Capcom’s monster-chopper-upper returns with its winter coat on, but is this world worth revisiting over a year on?
Believe it or not, Capcom’s biggest selling game of all time is over eighteen months old at this point. The game that dragged the previously niche franchise kicking and screaming from its nest and into the gaming mainstream, Monster Hunter World is arguably getting a little long in the tooth as far as AAA titles go – or should that be fang? Despite a steady stream of (excellent) free DLC, it likely surprised many when Iceborne was announced late last year.
Calling Iceborne an expansion feels less of a misnomer as much as it feels like it doesn’t give the title enough credit. This downloadable add-on does more than just add a suffix and move the colon in the main game’s title. It’s essentially a game in and of itself.
Iceborne offers a comparable amount of monsters to the 2018 base game, with dozens upon dozens of quests bolted onto the existing list that many players will still not have finished (to access Iceborne you need to have finished the main campaign of World, but there will be plenty more to do besides that). This means you’ve got plenty of content to sink your axe, sword, or glaive into.
The best expansions take a game you’ve enjoyed and potentially completed and mix things up to keep you on your toes. Iceborne achieves this masterfully through three additions, the first of which being the new Hoarfrost Reach environment. This snow-covered winter wonderland is full of new resources to harvest (including those from monsters you’ll hunt), but in truth, you’ll likely only spend about fifty per cent of your time in Iceborne there.
This is because you’ll be revisiting older areas like the Ancient Forest and Coral Highlands, and while this may sound disappointing these areas have new dangers to overcome in the form of the new monsters – plus it’s a nice way to break up the new area’s white blankets of snow.
One of the complaints levelled at Monster Hunter World was it’s lower difficulty in comparison to the franchise’s previous entries, but with Iceborne these qualms can be laid to rest. Early monster Beotodus is a particularly aggressive, snow-dwelling cousin of World’s Jyuratodus, and while I felt confident early in the fight, it wasn’t long before I was knocked out three, four, even five times.
Iceborne took pity on me, refusing to grant the reprieve of a “Quest Failed” screen, but this initial battle set out the expansion’s stall early: Iceborne is tough as nails, the new Master Rank difficulty more analogous to the franchise’s S rank quests of yore than it is World’s High Rank which feels tame in comparison.
This is but one of the expansion’s impeccably designed monsters. Nargacuga, a giant bat, is equally awe-inspiring as it is terrifying, while Banbaro tears through trees, other monsters and careless hunters like an out of control truck careening through cardboard. New Elder Dragon Velkhana is a frost-flinging behemoth which is just as fun to fight as it is to simply observe, it’s huge wings and icy breath making it feel straight out of Game Of Thrones.
Thankfully, you’ve got some lovely new tools to help battle the beasts. Each weapon gains an additional move, and some are incredibly fun to use. As an Insect Glaive hunter, I’m now able to execute a descending trust when mid-vault, turning my protagonist into a sharp, spiralling whirlwind while heading back down to earth.
Aside from these new moves, the Clutch Claw is Iceborne’s signature tool. It allows hunters to attach themselves to monsters in order to drive them into walls or traps, while also offering the option to unload slinger ammo directly into a monster’s face. It sounds a little unfair, but when you’re struggling you’ll take any advantage you can find.
Aside from new moves, new monsters, a new locale, new gear to craft and more quests to complete, there are a wealth of smaller changes that longtime players will appreciate. New hub area Seliana is conveniently laid out over a single level, meaning you won’t need to keep heading up and downstairs to get from one place to another (a la original hub Astera). You can also craft multiple items at once from the radial menu, fire your slinger without needing to stow your weapon, and you’ll be able to spot shiny collectable pieces of monster a lot more easily which is super handy given the snowy climes of Hoarfrost Reach.
Some of these “quality of life” tweaks are coming to all players regardless of whether or not they own Iceborne, but one big one that is not exclusive to the expansion is a new difficulty scaling system. Rather than one setting for single-player and one for multi-player, monsters will now scale in difficulty depending on how many are in your party. If you have four players hunting and one drops out you’ll still be out of luck, but if another drops out then the difficulty will scale to be manageable for a pair of hunters.
There are some nitpicks, namely a lack of wholly new monsters (many are tweaked subspecies of creatures you’ve likely hunted dozens of times when farming gear), and being unable to squad up until every player has seen a cutscene stings just as much now, given that Iceborne’s storyline is just as dull as World’s, with equally nauseating voice acting.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is more of one of the best games of this console generation, and for many, that’ll be all the recommendation you’ll need. It’s a tough, punishing battle against incredible odds punctuated by elation and carving your vanquished nemesis into a sword with which to hunt its compatriots – and it’s bloody brilliant.
Evercade announce their first Bitmap Brothers collection
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum