So the Monster Hunter Rise demo has been out for a couple of weeks now, and I wanted to give my impressions on it, as well as allow others to give their own thoughts on it. I've been playing Monster Hunter since 4 Ultimate in late 2015, which gives me the unique position of not really being a "veteran" to the series, but also being into the franchise for a lot longer than a majority of the western fanbase. I say this not to gatekeep, but to give context behind what might be fairly different perspective from what others might have.
When Monster Hunter: World was announced, there was a lot of concern from fans over whether the new entry would be a "casualization" or "westernization" of the series, something that would simplify and water down the experience so much so that what made Monster Hunter special would no longer be present. I never gave credence to this idea, especially because so much of it seemed to come from a segment of the Monster Hunter community which was not-at-all-lowkey salty that the newest mainline entry would grace Playstation. And lo and behold, once the game came out, all concerns were virtually wiped out, with naysayers mostly being excited for the title.
Except, then I actually played the game. And while World was a great game, and a much better title than Generations to be sure, I didn't find much sticking power with it and a lot of the elements I liked in the prior entry were gone. Hunts no longer felt like "hunts" because you could easily just resupply anything you needed in the middle of a hunt, there wasn't a sense of preparation before a hunt when you could just pick up some herbs and instantly get a potion mix out of it. In prior games not only did it actually take time to gather items, but items weren't automatically combined and even basic things like potions required a more complex mixture (blue mushroom + herb = potion instead of just herbs creating potions). This could easily be seen as Monster Hunter focusing on what it's central focus is and should be: the monster hunting. But taking out repetitive elements in games is not inherently good, and the zen cycle of doing 2-3 major monster hunts and then preparing for the next mission through an expedition or gathering quest was effectively killed. Here's the thing: Even with the streamlining, World didn't add enough complexity to it's pure action gameplay (which without the preparation was now a larger focus) or even failed to streamline in other ways to compensate for the loss of such elements. Online was more complicated than ever basically killing multiplayer for me, and the investigating you had to do to track down a monster was just downright tedious. The way World evolved on games like 4 Ultimate in large part reminds me of my feelings on the evolution from Dark Souls to Bloodborne; it's not that a more streamlined game is a bad idea, it's that when so much of the identity of the game is built upon elements other than the pure action, you kind of have to make that pure action more satisfying and complex. Otherwise, the balance of the game is just fucked.
Now onto Rise ...
Rise is like a full on realization of the new direction Monster Hunter is going, with some of the elements of the classic games returning. It still has a lot of the streamlining that World brought, but it also adds complexity and new movement options onto that foundation to create something that is genuinely a very compelling action title, even with those streamlined elements. Bringing back the more purely wide open spaces (World certainly had the largest areas in the series, but with a lot of clutter in them) with monsters being very aggressive even in the base game makes the battles more like a 1:1 fight like the classic games. And the monsters and especially armor are more colorful than they were in World, which to my eyes makes this a game that's more pleasing to the eyes overall, even if the more detailed graphics of World really helped bring the game to life (something I can still commend the game for and overall think was a good direction to take the franchise in). The armor sets are already more interesting and intriguing design-wise, which is kind of ... you know ... important in a Monster Hunter game. If World 2 was to take one thing from Rise, having attractive armor sets and just putting more color into designs would be a major candidate for the prize.
I think one of the smartest additions is the beast riding, though it's a little unfortunate how awkward the controls can feel. Since getting into the series, mounting has been an ever-present factor in decision making, basically a big part of 4 Ultimate's meta was trying as hard as possible to get to high ground just to plunge attack a monster. It wasn't as bad in World, but in general it was probably took a bit too much of the mindshare of the player at any given time. Even knowing that there was no chance of getting consistent mountings, I and many players still tried as many times as possible to get onto high ground and jump below just to get a chance at a mounting attack. Considering how infrequent mountings were, this was inefficient and I think it's a scenario where the way mountings influenced the player both outside of the actual scripted sequence and largely interrupted game flow. The addition of silkbinding not only adds a new exclusive feature that iterates on mounting, but also just creates better players in general since wirebug mounting is a lot more situational. From what I've played and what the tutorial says, the way in which the scenario is made available is just a lot more natural, with the various ways you can activate it being setting specific traps that are map-oriented, consistently doing wirebug attacks, etc. Again, it's a bit unfortunate that the controls for the monster riding are a bit awkward, and the activation of monster riding can be weird in a multiplayer setting (It always says that you can just keep attacking to activate it, but this is obviously not conducive in a multiplayer setting where multiple people will attack it at once, so I'm not sure how they calculate who gets to ride). But the mechanic overall is a welcome change.
The wirebug is something that can be talked about for days and what I believe is really neat about it is how it can retroactively get rid of a lot of the purposeful jank of Monster Hunter while keeping the consequences of improper action alive. Monster Hunter is a lot like games such as Castlevania in that the movement can be weighted and slow, but as a result there's a lot of sense of purpose and intent behind every action performed by the player. That obviously means that, with each triumph and victory comes a greater euphoria, but also a harder fall. The wirebug facilitates easier comebacks, with some of the most painful parts of Monster Hunter now being circumventable (like getting hit so hard as to fall back in a stunned animation, which can not be gotten out of with ZL + B) but also has long cooldowns and a limited amount of uses available. Once more, they encourage searching the environment between fights in an integral and instinctive way. There's rarely been something as fun in games to me as using the wirebug to zip around in the air, with so much weight and pull behind your aerial assault. It just feels so right.
Despite being largely iterative, Monster Hunter, like a lot of long running series, has certain nuances between entries that can effectively make or break a title. I've never played a bad Monster Hunter game, but between Generations being mostly mediocre and a downgrade in various ways from 4 Ultimate, and vanilla World leaving me wanting a lot more, I was almost worried that Monster Hunter was a game series that would only really capture my attention once. Like a love that never really existed, but you want to believe it did at one point. Thankfully with the Rise demo, I can safely say I am fully hyped for Rise. Maybe that's for the worst, given that demos are just small portions of a final product and multiple things can change or affect my enjoyment when the final game actually releases. But at the very least if the final game is as good as the demo is, not only will it be one of my biggest time sinks in quite a while, but it will probably be one of my favorite games ever.