Monster Hunter World: Iceborne PC Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
It's only been a relatively brief time that Capcom's long running Monster Hunter franchise hit the big time in the West. For many years, the series has been available in some form or another in English speaking countries, but anachronistic aspects of the game design and ambition that seemingly outstripped the capabilities of available hardware combined to keep many away from the franchise for fear of frustrations that outweighed fun, myself included.
To say that Monster Hunter: World broke that trend with spectacular style is to undersell the stunning step up that the series took in every respect. With a combination of complex environments, beautiful graphics, highly refined gameplay from years of iteration and a whole host of quality of life changes - MH:W truly moved the franchise forward and into the primetime spotlight. A year or so has passed since the game's release on PC and, while console players have already been having fun exploring the tundra for some time, it's finally the turn of the PC player to venture forth into the blinding, freezing white of Hoarfrost Reach.
Picking up after the story of MH:W concludes, hints of a new beastly threat begin to emerge. Wildlife from all over the continent is showing up in places it shouldn't and the Research Comission decides an investigation is in order. At this cue, your custom designed character and their Palico pal quickly follow the trail to a new locale - the icy tundra of Hoarfrost Reach, where a foreboding and fearsome posse of new monsters and gameplay mechanics await to test your skills to the limit.
For those already on the hook, having played Monster Hunter: World, the addition of a new area to explore is huge in and of itself. New locations mean new tactics to consider, fresh routes to plot and secrets to uncover. In so many respects, more of what already worked is what's on offer here and it's a more than worthy extension. The story and progression of Iceborne is as substantial and satisfying as the core game, which makes for a huge offering even looking at the package purely in terms of the number of missions and new enemies, let alone anything else. And believe me, there's a lot more to love about Iceborne if you enjoyed MH:W.
Alongside those substantial aspects of the expansion, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne adds even more customization and extra tasks to pull you even deeper into the setting. A new researcher offers up a piece of equipment that allows you to take pictures for them, with a number of remit's given for specific photographs, each offering up rewards for amateur photographers when completed. Contriving the moments required to snap the requested photos will take some logical leaps and trial and error, but it's a lovely little extra task to consider.
Perhaps the most substantial change to combat alongside a small selection of new moves for each weapon, is the addition of a fantastically dynamic tool called the clutch claw. Regardless of which of the fourteen weapons you choose to wield, you'll soon have access to this powerful little grappling hook. With this thing, every weapon type can now shoot stones and various types of ammo while their weapon is drawn. This might not sound like much to the uninitiated, but it's a major change to the options you've got in the middle of a melee. More than that though, you can use it to grab onto monsters, mounting them in a different manner to what's previously been possible in the series.
Once firmly grasping the side of a hulking monster, you can steer them left or right if you've grabbed their head, unleash a powerful attack that tenderizes the hide of the monster to weaken it to further attack or even unload your entire clip of ammo into the beast's face, sending it crashing forward in a panic, knocking itself out if it runs headlong into a wall. As a hammer focused player, it's taken the relatively slow pace of that play style and turned it upside down. Sliding down a hill, launching a spinning airborne assault and then immediately firing the clutch claw into the monsters face before swiftly sending it into a nearby cliff face is truly satisfying.
The selection of new monster is not to be sniffed at. With so much of what's special about the series coming down to the monsters themselves and the sense of personality they exude as you battle them, I'm going to hold off on saying too much about them. Truly, those who know the core game well will be better served by seeing these new enemies a surprise left in tact - but rest assured they are spectacular. Fan favourites make a return from previous generations, while familiar faces get dangerous new variant sub-species.
Alongside new monsters come new items to harvest and an almost absurd amount of new equipment to make and hone into the perfect set of weapons, defenses and buffs for your particular play style. Equipment augmentations now go up to level four, with many of these new gems containing combinations of powerful buffs or entirely new ones such as Mirewalker, a skill that allows you to move through deep snow or fast running water without slowing down or stumbling. It's the best kind of bad news for those who broke limits for armour upgrades and grinded out the the toughest end game content of MH:W - Iceborne's new equipment supersedes the old and the draw of upgrading and experimenting with even more skills at once is going to be rekindled with some renewed fire.
There's even more though, with a new hub area to explore. Key utilities have been rearranged so that, for example, sending a crew of Tailer Raiders out on an expedition no longer requires you loading into your character's room. Your room itself has a slew of customization options and places to show off your captured wildlife and fancy furniture, while a cozy new gathering area is full of lazing monkeys and a hot spring to laze in while arranging the next mission with friends.
There's really just so much detail and charm in the hub area that it's made even my cynical heart melt with the sheer exuberance of the animations and fun, slightly silly things going on around the place. There's an absolute cuteness overload when it comes to ordering a meal from the rotund new feline chef that serves this locale and it goes even further when you play with the Steamworks, a simple guessing game that earns you lots of premium items and ends with what might be the most strangely heart warming cut scene I've ever seen in a game. There's something about that dwarf and his cat crew that's just so infinitely endearing.