After months of absence, and many more since my original Monster Hunter: World review, I slipped back into the warm embrace of the grind for Iceborne. It’s like coming home to an old friend, only they’ve grown more handsome in time, maybe a little taller? The things you once cherished in them are still there, but there’s something more, and it amplifies everything you love about them.
Why yes, I am in an extended romantic relationship with this expansion pack.
I say “expansion pack,” but what I should really be saying is “sequel.” Much like CD Projekt Red have done with The Witcher 3’s magnificent expansions, which reminded us of the days of olde when a $40 price point meant meaty content, Capcom has delivered a robust package. Not only does every existing monster get new moves, new armor and weapons, and some new variants, there are a plethora of newcomers as well.
Master Rank sees a shift from time attack Tempered Nergigante runs to do-or-die battles of attrition with dumb chickens and adorable rock-eating lizards. The fact that this new difficulty is woven so elegantly into the pacing of the new content is nothing short of a marvel. Not once was I asked to hunt an old monster in Master Rank to progress. Rather, these opportunities were optional if I wanted their gear, or for the odd side quest. Instead, Iceborne kept delivering brand new surprises up until (and following) its conclusion.
The adventure begins, as promised, in the massive new area known as the Hoarfrost Reach. My hunter waded through waist-high snow as frost clung to my steel greatsword, the beauty of the frozen landscape unrivaled in the medium. Our first target was the shark-like Beotedus, who’s razor-sharp horn and dorsal fins carve through the snow. Its grand dives sent ice and rocks hurtling upward, and I was continually amazed at the dynamic snow effects the team put together for the new zone.
The new headquarters for the wintry landscape of Iceborne is Seliana: a cozy forward operating base with warm fires and saunas. Instead of climbing those godforsaken stairs to get to the canteen or forge, everything is laid out logically and conveniently, minimizing time spent preparing between hunts. When the story sent me back to Astera, I was instantly reminded how much better Seliana was as an HQ, and groaned at myself for ever having put up with it.
The gathering hub, previously somewhere literally nobody went because it was suspended in the air with none of the necessities included, is now a perfect haven that I never want to leave. Not only can you return straight to it after a hunt, but it also features every commodity within arm’s reach: the forge, agricultural center, canteen, resource center, and quest boards. It was obviously a ghost town during my review period, but I cannot wait to see it bustling with hunters (as I know it will be) when the game releases.
Once prepared for each hunt, I was sent everywhere on the map fighting monsters new and familiar. I was certain the new subspecies were going to be reskins of existing monsters with new elemental attacks, but as soon as the Coral Pukei Pukei blasted questionably-colored liquid with the speed of a pressure washer out of its bulging tail, I was proven otherwise. These are everything but newly-modeled creatures, and they have some really interesting new attacks. Nightshade Paolumu will blow clouds of sleeping gas on the ground, then redistribute them with a flap of its tail. Acidic Glavenus wields its tail about-face like a fencer. Seething Bazelgeuse turns itself into a nuclear missile as it dive-bombs the ground, creating a mushroom cloud of pure rage.
Luckily, I never came up against a dreaded difficulty wall, but I credit this to the art team more than anything. The pure desire to get the next amazingly designed set of armor kept me grinding each new monster as it appeared, keeping me geared as a result. There’s lots of versatility in the new sets as well, as they’ve all seen a notable increase in the number of decoration (skill) slots available.
The new clutch claw, which allows the player to grapple onto monsters and create weak points, was vital in taking down more resilient foes. It feels as though monster health is largely balanced around the new mechanics of Iceborne, and while I’m sure the term “crutch claw” is already being used, it’s as vital a tool as the slinger was in the base game. Using it effectively means reading a monster’s movement, rage-state, and where a weak point is going to benefit your current weapon most. It feels like a more engaging version of traditional mounting, and I relished the added ability to guide the flow of each hunt.
Since I could go on forever about how massive this expansion truly is, here are some quick-fire observations:
- Level 4 decorations are huge, essentially allowing any set to become viable because of how flexible they can be by providing two skills in one gem
- There’s always incentive to hunt any monster you’d like — they all reward decorations and armor spheres
- New co-op scaling means player counts between one and four are no longer a detriment
- The Steamworks minigame is basically like playing slots for Monster Hunter items, and it’s great
- A new endgame activity (which I don’t want to spoil) has the potential to change the way Monster Hunter: World is played
- I would die for Grammeowster Chef
So, yeah. What do you want me to say? I spent my entire Labor Day weekend playing this thing, and the only thing I want to do while writing this is go play it some more. The constant weaving of old and new, great pacing, and added flexibility in upgrades and customization make it a near-endlessly enjoyable expansion. It’s appropriate that white powder is so prevalent in Iceborne, because I’m addicted.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game. A copy was provided by Capcom.
Iceborne retroactively enhances Monster Hunter: World while adding so much content that you could safely call it a sequel. It’s clear Capcom has perfected their winning formula.