It’s still hard to believe that Monster Hunter World is now Capcom’s best-selling game of all time, eclipsing the likes of Resident Evil and Devil May Cry by a significant margin. Initially a niche franchise that seldom broke ground outside Japan, the series is now having millions poured into it as the publisher’s flagship product.
This reputation is deserved, since the original release is positively fantastic. While some niggles remained, it did the impossible and translated a previously impenetrable formula into an absorbing adventure that everyone could enjoy. Every monster you bested was a thrilling achievement in itself, with many on Team Trusted losing days to earning their hunter rank.
Capcom aims to continue its streak of brilliance with Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, the first and only expansion, which will strive to deliver as much content as a full release. It will take players to a luscious new landmass drenched in snow, with endless plains of ice transforming all we’ve come to know of the continent.
While not transformative, this stark change of aesthetic makes for a wonderfully refreshing return. Monster Hunter World has been out of the spotlight long enough to make me genuinely excited about jumping into Iceborne. As for hardcore hunters, they’ll be drooling over everything on offer here.
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Iceborne begins with me and my friendly neighbourhood tracker investigating a lead that certain creatures are acting strangely on the continent, flying out to sea for no apparent reason. It’s an anomaly that takes us on a brief excursion into Monster Hunter World’s opening area, noting unusual tracks as we go.
Observing a few flying creatures lingering near the coast, it becomes clear they’re flying towards a new continent – one covered in snow. This is uncharted territory, and it’s the job of a hunter to discover its bounty and take the spoils. With little respect for the local wildlife, I take to the sky with my motley crew of adventurers to uncover this new world and its unknown climate.
I have to admire how immediately Iceborne hurls you into the thick of things. After only a handful of cutscenes and a mission or two, I’m back hunting monsters in no time. It abides by all the rules players are familiar with, although the endless piles of ice and snow bend the previous status quo.
The freezing environment has a distinct impact on movement and stamina, with ice covering my clothes and slowing me to a crawl if I’m not careful. Hot drinks can be crafted from nearby herbs to combat this, alleviating the layers of ice on my person and restoring my stats. I can also take a dip in one of the luscious hot springs spread across the map. Either works, but remaining aware of the cold forces me to keep on my toes on hunts that often last 20 minutes or more.
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My first opponent in the new locale known as Hoarfrost Reach is Beotodus, a creature those who played the beta will know very well. This reptilian creature is capable of diving into the snow and swimming beneath it before springing out to attack any prey foolish enough to stumble across it. For a novice hunter, he’s a challenging foe, knocking players off their feet with ease, stunlocks and all.
Luckily for me, I have the tools to take him down. I litter the floor with shock traps, placing them strategically so Beotodus leaps out and zaps himself silly. Once he’s crippled, I jump in and tear his legs apart with my trusty hammer. Without them, he’s powerless to burrow underground, and being on the surface leaves him vulnerable.
When I smash his limbs to pieces, earning a few rare crafting ingredients, Beotodus is out for the count – my first mission in the realm of Iceborne is a success. Despite having not touched Monster Hunter World in months, I feel completely at home. Sure, I’m a little rusty, but the thrill of hunting beasties across a sprawling map remains unparalleled.
Once our first monster is defeated, it’s time to set up camp, establishing a base of operations that truly feels like home. Having spent dozens of hours in Monster Hunter World’s original hub area, it’s refreshing to have a new place to relax in. All the characters you know are accounted for, alongside some new faces who are just as helpful. It feels like a holiday for our hunters, and I adore it.
Once I feel comfortable in my temporary abode, I embark on an expedition to discover more about the world of Iceborne. While it follows many of the mechanical intricacies of the vanilla experience, the ecosystem within Iceborne is surprisingly different. Creatures you aren’t murdering for their skins and other appendages linger in specific areas. Whether they are bathing in hot springs to combat the cold or hiding away in caves to retain heat, all of the animals are adapting to this world much as you are. It feels untouched by humanity, its biting air preventing any industrial taint to its beautiful aesthetic. That is, until I decide to execute all of them to make a snazzy new coat. Isn’t mother nature lovely?
Aside from the visual differences, Iceborne also introduces some mechanical improvements. You’re now kitted out with a Clutch Claw, allowing you to cling onto larger monsters for a swift attack. I found this hugely valuable once I’d discovered enemies’ weak points, strategically slashing away at them before retreating to safety.
Such additions add an extra sense of scale to encounters, especially when Turf Wars commence. Clinging to a giant creature while he does battle with another is epic, making you feel like a minuscule insect dwarfed by titans. Emerging victorious after 30 minutes of bitter struggle never gets dull, even if some aspects still frustrate. Weighty movement means it’s still easy to find yourself stunlocked, or a victim of the ropey camera system.
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Iceborne also introduces Master Rank quests, thrusting players into new hunts which make new and existing monsters stronger than ever before. These are top-tier encounters and aren’t for the faint-hearted, which only makes me all the more excited about getting my butt kicked. Obviously, you’ll want to bring some friends along.
Iceborne is a staggering expansion to Monster Hunter World, poised to introduce what is essentially an entire new game’s worth of content. New locations, monsters, weapons and more are set to enhance Capcom’s best-selling game, making it even bigger and better.
While I’ve not been a fan of the franchise since its inception, it’s been a treat watching it linger in niche circles for years before bursting into the mainstream. This could be to Iceborne’s slight detriment, however; players are required to have completed the original’s campaign and reach a certain rank before even touching what’s on offer here.
But for hardcore fans and those who’ve seen everything World has to offer, Iceborne is shaping up to be one of the finest expansions of this generation. Few titles capture a sense of adrenaline, scale and reward like this one.