Review: Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak
As you may well know, Monster Hunter Rise was one of our top games of 2021, earning one of our coveted 10/10s. Many Monster Hunter titles get followed up with an improved “G” (for “guild,” in Japan) or “Ultimate” (in the US), and with the advent of the ease of patching that comes with modern consoles and online distribution, more recently expansions instead. The good news here is that Rise is no exception.
Like the ones that came before it, Sunbreak provides a swath of extra content for the game, beginning with a third Master Rank quest tier, just as with Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, which brings with it new hunting grounds new and tweaked mechanics for all the weapon classes, and an expanded story. The patch which introduces Sunbreak also includes various bug fixes, quality of life improvements (not that many were needed in my opinion!), and adjustments that benefit all players whether they choose to partake in Sunbreak or not. Though I think you’ll find in this review, that you really probably should!
For this review, I will be focusing mostly on Sunbreak‘s new content – almost a whole new game’s worth – and evaluating certain other changed aspects to determine whether they materially maintain or improve the game’s quality and enjoyability. Both the Steam version and Switch version released simultaneously on June 30, 2022, and both were played for this review. So without further ado, lets get to hunting and determine just what sort of impact Sunbreak can make.
Of Monsters And Men
If you recall my previous review, I said that the story aspect of the game was relatively light, but that it’s fine because the franchise’s fan base isn’t really in it for the story. While still not as heavily intertwined with the gameplay as World, Sunbreak vastly improves the story elements of the game. It includes better and more cutscenes, and more interesting characters, many of whom (plus many existing ones) also participate in the action directly via the game’s new Follower system. In Rise‘s case, it may have been a design decision to limit the amount of story *during* a quest to avoid the cutscene-related annoyances encountered by World players trying to play in multiplayer, and these players may thank them for doing it this way.
As noted, Followers are a new feature in which various NPCs from the story will join you on a hunt. They function similarly to any player hunter, using one of the standard weapon types of the game and using the same skills and techniques, and will follow you everywhere. Even to remote spots of the world that only wirebugs can get you to (but they cheat a little bit there; they seem to have no limits on wirebug use). They also provide small bits of the story tied to the quest through their speech. It doesn’t ever interrupt the action like it can in World, so that’s a pain point avoided.
After the first time a follower joins you – a female knight named Florayne from the kingdom Kamura Village is a part of – you will unlock follower quests. These are single player quests in which many of the various NPCs may ask to join you on. By completing quests with each of these characters, you will forge bonds with them, sort of like in the Fire Emblem franchise. It’s not as sophisticated as that, but this system and these quests are a fun addition to the game.
Only one thing bugs me about this from a lore standpoint. It is ingrained in the lore of the Monster Hunter franchise that there are reasons why only four hunters are allowed in a hunting party (even though it’s not something that needed explaining). But the Follower characters totally break this rule. The multiplayer quests which involve them still allow the full player count, meaning there are now five hunters in the party. Not sure if this was intentional or not, but it will certainly bug anyone that is actually savvy about Monster Hunter’s lore. Still, a very minor consideration and one that 99% of players won’t even notice. Overall the story is considerably better than the base game’s in my opinion, and so if the story of a Monster Hunter game does matter to you, this is something I’m sure you’ll appreciate. I know I did.
Time to Thrash Gnarly-ly
Monster Hunter is, of course, primarily about hunting monsters, and using their parts to make weapons and armor to fight bigger and stronger monsters. And folks, we’ve got plenty of those. In addition to the existing stable of monsters, whom can all be fought at the additional Master Rank tier of quests, there are tons of subspecies variants of those monsters with distinct behaviors, elements, and new moves which differentiate them. There are also new monsters, including a set known as the Three Lords who are tied to the story, with Malzeno ruling over them as Sunbreak‘s “flagship monster.”
Throw in many returning monsters, particularly from World but also previous generations, and the hunt will go on for quite a long time. If the base game let down anyone anywhere, it might have been post-story content (not part of the previous review as it wasn’t released yet) as few new monsters were introduced in the game’s mere three post-release content updates. But Sunbreak expands the bestiary greatly and there is just so much to do that if that was a negative before, it sure isn’t anymore. Hunt hunt hunt ’til the cows come home, it’s going to take you some time to get through everything Sunbreak adds to the game. I can certainly attest to it holding up the release of this review.
If any aspect of Sunbreak could be considered controversial, it might be the changes made to the weapons. Aside from new features (more on that in a second), many balance changes were also made, meaning some weapon types have received some buffs and nerfs, both from tweaks and fixes as well as from the new Switch Skills. And if your favorite weapon didn’t see the plus side of this, you might feel a little burned. That’s understandable, but in a game where the serious players often speed-run the various monsters, balance is important. As a hunting horn fan myself though (I still wish they’d add a hurdy-gurdy Hunting Horn, c’mon Capcom), I’m still seeing a wide representation of weapons out there and I don’t think anything was too drastic. But I’m not a numbers expert, so I make no claims about just how balanced the weapons are.
So, new combat features, right. Chief among them are the expansion of the Switch Skills system and the Switch Skill Swap. Every weapon type has multiple new Switch Skills, which let you swap out certain moves and abilities with each weapon for different ones. I’ve only experimented with these lightly, but some Switch Skills will substantially change the way you approach a weapon, and others are just minor tweaks that you may or may not need or use, depending on how you use your weapon of choice. The Skill Switch Swap allows you to switch between two sets of Switch Skills on the fly, essentially letting you use all of them, just not at the same time, or maybe just switch in one particular skill you sometimes use.
This requires an in-game action that leaves you vulnerable though. And while there is a Switch Skill Dodge you can perform, I only occasionally end up using the feature as a result, but it is nice to have when it does come into play. More advanced players may like this feature a lot more. I also particularly like the reintroduction of button command help which accompanies the Switch Skill Swap feature. It shows on screen the special actions you can perform at any given time depending on whether your weapon is drawn and if you’re holding the wirebug button. This kind of on-screen help was indispensable in World and was absent in Rise, so it’s something I and beginners will appreciate.
After that comes gear, and with tons more monsters, that also means tons more new weapons and armor. I’ll certainly say this about the franchise, and this game: there is a much wider variety of gear to change the way your character looks and plays than there is in just about any game that isn’t an MMORPG. Aside from different weapons using different elements and all the various reasons you may pick certain gear, this also means tons of options to customize your character’s appearance. This was of course true before Sunbreak, but just as World’s Iceborne expansion did, the available library of gear is vastly expanded. Absolutely no complaints here.
While I personally did enjoy it, one aspect of Rise that seems to have fallen by the wayside in Sunbreak is the Rampage. A new type of quest Rise introduced which incorporates some tower defense elements to the game, it seems these quests didn’t truly resonate with players, because Sunbreak has essentially left them behind. No new Rampage quests were introduced at all and, technically, the base game’s story had the Rampage resolved at the end, so I guess it makes sense. But I do consider it a shame. I suppose these quests were a bit tedious if you needed to grind them, but they were fun in my book. Is this a good thing or not? I’ll leave it up to you. I’m sure they could do some as event quests for the people who did like this feature.
I’d also like to comment a little bit on a multiplayer topic. As I’ve played the game, since we received our copy at release, I’ve been seeing some discussion and whispers from the community, both in-game and out. Some veterans in particular will speak out and say things like, “playing with randoms is still bad,” and I’ve seen those exact words more than once. With the exception of the Follower Quests which are single player only, all of Sunbreak is “hub quests” and are thus all multiplayer capable. I played the entire story in multiplayer with “randoms” via the Join Request feature (known as SOS in World) which essentially lets anyone join your quest, not just people in your game lobby. The hunter connect system also lets you form loose groups of people whom you’ve met before, and you can also easily set up private lobbies or ones that only allow people with a certain Hunter Rank or Master Rank (in Sunbreak), or both. So I just felt it was important to note that the game has many features to make it easy to play with the people you want to play with and do the quests you want.
More to See (And Hear)
The two new hunting grounds introduced in Sunbreak, the Jungle and the Citadel, both take the visuals up a notch. Thematically distinct both from the rest of the game and from many locales in the series, these areas look great and are also really well designed, with no area of the map going really underutilized and thus mostly unseen. It was common in earlier Monster Hunter games for there to be an area or two of the hunting grounds that monsters either didn’t use at all, only ran through, or were only used by one or two monsters, making them rather wasted. Not so in Rise (and Sunbreak).
The new areas also bring with them new general hunting themes, and they have really solid ones. I think the Shrine Ruins battle theme is still my favorite, but the new tracks in these areas are both contenders, and the themes of the new monsters which have them are also very good and up to the musical standards of the rest of the game, which I already could not find any fault with.
Because I already owned Sunbreak on Switch and we received a Steam PC copy of the game for review, I was able to play both. Since the PC version of Rise has only been out a few months prior to Sunbreak and not available to discuss at the time of the original review, I wanted to include a few notes about it. While perhaps not as dramatic of an impact as with the PC vs console versions of Monster Hunter: World (though the Switch version certainly looks good considering the capabilities of the console), the PC version of Rise/Sunbreak offers lots of additional settings and features to take advantage of your PC’s hardware.
The PC version offers up to 4K screen resolution, Ultrawide monitor support (21:9 aspect ratio), higher resolution textures, and more. The Sunbreak update also added Nvidia DLSS support (Deep Learning Super Sampling), and new screen filter options which let you change the visual experience with the flick of a switch. While you lose out on the Switch’s portability (Unless you own a Steam Deck, perhaps…) the PC version offers a lot to someone who really wants to treat their eyes, and so that’s definitely something to consider. The only downside, if you want to call it one, is no cross-play. But since the PC version came out much later, it might be a good thing. I’ll let you decide.
Quest Complete (Again)
So, how does Sunbreak stack up? This is one beefy expansion, I have to say. It seemingly has more content before its first Title Update than the base game had with all of its updates, outside of the Event Quests. And all of that content is on par with, or better, than before.
There’s so much to do and Sunbreak offers you even more ways to do it with the new flexibility found in its updated combat features and absurd amount of new content that will easily take you hundreds of hours to get through. So whether you’re this is your first time in the Monster Hunter universe, or you’ve been playing since the very first one, I strongly advise you to get out there and enjoy this amazing game, as the best actually managed to get better! There has absolutely never been a better time to get into it. I hope to see you on the hunt!
Switch copy of Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak and PC copy of Monster Hunter Rise purchased by author. PC copy of Sunbreak provided by Capcom. Screenshots taken by reviewer on Switch. Featured image courtesy of Capcom.