It should come as no surprise that I was very excited to play Monster Hunter Rise. Having to wait almost a year, while being surrounded by people who were playing it on Switch was borderline torture. However, I’m glad I waited! Rise is fun as heck. The new roster of monsters contains a number of interesting challenges, and the increased mobility makes the game feel a lot more fluid than World. That said, not all of the changes in Rise were welcome. The updates to the Hunting Horn rubbed me the wrong way, and ultimately soured my experience. Bucket up, cause you’re in for the hottest of takes today.
When it comes to game balance, I feel that it’s a lesser known fact that changes are usually focused on representation, rather than power. People will debate if something is too strong or too weak until they’re blue in the face. However, developers aren’t necessarily concerned with making everything equally powerful. What they are concerned with is making sure every option is actively used. No one wants to spend time creating content only to see it go completely untouched. As a result, many balance changes are focused on making underrepresented options more attractive so players will choose them more often.
For a concrete example of this kind of change, we can look at how May was affected by the November update to Guilty Gear Strive. Prior to the patch, May’s Mr. Dolphin special attacks were extremely powerful. So powerful, in fact, that most players had little reason to use the majority of her other attacks. As such, Arc System Works made May’s dolphins slightly less effective by giving every character an easy counter to them. In addition, they also increased the effectiveness of some of May’s other tools like her neutral heavy slash, and command heavy slash. Thanks to these changes, players started using Mr. Dolphin less, and began to utilize the full breadth of May’s arsenal.
Capcom is no stranger to making these same types of representation-based balance changes in their games. With Rise being a new entry in Monster Hunter, they had the perfect opportunity to alter each of the weapons in a way that wouldn’t be totally disruptive to the playerbase. Unfortunately with less than one percent of players using it in World, the Hunting Horn was a prime candidate for receiving some radical balance changes in Rise. While these changes had the intended effect, they also changed what I enjoyed about the weapon to the point where I no longer wished to play it.
Before covering the changes, it’s important to establish how the Hunting Horn used to work. It was the closest thing Monster Hunter had to a support weapon, with a primary gimmick of playing songs to cast buffs on yourself, and your teammates. Each of the weapon’s attacks (each button press) corresponds to a note, and as you swing the weapon, said notes appear in a bar on the left hand side of the screen. Playing these notes in a set sequence would queue up a song, and using your powerful performance attack would activate the buffs associated with all queued songs. In essence, you had a weapon where optimal combos involved keeping buffs active, rather than doing the highest possible damage, and I thought that was really fun.
Unfortunately, there are two main drawbacks to playing the Hunting Horn. The first being that it is absolutely glacial. There are other slow attacking weapons in the game like the Great Sword, and Hammer, however these weapons compensate for their speed with high damage. By comparison, the Hunting Horn has relatively low damage – some of the lowest in the game. The other drawback is that no one likes playing support. This is true across every genre. Support players are always in high demand because there’s a low supply of people willing to take on these roles. The majority of players would rather do anything else.
With very few players actively playing the Hunting Horn, Capcom decided it needed a complete overhaul. They sped up the attack speed of the weapon, and dramatically increased its damage output. The buffing mechanic was also simplified. Instead of having to perform a unique combo to queue a song, you only needed to use the same attack twice consecutively. The list of songs was also halved, and buffs were cast automatically – no longer requiring input from the player. The Hunting Horn had become a modern magic flute for a modern audience.
Unfortunately, I hated almost all of these changes.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked being able to do more damage. We take damage buffs in this house. What I didn’t appreciate was how the song mechanics were streamlined. Because the songs played automatically, and the combos for queueing them were so simple, you could largely ignore this aspect of the weapon while still reaping the benefits. This actively removed my favourite aspect of the Hunting Horn. I actually enjoyed having to optimize my buff rotation, and work that into my gameplan. With how it is now, the Hunting Horn feels functionally indistinct from Monster Hunter’s other weapons.
Unsurprisingly, these changes had the intended effect. The Hunting Horn’s usage stats spiked, with around 10% of the playerbase using the weapon, proving the changes were quite effective. However, in making those updates, legacy Horn players like myself found the weapon no longer had that X factor that originally drew us in. The unique mechanic that made the Hunting Horn so fun to play in World simply wasn’t there in Rise. It may be a more fluid and powerful weapon, but personally, I’d rather play any of the other weapons. At the very least, the other weapon types have unique properties that make them special, whereas the Hunting Horn just feels generic and soul-less.
Have you ever found yourself in my shoes? Was your favourite weapon altered to the point where you no longer enjoyed using it? Perhaps your favourite character was updated in a new version of a game, and you no longer enjoyed playing them? Let me know in the comments. Misery loves company, so I’d love to hear about your experiences.