Dango Unchained

HIGH AI companions riding monsters facefirst into walls is a joy to behold.

LOW Matchmaking is poorly handled with limited options.

WTF That ballista substitute in the endgame is totally awesome.

This is a review of Sunbreak, the expansion for Monster Hunter Rise. For a more detailed discussion of the core mechanics and overall game flow, please see the main review.

Sometimes, persistence pays off. It took a long while for Capcom to land a bona fide hit in Western markets with Monster Hunter, but that’s exactly what Monster Hunter World achieved back in 2018. The lessons learned in making it a global success have been refined and improved for its successor Monster Hunter Rise and its new expansion: Sunbreak.

As with Monster Hunter: World‘s expansion titled Iceborne from several years ago, new players in Rise will need to put in some legwork to reach the meat of the new content available in Sunbreak. In this case, clearing the seven-star Hub Quest ‘Serpent Goddess of Thunder’  from the original base campaign. That translates to clearing nearly every key mission aside from a few secret bosses before they can get started on the new stuff. Once players have cleared the path, however, they’ll soon be whisked away to a nearby outpost called Elgado to further the story.

Elgado is a Western-style medieval hub aesthetically closer to something like Dragon’s Dogma than the Japanese themed Kamura village from the base game, and it’s even better-designed when it comes to functionality. There’s no need to head off into a separate gathering hub when choosing multiplayer missions for instance, and almost everything hunters could ever need is practically within arm’s reach.

The reason for coming here is an ominous one, of course. Monsters are behaving strangely, the garrison of Elgado needs help in discovering the cause, and so Kamura sends their best hunter to help them deal with it. No prizes for guessing which hunter they ultimately chose.

In terms of content, Sunbreak adds a decent amount to the basic experience of Rise. First, a new tier of hunting difficulty in the form of Master Rank hunts, while also adding a bunch of new monsters to take down and ultimately shape into armor and weapons. The cycle of life is always turning, after all — turning vicious creatures straight into a natty hat!

Malzeno is the signature beast this time around, seemingly imbued with almost supernatural powers for reasons that I won’t go into further detail on. There’s also Garnagolm, a stone-clad beast that looks like a small mobile fortress in battle, as well as Lunagaron — something which could easily have come screaming straight out of Bloodborne. There are also returning enemies from previous titles in the series including Gore Magala and Seregios, as well as Rise variants reappearing in upgraded fashion.

Overall gameplay is much the same, now rebalanced to smooth out some of the disparity between weapons that irked some users during Rise‘s campaign. Sadly, some changes from World have left Sunbreak‘s approach to the hammer feeling underwhelming. As a hammer main, not being able to spin like a buzzsaw straight into a mounted attack is soul destroying, and the new Switch Skills didn’t light my fire, either. Using wirebugs like a chainsaw ripcord to add extra stun sounds great, but when a monster’s been knocked to the ground, the initial setup sucks up time that could be spent bashing the bugger as well, while also chewing up the player’s limited wirebug charges.

I eventually wound up switching teams to the hunting horn and taking on more of a support role in the latter half of Sunbreak, and while the base changes to the horn are great (special effects transfer instantly without having to ‘release’ them) the new Switch Skills again disappoint. The strongest seems to be putting down a drum that will burst for damage during certain moves, but it’s not great. I’ve heard other weapon skills fare better, such as the Longsword’s Sakura Sheath three-hit combo, but the skills for my preferred weapons felt like they needed more utility before they’d be worth using.

One of Sunbreak‘s biggest tweaks, though, are the human AI companions. The player can head out on hunts with these NPCs to gain their favor, or they may tag along during important quests. They’re very useful! While their damage is average, they will call out when monsters are ready to capture, or heal the player when possible. Best of all, they’re extremely switched on to when special event attacks become available.

Here’s one example — while battling a story boss, resident female knight Fiorayne mentions that she’s come up with a new strategy, and I’m like ‘whatever, whacking our prey in the head with a massive hammer’s doing okay for us so far and your plan probably sucks ass‘… at which point she subverts expectations by dashing into an adjacent area, hopping atop another monster the size of a bus and mercilessly smashing the bastard we’re fighting around the head and shoulders until it’s a mewling wreck ripe for capture.

TLDR: I want Fiorayne as a buddy in every Monster Hunter from now on. I’m scared shitless of her, but she gets the job done.

There are two new areas in Sunbreak too — a desert island jungle filled with caverns and hostile wildlife, and the Citadel, which is a European-style castle that’s been broken down into ruins and is now inhabited by strong monsters. Both locales look great, and more importantly, both have massive ziplines that are almost guaranteed to induce a sudden burst of vertigo as the player is catapulted high above the terrain.

These are all nice additions for an expansion, but on the downside, hooking up with hunters online for multiplayer hunts can be a pain.

Monster Hunter World allowed players to search by monster type when farming online. Rise and Sunbreak only allows them to join specific quests, and often these searches come up empty with no indication of whether anyone else is currently undertaking them. It’s an inelegant solution to matchmaking given modern standards.

Apart from the suboptimal multiplayer matching, Sunbreak is damn good Monster Hunter and I hope they keep some of the features introduced here as the series moves forward, especially the human NPC companions. For anyone who owns and enjoyed Rise, picking up Sunbreak should be a no-brainer. It’s an intelligent expansion that retains the best of Monster Hunter Rise and adds more than enough to warrant its existence atop an already-meaty title.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by and published by Capcom. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This expansion was obtained via publisher (base game was a paid download) and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 80 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode split between Rise and Sunbreak, and the game was completed. Roughly 75 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Alcohol Reference, Blood and Violence. The official description reads: This is an action adventure game in which players assume the role of a hunter who must save a village from a monster invasion. Players traverse a fantasy world and hunt down and kill various dragons, wyverns, and giant spiders. Players use swords, hammers, bows, and axes to kill creatures in frenetic melee-style combat. Spurts of blood are often depicted when players and creatures are injured during combat. A handful of missions allow players to operate mounted turrets and cannons to shoot rampaging creatures. The game contains several references to alcohol in the dialogue (e.g., “Enjoy the occasional drink and you’ll never need a docto—*hic*”; “I had a couple of sips of alcohol…”; “Drinking alone ain’t the worst thing, but booze tastes better with company”; “Pops tells the story whenever he gets boozed up.”).

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles for every line of dialogue. Some in-game battle lines aren’t translated, but they’re usually unimportant – battle lines of any note are subtitled, and there’s a variety of in-game callouts and ‘stickers’ to help players communicate effectively. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Monster Hunter Sunbreak is fully accessible without audio.

Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable… though honestly, the menu screen’s a damn mess so it’s hard to tell what’s what. For example, there’s no clear ‘invert Y axis’ option even though it’s possible to do so. No, that’ll be ‘Type 3’ on some obfuscatingly ill-defined menu option instead. The overall basics are that the character’s controlled with the left analog stick and the camera is controlled using the right one. Face buttons generally interact with the environment, shoulder buttons are typically used for attacks or sprinting/charging moves. Keyboard and Mouse control is possible but I’ll just stick with my controller, thanks.

Darren Forman
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