Monster Hunter Rise isn't due to arrive on PC until early next year, but I've been playing the Switch version over the last week after getting the game for my birthday - and I actually can't stop. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been slicing up its oversized lizards with my beloved Dual Blades like nobody's business, gutting their scales, pelts, fangs and goodness knows what else to make even stronger pairs of dino pants so I can get back out there and take on ever-larger beasties and make ever more fashionable trousers. It's a familiar rhythm to Monster Hunter games of yore, but there's something about Rise that's kept me hooked far longer than my jaunts in previous MonHan games, including PC mega hit Monster Hunter: World. And I think it's partly down to my new dog friends, the Palamutes.
I've always had a bit of an on-off relationship with the Monster Hunter series. I started playing them when they arrived on the Nintendo 3DS - I dabbled very briefly in Tri for the Wii, but mostly got into the series around 4 Ultimate. I sunk a good chunk of time in that and its eventual spin-off Generations, and I played what felt like a good slice of World, too (it's hard to tell exactly how much time I've actually spent playing World, as my Steam hours have been greatly inflated over the last few years with all my Monster Hunter benchmarking).
They've never been the most friendly games on the planet, and even Rise bombards you with an overwhelming amount of text and different tutorials at the start. It's still not any easier to get into a Monster Hunter game these days, I feel, but there's also a certain amount of muscle memory I've developed over the years that makes easing myself back into these games progressively easier the more I play them.
And it's not like I disliked previous Monster Hunter games. I enjoyed them immensely, and often wished I'd played more of them. But there always came a point where I'd hit a wall. In World, I remember never having enough monster parts to actually craft anything at the end of a hunt, resulting in lots of repeated outings doing the same quest over and over just to get a new hat. I know that's always kinda been Monster Hunter's deal, but come on, all I want is some new gloves at the end of a big hunt, is that too much to ask? Playing together with friends was also a bit of a pain in World, too, as (early on, at least) it was very fussy about letting you team up with people who had different hunter ranks to you. It wasn't the best, and I quickly stopped trying to make it work.
I stopped playing the handheld games for similar reasons, but there were other frustrations there as well. Before World simplified a lot of the actual tracking and hunting of fleeing monsters, I'd inevitably forget to chuck a tracking bomb at it, and then always spend ages going from zone to zone to try and find out where it went - which sometimes took even longer due to the loading screens between each area. I've also never been particularly good at the capturing bit of Monster Hunter, either. I can whack a Great Jagras into submission until the cows / kestodons come home, but figuring out the exact window when a monster was ripe for capture always eluded me. It was also frustrating because you're only ever allowed to carry two traps with you, which mean if you messed it up there weren't many opportunities to try again within the same mission. Which meant yet another big, involved showdown with said monster, and goodness, I just didn't have the time for it.
Rise, on the other hand, seems to have ironed out pretty much all of these kinks. It was co-developed alongside World, so in some ways I'm not surprised. It has the same big open maps as World, and big monsters are tracked automatically, first as a big question mark and then as their respective little art icons once you've defeated them for the first time. That in itself is a huge boon over the previous Nintendo Monster Hunters, and I'm glad to see its sprawling maps haven't been compromised by the Switch's considerably less powerful innards.
There's also, so far at least, a much heavier focus on hunting rather than capturing, making it easier to power through those quests and not constantly feel like a big failure. You can, of course, still capture monsters if you wish (and many will, given you get more resources from them for your next dino cosplay than you do from simply battering them to smithereens), but I've yet to take on a quest that has it as the main goal.
Most of all, though, I think Rise's greatest addition is your dog friend Palamute. You get one of these right at the start alongside your traditional cat Palico pal (which is excellent, as normally you only get one animal companion to begin with), and they perform several key functions. The first is as a very handy, speedy mount to help you zip from one end of the map to another without draining your stamina bar. Best of all, you don't need to dismount every time you want to gather materials, or even fight smaller monsters. Your attacks don't hit as hard while you're riding a Palamute, but you can still wave your sword at them without getting down (another excellent bit of streamlining is only having to press the gather button once, instead of three or four times to get all the available resources. Bliss!)
They're also a highly capable fighter, and it's this last point that really seals the deal for me in Rise. That, and when you ride into battle and press B to dismount, you can also leap into the air and really make an entrance on your unsuspecting prey. Sure, some might say having an extra pair of hands (paws?) whacking away makes hunting monsters too easy, and yes, I'm sure there's an element of that at work here. But cor, it really makes Rise a much more pleasant experience for me, especially when it frees up your Palico to help hoover up any leftover materials that get broken off in battle. I'm also pretty sure your Palico actually gathers more monster bits in general when you defeat them in Rise, as I've always got a healthy supply of armour parts to craft with when I get back to camp, even when I've only taken them down once.
Again, I'm sure there are plenty of MonHan diehards out there who are probably shocked and appalled by these developments, but personally I'm all for them. There's still a lot the series needs to do before it becomes truly accessible to newcomers, but as a long-struggling fan who's never quite found their groove in it, these are welcome changes indeed. And you get to ride around on a giant dog all the time. What's not to like?