HIGH Battles on collapsing ice.
LOW Blackveil Vaal Hazak.
WTF Curious use of soprano sax in the final boss theme.
At a glance, the idea of anybody wanting more content out of something as generous as Monster Hunter World seems absurd, but this franchise attracts a particularly devoted fanbase. The 70 hours I spent on the base campaign probably looks downright paltry to the people for whom Iceborne was primarily aimed – those who dump hundreds of hours into each new entry and weep for there are no more worlds to conquer.
Centered on the new “Master Rank” difficulty level (replacing what was called “G Rank” in previous titles), Iceborne was a rude awakening for me, as I detailed previously.
The very first mission saw me wading through waist-deep snow and getting smacked around helplessly by the Beotodus — a piscine wyvern that burrows through the soil with its sharp horn poking out like a shark fin. The journey to a colder climate has heavier consequences than forcing us to sip on a hot drink every now and then – it’s a battle against elements that my opponents are unimpaired by.
While the difficulty level initially felt overwhelming, it comes with an increased upgrade cap for equipment, and once I finally got my hands on some of the new weapons and armor, I was able to break through the wall. That’s when Iceborne became the same old MHW that I know and love, with all of the quality-of-life improvements and current-gen splendor that made the core game one of last year’s best releases.
Iceborne is explicitly set after the main campaign, when a migration of Legiana to the west leads the group to discover an unexplored, frozen landmass. Much of Iceborne centers on a new region called the Hoarfrost Reach. Although it’s only one area, it’s massive and dynamic, and its standout feature is an arena where thin ice breaks beneath the player’s feet, sending them tumbling into the network of caves below.
Although none of the features added in Iceborne fundamentally transform the series’ core gameplay loop, we get plenty of new toys and systems that give this expansion a flavor of its own.
For many players, the most significant addition will be the clutch claw, which is a grappling hook that can be used to mount staggered enemies. Since my weapon of choice – the insect glaive – is already mount-friendly, I didn’t personally get much use out of the claw, but it’s bound to open up a world of possibilities for less mobile classes. And, in a bold departure from Monster Hunter tradition, the claw actually has a decent tutorial.
The claw is an extension of the slinger, which itself has been substantially upgraded. Players can now fire the slinger without having to sheathe their weapons, and that integration plays into many of the new techniques that have been added to each weapon type. Slinger bursts can be fired while charging the hammer or guarding with the charge blade, for example. Weapons like the bow and great sword get improved special attacks. With my glaive, I could now spend slinger ammo to enable my kinsect to collect two different types of nectar simultaneously, which meant that I spent less time buffing and more time on the offensive.
I could ramble on for paragraphs about some of the smaller changes, from the new HQ and cosmetic options for equipment, to the crucial fact that the difficulty now scales back down when another player leaves a mission. However, at the end of the day, the monsters are always the main attractions, and Iceborne maintains the status quo.
The expansion kicks off with two brand-new targets right out of the gate – the aforementioned Beotodus and the Banbaro, an antlered creature that plows over players with uprooted trees. Old favorites like Brachydios and Tigrex show up looking better than ever, and having skipped Generations, this was my introduction to the Glavenus, which uses its bladed tail to engage in what can almost be called fencing matches. A new Elder Dragon that can command water gets a chilling introductory sequence that easily ranks among the best of the series.
If there’s any disappointment, it’s in how many of the “new” monsters are variants on encounters we’ve already seen in the core campaign. Familiar faces like the Anjanath or Tobi-Kadachi return with only color changes and remixed elemental affiliations to distinguish them. The one reskin that feels substantially different is the Blackveil Vaal Hazak, and it’s not an improvement – its aggressiveness with the effluvia status ailment felt downright unfair and brought Iceborne to a lengthy halt for me.
Anyone who’s glimpsed this expansion’s marketing is likely aware that an ice dragon called Velkhana plays a significant role in the story, though I’m delighted to report that Capcom hasn’t shown its full hand. Iceborne’s true final encounter is weird and spectacular. Unlike the underwhelming Zorah Magdaros battles in the original campaign, it raises the scale of what we’re used to in Monster Hunter without undermining the intricacies of the combat itself.
Once that’s dealt with, Capcom went above and beyond with Iceborne’s postgame content, hiding an entire second new area behind the credits. I’d be spoiling the surprise to describe the region or how it integrates multiplayer in a manner that I don’t believe the series has done before, but it’s remarkable that after this much time spent on both the main game and its expansion, I’m still unearthing entirely new mechanics. It cements Monster Hunter as a franchise that just keeps on giving.
It’s amazing how much real estate Capcom has squeezed out of a formula that’s never really seen any major overhauls. Having recently broken through to Western audiences after years of wondering whether we had the patience for it, Iceborne feels like a victory lap, and a declaration that Capcom can continue spinning this wheel forever and we’ll never stop lapping it up — and that’s not a criticism. Anyone with the skill to take this content on already knows that they’ll never tire of any of this. Iceborne may not be a game-changer, but it’s hard for me to imagine this expansion letting anyone down.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Capcom. It is currently available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PlayStation 4. Approximately 55 hours of play were devoted to the expansion, and the game was completed. The entirety of that time was spent with the game’s online functionality enabled.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Violence. Monster Hunter is obviously a game about battling fantastical creatures, but it’s relatively tame and almost entirely bloodless. The profanity is strictly PG-level and the game barely makes mention of drinking, let alone glamorizes it. I can’t imagine parents having any reservations about letting children watch or play this game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled and sound cues serve no important function in the game. I played long stretches with the sound off and had zero trouble.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. Players use X to jump, Circle to interact, Square to use items, L1 to bring up the radial menu, and L2 to ready the slinger and clutch claw. Circle, Triangle, R2 and L2 are all used for various attacks and combos when a weapon is drawn.