Few games in 2018 consumed entire days of my life in playtime, but Monster Hunter World easily claimed weeks of it because of its highly addictive gameplay and rich roster of stunning monsters. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m prepared to lose myself once again in this captivating action-RPG with the impending release of Monster Hunter World’s massive expansion, Iceborne.
Set immediately after the finale of the base game, the story of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne begins with the Research Commission of the New World ready to embark on its next assignment. A shift in the Legianna’s migration patterns sparks the team to investigate where they’re headed, leading to the discovery of the isolated frozen expanse of Hoarfrost Reach and the newly awakened Elder Dragon, Velkhana. With the ecosystems of both the New World and Hoarfrost Reach at risk of collapse, it will be up to players to discover the mysteries surrounding this unexplored region and how Velkhana connects to its potential demise.
Iceborne’s story content took me a full 24 hours to complete the critical path, missing out on loads of optional quests, grinding for complete armour sets, and forging multiple weapons from new and returning monsters. While my journey was heavily rushed, it was still highly enjoyable. Monster Hunter World spent a lot of its time establishing the setting and introducing its lovable cast of characters to players, but Iceborne’s release brings with it a much needed layer of depth. The world and its characters are heavily impacted by the events that transpire within Iceborne, creating opportunities for many members of the cast to break out of their static one-dimensional personalities, which I’m sure fans will appreciate. Unfortunately, I can’t go into detail about endgame content in Iceborne, but I will say that the scope is much larger in scale then the base game of Monster Hunter World.
Like many of Monster Hunter World’s playable regions thus far, Hoarfrost Reach feels like a character in and of itself. Each one of the sectioned areas of this massive Arctic-themed region possesses different gameplay elements and hazards to keep hunters on their toes while they’re hunting one of the many beasts that inhabits its freezing climate. The starting areas focus around the introduction of heavy snow, which impedes the hunter’s movement speed during combat. Early on in the expansion players will open up the map further to the mid-section of Hoarfrost Reach, themed around wide Tundra landscapes and Hot Springs, these areas resonated with me as having the most character and eye-catching details. Lastly, the final areas unlocked in Hoarfrost Reach are all based on icy mountainous regions, which is where many of Iceborne’s new apex predators will be waiting for you, each with their own way of manipulating the environment around them to create new hazards for Hunters to deal with during the fight.
To prepare for the frigid battles that lay ahead, hunters should become accustomed to their new tool in combat: the clutch claw. In the base game I rarely used my slinger except to break off boulders and stun monsters, but the clutch claw upgrade finally brings out the slingers full potential that has been hidden since launch. Anytime during a hunt with a large monster, preferably when the beast is staggered, players can use the clutch claw to zip over to a part of the monster and temporarily mount it. From this position the player has multiple choices: unload all of the ammo currently into the slinger to potentially stagger the monster, lead the monster into wall, deal some quick damage by attacking the part you’ve clung to with the claw itself, or execute a special attack with your equipped weapon to tenderize the part and make it easier to break. The clutch claw is a great addition to the hunter’s toolbox that both enhances mobility and introduces new attack options for players to learn. Depending on the weapon you have equipped, the clutch claw has even become part of the weapon moveset to further expand its combo potential.
Another major component of Iceborne is Master Rank. Comparable to G Rank from previous installments in Monster Hunter, Master Rank spikes the difficulty of the game once again, significantly raising monster health pools, attack strength, and changing existing monster behavior patterns and hazard properties to make their actions harder to predict. Master Rank feels like the proper endgame challenge World has been missing up to this point. Even when I was hunting a fan favourite monster, like Azure Rathalos, I was still struggling to get used to his remixed attack timings and new abilities, resulting in some punishing lessons to say the least. However, these changes are a welcome addition that adds more variety to each of the existing monsters, especially the early ones that relied far too heavily on spamming only a couple of moves.
The introduction of Master Rank also means that the entire roster of monsters now has new armour sets and weapons to grind for. While this sadly means your existing armour sets are now severely underpowered for this new difficulty, the hard work you’ve put into grinding for decorations, unlocking canteen ingredients, and upgrading charms has been well worth the trouble to prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead in Iceborne. Meanwhile, builds can be even further expanded with the addition of four slot decorations, which can possess multiple points in skills like critical eye, or have two skills combined into one decoration, such as slinger capacity and attack boost. Your existing collection of mantles can even be upgraded to hold decorations when you equip them during a hunt as well if you’d like to add a temporary tech option like divine blessing or free meal into your build for even more variety.
Iceborne bolsters the roster with an additional 17 confirmed monsters from the trailers, along with a few more for players to discover on their own when they experience the expansion for themselves. These 17 new monsters are comprised of a mix of returning favourites, including the fanged wyvern Zinogre and the blastblight-inflicting powerhouse Brachydios, as well as subspecies of existing monsters in the roster like Viper Tobi-Kodachi and Fulgur Anjanath. Subspecies have always been my personal favourite monsters to fight in Monster Hunter games because they significantly change the existing properties of the monster and how hunters approach the fight. For example, Acidic Glavenus is a much faster version of his original counterpart that inflicts defence down and miasma with its acid crusted tail. The fight takes on a whole new dimension however when the t-rex like beast grinds off the acid from its tail with its own teeth to reveal the perfectly sharpened steel underneath. This allows for Acidic Glavenus to enter into a variety of new attack poses that he can quickly transition into many even faster attacks that hit twice as hard as before, creating a much tenser fight when compared to the original.
Iceborne is a fantastic expansion to Monster Hunter World that identified every weakness of the base game and made each element substantially stronger. This is the definitive endgame of Monster Hunter World and a proper sendoff to the game that ignited a new generation of fans in the West to experience the series for the first time. What’s better yet is that even more updates and monsters are on their way to further enrich an already grand experience. In the base game hunters became the greatest symbol of hope to the research commission, their very own Sapphire Star. Now it’s time to prove that you’ve earned that title in this climactic chapter. Happy hunting!