Even having piled around 80 hours a piece into every Monster Hunter since the exquisite fourth outing on 3DS I'd still consider myself as something of a casual fan; happy to blunder through the main quests and just as happy to be carried through High Rank quests, by the time the Master Rank-focussed expansions come around I've usually got to admit I'm well out of my depth.
I loved Monster Hunter World but am not ashamed to admit that hard-edged expansion Iceborne kicked my arse, so I was heading into Monster Hunter Rise's own hard-edged expansion Sunbreak with some trepidation. Here's an expansion that is loosely in line with G-Rank or Ultimate editions of previous games, introducing new monsters, new locales and most importantly that all-important Master Rank that brings with it an all-new level of challenge. Thankfully Sunbreak has a little besides that makes it more palatable for those like myself who like a smoother ride.
First, though, let's talk about the new stuff - or at least the small slice of new stuff I was able to sample in two quick hunts offered up as part of the preview round for Sunbreak. There's a new hub, with Elgado swapped out for Kamura while the Citadel provides the big new area - the only one revealed to date - with a scale on par with the larger maps of Monster Hunter World. For all that, though, the biggest change is the aesthetic.
Monster Hunter Rise's look was defined by its mediaeval Japanese mythology influences, its maps framed by bamboo and blossom while its soundtrack was voiced by shakuhachi and shamisen. Sunbreak flips things westwards, something explicit in the castles and swamps of the expansive Citadel map and underscored by its blood red sunsets. There's something of Capcom classic Ghouls and Ghosts to it all (and that's extended to the monsters, apparently, with Garangolm a Frankenstein analogue - though if it wasn't pointed out to me I wouldn't have guessed), and it feels pleasingly distinct from the base game.
There are enough tweaks to the combat for it to feel distinct, too, with added silkbind moves across each new weapon plus the ability to switch between skill sets on the fly. For all that added depth though - and this wasn't exactly a shallow game to start with - what I appreciate most is how it's opened up to all players, with on-screen prompts letting you know which skills you've got equipped.
It's a small thing that made a big difference, and it was a welcome surprise to find less serious players like myself catered for - just as it was a surprise that one of the biggest new features feels tailor-made for players like me. There are new single-player quests that have an NPC fighting by your side, replicating some of the magic that comes when fighting alongside a companion.
For me, it replicates how I chiefly play Monster Hunter - which is namely calling in some bigger, better players to do my dirty business for me. But it's also a reflection of Monster Hunter at its best. Fighting alongside a follower against Seregios, I got smacked down again and again, but it's somehow all the more tolerable when there's someone by your side to help dust you off. Sunbreak is going to be another brutal Monster Hunter expansion, but I'm happy to find there's enough balance in there for me to approach it with excitement rather than trepidation.
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