Fantastically Frozen Fun
When I reviewed Monster Hunter: World, I praised the game for its ability to execute on its core concept of monster hunting. This, of course, is due to a pointed focus on the game’s concept rather than being full of bloat like many modern titles are. Despite all of its extra modes and side activities, not a single add-on feels tacky or unnecessary. It should be no surprise then that Iceborne, the game's first (and possibly only) big expansion, delivers on that as well. With a few new mechanics and a change of environment, Iceborne isn't a drastic departure from the norm, but it's one that will satisfy returning and continual players alike.
Set directly after the main campaign, Iceborne sees the Fifth Fleet off to an island of ice (imagine that) after observing an uncharacteristic Legiana migration. Upon arrival, you quickly learn that there's more to the New World than it seems. There's a focus on frozen lands and ice monsters that were surprisingly absent from the varied locales you’ve previously conquered.
Similar to the main game, you're on the hunt for an elder dragon. This creature is affecting the environment in strange ways, causing monsters to act in ways never seen before. Along the way, you'll fight monsters new to Iceborne alongside favorites from previous games, such as the fiery-tailed Glavenus.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | Getting Right Into It
Aside from a quick expedition and a few cutscenes, Iceborne wastes no time getting you right into the action. It understands that we're not really here for the plot, but to hunt some of the most tyrannical monsters in gaming. The expansion's first encounter pits you against the Beotodus. This is a beast whose gimmick consists of burying itself in the snow only to shoot out moments later, knocking you down and applying its freeze status effect. Having not played the game much since release, this fight was a rough one. It took a couple of tries to beat despite how easy the game is to pick up and play again. If there's one thing World always delivers on, its challenge, and this first encounter is no exception to that. After that initial fight, the world of Hoarfrost Reach opens up to you.
Seliana, Iceborne’s base camp, is quite flat when compared to the multiple levels of Astera, making it much less tedious to maneuver. However, it’s a gorgeous, homey little hub full of neat characters, a hot spring, and a few secrets to discover. It contains all of the same NPCs you'd expect from the original base alongside a new minigame and a customizable house - my favorite element in this new area. Think of it like Skyrim's Breezehome, as you can't just place anything wherever you'd like. However, there are tons of customizable spots that you can decorate with unlockable furniture as you push through the expansion. I haven’t spent as much time with customization as I’d like. However, considering there’s an achievement for owning 120 decorations, there’s probably a good variety of unlockable furniture.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | For Masters Only
Alongside your Hunter Rank is the newly-introduced Master Rank - a callback to the G-Rank missions from previous Monster Hunter games. Your Master Rank levels up as you plow through the expansion's main assignments. Missions under this tier bring with new weapon upgrades and armor tiers alongside monsters that are simply more difficult. You won’t notice a drastic change, but sharp-eyed players could point out some tweaks in monster behaviors.
That said, they call it Master Rank for a reason. Once you start getting into the meat of the expansion, there's little to no gradual increase in difficulty. Every single monster has its own frustrating gimmick like the Brachydios's exploding slime or the Barioth's incredible speed. While I was able to skate by some fights in the base game without the best upgrades or optimized defenses, Iceborne's monsters forced me to sit and recalibrate before each fight.
I needed to ensure that every armor piece, decoration, item, and weapon type felt primed and ready for the task. It took me three fights before realizing I need to break the Barioth's wings to slow him down, and I spent time grinding previous monsters to craft ice-defensive armor in order to stand a chance against him. With Iceborne, beating a monster on my first try was a rare blessing, rather than the expected outcome it was in World's main campaign.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | New Weapons Coming In Clutch
As difficult as it is, Iceborne also provides a ton of boons to help you through each fight. Most notable is the Clutch Claw. It enables you to hook onto a monster at any time and inflict smashing damage to any of its parts. It provides a real benefit during co-op fights. You can smash a monster's face, causing them to redirect their moves and possibly saving a friend in the process. Paired with this is the welcome ability to fire Slinger ammo without putting away your weapon. It was a tedious action that I'm glad to be away with.
Other quality-of-life improvements include a Palico revive on your first death, new difficulties based on solo, duo, or group play, pets to ride and take care of, an updated training area to try out weapon tweaks, and some other bonuses.
However, it’s surprising how much of the expansion takes place in Astera. A significant chunk (especially in the middle) has you back in previous locales fighting altered versions of old monsters. It relates to the main quest, so I won't spoil why you travel back and forth. Still, I wish there were more missions in Hoarfrost Reach. Of course, I could have just spent more time doing side missions in the new space, but considering the expansion brought with a new area, one would guess a majority of it would take place there, no? Maybe I had fatigue from grinding monsters so often in previous regions, but it felt odd returning to Astera so often.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | A Gorgeous Frozen Region
Hoarfrost Reach has underground caves to run through, ice bridges hovering over endless pits, falling platforms, spaces where the ice can collapse and absolutely wreck any monster you were fighting on top of it. The best part of this expansion is the returning feeling of exploring a brand new area. After so many fights in the older spaces, you forget how cool it was to activate the quicksand trap in the Wildspire Waste for the first time. Or when you realize you can drop the crystals in the Elder's Recess, dealing massive damage to anyone underneath it. I'm sure there are more than a few environmental hazards I haven't found yet, either. Even if around half of the missions take place in Astera, the hunts both there and in Hoarfrost Reach are memorable experiences.
Iceborne's cutscenes are just as good, with Capcom really putting in the effort to showcase the brutality of each monster this time around. Most reveal cinematics put your hunter in the background to show the monster fending off another with its unique gimmick. There's no better setting up a terrifying dragon than to watch it bite the throat out of another monster before it sets its eyes hungrily on you.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review | Final Thoughts
This expansion isn't a slight gameplay diversion, either. I've clocked in around 30 hours since release and still have a few missions to go, and that's not counting the extensive endgame content that comes with every Monster Hunter game, and heaps of new gear for collectors to grind for. That said, some of that has you completing side missions for armor and fighting monsters again to gather weapon parts.
Even without Iceborne, Monster Hunter: World has been thriving since release with regular content updates and a mission count that rivals most MMOs. Over the years, Capcom has been able to refine such a rewarding, skill-based gameplay loop with enough variety that it can take months to fully master and understand. Iceborne only deepens that experience, providing a fantastical new world to learn, brutal monsters to fight, and thoughtful quality of life tweaks that freshen things up a bit. Hoarfrost Reach is a worthy addition to World's meticulously crafted areas. I only wish we spent more time there.
TechRaptor reviewed Monster Hunter World: Iceborne on Xbox One via a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and coming to PC via Steam later on.
- Welcome Quality of Life Tweaks
- Gorgeous New World
- Challenging Monsters
- Campaign Retreads Old Ground