These days a full expansion for a game is a rare thing. Most of the time if a game receives content updates, it’s as part of a season pass or some live service scheme. I’m so used to small bits trickled out at an irregular pace that I’m a bit taken aback (in a good way) by Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. Instead of just one new monster and some clothes or something lame like that, Capcom has elected to go old school and give us something more akin to Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction or The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine.
MHW: Iceborne adds a whole new ice-themed region called Hoarfrost Reach with new monsters, mechanics, and story. Almost every aspect of the core systems have been tweaked and added to, and the new environment offers the greatest challenge yet. Given that a year and a half has passed since the base game launched on PS4 and Xbox One, Capcom really needed something amazing to generate new interest, and Iceborne is grandiose enough in scale to rekindle even the most skeptical fan’s attention.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | Unsolved mysteries.
Iceborne picks up shortly after the conclusion of the story in the base game. The mystery of the Elder Crossing has been solved, and your hunter is now without a mission.
The spotting of a Legiana in the Ancient Forest (a species of monster that typically can only be found in the Coral Highlands and Rotten Vale), piques the interest of the Commander of Astera. The Commander orders a team to see what has driven the Legiana out of its natural habitat, and the hunter is dispatched to investigate.
Upon encountering the monster, the hunter finds a whole flock of Legiana overhead, flying away from the New World and over the ocean to destinations unknown. In the hopes that the Legiana will lead them to a strange land, the hunter boards the Third Fleet airship to chase down the flock.
The flock of Legiana eventually lead the airship to a mysterious frozen island. The Commander decides to settle it and after the hunter accesses the danger and scouts a suitable location, the outpost of Seliana is established, and the newly discovered island is dubbed Hoarfrost Reach.
The plot in Iceborne plays out as sort of an epilogue to the base game’s story and has the hunter investigating the new species found on Hoarfrost Reach, its ecological association with the New World, and the mystery of the Legianas’ migration.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | A whole new world (of monsters).
Of course, the story is excellent, but the real allure here is the monsters. Iceborne adds some fascinating new creatures to take on, some original, some from previous games, and some remixes of familiar faces from the base game. These are some of the hardest fights you’ll encounter so far, and I don’t want to understate the challenge found in Hoarfrost Reach.
For the most part, I enjoyed the new hunts. The first Iceborne exclusive beast you’ll encounter is the Beotodus. Hoarfrost Reach is covered in a thick powder of snow, and Beotodus rapidly swims through this like some sort of snow shark. Though it can outpace you, it does have a weakness in the form of its swim feet. Break those feet, and you’ll take away the speed advantage Beotodus has over you. Once it has surfaced the fight is a lot fairer, and you’ll be able to catch your breath and maneuver.
I found the monsters in Iceborne required more strategy than most in the base game. I found myself switching weapon types more frequently and relying on precise movement and defense rather than just aggression. Almost all the new monsters have superior movement, which requires you to be more adaptive in combat than when fighting some of the toughest monsters in the New World.
There are also some exciting remixes of creatures from the base game. Coral Pukei-Pukei, for example, uses water as its primary form of attack instead of poison. The pressurized water it shoots vastly extends its range and makes you switch up the traditional approach to fighting a Pukei-Pukei. There’s also a Nightshade subspecies of the Paolumu which adds a sleep effect to its standard wind attacks, which also spices up a fight against a creature that you’ve likely already defeated tens of times.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | Spongey.
All the new fights are relatively balanced (save one which I’ll get to in a moment). However, I did find some of the monsters introduced in Iceborne to be damage sponges. While hunting a massive beast in the base game is hardly ever a quick kill, the difficulty in those fights comes from learning a monster’s behavior and adapting countermeasures.
Some of the fights in Iceborne are hard just from the attrition. I don’t mind if a monster is just strong and has a lot of unique attacks I have to learn to defend against. But, it gets annoying when I’m not particularly being challenged in any other way besides the fact a monster can withstand 50 minutes of me wailing on it with an immensely powerful weapon almost ceaselessly without dying.
One fight, in particular, was just mind-numbing. The Barioth appears around halfway through the Iceborne storyline and isn’t even a particularly important monster in the scheme of things. However, it’s incredibly mobile, hits like a tank, can inflict Iceblight on you, has an absolutely hateful rage mode, and has a ridiculous amount of HP.
It took around ten tries to take the Barioth out, and it was entirely because it’s a damage sponge. Once I had rarity 12 weapons, which you’ll start getting access to near the end of the story, it was a bit easier to beat in later hunts, but by the time you encounter the Barioth in the story, you’re just getting your hands on rarity 9 and 10 weapons. This fight is a slog, and it’s the only one in Iceborne that felt extremely unbalanced.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | New ways to fight.
Luckily, even though the fights can be a bit of a slog from time to time, Iceborne has added new combos and actions for all 14 weapon types. This means, not only do you have more options in the latest content, but you can also fight old enemies with different strategies.
The additional options for each weapon spice things up quite a bit. It’d be easy to rely on what got you through the base game, but I found myself wanting to switch things up and master the new techniques. Even if you just completed Monster Hunter for the first time a week before Iceborne launches, the weapon updates will make the game feel fresh.
The biggest new addition weapon-wise is the Clutch Claw. There are no new primary weapon types, but the Clutch Claw is a secondary weapon that allows you to mount and attach yourself to a monster’s parts easily. You can then do things like attack with the claw to change a monster’s direction, or give it a hearty slice to weaken a body part, making it more susceptible to being broken.
The Clutch Claw is a game-changer when fighting some enemies. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, you can use it to avoid attacks, and it makes it a lot easier to gather certain materials that can only be obtained by breaking monster parts.
The slinger also gets more play in Iceborne. You can now use the slinger while your weapon is drawn, and several weapons now include it as part of their move set. This makes it a lot easier to stun monsters since you can always have quick access to flash and screamer pods.
The addition of new weapon abilities, the clutch claw, and the ability to use the slinger while your weapon is drawn adds a lot to the game’s combat dynamic. It would have been enough to drop the ton of new content that comes with Iceborne, but with this expansion, Capcom has changed some of the fundamentals of combat for the better.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | A frozen wonderland.
Adding to the danger in the new expansion is Hoarfrost Reach itself. You can think of it as the Elder’s Recess magnified. The entire map can afflict you with the Cold status effect, which slowly drains your stamina. You’ll have to use the indigenous Hot Peppers to make Hot Drinks to counteract the sapping of your energy.
Capcom crafted an attractive new location in Hoarfrost Reach, and the icy motif is an excellent contrast to the areas seen in the base game. The environment adds new difficulties, hazards, and spaces to explore, and like the other regions, has its own share of secrets and shortcuts to find.
I thought snow and ice would get boring, but the Hoarfrost Reach has enough variety to keep things interesting as you fight monsters from one area to the next. Some locations have landslides you can use to damage monsters, others have collapsing cliff faces, and there are frozen underground waterways, as well as snowy forests.
Hoarfrost Reach became one of my favorite regions in Monster Hunter World. It’s right up there with the Ancient Forest in terrain variety and is much more fun to navigate than the Rotten Vale (my least favorite location) and Coral Highlands.
Seliana, your new hub area, is also designed with much care. It’s more compact than Astera, which makes it much easier to traverse, and has a character all its own. Your new house has a ton of room for pets, and for the first time, you can decorate it. Using Research Points, you can buy new decorations, and some quests center around unlocking new items to place in your home.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | Master your craft.
The grind is a big part of Monster Hunter‘s gameplay, and Iceborne adds plenty to grind for. When you begin Iceborne, you’ll be introduced to a new rank of hunts: Master Hunter. By default, all Iceborne hunts are Master Rank, but you can also undertake Master Rank expeditions to locations from the base game.
Master Rank introduces a whole new echelon of materials which can be used to craft rarity 9-12 weapons and Master Rank armor. Just like the jump from regular grade to high grade, the leap from High-Grade to Master-Grade is a big step. The basic Master grade weapons and armor immediately outclass the best High-Grade gear, and no matter how powerful you felt pre-Iceborne, you’re just a lamb in the land of ice and snow.
Master Rank fights are geared towards you having Master Rank armor and weapons, so for the first few fights, you may find yourself struggling, even if you’re fully kitted out in the best High Rank gear. Iceborne starts the loop over, and you’ll find yourself once again questing and grinding for materials to get the edge over the fearsome beasts introduced in the expansion.
If you’ve spent hundreds of hours grinding to get the best gear in the base game, it might be a turn off to see it all slammed down to mid-grade items by the introduction of Master Rank. However, the more you worked in the base game, the more of an advantage you’ll have when Master Rank materials come rolling in. Each of the new weapons is part of the same weapons tree you’ve been using. So, the more weapons you’ve crafted in the past, the easier it will be to upgrade them into the new, more powerful gear introduced in Iceborne.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | A challenge awaits.
One aspect where I feel like Capcom may have lowered the appeal of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is in the requirements for playing the expansion. I’m not going to factor it too heavily into my score, because Capcom has been clear on how accessing the Iceborne content works, but some players won’t be happy about it regardless.
As stated above, Iceborne is an expansion, not a DLC pack or season pass content. As such, before you can journey to Hoarfrost Reach and take on the new material, you have to complete the old. The quest required to unlock Iceborne won’t appear until after you’ve completed the entirety of the base game’s story.
Once you reach Hunter Rank 16, you’ll start the Iceborne questline automatically, but you won’t get HR16 until you beat the final boss of the base game. For people who are just getting into Monster Hunter World, this means you’ve got roughly 30-40 hours minimum before you hit the Iceborne expansion.
I think it was a good decision on Capcom’s part. It allows Iceborne to challenge veteran MHW players without having to compromise with sliding difficulty or an excess of tutorials. However, it’s been a year and a half since Monster Hunter World released so even if you were a diehard player when it came out, you’re likely rusty, and Iceborne expects you to be at top form when you take on the dangers of Hoarfrost Reach.
Even though I completed the base game for review last year, and was already at HR16, I was in no way ready for Iceborne. Though nominally, you just have to complete the base story to start the expansion, the difficulty wall is significant. I had to spend around 15 hours grinding material to make sure I was equipped with some of the best gear in the base game before I was ready to take on Iceborne.
The advantage here is that ardent fans of Monster Hunter World will get a challenge with the new content. The flip side is, it’s completely inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t completed the base game.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | The way expansions should be.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is how additions to existing games should be handled. I’m personally sick of DLC that adds a quest or two months after launch. If you’re going to make me come back to a game, then really throw down. Iceborne contains an enormous amount of content that blends perfectly with that of the original game. It’s a traditional expansion, which is somewhat of a lost art in the gaming industry, and it was absolutely the best thing Capcom could do to add new content.
Instead of a few monsters sprouting up in an existing area and a new set of armor, what you’d get with a typical DLC, Iceborne adds a vast new region filled with unseen flora and fauna to explore, fight, and catalog. It improves key gameplay systems tremendously and expands on nearly every aspect of the original game.
The only “sin” Monster Hunter World: Iceborne commits is lack of accessibility since you have to complete the story of the base game to get to the new material. However, that’s just the way expansions work, and in exchange for that mild inconvenience, you get another 20-30 hours of new content with the same high quality that generated critical acclaim for the game when it first released.