The mainline Monster Hunter series has seen a number of quality of life changes over the past few years, but even with those changes, the series is difficult to sell for newbies. On the flip side, the 2017 Monster Hunter Stories sequel could be the perfect driveway for those looking to get started on the hunt. In Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, monstie riders are people who establish connections with monsters and entrust them to fight by their side in battle. The Stories series focuses more on narrative and monster collection, transforming the epic monster confrontations into turn-based RPG battles, although players can still expect a lot from the franchise’s signature strategy and planning.
The Stories series differs from games like Monster Hunter World or Monster Hunter Rise in that the action is limited to strategic turn-based battles, which translate the hunting experience of the franchise wonderfully. Combat has rock-paper-scissors rules in which you and your monstie counter enemy attack types and choose between speed, power and technical attacks. Learning a monster’s attack types is key to survival as well as learning the types of weapons that affect every part of a monster. Monster Hunter series veterans will be well versed in the ins and outs of this system, but Stories does a great job of explaining the intricacies to newbies. Your character is the only fully controllable party member, but Stories makes that possible. Monsties act on their own, choosing their own attacks and abilities in combat, unless you assign them a specific ability. Whether I’m switching weapons in the middle of a battle, running a quick-time event, or targeting parts of a monster, I always feel like I have something to do and make a difference in battle. Kinship Skills are basically super attacks that allow you to jump on your monstie’s back and unleash awesome, flashy attacks that add lots of fun moments to the battles and show the full personality and power of each monstie.
Monsters really are the star of this show, and Wings of Ruin brings plenty of series favorites to fight and collect. Of course, the mainstays of the Rathalos, Nargacuga, Diablos, and Urugaan series are here, but also some fancy monsters like the bright yellow and orange lemur-like creature Kecha Wacha and my favorite toothy pale creeper, Khezu. I love how stories feel like an alternate version of a traditional monster hunter but the main form of your character’s progression remains tied to their equipment. Defeated monsters drop items that can be used to create radical looking weapons and armor, each with their own special properties. While experience and character levels add to your success in battle, the biggest difference is your equipment. I enjoy determining exactly which monsters to target in the wild in order to build the next gear that will help me defeat larger enemies, although having the right monsties by your side is also important.
Monsties are not captured in battle, but collected by hatching eggs from the nests in monster caves. You don’t have to defeat a monster to collect eggs, but defeating monsters in combat can cause them to retreat to their cave, almost guaranteeing egg discovery. The rewards of a cave are great, which makes it seem exciting to venture into, but these areas are mostly empty, boring, and repetitive, which makes collecting eggs a hassle.
One of the coolest aspects of Stories 2 is Genes, which gives players the ability to tweak Monsties in fundamental ways. Each monstie can have a total of nine genes, which give different stat boosts or special movements. Genes can be transferred from one creature to another to give monsties attacks or elemental traits that they would otherwise not have. I loved making wild, unique, and even fun combinations, like an Anjanath hitting enemies with ice attacks or a Tigrex farting poisonous gas. This system was also helpful in eliminating weaknesses in my Monstie group by rounding off their potential attack types or strengthening existing ones. Genetic engineering can add a lot to your time with Wings of Ruin, especially if you want to face other horsemen and monsties in competitive multiplayer battles.
Multiplayer has some fun ideas, but the scope is a bit limited. You can play online with friends or random people in two different ways. First, there is head-to-head fights where you can put your genetically enhanced monsties to the test by facing other drivers in one-on-one or four-player team fights. You can take on monsters with co-op quests and explore caves with friends. You won’t be walking around on the single player world map, but areas that are designed like dungeons. Players can take on monsters side by side, mimicking the combat comrades who travel with you in the main scenario. Co-op missions aren’t that varied at this point as there aren’t many quest options to choose from, but I like the option of spending some time collecting eggs and defeating monsters with a friend.
Your character, the descendant of a legendary horseman named Red, travels with Navirou, a talkative Feyline, and Ena, a Wyvernian with ties to Red. Your goal is to uncover the secrets of a special monstie named Razewing Ratha, whom you inherit, who is said to have the power to destroy the world by flapping his wings. Your journey will take you through golden fields, snow-capped mountains, vast deserts and molten volcanoes, each with their own roaming monsters to fight and collect. Each area has a hub where you can craft your gear and collect quests for extra money and resources. This narrative begins with a bang, but quickly hits the brakes and doesn’t start again until the back half. Much of the story revolves around the responsibility of having Ratha’s immense power by your side and that it’s not inherently good or bad. Some of these moral lessons fell flat on me, and I find many of the early flashbacks unappealing to some of my partner characters. Stories 2 is best when it comes to the conflicts of the present, be it a goofy scenario with Navirou or the incredible action surrounding Ratha and the mysterious glowing energy pits dotted across the country.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin storyline may not ignite the world, but it is a fun experience that can get new players used to the great elements of the Monster Hunter series. Combat encounters are full of rich strategy, and collecting monsties and customizing gear made me want to come back even after the credits. If you’ve been curious about Monster Hunter but feel intimidated by the main series, Stories 2 could be exactly the entry point you’re looking for.