Game Reviews

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review

The expansion to end all expansions.

by Jelani James
Monster Hunter World Iceborne Review Cover

I didn’t think it was possible to make significant improvements to Monster Hunter: World, but I was proven wrong with the arrival of the expansion, Iceborne.

As you might recall, World started off strong right out the gate. It brought players of all experience levels into a vast, immersive world, teeming with large creatures to confront and overcome. It truly felt like Capcom finally mastered the formula that it took nearly 15 years to perfect, and its current status as the developer’s best-selling game of all time only serves to make such beliefs more valid.

It wasn’t perfect though.

Though understandable, the variety of monster offered in World was less than in previous titles. Similarly, there wasn’t any meaningful endgame content for players to occupy themselves with. Admittedly, future updates did address both of these issues, but not to the degree that most would have hoped — the variety of monsters was still a bit lacking, and the “endgame content” had an inconsistent effect on the monsters featured within it.

Thankfully, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne addressees those concerns and more.

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Difficulty? Meet Master Rank. Monster variety? The New World is like a zoo now. Equipment? Tons. Depth? I think you get the gist. The longer I played, the more inaccurate it felt to call Iceborne an expansion, as it added so much to the base game that it came off more like a standalone title.

Features such as the ever-useful Clutch Claw, which allows the player to latch on to a monster’s body from afar, and Slinger Burst, which fires enhanced versions of slinger ammo like a shotgun, are available the moment Iceborne installs, but the bulk of those aforementioned additions are unlocked through the game’s story mode. 

Taking place following the conclusion of World, Iceborne’s story has you play detective once again — this time, to figure out what’s throwing the ecosystem of the New World out of whack. Migrating Legiana. The emergence of this title’s flagship monster, Velkhana. A host of returning monsters and new subspecies coming out of the woodwork. You’ll quickly come to realize as you progress that the more you think you know, the less you actually do. If anything, the only thing you know for certain is that you’ll need to hunt a lot of monsters to find out what’s what.

And to meet that end, we now have a new hub to use as our base of operations — Seliana.

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Located in the northern reaches of the New World, Seliana is a hub surrounded by ice and blanketed in snow. The story will occasionally require you to move between Seliana and Astera, but it would be prudent to remain in the former whenever given the chance. Why? Because it’s no longer a slog to move between facilities. Everything is located within close proximity of one another, so it’s no longer a hassle when you want to perform multiple tasks. It’s a much-appreciated improvement over Astera and helps to reduce downtime between hunts.

But if you do want to linger around at base, then there’s something for you: the Steamworks. All you have to do is correctly guess which order of buttons to press and you’ll get rewards ranging from Mega Potions to Celestial Wyverian Prints. And the best part of all? It’s impossible to fail. So long as you have ore to fuel the engine, there’s no reason not to do this minigame.

And if that isn’t your cup of tea, then perhaps you can sip some of your own at your new house which has a hot spring connected at the back. Per usual, your room doesn’t add much in terms of gameplay, but it’s large and highly customizable, so it’s nice to take a break and relax there every so often. 

Of course, this mystery isn’t going to solve itself, so you’ll need to leave eventually. And you’ll be required to take on Iceborne’s new difficulty level, Master Rank, when you do.

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Comparable to the G Rank of previous titles, Master Rank needs no introduction for veterans. Newcomers on the other hand? Here’s the rundown: Master Rank takes everything you thought you knew about monsters up to this point and tosses your knowledge out the door. Fights aren’t going to feel wholly new, but monsters do have some new tricks up their sleeves which are supplemented by enhanced damage output, durability and health.

Were you among the many clamoring for harder content? If so, Master Rank has you covered.

For instance, you know how Rathalos only really started to fly around once it was enraged? Well, not only does Rathalos now spend most of its time in the air, but it now has a triple fireball attack to give you even more to worry about. Meanwhile, Kulu-Ya-Ku can dig up different varieties of rocks, such as a molten one that causes explosions whenever it’s slammed on the ground. And then there’s Odogaron who is permanently frenzied, meaning that it can attack up to four times before pausing. Not only that, but it often ends its assault with a pounce+backstep combo to make it harder for hunters to capitalize on any moment of vulnerability.

This extends to new and returning monsters too. Banbaro shows up in basically every area and the properties of its attacks change accordingly, while the differences between subspecies such as Coral Pukei-Pukei or Ebony Odogaron and their normal counterparts are like night and day. Even returning monsters, such as Glavenus and Brachydios, have one or two new tricks that will throw veterans for a loop. And if you think you’ve seen everything Iceborne has to offer thanks to all those trailers, then think again — there’s more.

But before I make it sound like surviving in Master Rank is some Herculean task, I should mention that you have plenty of ways to rise to the occasion.

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As you might have expected, the coming of a new rank means there’s plenty of new armor and weapons to collect. Unfortunately, they’ll be more like sidegrades early on due to them lacking some of the enhancements endgame High Rank gear were privy to. New weapons might be statistically stronger, but they’ll be missing augmentations, such as Health Regen or Affinity Increase. Similarly, certain traits on armor, such as the Two Piece Rathalos Set Bonus, Critical Element, are gone altogether.

Mind you, this won’t be an issue for those who farmed World’s endgame content extensively; but those who don’t have a “Kjarr” bow, for instance, will likely find it hard to part with their Rathalos helm and chest.

Fortunately, decorations have received various buffs to make the loss of such gear less painful. First, Specialized Tools can now be upgraded to have slots, meaning there’s now more customization options than ever. Second, decorations now have a fourth tier which can either combine two different skills into a single slot or increase one skill by multiple levels. And as an added bonus, Master Rank armor is teeming with the relevant slots to place them in.

And while on the subject of skills, I should mention that several of them have been adjusted or buffed. For instance, many skills, such as Maximum Might, Bombardier and Slugger, can be increased past their usual cap if you have the right armor. Meanwhile, the elemental cap on weapons have increased, making elemental builds — and thus the use of elemental attack gems — a far more appealing option.

However, it turns out the greatest addition to your arsenal aren’t your weapons, armor or even the decorations — it’s the nifty new gadget that’s been added to your slinger: the Clutch Claw.

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I don’t mean to make light of the new techniques each weapon has received, because though some of them can be a bit cumbersome to use, they’re really fun to use overall. For example, the Gunlance can combine slinger ammo and the Wyrmstake Cannon to create a small warhead that detonates whenever it’s hit by shells, while the Long Sword has a new move that essentially functions as both a normal and counterattack.

It’s just that the Clutch Claw is so good that it will revolutionize the way you hunt once you’re used to it.

As mentioned earlier, the Clutch Claw allows players to latch onto monsters from afar. And once you do, you have the option of either doing an attack that will soften up the affected body part, opening it up for more damage, or targeting the head with a Flinch Shot by using your remaining slinger ammo to send the monster barreling in whatever direction it was facing. The former option is pretty straightforward, but the latter can be used to knock monsters out of the sky or into a wall for large amounts of damage if you’ve got some finesse.

Remember when I mentioned how Rathalos spends most of its time in the air? Flash Pods aren’t as effective in Master Rank, so Flinch Shot is your only means of reliably grounding it. Meanwhile, nothing tells an Odogaron to calm down like sending it face first into a wall. In either case, you’ll get a chance to deal some free damage (on top of the damage from the impact) and crafting material to sweeten the deal.

Of course, there are a few things to keep in mind here: it has a relatively short range, you’ll usually get knocked off and take damage if a monster is in the middle of an attack, and it loses effectiveness when the target is enraged.

Beyond that though? Top notch. In a game filled with new monsters, weapons and armor, it turns out my favorite addition was an unassuming grappling hook on my wrist.

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In the end, Iceborne is exactly what fans should expect out of a modern Monster Hunter

There might be fewer monsters compared to older titles, but never before have you been able to witness them in a world that this game presents. And thanks to this “expansion,” there are now more ways for you to interact with them, as well as they with each other. Trust me, you haven’t seen chaos until you watch three apex predators go at it with one another.

And, yes, the gameplay loop technically remains unchanged, but the amount of possible setups available thanks to the added number of weapons, armor and decorations will easily give the devoted at least an extra 100 hours of playing time.

Admittedly, some will find it annoying that they have to “start over” if they didn’t farm High Rank enough, but it won’t take too long to get up to speed. Honestly, even the basic gear is serviceable. You won’t have the clear times you’re used to, but even those will start to even out over time.

Really, what else can I say here? Any reasonable complaint I’ve had in the months following World’s launch has been addressed.

Oh, except for transmogrification and/or more layered sets — Capcom doesn’t seem too interested in those quite yet. Hopefully, I just missed those.

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The Verdict

Back when I reviewed Monster Hunter: World, I called it a revelation due to my thoroughly debunked assumption that a Monster Hunter title couldn’t possibly appeal to a more casual audience without giving something up in return. With Iceborne, however, there was no such assumption. If anything, the only thing I’m surprised about is just how much this improves upon the base game. I figured it would be good, but not this good.

More monsters, more gear, more content. Iceborne remedies most complaints players raised with World and then some. I’m still not sure if this can be considered definitive Monster Hunter title, but if it wasn’t in the running before, it certainly is now.

"loved"
loved

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne

  • Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Published By: Capcom
  • Developed By: Capcom
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • US Release Date: September 6, 2019
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
  • Quote: "If Monster Hunter: World is a revelation, then Iceborne is something more. It takes everything I loved about the original title, while improving the things that I didn't. Truly, even with some minor shortcomings, if the ideal form of Monster Hunter were to be given shape then this is just about as close as you could get."
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