Impressions: Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is spectacular, but doesn't offer new players much

Monster Hunter: World is developer Capcom’s best-selling title ever, and hunters worldwide have been enjoying the many free content updates provided since its Jan. 2018 release. The Iceborne expansion is World’s first paid downloadable content, and it’s a significant step up from the festivals and bonus monsters added up to this point.

The new continent added in Iceborne is an incredible environment to explore, and the new monsters and mechanics significantly change the gameplay of Monster Hunter: World for the better. That said, this new world may not be for everyone. 

Hand over your lunch money

Iceborne begins after the main storyline of Monster Hunter: World is completed, meaning the new area is locked until players manage to complete the original game’s 30-hour campaign. There’s a good reason for this, as Iceborne’s challenge level begins at “murderous” and ramps up from there. The new Master Rank’s difficulty is a huge step up from the High Rank quests hunters could begin tackling midway through World’s story. Even the best High Rank gear is rendered obsolete quickly in the Hoarfrost Reach, so playing the expansion feels a lot like starting over. 

Every encounter poses a substantial threat and requires hunters to be on their A-game. Even low-tier jobbers like the Great Jagras and Jyuratodus require careful consideration and specialized loadouts in this new realm of difficulty. Between increased monster health pools and new evasion techniques, most fights take significantly longer, and hunts will take two to three times as long in Master Rank as they would in High Rank.

This isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. Half the fun of Monster Hunter is learning what to do against a given threat and adapting your skills and loadout accordingly. Iceborne offers some of the best fights in the series, bringing back many fan-favorite monsters and upgrading them with new abilities and animations. While some of the new creatures are palette swaps (looking at you, Fulgur Anjanath and Viper Tobi-Kadachi), they’ve all gained some new techniques and surprises which will throw even veteran hunters for a loop.

Get equipped with the Clutch Claw

Fortunately, hunters picked up a few new tricks of their own. The new Clutch Claw adds a great risk/reward mechanic, letting hunters grapple onto beasts to control them, but placing them closer to the poison spines and gnashing teeth. Every weapon gains the ability to send a monster careening into a wall by expending slinger ammunition, as well as a weakening attack which will impose a wound on a specific body part. Attacks made against that wounded section will deal increased damage, especially if the hunter is using a weapon of the appropriate element.

Each weapon can also use slinger ammo in a new way. For example, while charging a hammer attack, hunters can fire off some slinger bullets to buy themselves more charge time. Once you have the timing down, these new mechanics feel great and serve to extend the hunter's arsenal. World’s developers did a fantastic job incorporating these new attacks into the established movesets, and they feel like a natural extension of the hunter’s abilities rather than something which was tacked on.

A whole new world

The Clutch Claw is the biggest new mechanic added, but it’s not the only quality-of-life upgrade. The new outpost Seliana is far more compact and convenient to navigate than Astera’s multi-level city, and once I had unlocked everything, I saw no reason to return to the earlier hub. There’s no need to go to your room to manage Tailraiders or swap Palico gear.

A few balance changes were made: the Temporal Mantle isn’t an instant win item anymore, auto-dodging a set number of attacks rather than using a time limit. Every hunter gets a new camera, which can be used to take screenshots and is used in an optional questline. A new two-player difficulty level was added (previously, monsters were always tuned for either one player or a full group of four). Several improvements to the squad system mean it should be easier than ever to group up with your friends. And getting around the map is faster thanks to the new ability to ride around on small monsters.

That’s a good thing, because the new region is enormous. Hoarfrost Reach is almost twice as big as any of World’s other biomes, with plenty of variation beneath its frosty exterior. You’ll explore a frozen underground lake, a poisonous cavern stuffed with exploding fungus, and a collapsing ice shelf in addition to the Boreal Forest. Multiple hot springs dot the landscape, offering a temporary reprieve from bitter cold which will sap your hunter’s stamina. Many new endemic creatures are unique to this region as well, including Monster Hunter versions of penguins and snow monkeys. There’s incredible variety to the environment, far more than would be suggested by what you can see on the surface.

That variety carries over to the monsters added to Iceborne. In addition to the 20-ish new monsters, you’ll also find that some of the older ones are migrating between World’s zones. This has a major impact on how you have to fight these creatures, particularly when they show up in areas they’ve never been before. It’s especially interesting when you take some of their new behaviors into account, and some of the new turf wars which occur as a result of this migration are exhilarating to watch. Dr. Serizawa had the right idea.

What else have you got? 

The story is always secondary to the gameplay, but even this is improved from the base game. The new Elder Dragon Velkhana is causing monsters all across the region to behave unpredictably, and the Research Commission decides to investigate. Cutscenes do a pretty good job of establishing Velkhana as a legitimate threat, building the dragon into a terror capable of destabilizing the entire continent. 

Iceborne is very nearly a full sequel to World and offers a pricing model we don’t see very often anymore; premium content at a premium price. For those who’ve mastered everything Monster Hunter: World can throw at them, Iceborne offers a fantastic value and at least 30 more hours of content. For those just starting out however, Iceborne is difficult to recommend. The new lands are inaccessible until the main campaign is completed (no simple task). New players will start with the ability to use the Clutch Claw as well as a nice set of starter armor and several of the other quality-of-life upgrades, but they won’t be able to enjoy everything Iceborne has to offer for many hours. 

It looks like the development team intends to keep supporting World even after Iceborne’s launch, as horned ape Rajang will be the next new monster to appear sometime next month. Players can also expect to see electric wolf Zinogre and water dragon Namielle added in the near future.