Monster Hunter is one of those special series where it has an ever-increasing number of fans who are incredibly passionate about the games and how they play. Monster Hunter: Rise was a bit of an odd one as a follow up to World and Iceborne, mainly because games with low and high ranks tend to be considerably easier than those with G or master rank difficulty. Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is the equivalent of Iceborne for Rise, adding a whole new town, new environments to explore, and new monsters to hunt at an ever-increasing difficulty level.
With new techniques and equipment at your disposal, you’re tasked with sailing to a new location called Elgado that is under threat from a powerful Elder Dragon named Malzeno, the leader of the Three Lord monsters of the territory. As the creature that controls monstrous leeches known as Qurio, Malzeno has been roaming the landscape and draining the life from whatever it can find, and the hunting team defeats this monster and prevents it from wreaking any more havoc in Elgado.
A lot of the story in Monster Hunter games is window dressing that gives an excuse for the gameplay, but Sunbreak does have a decent number of cutscenes that try to give it a more cinematic flair- including one particular creepy hunt where you track down a berserk Lunagaron after it slaughtered a number of equal predators. There’s also a number of special moments that might be of interest to those who enjoyed the cinematic aspects of the other fifth generation Monster Hunter games, but many of us are primarily playing these games to craft a big stick, hit a boss monster with that stick, and then turn the parts of that monster into a new stick.
Master rank is the big allure of Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak, introducing monsters with more health, who hit harder, and allows for the player to make gear out of them that will help players’ damage numbers hit higher echelons than ever before. Sunbreak’s monster roster is an all-star event, featuring a healthy combination of old and new monsters with very few misses. There are now 64 large monsters in the game, 8 of them being newcomers to the series. New subspecies of existing monsters are a great way to spin what you think you know of how to handle a monster- such as how Aurora Somnacanth eschews making hunters drowsy in favor of freezing them to death, or Magma Almudron melting the ground beneath your feet to attack you in different ways.
Even existing monsters will have new attacks, forcing you to adapt to their new nonsense with all the tools at your disposal. Thankfully, Sunbreak even offers players more tools in the form of new switch skills and Silkbinds, and the ability to switch between different loadouts of these actions while mid-combat with a monster. Not every weapon benefitted from these changes equally- Greatsword being a clear and outstanding winner with its new abilities in Sunbreak. You’re now allowed greater personalization in how you approach every hunt. Charge Blade feels especially great to play in Sunbreak, compared to base Rise, because not only does the explosive lightning the weapon releases have taller hit boxes, but you can freely switch between your Silkbinds dependent upon monster actions- you no longer have to decide between the devastating Axe Hopper and the incredibly useful Counter Peak Performance to charge up your weapon.
The general gameplay loop of Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak lies in tackling a dangerous creature that’s far more powerful than the players and whittling it down, bit by bit. Monsters become more exhausted and damaged as a hunt goes on, such as how breaking a Rathalos’s head will visibly show the damage, and possibly confer a reward to you on successful completion of the hunt. Whether you kill or capture a monster, you’ll acquire monster parts that you can use to craft items and gear that will aid you in your next hunt.
There’s just something alluring about encountering monsters, ones that are unique or familiar, collecting materials, and crafting new equipment to survive more challenging hunts. Sunbreak does rely a little bit much on monsters from base Rise in the lower ends of master rank, but it won’t take long before you’re past the crab monsters and hunting a werewolf and Frankenstein’s monster. As you rise through the ranks, you’ll constantly have the ability to craft new armor, weapons, and decorations that can confer powerful skills. There are even skills new to Sunbreak, allowing the player to sacrifice their health to deal even more damage, or recover lost health by striking a broken part of a monster.
The new maps of Sunbreak, Jungle and the Citadel, are gorgeous locales and battle arenas for the player to explore, gather, or battle a creature substantially larger than yourself. The Jungle map is originally from Monster Hunter Dos but has been seamlessly transitioned into a full-fledged fifth generation map here in Sunbreak– it’s a lot of fun to fight in areas that would have been transition zones in past games. The Citadel is just a beautiful place, comprised of three sub-zones that each differ in environment. One area is a castle full of gothic architecture that is home to Malzeno, another is a swamp that seems to be Garangolm’s stomping grounds, and the final is a snowy cavern that the icy werewolf Lunagaron stalks.
Of course, rising in ranks and hunting new monsters is fun, but what about the end game? Rise originally had a tower defense mode called Rampage that required players, at least for a time, to use siege weaponry to defend Kamura village from several invading monsters simultaneously. This mode was left entirely out of Kamura, and characters in-game even tell you the Rampage is of no threat to Elgado. Those who disliked using the mounted weaponry to acquire endgame materials can be happy that type of quest outright isn’t present in Sunbreak at all. While I didn’t originally dislike the mode, after playing 50 of them to get the guild card rewards on both Switch and PC, I pretty much never wanted to man a ballista or cannon again. Using your own gear and weapons is half the appeal of this franchise, after all.
The endgame draw of Sunbreak lies in hunting Afflicted monsters- those who were affected by the Qurio, but somehow managed to survive their life force being drained. These monsters have relatively high health, and while under the effects of bloodlust become much faster and hit a whole lot harder. Those who played Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate might recognize the bloodlust state as being very similar to the frenzy from that game, in which monsters would speed up considerably when enraged.
Afflicted monsters are actually a blast to hunt. The bloated health may be intimidating at first, but hunters can deal enough damage to cause the Qurio on the monster to “burst” and deal big damage to their host- effectively shaving off portions of the monster’s health and rewarding you for being aggressive. If an Afflicted monster hits you while it’s enraged, you may suffer from bloodblight- a dangerous condition that makes your healing items less effective but allows you to regain health by hitting the monster and rewarding careful aggression on the player’s part (somewhat like Bloodborne).
Afflicted monster materials are needed for basically every final weapon upgrade in the game in some capacity, and there’s all but guaranteed to be more added in title updates during Sunbreak’s life. Currently, the more dangerous monsters in the game can’t appear as Afflicted- yet. Additionally, there are brand new follower quests in the expansion that allow players to bring along NPCs to new hunts, so if you’ve ever wanted to hunt alongside Hinoa or Minoto, this is your chance. Generally speaking, the NPCs don’t really do much damage, but they can provide valuable crowd control like traps and status ailments.
Performance-wise, Sunbreak runs phenomenally on Switch, much like it did in the base game. The action can get quite busy with four players, their buddies, and maybe even a follower all attacking a monster at once, but frame drops aren’t super present a lot of the time. There are instances, though, where a monster may perform an attack with a large number of particle effects which causes frame drops when hunting with a full squad. It seems as though the extra players can be the issue, especially when the game pulls a solid 30 fps under the same conditions when hunting solo.
On PC, the performance is substantially better. A consistent 60 fps can be reached even on a Steam Deck on medium settings, and even older GPUs like a GTX 1070 can output 150% visual quality while maintaining 80+ frames per second at 1080 p. Of course, Sunbreak, just like Rise, doesn’t look quite as good as Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, but given that this was a game designed with the Nintendo Switch in mind, the graphics look fantastic and can be played in great quality on even aged gaming PCs.
All in all, Sunbreak is a fantastic expansion for Monster Hunter Rise, building upon everything that makes Monster Hunter great. With a plethora of new options for your weapons, armor skills, and monsters to hunt, Sunbreak is certain to show you a good time whether you wish to relax and have fun with friends, or if you’d rather push the limits of your own play skill and game knowledge by speed running. If you enjoy Monster Hunter, odds are you’ll love Sunbreak– maybe even enough to reach rank 100 on both Switch and PC in the course of a month! I am, uh, very tired.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Steam