The loop of any Monster Hunter is getting overwhelmed by a fearsome monster and then learning their quirks before overcoming them and using their parts for better gear, ready to take on the next challenge.
Monster Hunter isn’t a game about resting on laurels: there’s always a bigger, tougher hunt on the horizon. Capcom has taken it to heart, following the successful Monster Hunter Rise with first expansion Sunbreak. With new locations, new monsters, and tougher challenges, Sunbreak is exactly what you’d expect, even if that means there’s not much in the way of surprise.
To some extent, that’s because Rise already laid the innovative groundwork following the global smash of Monster Hunter World, introducing the exciting game-changing wirebug mechanics that made traversal and monster-hunting much more efficient, as well as the very reliable wolf-like Palamutes.
Mechanically, Sunbreak adds a few more features for the above but doesn’t bring a whole lot else new to the fold – in fact, it completely jettisons the tower defence-style Rampages from the base game, which while novel having hordes of monsters to take on at once was generally quite divisive amongst fans. The main difference then is a change of location as your hunter is called away to the medieval kingdom of Elgado on a mission to hunt Malzeno, a frighteningly powerful Elder Dragon whose ability to drain the life from other monsters makes it a threat to the overall ecosystem.
The new Elgado Outpost, which has everything conveniently in one place, does make a fresh change from Kamura Village, which was strangely split into single-player and multiplayer areas. Personally, it lacks the distinct charm of Kamura’s overtly Japanese influences, although Dango is still on the menu for buffing your hunters before a big hunt (it’s sadly however missing its own cheesy jingle).
But your main events are the new locations and the monsters that roam in them. In fact, one map is actually the Jungle area hailing from Monster Hunter 2, which will be a treat for old-school hunters who can now traverse this map in its entirety without loading screens. The new Citadel map is huge with the ruins of a gothic castle and a drawbridge at its centrepiece, which is quite fitting with the Universal horror vibes emanating from the three new monsters, dubbed the Three Lords. If the vampiric nature of the regal-looking Malzeno makes it Sunbreak’s Dracula, then the bipedal Lunagaron is the ice Wolf Man, while wild ape-like Garangolm somewhat resembles Boris Karloff’s version of Frankenstein’s Monster.
Yet fun as these additions are, a problem is that it takes a while for them to show up, with much of the early half of Sunbreak’s campaign spent on you hunting the same monsters from the base game. In fairness, this is the new Master Rank, so old monsters have learned a few new tricks and put up quite a fight – we certainly don’t remember an Aksonom taking so long to take down. These more powerful versions, including new sub-species such as Blood Orange Bishaten, do plenty to keep you on your toes, reminding you that you’ll also need to be forging new stronger gear to stand a chance lest you spend most of the hunt getting knocked sideways and humbly carted back to camp. Even then, if you’re to compare with the previous Iceborne expansion for World, where you get straight into a new map and new monster, it does feel like Sunbreak suffers from a bit of padding before you get to the good stuff, including returning favourites like Gore Magala and Seregios.
Besides new gear to add to your wishlist, the new Switch Skill Swap mechanic also provides more ways to mix up your playstyle, as you can set your loadout of unique weapon skills to a red and blue scroll, then swap between them in the middle of a hunt. While it sounds daunting having to balance more mechanics in your head, with additional UI at the bottom of the screen just to help you stay on track, it works well in practice, especially if you follow the game’s advice of keeping your tried-and-tested Switch Skills on the red scroll, while keeping your specials on blue, so it’s not as confusing as it first appears. But just like the other new content, it’s also not until later that you get new Switch Skills for every weapon type that makes this mechanic much more interesting to play with.
While still not a game you’re playing for story purposes, Sunbreak also features Follower Quests, an exclusively single-player option where you hunt alongside AI-controlled characters such as Kingdom knight Fiorayne, sister of Rise trader Rondine, which build up your relationship with them and then allow you to invite them to Support Survey hunts where you can partner with up to two characters at once. So that they’re not left out, your old pals from Kamura can also take part. It’s a nice alternative for players less interested in matching up with randoms online, plus if any of these hunters are knocked out it won’t be added to the number of times the group has been carted like it is for multiplayer hunts, and you can even try to revive them on the spot.
That said, this feature also feels underutilised as it’s very much optional and not part of the campaign, even if there are rewards in it for you. Having it exclusively single-player only also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially since there are a few story-based hunts where Fiorayne will accompany you, which you obviously still can open up for other players to join.
Despite some shortcomings, Sunbreak is still an excellent addition for fans already hooked into Monster Hunter’s loop. It’s a tougher sell for someone jumping in for the first time, since it does require getting through the base game first, and there’s not really a way to fast-track that. But then this expansion is Master mode, as the new Master Rank name implies, so it’s one you have to earn lest you want an early stomping. Prime yourself for the challenges that come, and there’s a very long post-game to look forward to, especially once you unlock the new tougher ‘Afflicted’ monster variants, while further updates planned all the way into 2023 means the hunt is far from over.
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is out now on Nintendo Switch and PC. We played on Switch.
This handsomely generous expansion to an already excellent base game may take its time to deliver genuinely new content but once it does, hunters will have a blast facing new challenges, getting hooked in the loop for better gear, and taking advantage of the new mechanics. Overall it’s more of the same, but for avid monster hunters, that’s just fine.
- Some terrific new and returning monsters, and all the new gear that comes with it
- A significant step up in challenge, with plenty of quests to get stuck in
- Switch Skills Swap is a great addition
- Takes a while for the real good new content to show up
- Follower quests as optional solo hunts only doesn’t make much sense
- Newcomers will need to complete the base game first