The Monster Hunter series has a long and rich history of providing massive new expansions for their base games in the form of harder difficulties, new monsters, gear, move sets and more. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is the first and only huge expansion and it is no exception. While it doesn’t veer too far off-course from everything that made World one of the best and most wholesome gaming experiences of yesteryear, it brings with it a wide range of superb improvements and additions to an already staggering amount of content. Iceborne once again sets the bar for what all action-RPGs should aspire to be, and further solidifies Capcom as a juggernaut in the industry.
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Iceborne kicks off directly after the events of World, Capcom required players to have completed the base game’s story. Your custom-created Hunter finds themselves swept up on a new adventure far from the shores of Astera, primarily taking place in the newly discovered region, the Hoarfrost Reach. The frozen tundras of the icy landscape bring with it a gripping mystery surrounding the appearance of a powerful new Elder Dragon, Velkhana, who has drastically altered the environment and monsters in her wake. Players must get to the bottom of the threat while encountering a wide assortment of increasingly stronger monsters to slay in order to craft new gear. Rinse and repeat, as per the Monster Hunter formula.
At first glance, Iceborne can be quite overwhelming. The many new big changes, such as the Clutch Claw mechanic and a greater focus on elemental skills, forces players to adjust but it doesn’t take long to get into the swing of things. The Clutch Claw is a nifty new tool that allows players to grab onto any targeted part of a monster’s body and deal instant damage. This also serves the purpose of tenderizing those parts as weak points, leaving monsters open to greater damage.
Since World’s element-less weapons were king, Capcom decided to tweak and significantly buff elemental abilities in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. This is a fantastic and welcomed change as I only ever used one meta build in World, but now, I find myself constantly adjusting builds to counter a monster’s elemental blights while buffing my own.
The new region, Hoarfrost Reach, is among the largest and vivid maps in World. Snowy mountainous peaks, melting ice caps, hidden networks of caves and frozen lakes all paint a picturesque landscape that’s equal parts beautiful and deadly. The strongest monsters in the game can be found roaming these lands, which might deter players from exploring the hidden secrets and easter eggs sprinkled around the region (of which there are many I have yet to uncover).
The Hoarfrost Reach comes with its own environmental hazards, such as collapsing cliffsides that can send monsters tumbling to the icy depths of the ocean below, or ice that cracks over frozen lakes, making traversal quite dangerous in some sections. Thankfully, Capcom found a way to balance Iceborne’s journey by having the other half of the story take place on pre-existing maps in World, ensuring Hoarfrost Reach’s sense of wonder and mystery is never dulled or exhausted.
Of course, no Monster Hunter expansion would be complete without talking about the new difficulty, Master Rank. Much like the G-rank difficulty levels before, Master Rank imposes a greater challenge than we’ve ever seen in World. Over two dozen new and returning monsters in the form of variants and subspecies roam World’s enormous regions. For the uninitiated, most might feel like reskins of already existing monsters, but in keeping with tradition for Monster Hunter, they’re not lazily designed by any means.
Each Master Rank monster comes with a punishing new move set and ailments. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is no walk in the park, and even after sinking hundreds of hours into World, I still found myself failing quests to a few incredibly tough encounters (Barioth, I’m looking at you).
Iceborne welcomes a long list of returning monsters, as well as new ones – and they’re just as challenging as one might expect from the notorious G-rank. These include the creeping cat-like wyvern, Nargacuga; the brutish velociraptor, Tigrex; the fiery Glavenus with a gigantic flaming sword for a tail; the rage-inducing invader, Savage Deviljho; everyone’s favourite thunder wolf, ZInogre; and much more. Variants and subspecies of existing monsters also impose quite a challenge, even if they feel familiar. In particular, Viper Tobi-Kadachi inflicts both paralysis and poison ailments, meaning it becomes a test of patience and perfectly timed dodging rather than an all-out assault that we’re so used to seeing in World.
Capcom has truly outdone themselves when it comes to the new monsters present in Iceborne. The flagship Elder Dragon, Velkhana, is a beautifully designed beast with a fight that constantly keeps you on your toes. You’ll encounter her several times throughout the story, but you’ll never become too familiar with her patterns as Iceborne has ingenious ways of changing the tides.
Your two entry-level monsters in Master Rank, Beotodus and Banbaro, do well to introduce you to the new mechanics. Banbaro is an especially tough early encounter for those who don’t utilize the new skills and elemental exploits to their fullest potential. Without spoiling some of the harder monsters later in the game, one, in particular, is a mesmerizing dance of water and lightning, and easily one of the best-designed fights in Monster Hunter history.
You’ll spend a lot of time in your new base of operations, the serene calm of Seliana. Unlike Astera which stacked key locations and NPCs on multiple floors, making traversal a bit of a slog, Seliana is all laid on a horizontal plane, with every important NPC just a few steps away from each other. This small but impressive improvement to the layout of your base makes Seliana a warm and inviting home, despite the freezing temperatures. Capcom clearly took fan feedback into consideration and crafted a more efficient experience outside of the hunt. The cherry on top of the cake is the newly introduced hot springs, where you can take a dip with your palico and play around in the baths. Needless to say, it’s absolutely adorable and worth the price of admission alone.
We typically expect quality in the soundtrack department for the Monster Hunter series, but composer Akihiko Narita and the team have crafted a phenomenal musical experience for Iceborne. The main theme, a soulful composition of violins and piano, never failed to send chills down my spine whenever I booted up the game. Seliana’s stunning fantasy-themed score is another standout, with the calming piano and flute melodies lifting your spirits to prepare you for your next big adventure. I can’t recommend the soundtrack enough and urge those seeking out great video game scores to really consider listening to Iceborne’s magical prowess.
As great of an expansion as Iceborne is, it does come with a few minor setbacks that hold it back from achieving perfection. A major issue with World’s weapon design is still very much prevalent in Iceborne. Only a handful of weapon trees actually retained their older designs, but sadly most of the weapons are lazy attempts at reskinning bone or steel armour with only touches of each monsters unique attributes. For some, this may not be a problem, but it became a personal glaring issue for me once I reached the endgame and discovered that some of my favourite weapons from prior games had been vastly undermined. The same applies to certain armour sets, but World’s designs were appealing enough that it shouldn’t be a setback for returning fans. Thankfully, many of the new armour sets are gorgeous and worth the extra grind. Fashion hunters, you’re in safe hands.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is a shining example of how modern expansions should be done and Capcom achieved greatness with this one. With a sizeable amount of content to almost rival the base game, Iceborne in many ways feels like a fully-fledged sequel to World. A large assortment of quality of life improvements and new features build upon already fantastic gameplay mechanics, while the new environments are inviting and well-designed. Unfortunately, some lacklustre weapon designs hold it back from being perfect, but it’s undoubtedly still the best expansion in the Monster Hunter series – and that’s saying something. If World was first the pick for last year’s RPG of the Year, Iceborne puts it firmly in the position to be one of the best RPGs of the decade.
This Monster Hunter World: Iceborne review was based on a sample sent to us by Capcom. Check out our coverage on the series here.
Available On: PS4, Xbox One | Reviewed On: PS4 | Release Date: 6 September 2019 | Price: R770