If you already like the Monster Hunter series then Monster Hunter Rise is a no-brainer.
Building off the success of the 2017 PlayStation and Xbox hit, Monster Hunter World, Rise brings an even more approachable (sort of) experience to Nintendo Switch than the series has traditionally been known for. It’s also distinctly built for the game console that’s just as comfortable on the go as it is plugged into a TV, with bite-sized hunts that typically take no more than 20 minutes to complete.
That all sounds great, but there’s a big caveat if you’re looking at Rise as your first venture into the monster hunting grounds: It’s still anchored to a ridiculously complex set of overlapping rules and systems, and from moment one it’s a game that assaults you at every turn with “helpful” text-based tutorial pop-ups.
In your first hours with ‘Rise,’ expect to see literally dozens of pop-up text windows.
The systems and rules are of course central to what people love about this series, and what compels them to commit hundreds of hours to one save file. But they’re also A Lot, and the crushing weight of learning it all is shunted to the front of the game, often without the necessary context or any adjustment time to learn one hint before being asked to absorb another.
That’s not an exaggeration. In your first hours with Rise, expect to see literally dozens of pop-up text windows — often spanning two or more pages — explaining how one thing or another works. Even walking in with hundreds of hours logged in World, I found myself struggling to retain all the bits and pieces that are anywhere from slightly to significantly different from the last game, not to mention all the wholly new features in Rise.
More than that, it’s frustrating. I tried to put myself in the mindset of a total Monster Hunter beginner during this phase in particular, and again and again I found myself wondering how many people would be immediately turned off by this dense introduction. Just when it seems like the game is finally ready to let you play for real, a new tooltip arrives to explain yet another esoteric concept or sub-menu.
The more they pile up, the more your eyes glaze over when you see them and the less you actually learn. It’s a self-destructive cycle that’s sure to turn off at least some new players.
That’s a damn shame because, in every other way, Rise is something special.
I’m going really hard up front on how Monster Hunter Rise is so unapproachable up front for the newcomer because, well, it’s the most important thing anyone who’s curious about the series ought to know. It’s not a problem that’s unique to Rise in the series, nor is it a hurdle the talented team at Capcom hasn’t tried to overcome. There’s a steep learning curve in any Monster Hunter game. But before you can even get to the learning in Rise you’ve got to come to terms with the all-out tooltip assault. It’s not a helpful introduction, and in fact it’s something I quickly came to resent.
That’s a damn shame because, in every other way, Rise is something special. It is, as the title explicitly makes clear, a game about monster hunting. You operate out of a central hub town where you craft and upgrade gear, sit down for stat-boosting pre-hunt meals, manage resources, pick up side hustles, and outfit your dog and cat helpers (Palamutes and Palicoes, respectively).
The meat of the game is in the hunts, a set of increasingly challenging, repeatable journeys that see you pursuing some big, bad beastie or another around a map, slowly chipping away at its armor and enormous health pool (which you can’t see) until it’s dead. There are multiple hunting grounds in Rise, all teeming with life and each with its own climate, layout, and resources for you to gather.
The complexity is in the details. There are dozens of monsters, for starters. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, including parts that can be broken and weak spots that can make your damage-dealing more efficient.
In most cases, the 50-minute timer on each hunt is considerably more than enough to get the job done, even if you’re using the “wrong” weapon (out of more than a dozen choices) and failing to exploit (or just don’t know) any weaknesses. As long as you’re dishing out some damage and not getting yourself stomped in the process, whatever you’re chasing will eventually go down — at least until you reach the latest stages, when the challenge really ramps up.
Monster Hunters in general are games built on repetition. The first time you hunt an Aknosom or Rathian or whatever beastie is on the menu, it’s normal to get tossed around and beaten down. There’s a good chance you’ll fail the hunt outright. But you still pick up important info: How the monster moves, what its attacks look like (and how to avoid them), whether the weapon you’re using is really effective, and so on.
It’s a simple idea, really: The more you pursue a particular creature, the more effective you’re meant to become at hunting it. That repetition is rewarded, as felled and skinned beasts yield the parts you need to build better and stronger weapons and armor to help you in future hunts.
Animal friends have always been part of the Monster Hunter games, and ‘Rise’ triples down.
The initial “hunt” to find a creature when you first arrive on a map isn’t terribly difficult in Rise either; there’s no real tracking to be done, and maps are revealed for good after you explore them the first time. Compared to World, where you really had to look for tracks and other clues in the environment to find your quarry and then keep up with it after every retreat, in Rise your objective is almost always clear on the map. Scoring a kill is meant to be the hard part.
Animal companions have always been part of the allure in Monster Hunter games, and Rise triples down. Your Palico is joined now by Palamutes and Cohoots; they each fill different roles, but the important thing to know is you can outfit them all with whatever gear you want. In other words, you can play dress-up with your pets. As you run hunts again and again, the parts you gather that go toward your own gear is also how you get the scrap that makes your pets both spiffy and more effective.
The cat-like Palico is one of two combat companions you bring along in any hunt. Each one has a specialty that dictates their abilities and behaviors once the action gets going. They’ve been a staple of the series for a long time, and they’re back here to make every monster chase more manageable and more adorable.
Dog-like Palamutes are new in rise and, well, you ride them. Very few things kick more ass than speeding toward a monster on the back of your awesome and personally customized pet dog, only to leap off at the last minute and deal big damage in a massive downward strike. Palamutes help during combat too, but the big benefit they bring is a speedier way of getting around maps. Most hunts unfold in phases, with monsters retreating when they take a certain amount of damage, and Palamutes make the inevitable chase move more swiftly.
Cohoots are more invisible. They’re owl-like creatures that scout around the map while you’re hunting, marking monsters and other important points of interest on your minimap. They’re also what connects you with the online side of Rise inside the game’s fiction. And like the other two pet friends you roll around with, you get to play dress-up with your owl friend, too.
The most game-changing thing that’s new to Rise, however, is a tool that you use to get around easier and beef up attacks. Wirebugs — many of the series’ tools and consumables are derived from bugs — are essentially grappling hooks that you can use to scale otherwise impassable walls, mount and ride stunned monsters, or even just get yourself airborne to execute a damaging special attack.
There’s a bit of a learning curve here, as wirebugs aren’t dependent on fixed grapple points or anything like that. Where you aim is where they pull you to, even if it’s just open air. In fact that’s a viable strategy for getting around, since you can use the momentum you build after launching yourself to get up and over obstacles that can’t otherwise be grappled directly.
You also can’t use your wirebugs willy-nilly. Most of the time, you only have two charges worth of grapples before you need to wait for a cool-down period to elapse. It’s not an overly restrictive limitation — wirebugs are meant to be used plenty during combat! — but it does mean you can’t abuse the new tool to just zip everywhere around a particular map.
The trick of learning wirebugs, which absolutely takes practice and leads to plenty of mistakes as you figure out how to make them work for you, gets back to my whole issue with the way Rise brings new players in. There’s not a great way to simply explain how wirebugs work; you’ve got to learn by doing. Rise never really gets around to communicating that in an effective way.
This is a truth for Monster Hunter games in general: The learning curve comes with a real sink-or-swim mentality. For people who enjoy freedom and tinkering, and who aren’t turned off by the idea of mastering a set of systems that you can then use in an assortment of ever-more-creative ways, Monster Hunter Rise is a refreshing blast of exactly that. It’s exciting in a way that makes you feel like you’re actually learning how to hunt — because you are!
That kind of freedom comes with a cost. Even setting aside the hassle of endless tutorial pop-ups, you’ve got to be willing to put in the time, to make mistakes, and to fail frequently. Skill is a big piece of it, sure, but what you really need to get a grip on a game like this is an open mind and a curious spirit.
Monster Hunter Rise is an excellent and deeply rewarding experience for those willing to meet it on its own terms. You definitely need to go in, however, knowing there’s lots to learn — and miles of bullshit to wade through — before you get a taste of the good stuff.