Wild Hearts is a new action-hunting game from EA and Koei Tecmo, where players are tasked with hunting magical creatures and stopping them from destroying the land of Azuma.
As someone who has been a fan of action-hunting games ever since Capcom’s Monster Hunter World, I was curious to see what Wild Hearts had to offer to the genre. I've now spent some time hands-on with an early version of Wild Hearts, emerging pleasantly intrigued and looking forward to seeing more when the full game drops in early 2023.
Learning to hunt with the Ragetail
Our hands-on began with a lengthy prologue where I created my in-game avatar and was introduced to the fantasy world of Azuma. It is a rich, vibrant, and colorful land currently being terrorized by monsters known by the locals as the Kemono. The Kemono are gigantic beasts akin to real-life animals, but their bodies have fused with all manner of flora because of a mysterious evolution that granted them the power to bend nature to their will.
Our goal during this build was to hunt three Kemono ravaging the land. A giant rat covered in flowers with a plum growing out of its tail, earning it the moniker Ragetail. A large raccoon-like monster with a shrubbery beard and organs that produce acidic tree sap called a Sapscourge. And finally, the Kingtusk, a ginormous wild boar the size of a building with tree-like tusks and tree roots for a tail.
I went after the Ragetail first, as it was part of the mainline quest. As this was the first hunt, the game started giving tutorials on how to hunt a monster, how to use my weapon, and how to utilize the Karakuri. For those not in the know, the general flow of action-hunting games is to kill your assigned target within a time limit (with some exceptions) while occasionally chasing the monster across the locale if it decides to flee.
What sets Wild Hearts apart from its competitors is the Karakuri, an ancient form of technology that allows you to build various structures that can aid you in exploration or combat. For example, the most basic use of Karakuri is building crates that can be stacked on top of each other to reach high ledges or act as a barrier to block monster attacks.
You can also interact with Karakuri during combat to perform special attacks depending on the weapon and what Karakuri you use it with. With Karakuri crates, you can jump off them to unleash mighty airborne attacks.
Using Karakuri to build things costs Karakuri Threads, and it's easy to use up all of them during a fight. You can find Karakuri Threads by mining rocks, cutting down trees, or grabbing onto a Kemono and sucking out their energy through glowing weak spots that can be exposed by dealing enough damage to specific body parts.
With this in mind, I used the Karakuri crates to prevent the Ragetail's attacks, and I soundly defeated the overgrown rodent by hacking it to pieces with my starting weapon, the Karakuri Katana.
The crafty wonders of Karakuri
When I defeated the Ragetail, I was given a tutorial on using the Karakuri to set up base camps. You can also set up other Karakuri facilities in your base camps to help prepare you for future hunts. In this preview build, I had access to building a campfire to cook meals so I could get temporary stat boosts, a washing line to dry out food ingredients to create certain meals, a forge where you can craft new gear, and a watch tower that can detect a monster's location within its scanning range.
This is where I started to see the potential of how the Karakuri could enrich the hunting experience. Unlike other hunting games such as Monster Hunter, where base camps are pre-determined spots on a map, you can use the Karakuri to place camps wherever you want, provided you have materials to craft them.
With careful planning, you can set up base camps directly outside a Kemono's nest and fast-travel between them to save you some time when pursuing them.
If you happen to run out of resources to build a camp, there are other Karakuri creations to help you traverse the environment, such as springboards, zip lines, and more. And the best part is that any Karakuri construct (camps, crates, etc) you make stays on the map forever until either you dismantle it or a Kemono destroys it.
I took advantage of this by placing watch towers all over the map to keep tabs on a monster's location at all times. As a reward for my ingenuity, I uncovered the location of the second target on my Kemono hit list, the Sapscourge.
Taking up the Bow to snipe the Sapscourge
Unlike the Ragetail, which was a fairly simple Kemono to fight as it mainly attacked with claw swipes and tail whips; the Sapscourge was a much more robust and trickier opponent as it used its rotund body to roll around, spitting a volley of acidic tree sap to hinder its enemy's movements.
Not willing to take any chances, I prepared for the next battle by using the materials I received for killing the Ragetail to forge a new suit of armor and decide which weapon to bring to this battle.
Wild Hearts will feature eight unique weapon types, each featuring in-depth move-sets and gimmicks. However, in this preview build, I was only able to access five of them: The Karakuri Katana, the Wagasa (Umbrella), the Bow, the Nodachi (Great Sword), and the Maul (Hammer).
- Karakuri Katana: A basic weapon type with which you can execute light or heavy slash combos. It has a weapon gauge that fills up when you hit a monster, and once it is full, you can transform it into a chain-whip and gain higher attack power.
- Wagasa: An unorthodox umbrella weapon used to parry attacks and counter with a flurry of ground and aerial-based attack combos. It features a weapon gauge filled by countering attacks; the more you fill it up, the more damage you deal.
- Bow: The Bow is a ranged weapon with two firing modes by holding it horizontally or vertically. Holding the Bow horizontally lets you shoot a volley of Haya arrows that stick in the monster, whereas holding it vertically shoots single, chargeable Otoya arrows. If you hit body parts laden with Haya arrows with an Otoya arrow, you can cause the Haya arrows to explode and deal a ton of burst damage. You can also sacrifice some stamina to bolster the arrow shots in each mode for extra firepower.
- Nadachi: The Nodachi is a great sword you swing with reckless abandon for considerable damage. After every sword swipe, you can sheath the Nodachi and charge up a gauge to unleash a devastating blow to the enemy's hide.
- Maul: The Maul is a slow but powerful hammer weapon where each strike can deal massive damage to a monster’s skull. Its combos can be extended by pressing the right trigger at the end of each swing and alternating between light and heavy attacks.
While some weapons are better at dealing with certain Kemono than others, I gravitated toward the Bow as my weapon of choice. It was a deceptively simple yet complex weapon type where firing both modes could be used to deal with almost any Kemono. And it was I needed to keep up with Sapscourge and put it down for good.
Dethroning the Kingtusk
With two Kenomo down, there was only one left to hunt, the Kingtusk. This was undoubtedly the hardest fight in the preview, as it required a complete understanding of the Karakuri mechanics and your chosen weapon to defeat it.
For example, whenever the Kingtusk charged toward me, I would combine two pillars of Karakuri crates together to form a barricade and block its advance. The resulting knockback from destroying the wall sent the Kingtusk flying into the sky and knocking it flat on its backside.
Unfortunately, Kingtusk did not like showing such a humiliating display and promptly went berserk. If a Kemono takes enough damage, they enter an enraged state where its body transforms and gain new attacks.
Kingtusk's enraged state has its ivory tusks glow red hot and grow jagged edges that would have killed me if I got hit by them. It also started using its nature-based powers to summon gigantic tree roots as a ranged attack or to create a ring around itself to drive away melee fighters.
After a long and grueling battle, I managed to topple the Kingtusk and finish it off with an arrow bolt right between the eyes.
Wild Hearts' twist on hunting games show promise
I was impressed by what I saw of Wild Hearts thus far, this early in the game’s development. The weapons are satisfying to use, the monsters are challenging and rewarding to beat, and the freeform possibilities of the Karakuri add exciting layers of complexity to the hunting experience. I can imagine spending hours experimenting with the Karakuri to create optimal routes to chase down monsters and seeing which Kakakuri contraption synergizes the best with each weapon type.
Koei Tecmo's return to the action-hunting genre after its previous endeavor with the Toukiden series is shaping up to be a thrilling adventure, and I can't wait to see what else Wild Hearts has in store.
Wild Hearts is set to launch on Feb. 17, 2023, for the Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC via Steam, EA Origin, and Windows. I will most certainly check this game out and see if it has what it takes to become one of the best PC games and best Xbox games out there.
Alexander Cope is a writer for Windows Central and iMore that has been gaming since the 16-bit era.
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