Guilt-Free Slaying

HIGH The new mounts are a fantastic addition to the formula.

LOW Environmental slope attacks not triggering when they should.

WTF Shouldn’t there have been a Dragon’s Dogma crossover event by now?

It’s fair to say that the release of Monster Hunter World was a resounding success for Capcom’s flagship hunting series. With somewhere in the ballpark of fifteen million copies shipped (to date) and finally introducing sizable numbers of Western players to what makes their franchise so beloved in its home region of Japan, expectations were high for this first (and final) major expansion to the game. Thankfully, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne knocks it clean out of the park with a huge amount of fresh content for new and returning players alike.

Players will need to own and have completed the base game to get the most out of Iceborne‘s new content, given that it primarily takes place after the campaign of the original release, but given how successful World was at attracting and retaining new players, that shouldn’t be a problem for most. Hell, it’s the perfect time to hop in for new players as well.

So what does this expansion offer, exactly? Well, Iceborne offers a ton more monsters, loot and a truly fantastic new environment in the form of Hoarfrost Reach — it’s a beautiful arctic setting filled with new wildlife, new quirks and colossal lumbering enemies ready to rip the throats out of anyone who dares venture there. It’s also time to up the difficulty with all new Master Rank content, which is a new level of challenge roughly analogous to G-Rank from previous entries.

For anyone who feels guilty about heading into these habitats to cull the local wildlife… well, Capcom has these sensitive souls covered. The target monsters tend to be truly unconscionable bastards who routinely introduce themselves in cutscenes where they murder anything that happens to be in the immediate area. It’s guilt-free slaying at its finest. And besides, trapping the buggers earns more rewards than wiping them out.

Speaking of the monsters, there’s a lot of them to burn through. One of the first new ones introduced is a huge Mammoth-like thing that rips giant rocks and trees out of the ground and runs around pulverizing anything in its way. Later, players will contend with massive area-of-effect freezing attacks, health-melting lasers and massive scattershot explosions rupturing the earth. There are also a number of new subspecies like the Coral Palomu, which differentiates itself from the others by turning into a water spewing twizzler when provoked.

It’s a tough hike in the frozen north, but there’s help available back at the freshly-established frontier camp in Seliana. Amongst the usual shops and gathering hubs, hunters can take monster parts and turn them into sets of armor and weapons that tweak parameters players can be having trouble with. From faster healing to removing stun states, there’s a loadout for every monster and preference imaginable.

One of the larger additions to Iceborne is the Clutch Claw, a grappling hook that allows for the temporary mounting of monsters, followed by wounding them (leading to additional damage on the wounded part) or making them flinch into obstacles where they’ll wind up stunned. It’s a powerful tool which can initially be a little cumbersome to use, especially when a monster’s thrashing about so violently players wind up desperately clinging to their balls instead of their faces.

That said, pulling off a flinch shot and seeing one of these colossal beasts go speeding face-first into a wall before collapsing into a dazed heap is incredibly satisfying. It’s just a shame I spent almost as much time zipping straight into their gaping maws before being headbutted halfway across the arena…

Even better than the Claw is the inclusion of mounts, unlockable after completing an early side quest. During a hunt, players can call in local wildlife to use as an impromptu taxi service, automatically sniffing out tracks or ferrying them to target monsters and points of interest. It’s an amazing addition — when a foe takes to its heels, players can call in these buddies and give chase in automated comfort, quaffing healing potions or sharpening their weapons en route to the next showdown.

The Palicos (feline bodyguards for solo and duo Hunters) also get a set of fantastic upgrades exclusive to the Iceborne update, from healing stations that can resurrect knocked out players to a dazzling pyrotechnical display of pure murder in the form of a fireworks volcano that lures in monsters and burns the hell out of them.

So, there’s a lot to recommend this expansion and it’s hard to be disappointed with Iceborne‘s offerings. However, most of this is old news to anyone who’s played the console versions. So, how’s the PC port looking?

Well, I abandoned a three-hundred-hour save on the PS4 where all my friends were to jump ship over to the PC, and I don’t regret it for a moment. The drastically-decreased loading times completely revitalize the experience, and seeing Hoarfrost Reach running at sixty frames a second during a snowstorm is spectacular. It’s a fantastic port, and anyone with a decent PC should pick this up instead of the console versions. Double dip if need be — it’s that much of an improvement.

As far as the faults of Iceborne go, there aren’t many, but there are admittedly a few that stick out.

One of the most obvious is that players still can’t journey through the story mode together because there’s an unfathomably terrible design restriction in place that prevents Hunters from teaming up on a quest until they’ve watched a monster’s introductory cutscene. Why? Buggered if I know. The cutscenes are nice enough I guess, but they’re not so special that they should force players to repeatedly break up and rejoin their groups over and over. It was irritating before, and it’s still irritating now. For such a multiplayer focused adventure, this is a bizarre oversight.

Secondly, I don’t want to spoil the end boss encounter with too many specifics about how it operates, but many common “final boss” failures of design are present here, from camera angles that can make certain attacks impossible to see for melee users, to a huge health pool that risks making the whole thing feel like a drawn-out slog. It’s an underwhelming climax for what is otherwise a thrilling adventure.

Finally, the post game content is… eh, it’s a massive grind. The gameplay remains fantastic, but there are various factors that lock endgame gear and bosses behind a massive unavoidable timesink. To put some perspective on this, the main storyline removes the Master Rank cap at level 22 after taking down the final boss — it takes about thirty hours or so for an average player. The final, hidden boss unlocks at Master Rank level one hundred. This is, to put it mildly, somewhat excessive.

I also don’t want to say too much about the Guiding Lands, but that area of the game could definitely use some tweaks as well.

In the end, these complaints aren’t enough to tarnish the experience in any meaningful way. It’s still a lengthy, rewarding and enjoyable expansion that’s one of the best of its type, breathing new life into a base game that was still going strong in the first place. Iceborne simply cements Monster Hunter World‘s position at the top of the Hunting genre, providing one of the best and most fully-featured expansions in recent memory for a title that would already gleefully suck up hundreds of hours even in its original iteration.

Anyone who’s a fan of the series should be all-in on this expansion already, and for anyone yet to check it out… well, now may very well be the best time.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Capcom. It is currently available on .PS4, Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 160 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode (in addition to 50 hours in the PC’s base game, and around 300 total for the PS4 version) and the game was completed. The multiplayer mode was enabled at all times, and while most of my testing was spent solo on the PC version I also spent a fair amount of hunting with friends as well.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Violence. It’s pretty tame, cartoonish stuff. Players don’t even get smashed when carousing at the inn after a hunt, which is totally optional anyway.

Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Iceborne does a great job of accompanying aural indicators with on-screen warnings and prompts. While there may be the occasional enraged scream preceding a particularly dangerous attack that goes unchecked, they do a great job of catering for deaf and hard of hearing players overall. Subtitles are available throughout, but I couldn’t see a way to resize them.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls, at least on the Keyboard and Mouse setup. Controller options are the same as the console versions. LB brings up a radial menu, LT aims the slinger / clutch claw, RB sheathes the weapon or sprints. X uses items, A dodges, B interacts with items that can be collected and Y attacks. However, many of these buttons are contextual and will change use depending on the player’s current status, stance or undertaking.

Darren Forman
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