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Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review – Winter Wonderland

Heaven__

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Diving into Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, the first and last major expansion for Capcom’s massively successful action RPG, is a task. It goes above and beyond what expansions are offering these days, encompassing and improving the base game while adding tons of new content. A brand new experience, Iceborne is also an adventure in its own right – sweeping, brutal, grand and yet wholly enrapturing, even as you’re battered by tougher and tougher monsters.



"These monsters leverage knowledge of their patterns, the environment and the weapons you’re using to provide some of the toughest challenges yet."

If you have even an inkling of what Monster Hunter is about, then let’s get this out of the way right now: Iceborne is more of the same. You’re still hunting giant monsters that can take upwards of 20 minutes to kill even with “decent” gear. You’re still prepping Potions, traps, elemental weaknesses, Demondrugs, Armorskins, meals and whatnot to stand a fighting chance. Crafting weapons and armor by gathering materials and murdering the same monsters time and time again…only to craft stronger weapons and armor to take on tougher monsters is still the core gameplay loop. If any of this sounded daunting when Monster Hunter World first released, make no mistake – Iceborne doubles down on this and then some.

However, if you enjoyed your time with the base game, whether it was casually clocking in 200 hours or grinding out Hunter Ranks while tackling Behemoth and Arch-Tempered foes, Iceborne is a deliverance. It adds a brand new story, new quests, armor and weapon tiers tied to Master Rank. You’re essentially back to square one since the Master Rank armor and weapons have higher defense and damage stats right off the bat. It’s a question of mixing and matching the best sets when you’re not simply crafting something, anything, that’s statistically better than what you’ve got. Long story short, it’s the grind and it’s glorious.

But obtaining better gear and upgrading it isn’t the end. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is smarter than that, almost to an insidious degree. These monsters leverage knowledge of their patterns, the environment and the weapons you’re using to provide some of the toughest challenges yet. It starts out innocently enough with a Beotodus and even veterans will be left somewhat floundering thanks to the new region, Hoarfrost Reach.

Temperatures drop, facilitating the need for Hot Drinks and springs to keep stamina from draining. The snow will impede your movement, something which works in Beotodus’s favour as it darts through the fields. However, it’s predictable with opening that facilitate using the new Clutch Claw. After a harrowing several minutes, it’s dead and you’ve established a foothold. Congratulations are in order but the journey hasn’t even begun.



"New skills and set bonuses have also been added but if you want a Master Rank version of Legiana’s set or even Odogaron’s, don’t worry – they’re all present and accounted for."

From there, it’s a flurry of encounters, each devastating and unique in its own right. You’ll be paralyzed and poisoned by the new Viper Tobi-Kadachi. Glavenus will arc an entire screen with its tail, giving you no place to run (and Acidic Glavenus is worse since it resides within the confines of the Rotten Veil). Even Ebony Odogaron with its projectile attacks, dodges, spin attacks and ability to inflict Defense Down is a challenge. Nearly every monster uses the environment in unique ways – Banbaro will pick up trees and hurl them at you. Barioth will hang off the walls of caverns in an attempt to catch you off-guard when it’s not bombarding you with ice tornados. The sheer degree of aggression from the monsters, especially as you progress through the story, is a big step-up from High Rank. But once again, if you’ve been cutting your teeth on higher level content before this, craving fresh challenges, Iceborne delivers a welcome infusion of new monstrosities to best.

The best part is when you figure out to properly battle these foes. Acidic Glavenus is a good example. You can’t just count on running away when fighting it due to the overwhelming reach of its attacks. So you’re best bet is to stick close, out of the way of its tail, and hopefully landing attacks. Of course, that’s also easier said than done given the Rotten Vale’s environmental hazards and having to keep the monster’s acidic effects in mind.

In order to properly outfit you for this endeavor, Iceborne introduces tons of new features. Level 4 Decorations have been added, providing two Skills instead of one (some even raise the cap on skills like Maximum Might or provide two points on a single skill). The Elder Melder now accepts Warrior and Hero Streamstones to create Decorations, offering a nice resource sink for those with extras. There’s the Steamworks which accepts materials and converts them to fuel to generate items if you manage to win the guessing game. It’s fairly random but wacky and rewarding enough to still be fun. You can fit Decorations into Mantles after completing the requisite quests, further diversifying the build potential. New skills and set bonuses have also been added but if you want a Master Rank version of Legiana’s set or even Odogaron’s, don’t worry – they’re all present and accounted for.



"There’s a lot to crunch through in Iceborne and while the majority of these tasks will kill you (in-game, of course), there’s always some incentive to embark on a new hunt."

Each weapon type has a brand new set of moves to master and when combined with the Clutch Claw, which can be used to grapple onto a monster and stun them with the Slinger into a wall for massive damage, combat becomes a lot more diverse. The Switchaxe has a devastating new overhead axe smash, which is good for wake-ups, and you can grapple onto monsters to hit them with Zero Sum Discharge several times over. The Longsword uses a new sheathing action which does some pretty good damage when the weapon gauge is completely red, and can immediately transition into a Spirit Helm Breaker. The Slinger can be utilized with all weapons unsheathed, which leads to some interesting combos like stunning monsters in the middle of wind-ups with the Greatsword or dodging while firing off shots with the Dual Blades. There’s a definite learning curve for many of these new techniques, especially when it comes to judging the distance of grapples onto a monster, but they compliment the intense, visceral combat very well.

And there are lots of quests, both Assigned and Optional to complete. Sure, some of them may still be your standard “Go kill X number of small monsters” but others task you with battling Master Rank versions of a Rathalos, Rathian, Azure Rathalos, Odogaron, the list goes on. Each has their own associated Master Rank armor with new Skills, looks (though a few reskins can be seen here and there) and Level 4 Decoration slots. Weapon trees all have additional nodes, some locked off until you hit end game – so while veterans won’t exactly be able to upgrade all of their end-game gear right away, there are still plenty of potent alternatives available.

There’s a lot to crunch through in Iceborne and while the majority of these tasks will kill you (in-game, of course), there’s always some incentive to embark on a new hunt. A potential new gear piece to craft, a new decoration to earn, a new challenge to face. Whether you’re taking up an Investigation or simply farming Velkhana for that sweet armor set, the game will suck you in. It’s very much the same Monster Hunter World gameplay loop, just more nuanced and more of it.

This isn’t to say it’s perfect. The odd camera angle can stick out in enclosed spaces and cause frustration. Roar spam can still get annoying. Turf Wars seem to happen a little too often, seemingly to offset a monster’s high health, and it can be kind of tedious to sit back for the third time while two titans duke it out. Let’s not even get into some of those hitboxes which can sometimes be inconsistent. Glavenus’s enormous tail passes right by my face and doesn’t so much as graze me but Velkhana’s tail stabs can rip through space-time to chunk off my health? I’m somewhat exaggerating on the latter but it’s still annoying to think an attack has missed by a few inches, only to get hit by it.



"Even with all the major releases planned for the year, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is a wholly encompassing, dense, and gratifying experience that’s worth playing – and yes, even suffering through."

Some monsters will absolutely push you to the limit in terms of weapon skill (at least until you get the right combination of skills and elements to subdue them in less time). The game is still fairly grindy, demanding a solid hour or two in each sitting especially given how much longer the fights can initially be. However, that sense of reward and achievement, of besting the odds through a mix of cunning and grit, still remains. You’ll need it to, especially with some of the subspecies that have returned.

You’ll probably notice that I haven’t gone too much into the story. Much like the base game, Iceborne‘s story isn’t its biggest hook. The Legianas of the New World are migrating to a new icy continent with a chilling song resonating through the air. It’s your job to find out why, especially as the new Elder Dragon Velkhana suddenly emerges to oppose the Fifth Fleet. Old favorites return, the Handler is as goofy as ever and there’s an intriguing mystery to solve. The story is decent and serviceable overall. While it doesn’t stand out as remarkable, I mostly enjoyed the interactions and revelations that unfolded over time.

Credit must also be given to Hoarfrost Reach. It’s fairly large, offers a variety of unique sites and sounds, whether you’re venturing into the forest to see a Banbaro casually grazing among smaller monsters or falling with a shattered cliff into the icy caverns. I’m still impressed at how Capcom utilized the region in so many different ways for each fight, making it sit well alongside the others.

Don’t get me wrong – even as a fan of Monster Hunter World, Iceborne does have its annoyances. In the grand scheme of things though, they’re fairly minor and take a backseat to the grandeur of exploring the new region. The charm of seeing Grammeowster Chef prepare new meals for you. The indelible danger and challenge of facing Velkhana, only to emerge victorious at the skin of your teeth. Even with all the major releases planned for the year, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is a wholly encompassing, dense, and gratifying experience that’s worth playing – and yes, even suffering through.

This game was reviewed on PS4.

THE GOOD
Wealth of new content, from a new story and quests to new armor and gear. New monsters and subspecies are both challenging and present intriguing mechanics. Decorations, skills and play-styles have been expanded thanks to the addition of new moves. The Clutch Claw is an excellent new addition that mixes up fights. Hoarfrost Reach is fun to explore and unique while presenting new challenging scenarios. It's the same Monster Hunter grind that you know and probably love.


THE BAD
Camera can sometimes get iffy when fighting in tight spaces. Roar spam and some monster hitboxes can be annoying to deal with. Story is serviceable for the most part but there isn't too much by way of plot.





FINAL VERDICT
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne has everything that a fan could possibly want - challenging monsters, tons of new weapons and armor, an incredibly in-depth combat system with even more nuance thanks to new moves and mechanics, and a boat-load of new quests. The typical annoyances remain but don't let that stop you from undertaking this icy exodus.



Reviewed by GamingBolt.
 

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