Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is more of the same.
Ordinarily, that would be a compliment coming from someone who called Monster Hunter Rise one of the best games on Switch. And Sunbreak is eventually another great expansion for another great Monster Hunter game, but it’s a little too interested in the ground it’s already tread.
Much like Monster Hunter Rise before it, Sunbreak’s quests are broken up into ranks. But instead of Low Rank and High Rank, Sunbreak offers the far more difficult Master Rank. In order to increase my Master Rank — unlocking Urgent Quests that progress the story — I need to prove my worth to the in-game characters by choosing from a variety of non-urgent hunts.
While the Urgent story quests usually introduce a beast that’s new to Sunbreak, the quests in between ask me to hunt returning monsters like Kulu-Ya-Ku, Pukei-Pukei, and Aknosom. Sunbreak is a late-game expansion, so it’s frustrating as hell that I’m still fighting monsters I already fought twice during the main game. That’s not to mention the many times I farmed them in the year leading up to Sunbreak, and the times I hunted them when Rise came to PC. At this point, I’m tired of the original game’s roster. I worked to get here, but Sunbreak still bides its time before it rewards me with cool new stuff.
So each time one of these old beasts came up as a quest option, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and pick the monster I was least sick of. Sure, Monster Hunter is all about grinding for gear and perfecting the hunt — but new challenges are what I want from expansions. And, in the beginning, Sunbreak is extremely light on new experiences.
Despite the early hunts’ familiarity, Sunbreak does ratchet up the difficulty significantly. In Sunbreak’s Master Rank, even the more innocuous monsters managed to take one or two of my three lives, forcing me to buckle down or risk a failed quest. In fact, unlike Rise’s main campaign, Sunbreak’s later hunts were difficult enough that I failed three of them — my first failures since the uber-hard Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.
It’s to Sunbreak’s great credit that I almost never felt like the game had robbed me when the screen went black and my Palico carted me away. The Master Rank monsters can do a shocking amount of damage in a single, simple blow, which certainly caught me off guard. But I always knew when I was making a risky or stupid play. Each time a beast sent me flying and I attempted to counterattack rather than heal, I felt my elbows tense up, hoping the beast wouldn’t punish my greed. More often than not, it did.
But still, like the rest of Sunbreak, this difficulty curve feels best when fighting unfamiliar critters. It’s no coincidence that my three failed hunts were all against new monsters that I’d never faced before. Not because of the learning curve, mind you, but because I didn’t mind playing overly aggressively, failing, and facing the unfamiliar Garangolm or Lunagaron again. But the idea of fighting a slightly more difficult Rajang than I had to in Rise’s campaign? I’d rather elongate the hunt to 30 minutes and play passively than have to start over again, adopting a more boring but far safer play style.
It’s a shame that Sunbreak is so aggressively exhausting in its opening hours, because each new monster is a joy to hunt. The rock-like Garangolm has elemental fists that I can break apart with my hammer, and the two new crustacean-like monsters move in unpredictable patterns because… well, they’re crabs. And of course, the vampire-like flagship monster, Malzeno, offers a satisfying challenge that’s kept me nervous but invigorated during each of our encounters — like a flying version of one of my favorite Monster Hunter hunts, Rise’s flagship monster, Magnamalo.
With so many good brawls in Sunbreak, it’s frustrating that it falls victim to one of the biggest villains in AAA video games: bloat. I’d much rather see Sunbreak offer a shorter campaign with more of a focus on new monsters, and give me the option to fight Master Rank versions of the original roster at my leisure. But instead, I spent the opening hours of the expansion bashing familiar foes, just so I could get to the good stuff. As such, playing Sunbreak feels a bit like unwrapping an exciting present covered in too much tape.
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak will be released on June 30 on Windows PC and Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Capcom. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.