Review: Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is a feature-packed, must-play expansion
Monster Hunter World was easily my favorite game of 2018. The monster-slaying and gear-crafting gameplay loop sunk its hooks deep in me and kept me playing long after the main story was finished. Needless to say, I kept my fingers crossed that instead of developing a straight-up sequel, that we’d instead get an expansion, building on top of the already fantastic foundation World has presented. Boy did Capcom hear my wishes because not only did they make it come true, the expansion is even better, in many ways, than I could have hoped for.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, as the name suggests, whisks players off to a brand new landmass to explore, teeming with new endemic life and of course, new, returning and updated monsters to hunt, carve and ultimately wear/wield.
Much of the core game remains the same. Your colorful cast of secondary characters are investigating strange occurrences with various monsters, which require you to then go hunt new monsters, capture or carve them, and then depending on your luck, get enough materials to craft yourself a new set of armor, or a sweet new weapon. If the gameplay loop of World had you hooked before, just know that there’s plenty more of that in Iceborne, with an expansion that is almost, if not just as long as the base game.
Of course, Iceborne isn’t without some new handy additions and tweaks. First and foremost is the brand new hub town of Seliana, which ditches the multi-tiered design of Astera, for a much more player-friendly design that allows for ease of access to every facility. While Astera was certainly more interesting to look at, especially during the early game when you’re just getting acquainted with it, late game’s constant running back and forth between the various levels just to access the Smithy, the Canteen, and then back to the Resource Center felt like a chore, and I have no doubt Seliana’s more simple design was a response to this.
That same care and attention went into the Gathering Hub as well. Previously a pointless gathering space for players to see each other now becomes a defacto hunting party gathering spot thanks to all of the outside facilities also being inside as well. That means you can craft weapons and armor, check your bounties and investigations, manage your resources and more, without having to annoying leave and come back.
Much like World brought sweeping changes to the standard Monster Hunter formula, such as eliminating the need to purchase and equip mining picks or bug nets, making each area a seamless map without loading screens, and even allowed various items to be crafted on the fly and automatically as soon as the correct items were picked up, Iceborne tweaks those changes even further in small but meaningful ways.
Crafting items through your Radial menu now allows you to craft All instead of one-by-one, a crucial change that can really help out in a pinch. A new two-player difficulty setting has been implemented as well, making it somewhat easier for two hunters to take on a monster. Bowguns can now be customized from the item box instead of needing to run back and forth from the Workshop, and there’s even a radial menu specific to the hub, for quickly accessing emotes or messages. Though it is important to note that these upgrades will be available in the base game as well once Iceborne comes out.
I get it, you’re not here to listen to me jabber about the new hub and its many quality of life improvements. I mean, it’s called Monster Hunter for a reason. I can confidently say that the monster variety, of which there is a surprising amount, is just as fun, if not more fun to hunt than in the base game.
Master Rank is essentially a brand new progression mechanic that layers itself on top of your Hunter Rank. So you’ll still be climbing HR levels as you hunt, but Master Rank levels will continually push you through the main narrative, unlocking progressively difficult fights.
The monsters there are certainly no joke. The very first monster you hunt, the Beotodus, can be quite an eye-opener for those that haven’t played the game in a while, or just beat the story and haven’t been grinding for better gear. They’re all so vastly different from one another. Banbaro, which is one of my favorite early game fights, is a giant fluffy elk that can pick up a large boulder or even a tree trunk and chase you around with it before hurling it at you with great speed.
Then there are the plethora of returning monsters, such as the Tigrex, Nargacuga, Glavenus and Brachidios, each more fierce a fight than the last. While I was mostly soloing these, I won’t deny that the first time I’ve faced the Barioth or the Nargacuga, I’ve carted multiple times as a result of their sheer relentless onslaught.
There are also various subspecies of existing monsters, such as the Anjanath, Tobi Kadachi, Pukei-Pukei, and Paolomu. While it might seem disappointing that you’ll be facing off against re-skinned enemies, trust me when I say that they each have some new mechanics and movesets, that set them apart from their standard counterparts. Coral Pukei-Pukei for instance now shoots a high powered jet stream from its mouth and tail, and as a result has a few new moves, such as a devastating rotating water blast that can be fatal if not dealt with accordingly.
Lastly, don’t discount existing monsters in Master Rank. They have a few new tricks up their sleeve as well. The game presents you with plenty of Optional Missions that will take you through the entire roster of monsters from World, so you truly get to appreciate some of the slight tweaks to their behavior.
Tying this all together is the brand new addition to your loadout, the Clutch Claw. First and foremost, it allows all 14 weapon types to freely shoot their slinger ammo, even when their weapon is drawn, a skill previously only available to the Sword and Shield. Secondly, it allows anyone to hook themselves on and subsequently wound a particular part with their weapon. Doing this visibly wounds the area, and makes it take more damage, a skill often necessary against a majority of the monsters in Iceborne.
It also makes slinger pods less trivial. Now, your opinion might differ here, but personally, I’ve only ever kept Flash Pods in my slinger, with the occasional dropped Dragon Pod or Slinger Thorn, but I never actively sought out ammo on the ground to always ensure my slinger is always loaded. This changed in Iceborne. The slinger can now fire a Burst, which expends all the ammo at once to produce a more potent shot. However, coupled with the Clutch Claw, it allows you to mount the monsters head, direct their attention toward a wall, and then Burst all the ammo to make them charge straight into the wall head-first, thus knocking them out. It’s such a useful technique with a lot of extra damage potential.
Thanks to the Clutch Claw, plenty of weapons also got some brand new combos as well. The Hammer can now combo out of a jump attack into a claw shot and immediately hook themselves on the monster. The Insect Glaive can now use the Burst ammo to supercharge their Kinsect so that it collects two extracts at once. These weapon changes are just subtle enough where learning their intricacies will open the game up to some truly awesome high-level play, but also ensure you’re not spending hours trying to relearn your favorite weapon.
Much of the fun of hunting these monsters, besides the thrill one gets of besting one, is the ability to take their parts back to town and craft some amazing looking armor out of it. Iceborne basically takes all your High Rank gear and renders it useless more or less. It’s good for the first few monster hunts but just simply looking at the stats for Master Rank shows the obvious jump in stats.
The Drachen armor, for instance, attained by farming Behemoth was widely considered to be meta in many builds, thanks to its really useful skills, its set bonus and high defense value. It was then hilarious to me, that the Master Rank Bone Armor, which is Iceborne’s easiest and arguably best starting armor to craft, has a higher defense value at base rank, than a fully upgraded Drachen armor piece. Upon seeing that, it was clear that all those build videos I watched to get me prepped for Iceborne, were all for nothing. I wasn’t upset by this at all, quite the opposite in fact. I was happy that there was no longer a meta, and that now players will need to rely on completely new armor sets to get them by, and that was exciting!
Weapons also got a similar treatment, but it’s less of a constant upgrade like it was in World. Four new weapon rarities got introduced (9 through 12) with many of the Rank 9 weapons being able to be crafted outright without needing to upgrade an existing weapon, though confusingly, this doesn’t apply to every single Rank 9 weapon in a given weapon tree. The slow burn of upgrading your weapon stems from the fact that there are now only 4 tiers of upgrades, instead of the usual 8 from the base game.
While I highly regarded World as a near-perfect game, there were a few frustrations that I was honestly hoping would get patched out after fan and critic outcry, but sadly, those same frustrations still exist in Iceborne, and they largely stem from the inability to easily play with a group while going through the game’s main story. Exactly like in World, each player is required to watch a cutscene of each monster in all of the main quests, which means that all four players need to load into a mission separately, then after each of them saw the required cutscene, three players would quit out to town, and then rejoin the fourth player. It’s the opposite of user-friendly and breaks up the pace when trying to simply go through the game and have fun.
Master Rank also greatly increases each monster’s health, which you obviously don’t really get the sense of when fighting a monster that’s new to the expansion, but it’s painfully obvious when facing off against an older monster like the Great Jagras, Anjanath, etc. Even when I feel like I’m completely pummeling a monster, I still find myself surprised after I eventually beat it, at just how long it took. Of course, it gets shorter the more you upgrade and optimize your gear, but the health pool is still a lot bigger, any way you slice it.
This all culminates in a $40 expansion that I feel could have easily been priced at $60. Sure, we do only get one new area to complement that original game’s five, but Iceborne cleverly integrates the previous areas into easily half of its main campaign, and it’s just as fun revisiting them all under new circumstances with new or returning monsters to hunt. There is so much to do, whether it’s the chunky and sizeable campaign or the plethora of things to do once the credits roll.
The icing on the cake here is that just like with World, Capcom plans to support the game post-launch, with a returning monster from past games making a grand comeback this October, Rajang, and no doubt a few more in the coming months. I have no doubt that Iceborne will flourish, just like World did before it, and given how much love, care and attention Capcom has given this game and its expansion, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for this franchise moving forward.
Once a niche title in the West, Monster Hunter is now a veritable monster, that absolutely begs to be hunted down.
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Review: Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is a feature-packed, must-play expansion