Monster Hunter Rise broke into the monster hunting scene back in 2021 for the Nintendo Switch, and for PC in January this year. Existing as an evolution of the improvements made to the series in Monster Hunter: World, Rise proved to be yet another great stride into bringing Monster Hunter from the depths of an aged, cult-like niche to a more contemporary standard and a wider audience. Its expansion DLC, Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak, aims to up the ante in a similar way to what Iceborne did for World. While it definitely is a solid addition to the game, Sunbreak waits far too long to show its best features.
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak sees the Kamura Hunter leave their stomping grounds and venture to the land of Elgado (not affiliated with the company that makes capture cards and the stream deck – that’s Elgato). The region has been observing bizarre, aggressive behaviour from the monsters in the area, and there have even been cases of some monsters migrating from Elgado to Kamura. Something is causing these monsters to behave unpredictably, and it is your job to assist the people at Elgado to figure out what is wrong.
Right off the bat, Sunbreak immediately introduces you to one of its biggest changes, which has to do with the Switch Skill system. Those that have played Rise will already be well versed in what the Switch Skill system is, and how it functions. This system is slightly expanded upon, allowing for more customisation and flexibility. There are now five Switch Skill slots to customise, which change all different kinds of weapon combos and behaviours. This is really cool, and really nice to see. On top of this, you can have two sets of Switch Skills, and they can be changed back and forth during a hunt through a simple button combination. What’s interesting is how you can clearly tell what the intent of certain skill combinations is. For instance, with the Longsword, you can get a feel for what actions build your spirit gauge and what actions consume it – the choices available means that there are even more ways to play your preferred weapon.
Sunbreak is a slow burn. It paces its additions quite slowly, which will likely be quite grating for some people. Compared to World’s Iceborne expansion, Sunbreak doesn’t feel like it has much to show. You will spend most of your time hunting the same monsters you have been hunting since 2021, and you will spend a good chunk of your time in the same areas. This feels like a stark contrast to Iceborne which was constantly throwing new things at you. To clarify, I consider a monster that has previously existed in the series but is being reintroduced in the DLC to be new, for the purposes of the game – Astalos being a prime example. I’d say over the course of 20 separate hunts, five of them were against new monsters. The big shame is that I actually enjoyed all the new monsters brought in with this expansion, but like Oliver Twist I needed more. Whether it be the returning monsters like Gore Magala, or the new Elder Dragon Malzeno (whose soundtrack is to die for), every new monster I fought felt like a wholly unique encounter that no other monster in the game previously was able to offer – a boon for having variety in the gameplay. The previously mentioned Malzeno is arguably my new favourite Elder Dragon, aside from maybe Valstrax in Generations Ultimate (not the Rise version). Its moveset and abilities are thematically perfect for the inspiration behind it (we’re talking vampires and the like). While not knowing this inspiration before getting thrown around, my immediate response once the monster was defeated was that someone clearly played Bloodborne recently, which is not that far removed from its theming. I’ll not say exactly what move it was that got me, but when I saw it happen I thought to myself “that’s not fair” in the most endearing way possible; I wasn’t expecting it to pull that move out of its arse.
If you were to drop Sunbreak during its story because you just felt like it wasn’t doing enough to keep this new or fresh, that would be fair. It absolutely relies on what already exists in Rise and tries to expand on it. Every monster in Rise sees an upgrade in Sunbreak’s Master Rank, and a lot of these changes are really cool. I always enjoyed seeing how monsters I was familiar with would find ways to punish my familiarity at this level of play with their new moves, and Sunbreak is no different.
The worst part about Sunbreak insisting on spending so much time with previous stuff is that when it finally plays its new hand, you realise how good it actually is. I’ve already spoken about how much I loved fighting Malzeno, but its story also follows an overly slow pace too. Ever since World, Monster Hunter has enjoyed trying to focus more on a direct story to help guide the players through its early stages, easing them into the higher end of monster hunting. Once you hit a point in the story where it really picks up, that is where you start to see more and more of the new monsters and tricks that have been implemented into Sunbreak. You spend more time in the new locales at this point and things feel so much better; it begins to really feel like an expansion.
In terms of the actual story, it’s nothing to write home about, but it is still very much enjoyable. Like Iceborne, it’s a story filled with intrigue. Unlike Iceborne, it doesn’t focus on developing a contentious character and rather focuses more on world building (pun intended), making sure that you understand the history of the landscape around you and how it ties into the characters you know and love. There are, of course, lore pieces that can be found throughout the new locales, and I am still far too terrible to find them all.
Once you beat the story, it’s possible to feel a sense of, “Is that it?” Thankfully, that isn’t it! Rise had a big issue of relying on its gimmicky Rampage mode to be its endgame, but I’m happy to say that Rampage has nothing to do with Sunbreak’s endgame whatsoever. Rather, endgame quests are called Anomaly Quests. For people that played Generations, these are basically like Hyper monsters. Occasionally the game will highlight spots on a given monster. Dealing enough damage to these spots will cause them to detonate and deal a solid chunk of damage to your target. Sometimes these spots are easy to get to, other times they are hard to reach. Properly engaging with this mechanic will yield great results, as you can down tough monsters with ease.
The part I was not quite expecting with Anomaly Quests is how they made them relevant for gearing. Rather than make some silly, arbitrary, absurdly RNG-based grind like World’s tempered hunts, monsters hunted in Anomaly Quests will reward anomaly materials, which are used in upgrading weapons to their maximum level. How many weapons can reach the max level of Rarity 10 you ask? Try basically all of them. This is insane. I am very keen to see how the playerbase builds their sets around being able to use virtually any weapon under any upgrade tree that they like. It’s normal that there will be some weapons that are used more than others, but this change at least makes it so that you aren’t so far behind if you choose form over function (guilty as charged).
As for the new areas themselves, they are really fun. There are two new locales that you will explore – Jungle and Citadel. Jungle is a reprised version of the Jungle map from the days of classic Monster Hunter, and Citadel is a brand new map which ties into the story of Sunbreak. Of course, I feel very comfortable in the Jungle map, as I spent quite a lot of time there during my time playing Generations Ultimate, but the new Citadel map is also stellar. In a lot of ways, it feels like a classic Monster Hunter map as all its connecting channels are quite self-contained. The maps in Rise in general have a wider breadth of flow and scale, but Sunbreak reduces its scale by creating numerous channels that are covered by high walls. The biomes within this one locale are surprisingly varied too.
Now for the music. We all know that Monster Hunter has some bangers in its various soundtracks, and while that trend continues here, there are two that I want to highlight for opposing reasons. We’ll start with the one that bums me out – Astalos. This electric menace from Generations (part of the beloved Fated Four) had one of my favourite monster soundtracks when I fought it in Generations. The motif is fast, and the harshness of the notes helped convey a very frantic environment, which perfectly suited the erratic, agile flying wyvern. Sunbreak’s rendition just doesn’t cut the mustard. A lot of its dynamics and expression are just removed for a flatter version which focuses on trying to be grandiose, losing its identity in the process. In a weird way, it’s the music equivalent of how World focused on being too serious and realistic, forgetting that the quirk and charm of Monster Hunter is what made the games so special, but that’s a discussion for another day. I think I might have to mod the classic soundtrack in for that feeling of panic again. On the other end is the previously mentioned Malzeno soundtrack. This is one of the most thematically perfect soundtracks to a monster I’ve ever heard. I’d almost argue that playing through the entirety of Sunbreak is worth it for just this alone, it’s that good.
My biggest problem with Sunbreak has to do with its slow pacing. I’ve already discussed how this expansion holds its cards way too close to its chest. There hits a point where the game just throws all the new Switch Skills at you, which just feels bizarre. By this point, you’ve more than likely already settled into how you are going to play for the rest of the story and you can either choose to see how these new skills work for you in hunts, or you can keep going and progress the story. It can be tough to do both because it’s far enough into the story that the game begins to properly test you; the monsters beyond this point hurt. It’s such a weird way to handle giving the player new tools in a game that previously did such a good job at making these things available to the player at the right time.
I loved my time with Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak. Its pacing is a little slow and ponderous, forcing the player to engage with the same content that they have been doing since the base game’s release, but what’s at the end of the road is a really compelling experience. As someone who was disappointed in the endgame for Rise, Sunbreak offers a great set of systems and mechanics to keep me satisfied for many hours past the credits. It may be really slow for a while, but I promise the payoff at the end is worth it.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Switch / PC
- June 30, 2022