Usually when a big publisher announces a new game, a reasonable amount of time passes before we see how it’s coming along.
The key word here is “early”, though, because while what we played of Wild Hearts shows some real potential, that potential was severely hampered by what is one of the least stable preview builds we’ve played in a while.
At this point we need to stop and provide the obvious disclaimer: the version of Wild Hearts we played was not the finished product, and anyone who knows how these things work knows that games continue to be optimised and bugs continue to be fixed right up to release (and beyond).
That said, Wild Hearts is currently set for a February 17 release, and while four months is a long time in game development we really hope EA and developer Omega Force takes great strides in improving things by then.
The reason we care so much is that we really like what we’ve seen so far. Wild Hearts is essentially Monster Hunter as interpreted by Omega Force (which is usually best known for its Dynasty Warriors games and spin-offs).
Playing as a male or female hunter – you can customise their look at the start of the game and even set their pronouns, though this part kept crashing for us – the aim is to explore the Japan-inspired land of Azuma in search of giant beasts called kemono.
The kemono used to be peaceful creatures but now they’re anything but, causing chaos as they rampage across Azuma’s environments. It’s up to the player to bring balance back to the world by hunting down the kemono and taking them down.
We got the chance to play a couple of battles with larger kemono and enjoyed what we saw (technical issues aside). The first one we encountered – an enormous mutated rat that gets progressively more grotesque as the battle continues – proved particularly menacing and gave us a jump when it made its presence felt by ploughing through a wall.
It’s too early to tell how flexible combat will be against a wide variety of these giant creatures, but so far everything feels similar to Monster Hunter, with numbers flying from each kemono every time you hit them and a rolling dodge move helping you get out of the way of their attacks.
The one main twist we’ve seen so far, though, is the ability to create various gizmos called karakuri, made using ancient tech. These can quickly be crafted and dropped into the game world as you explore to help you navigate the land, or during battle to give the upper hand.
The first of these is a basic crate, which can be placed on the floor then clambered upon. Multiple crates can be stacked and climbed, giving the player a large platform from which to jump off – this can be combined with an attack button for an impressive leaping strike that does great damage. This is followed by a spring that projects the player forwards in a sort of quick-dash method.
There will reportedly be a variety of karakuri to build in the final game, including weapons like bombs and ballistas.
So far we can see what EA and Omega Force are trying to do, and it’s clear even from the relatively short segment we played that there’s a lot of potential here for Wild Hearts to be a serious Monster Hunter contender. The art style is lovely, the monster designs are fantastic and the use of the karakuri gizmos could add some interesting variations to the Monster Hunter formula.
That said, we really do have to stress that the version we played was hopelessly unstable, and that our ability to properly gauge what the final product could play like was affected as a result.
Generally we tend not to point out performance issues during the preview phase of games, because developers are inevitably already aware of them and it’s therefore worth giving them the benefit of the doubt until the game is considered ‘complete’ (or at least as complete as it could be on release, pre-patches).
But from the awful ‘chugging’ of the exploration scenes, to the woeful pop-up, to the odd fuzziness in the hair and other textures, to the atrocious AI in some of the smaller creatures, to the myriad other bugs and glitches, to the fact that no matter what we tried we couldn’t get the frame rate anything close to even 30fps at some points, there’s a hell of a lot of work left to do in this one, and to close our eyes to all of it and imply through omission that everything’s running well would be inaccurate.
Wild Hearts will be one of the first EA-published games to only be available on current-gen systems, with no PS4 or Xbox One versions available. This is probably a wise move, because as it stands we’d imagine Omega Force already has enough on its plate without worrying about trying to scale it down to last-gen hardware too. There’s probably a reason why none of the official trailers have been uploaded at 60fps yet.
We remain optimistic because we really like what we see – at least on the frames that decided to show up. But come February 17 (if the game isn’t delayed), if the performance still ends up being rougher than a kemono’s hide, we’ll be less accepting.