The Monster Hunter series has never been more popular than it is right now. Monster Hunter World is still hugely popular across formats and now Monster Hunter Rise has taken the Switch to new heights. Hot on the heels of this resurgence, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin sees a return to the turn-based and monster rearing mechanics of its 3DS predecessor.
The narrative suggests that this game is a very different beast, in which you work with the monsters rather than against them. As a Rider you belong to a tribe that seeks to coexist with the magnificent creatures rather than destroy them, setting you in direct opposition to the usual Hunters. In reality, the separation is far less clear, since you’ll be slicing and bashing monster’s for their body parts to craft armour and weapons just as much as the main game. Clearly, in this context, some monsters are more equal than others.
Wings of Ruin is another Switch console exclusive, making Nintendo’s hybrid machine the new home for the series. This all follows on from the highly successful 3DS games, but also means a continuation of some of the same issues. For 3DS versions it was the lack of a second analogue stick for analogue control, meaning an additional accessory was needed, whilst for Wings of Ruin it is the comparatively underpowered nature of the Switch that holds things back. I’ve been playing the game on my trusty Switch Lite, and while there was nothing game breaking or experience ruining, this did mean enduring some slowdown and frame rate issues. If you have the option, and are intending to play the game mainly at home, then it’s safe to say that the PC version is the optimal one.
You are cast as the grandchild of a legendary Monster Rider, Red, who gained fame for his valour and bravery. Setting out on your own path at the start of the game and learning the ropes, you get caught up in the unveiling of a prophecy – the birth of a Rathalos that will destroy the world with its Wings of Ruin. To prevent this from happening. you must train and care for this monster whilst fighting off the attempts of Hunters and other monsters to destroy them. This is a fairly typical JRPG backstory, albeit with a nice Monster Hunter flavour. The exploration and combat here is also pretty standard fare, and is complemented by the addition of a forging and crafting system straight out of the main series. The result is a fusion of genres and systems that creates a fantastic new blend.
Aesthetically, Wings of Ruin is a treat. The familiar monster designs are given a beautiful cel-shaded twist, and everything is bright and colourful. While it does have its share of frame rate issues on Switch it is a clear step up from playing the first game on 3dS. The UI is well designed and clear, with crafting menus and combat being easy to navigate and understand. This is particularly welcome given how much of your time will be spent on farming items and upgrading your equipment. Despite the turn-based combat, this is where the game really shows its Monster Hunter pedigree. The music is good when it kicks in, but the exploration takes place in relative silence. This is much like the main series of course but it still feels a little weird to have no tunes playing when exploring the dungeon-like environments.
In order to explore these areas you must recruit and train a series of monsters to ride. Once hatched from eggs that you’ve stolen from nests, these Monsties are instantly able to ride and fight (an exploitative aspect, like Pokemon, that’s best not thought about too much). Each monster type has species strengths and weaknesses that can be used to your advantage, as well as movement abilities that can help you to access new areas. These range from jumps to rock breaking and ensure that it is vital to keep a mix of different monsties in your team. A well balanced mix can also help in battle, as you can switch between them on the fly to get through more difficult fights. You and your Monsties share three hearts in combat so being able to quickly move an injured monster out of danger adds some welcome strategy to these battles.
Combat itself is based around a rock, paper, scissors formula with speed, power and technical attacks. Choosing the right attack requires you to learn enemy characteristics and patterns, whilst also selecting the right Monstie to accompany you. Picking the same attack type as your monstie results in powerful team attacks. As you work through the game, you’ll also learn to build up your kinship gauge and ride your Monstie in battle. This unlocks even more powerful attacks, often with an area of effect. Add in Monstie abilities and weapon skills and you have a combat system with bags of depth.
Much of this is overkill for basic battles, as these rarely provide a real challenge. Story boss battles are a different matter, though, so it pays to practice the more complex strategies beforehand. There are even Royal monsters scattered around the zones which offer an extreme challenge for those who want to push themselves. I didn’t get to try out the multiplayer and co-op options before this review, but these promise to add even more longevity to the game.
Beating monsters rewards you and your Monsties with experience and delicious loot. As with the main games, this loot can be turned into armour and weapons and is the main way of upgrading your equipment to increase your defense and damage. Upgrading these items requires more farming and crafting, continuing the loot loop familiar to series fans.
Keeping up with this can be daunting, so it’s probably best to concentrate on occasional forging and upgrades rather than trying to manage multiple item sets. I mostly made sure that I had a decent set of armour (with specific elemental protection when needed) and at most three weapons (a blunt one, a sharp one, and one other with a different elemental strength) so that I don’t get too bogged down in the grinding. If this isn’t enough to keep you busy, then you can also use the ritual of channelling to evolve and improve your Monstie’s abilities – an option that is sure to offer up some great min-maxing strategies for the more experimental player.