The original Monster Hunter Rise was a great entry point for newcomers to the series and a fine evolution for longtime fans. However, once the endgame finally dropped, a problem began to surface. The challenging monsters players wished for turned out to be pushovers, the endgame loop was a mind-numbing and boring collection of overly tedious Rampages, and the frustratingly small roster of Apex monsters made the game feel stale. However, many of these issues didn’t arise until the game was content-complete (and long after I reviewed it). Throughout the post-launch updates, there was always a sliver of hope that Capcom would release more varied content and exciting new monsters, but even as the famed Crimson Glow Valstrax crashed into the earth, the disappointment was meteoric.
With Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak announced, I was cautiously optimistic. As I crept past the triple digits in the base game, it was hard to have any faith that Capcom would listen to the community’s complaints. One common criticism was that the monsters were simply too easy. They rarely, if ever, stood up to all the new tools that hunters received. At times, it felt like playing a fighting game against a CPU that never really fought back. Yet, Monster Hunter Rise felt terrific to play. It wasn’t that we wanted fights to take longer or enemies to hit harder; it was that we wanted something to challenge our new tools. With that, I am happy to say that Capcom seems to have listened to feedback, as Sunbreak shattered my expectations and resolved the majority of my complaints.
As an expansion, Sunbreak takes place shortly after the events of Monster Hunter Rise. While the story in Monster Hunter games is never anything to rave about, it’s the characters themselves that can make or break the story. Although the story beats of Sunbreak are similar to Monster Hunter World: Iceborne in many aspects (and by extension every MH game), the primary characters are far more interesting this time. One such character is Dame Fiorayne: a terse and strong woman who fights to protect the kingdom. Players complaining about the Handler in Monster Hunter World will be happy to know that Fiorayne partakes in battles and shares the stage with the player character. Fiorayne is, by all accounts, a total badass.
One of Sunbreak‘s more notable additions is the ability to take NPCs such as Fiorayne out on hunts with you because players can unlock Follower quests alongside Support Surveys. The former are typically duo hunts in which the player and one NPC can tackle a quest, while the latter allow for more freedom on who tags along. Each NPC has their own style and demeanor, meaning that some may be more aggressive and never heal while others may focus on defense. Having NPCs joining the player in combat is a novel touch, though it’s most appreciated during urgent quests when Fiorayne tags along. The best part is that Fiorayne can join in multiplayer urgent quests, along with her own palamute. This means that, with four players and four buddies (palicoes or palamutes), some encounters end up being ten versus one.
With dogs, cats, and heavily armed hunters flying all over the screen, there is significant chaos arising in Sunbreak. Lightning bolts from elemental discharges rip across the sandy beaches while blades glow red as they clash against monster claws. The visual spectacle of Sunbreak, while largely in line with the base game’s art style, is still quite impressive. As an expansion, there hasn’t been much in the way of visual upgrades on the technical side. However, the new locales, armor, weapons, monsters, and abilities make Sunbreak simply look better overall. Although it’s not quite the fidelity powerhouse of Monster Hunter World (and Iceborne by extension), it’s still a visual treat.
New locales added to Sunbreak include the returning fan favorite: Jungle. Longtime players like myself will remember this map from the PSP game Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. Seeing this map completely remade (and finally connected into one cohesive map) ticks the nostalgia boxes and creates an air of excitement as fond memories and curious unknowns clash. As sand-strewn beaches lead into murky caves and eventually climb into craggy hills lined with trees, it speaks volumes to the quality of the world and map design of modern Monster Hunter games. To have everything mesh together so seamlessly is an impressive feat.
The second map — The Citadel — is completely new. It’s a massive area containing multiple biomes, and the scale is surprising. While we’re used to finding ancient ruins of long-lost civilizations in Monster Hunter games, we don’t often come across a kingdom that has recently fallen. In Sunbreak, the Citadel has a significant role in the story — past, present, and future. Upon first reaching the map, one might be in awe at the zone’s sheer size. Yet the most impressive piece is uncovering what’s in each area of the site. As I uncovered the foggy areas and roamed about, I was constantly met with something new and exciting, most notably the fallen castle on the northwestern side of the map. Exploring the ruined houses and crumbling walls of a castle reminded me of exploring the worlds of the Dark Souls series and wondering what life was like before this world had ended.
While visuals and maps are significant pieces of the Monster Hunter games, the most important aspects are the monsters themselves. Sunbreak adds seventeen monsters to the roster. Three of these new monsters have an inspired design that works wonderfully with the light horror themes of Sunbreak. The flagship monster Malzeno’s aesthetic is heavily inspired by vampires. With his wings that act as a cape, his life-leeching moves, and blazingly fast movement, every battle with Malzeno feels like a clash with Dracula himself. Yet Malzeno isn’t the only horror-themed monster, for Lunagaron fills the role of an icy werewolf. While seemingly unthreatening at first when all four paws are on the ground, Lunagaron quickly becomes a terrifying foe once he stands up on his hind legs and extends his claws.
With vampires and werewolves checked, Garongolm fills the role of Frankenstein (or Frankenstein’s Monster if you want to get pedantic). At first, he seems like a gentle soul that only wants to be left alone, but something has enraged him. Before long, he’s powering himself up and throwing bits of the arena about while using his fiery fist to launch himself across the area. While I mention Frankenstein due to his appearance, it’s his use of mossy earth on one hand and fiery coal on the other that ties the aesthetic together. The mismatched nature of the elements evokes a haphazardly strung-together monster, though his design also brings to mind the concept of a golem. Finally, we have the final boss, but that’s a visual spectacle I’d rather leave as a surprise. The one thing I will say, however, is that it’s quite possibly Monster Hunter‘s best setpiece battle to date.
One of the most notable improvements from Monster Hunter Rise is just how well these monsters fit into the world. The new maps are the perfect homes for a large swath of monsters, and it feels like they actually live there. One of my primary issues with that title was that monsters just felt like visitors. The world didn’t feel particularly alive, and it never really felt like you were walking through a natural biome and interacting with the world. Monster Hunter World, however, mastered this feeling. In Rise, it was disappointing to run through the shrine ruins and feel like Rathian didn’t belong there or cross the sands and stumble upon a Basarios who felt like it was out of its element. With Sunbreak, it feels like you’re fighting the monsters on their turf this time.
To address these lamentations of Monster Hunter Rise‘s lack of difficulty, Sunbreak has hit the sweet spot. While some monsters do still hit the dirt within less than ten minutes, the battles themselves are more exciting. They no longer feel like a one-sided slugfest out of the gate but instead offer a much more challenging experience. Monsters feel like they’ve truly leveled up with the hunter in Sunbreak, as many creatures have new moves, extended combos, and additional abilities in their repertoire. I wanted monsters to have longer combo strings that would force me to decide on countering, dodging, blocking, running, or risking it all for a big hit. It’s safe to say Sunbreak delivered.
The new Switch Skills add a lot of mechanical variety and complexity to the game, but the ability to swap Switch Scrolls (see: loadouts) on the fly is a true game changer. The fights have become far more dynamic on both sides of the field. Monsters change gears as they enter enraged states and the flow of battle may become faster or slower. Knockdowns, traps, and stuns may create ample opportunities to unleash huge combos and punish near misses by monsters. The ability to change your style on the fly is a fantastic addition, ensuring the hunter can chase fast monsters with quicker moves or swap to harder-hitting abilities once the opening arises. In addition, the new skills introduced have drastically increased the playstyle options available to hunters. Practically everything is viable, and this time around, the skills are entertaining and interesting to mix together.
While Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is a clear step up from Monster Hunter World and Iceborne on the gameplay front, it’s still lacking that overall sense of awe and wonder. Part of this is due to the visual fidelity, as many maps feel somewhat empty thanks to the lack of foliage. This is a tradeoff, however, as both Sunbreak and the base game run wonderfully on PC (and quite well on Steam Deck). There is a noticeable ‘washed out’ foggy look to the environments, especially in the original maps. Additionally, some of the battles don’t match up to some of Monster Hunter World and Iceborne‘s more iconic battles that felt like dramatic struggles against a terrifying foe. There are a few missteps with Sunbreak, one of which is the post-game Anomaly quests. While the endgame is worlds better than Monster Hunter Rise‘s rampage farming, the inflated HP values of basic monsters feels like a bit of overkill. All that aside, Sunbreak feels incredible to play, and that’s one of the crucial pieces of a Monster Hunter game.
On the audio front, the music is fairly impressive once you get to hear it. However, you might be focused solely on the monster and all the explosions going off. That said, the quiet moments are when Sunbreak‘s soundtrack shines a little more. Like the base game, the town theme is a pleasant treat with soothing guitars and violin that feel straight out of an Atelier game. In combat, each monster has its own theme that adds an exciting flair to the battles, though it may take some listening to the songs outside of combat to get a real appreciation for the aural mastery of the Capcom sound team.
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak fixes many of my complaints that popped up after extensive time with Monster Hunter Rise. Monsters have far more tools and can match the hunter in most instances, new armor skills ensure that builds and playstyles are varied and viable, and the maps and monsters themselves are fantastically exciting. For anyone on the fence about Sunbreak due to disappointment with the base game, this expansion is for you. For those who loved the base game, Sunbreak is a no-brainer. It has something for everyone, from longtime fans to newcomers who just started with Rise. As I said in the review for the base game, Monster Hunter Rise is a great way to lose a couple hundred hours of your life. With Sunbreak, you might want to say farewell to a couple hundred more.