Modifying games has a deep-seated core in the gaming scene, especially in circumstances where the game's popularity warrants mods yet it doesn't natively support them. The engine of the game itself often determines how grand the scope of a game's mods can be. It would be unreasonable to expect Mass Effect 3 to host all the kinds of mods that Skyrim has. So too is the case with Monster Hunter: World. The majority of mods available for it are visual replacements of existing weapons and armor. From the skimpy to the downright badass, Monster Hunter: World had all the attention it could want from the modding scene. Sadly, this changed with the arrival of the Iceborne expansion.
You see, Capcom has opted to include an anti-cheat system in their game when launching Iceborne, regardless of whether you've bought the expansion or not. A move surprising most, the rumored excuse behind it were the (reportedly few) sightings of hackers joining a lobby and using a cheating tool to raise a monsters' health even further, causing a group to lose a hunt solely by timeout. Unfortunately, this system isn't without its problems.
For starters, many players found themselves with diminishing frame rates, regardless of whether they were in Iceborne or not. Though I personally had no issues playing the expansion since launch, even while streaming it, I've heard reports of people with weaker machines dealing with frame drops in circumstances where pre-expansion they had none. Soon enough, reports came in saying that the anti-cheat put extra pressure on a system's CPU, causing it to be the performance bottleneck. Capcom recently has made efforts to alleviate this issue, yet the modding scene fully expects them to abolish the Anti-Cheat system entirely at some point.
The Dark Souls of modding
Besides the Anti-Cheat, what also changed was the encryption of the game's resource files, resulting in the complete functional annihilation of pre-existing mods. In case you haven't booted the game up since Iceborne's release and plan to, here's a word of warning: Uninstall every mod you have installed before you do, as there's a small chance it may actually lead to crashing or, much more likely, the mod simply won't function at all.
In the past, you could just drop a modded file in the "nativePC" folder and replace the original with your own. Say a shopkeepers file that notes what it has for sale. A popular mod for this would be one that replaces the general shopkeeper’s goods with materials or other rare items that normally would require grinding to attain. However, as mentioned, there were more mods that changed various other things, such as many that replaced the visuals of existing weapons and armors (including a variety of bouncing extremities) to mods that changed the very balancing of the game and its monsters.
These folder structures have now been encrypted and stored in a different manner. After the update, it was no longer possible to simply do it the old way. In fact, faced with this drastic change, it would've been a safe assumption to consider the modding scene for Monster Hunter: World to be completely dead in the water. That is, if it weren't for the modding scene stepping up its game.
Shortly after I'd started playing through Iceborne, I'd heard of a Discord channel that kept track and seemingly organized the efforts required to make the game moddable again. A few weeks ago, they'd finally managed it. A seemingly simple tool called Stracker's Loader had surfaced, and with it, a plethora of mods worked again. Though it does bear noting that old mods won't work through this; they still need to be updated by their respective mod authors.
The Loader mod allows people to once more drop their replacement files in the "nativePC" folder, after which the tool will automatically load before the game and perform its magic to make it all function like before. Ironically, it’s also presumed by commenters that the Loader mod has somehow improved performances. That said, at the time of writing, the current mods available range between shopkeeper changes and armor/visual replacements, though it's expected for this to greatly expand again as time goes on.
It really surprised me how organized and concentrated the efforts were for this. The Discord channel dedicated to these efforts had a vast amount of people in it, channels for every needed circumstance, and kept people frequently updated on the state of affairs. They openly asked for help from users who had coding experience or whichever they needed.
With such an influx of people joining, whether it be in confusion or frustration over the modding state of affairs, it didn’t take too long for these tasks to get done. In a simple yet significant gesture, the Nexusmods websites themselves added a tag for mods that allowed them to mark themselves as Iceborne compatible.
If you're looking for some recommendations, I've got more than plenty. For starters, how about a mod that visually replaces some of the bowguns with some of Doom 2016's weapons? Or break that immersion some more with a mod that lets you play as 2B from Nier: Automata? How about a mod that makes your trusty handler a bit easier on the eyes? Maybe you're tired of only the male characters getting a badass look with their Brigand outfit? (Not to mention that spiffy hat). Or maybe a more chest-tacular version of the Namielle armor? Complete with physics!
A bleak future, made vibrant once more
It seems more common than not nowadays that a AAA release on PC, no matter how great, comes with its own little issues or outrage. Capcom is no stranger to this, with its latest Anti-Cheat for Street Fighter V being compared to a rootkit. Or that time when they implemented ads in it. It's a sad affair that these problems overshadow a great game or expansion, which in particular is the case with Iceborne. True, it has its balancing issues—some fights are much harder than they warrant—but it wouldn't be much of a Monster Hunter game if you weren't frequently faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge to square off against and grow from.
Though it seems it must’ve not harmed the expansions' launch all that much, it did leave the Monster Hunter: World modding community with a somewhat sour taste. Yet as you would expect, they didn't take this setback lying down, and instead rose up to the challenge. As it stands, Stracker's Loader will probably break with every update that launches for Iceborne, considering how invasive the tool has to be with the game in order to make modding function. Yet the titular modder has been on the ball and quick to provide updates and quality of life changes to the very vital foundation of this post-Iceborne modding scene. Vortex, Nexusmods' latest mod manager, even downright tells you that you'll need it in order to make mods function for the game. In that regard, it's not all that different from the Script Extenders for some of Bethesda's most moddable games. Now that's a compliment right there.
TechRaptor played Monster Hunter World: Iceborne on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.