Doshaguma bull is too large to get ensnared, but his smaller kin is quick to fall victim to the Balahara. 

Isolated from his allies, the Doshaguma leader is now a much easier fight, but its thick hide and mountains of hit points make Monster Hunter Wilds look far more challenging than the recent Monster Hunter Rise, tasking players to use every resource at their disposal. Barrel bombs return, for example, and can now even be rolled along the ground like an explosive bowling ball. The new hook sling can be used to grab items from the ground while mounted, but it can also be used to trigger environmental traps too. Our hunter hooked down a loose cave stalactite right onto Doshaguma's head, stunning the beast, leaving him open for hulking great sword attacks. 

(Image credit: Capcom)

The hunter also took an opportunity to showcase some of the new weapon attacks players can expect. You can now drag the great sword along the sides of monsters, doing crazy damage while also helping you reposition. The iconic helm breaker long sword attack can also now be followed up with extra combos, painting your enemy with damage numbers. We also caught glimpses of the new focus mode too, which allows you to aim your weapons with more precision to take advantage of monster wounds, which open up over the course of a fight. The dynamism on display was incredibly exciting, and I can't wait to learn how Monster Hunter Wilds will treat all of the other returning weapon classes (all 14 of them). The new attacks were by no means the main event here, though. 

The most exciting aspect of Monster Hunter Wilds is the dynamic weather systems, and the way they interact with the landscape and the monsters therein, too. Capcom explained that day and night cycles play a large part in what monsters you will encounter, but also how you will encounter them, too. During the hunt, a Mad Maxian sandstorm swept across the land, and hit the player like a wall of dust and lightning, instantly changing the landscape into a storm-blasted hellscape of thunder. Huge lightning strikes conjure glass spires in real time, as new monsters adapted to live and even thrive in this environment begin to appear. Some had even evolved lightning rod-like appendages to survive. Taking center stage was a giant bird wyvern with a literal electrified railgun for a face, making the Doshaguma fight that little bit harder. 

After the storm passes, the Windward Plains are changed once again, renewed and restored by the rains. Flowers bloom and creatures emerge from hiding — but the hunt continues. 

So much more to learn

(Image credit: Capcom)

Capcom told us that the studio is working on many pain points from the original games. We saw how 4-player co-op works in Monster Hunter Wilds, now complete with full cross-play for the first time. Monster Hunter is historically notorious for making it convoluted to get into co-op play and initiate missions, but Capcom tells us they're working to improve the experience here. 

It does seem like Monster Hunter Wilds has a deeper emphasis on story delivery this time around, wrapped in an incredibly large world. Capcom says that its hunting locales are several times larger than World, and will be connected via seamless travel rather than loading screens as was the case previously, although fast travel will return as an option as usual. 

RELATED: List of monsters in Monster Hunter Wilds (so far)

What really struck me about Wilds was the visual delivery, and the attention to detail. Monster Hunter's worlds are alien, but they're so utterly believable. The deep attention to realistic ecology and evolutionary biology serves to elevate that sense of immersion the firm is going for this time around. The spectacle and dynamism is everything I hoped for in a Monster Hunter World follow up, elevated from every conceivable angle — at least that's the impression I have so far. 

I have no doubt that Monster Hunter Wilds will deliver, and take its place as my top game of 2025. Capcom has been so consistent in recent years, and right now, I'm willing to give them every benefit of the doubt. The wait is going to be agonizing. 

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!