What makes the Monster Hunter series so enjoyable? Is it the hypnotic rhythm with which it coaxes you into hunting, harvesting, upgrading, and repeating? Is it the intense, climactic battles that make you feel like a shounen anime protagonist just about felling your quarry with a slither of your health left? Is it the ludicrous concept of taking on one of nature’s greatest miracles whilst mounted on a dog, as a small cat leaps into battle beside you?
In truth, I think Monster Hunter’s success is down to a combination of the above elements. And Monster Hunter Rise – the latest entry in the 17-year-old Monster Hunter franchise – perfects the formula with aplomb. The game is coming to Xbox Game Pass in 2023, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Because it means even more people may fall in love with this absurd series and the pure, digital joy it can summon in the hearts of even the most jaded gamers.
Monster Hunter Rise lowers the barrier to entry compared to past games, allowing newcomers to wantonly swing their glaives and swords around their heads like infants. The game has easier kills and quicker routes to all the best armour than previous titles, and does a far better job of explaining the intricacies of the Monster Hunter gameplay loop to players, too. “Like the big sword, do you?” it asks. “Well, use this special attack, kill these monsters, and get an even bigger, better sword!” That’s it. And with an encouraging pat on the bum, you’re on the way – spiraling into that endlessly compelling Monster Hunter loop that’ll steal hundreds of hours of your life.
You’d think the de-escalation of difficulty would detract from the point of the game, but actually the opposite is true: by making the game easier to play, and more simple to understand, all the slapstick chaos of Monster Hunter’s tight, satisfying action becomes even more enjoyable. Once you get into the swing of it, and start learning the best ways to make the most of your weapons (and how to avoid the most devastating tail swipes and fire blasts of your least-favourite in-game dragon), Monster Hunter Rise feels like poetry in motion; a sublime action game up there with the likes of Devil May Cry, Bloodborne, Metal Gear Revengeance.
If you played the uncomfortably colonialist Monster Hunter World back when it took the world by storm in 2018, then you’ll be pretty at home in Rise. A lot of the branching weapon techniques from the Xbox and PlayStation’s last Monster Hunter game have been dialed back a little, so everything feels more arcade-y in Rise. This is a good thing: special attacks can be swapped out on a whim, so you can have more control over how you play (and the support you can offer or the damage you can lay down).
Rise spotlights 14 weapons, all with interchangeable skills and stupendous over-the-top specials, and playing with friends lets you see just how varied these all are. I am a hopeless sword-and-shield fanatic – there’s just something very satisfying about slicing a monster’s tail off with a sword before knocking it out with a bonk on the head from your shield – but I routinely play with hunting horn specialists that can confer buffs and nerfs, and hammer obsessives that can kick a monster to the curb in seconds if set up correctly.
What I’m saying is: I have already finished this game. Twice. Once on Switch when it first released, and then again on PC when it launched on the platform earlier this year. And you better believe I’m going to do it all again when it finally arrives on Xbox Game Pass in 2023. And I encourage you to do the same – especially if you’ve never played it before: Monster Hunter is at the pinnacle of what games should be, to me. It’s fast, fun, compelling, stupid, smart, pretty, hard and easy, all at the same time, and Monster Hunter Rise is a the perfect expression of a formula Capcom has been woking on for decades.
Monster Hunter Rise is, without a doubt, one of the best gets for Xbox Game Pass since the service began. And it looks like it’ll be setting the tone for the platform in 2023.