Getting to grips with Monster Hunter World’s frosty Iceborne expansion

Monster Hunter World has been a huge success for Capcom, with millions and millions of copies being sold showing just how big a market they were missing out on when the series was exclusively on Nintendo 3DS. Now, with the impending release of Iceborne in September, it’s set to get even bigger.

So, first things first, I need to admit that I’m a relative newcomer to the world of Monster Hunter. I bounced hard off the 3DS iterations and the clunky controls they offered (as so many people did), and when Monster Hunter: World rolled around, I didn’t have a great appetite for huge slogging battles and grinding to improve – this was about the time that I put Destiny 2 to one side as well.

So sitting down to play Iceborne was an interesting proposition with just a few hours spent dabbling with the early monster battles of World to acquaint myself with the basics. Surprisingly, I found myself actually doing alright in Iceborne, though this will no doubt have been helped by being kitted out with a comprehensive array of high end gear and an item box stuffed to the rafters with all the items I could possibly wish for.

Even so, I can see that Iceborne won’t be a good entry point for those tempted by the fresh bouts of Monster Hunter marketing. The one simple reason for that is that this is an additive expansion to World, set after the events of the base game instead of sprinkling new content through. For those that drifted away from World before reaching the end, you’ll have some catching up to do, but it won’t dull that original game, in contrast to MMOs and live games such as Destiny 2 where those lagging behind are boosted on their way up to the new end game content.

Then again, given the series’ heritage and with 12 million copies of the game out in the wild, that makes perfect sense. In the past each game was followed by an Ultimate release that added a few monsters, a few gameplay tweaks and the like, getting fans to shell out a second time and battle through once more. Iceborne is equivalent to that in many ways, but by far and away the biggest and most ambitious expansion a Monster Hunter has seen to date.

It all starts as the Commission send you out to look for Legiana, only to see them migrating across the waters to a new island while an Elder Dragon runs amok between them. Obviously you have to give chase with the rest of the Fifth Fleet and drop onto the frigid new landmass to find a bevy of challenging new beasts to hunt down and battle.

One of the things that immediately strikes you is how the world looks. What isn’t covered in a thick blanket of snow is an icy glacier or an underground ice cavern, and it’s certainly a distinctive and gorgeous new area for the game to head to. There’s some meaningful gameplay effects that stem from this as well, with deep snow slowing your movement speed as well as looking fantastic as it’s torn up by your fights with hulking big creatures. Beyond that, the cold will slowly sap your maximum stamina and force you to seek out hot water springs or gulp down a hot drink to warm up your core.

Returning players will soon settle into the familiar loop of striking out on a discovery expedition, following the lead of an NPC buddy and the glowflies that pick out all the consumables and points of interest in the world until you eventually find a new monster to defeat. Whether you taken them on there an then, head back to camp and stuff your face with some extravagant carb-loaded grub, set off an SOS flare, or gather a group of friends and try to take it on in co-op, it’s bound to be a gruelling affair.

The first few beasties you’ll face in the expansion offer some nice contrasts. Beotodus is almost like a land shark in how it burrows into the ground and snowdrifts, its horn peaking out from the ground before it leaps and attacks you in a variety of different ways. Banbaro (which featured in the demo last month) is more conventional, like an oversized elk with huge horns that it occasionally uses to dig out and roll balls of rock to crush you, or getting tangled up with a tree that widens its range. And that then contrasts with Viper Tobi-Kadachi, a tricky customer that whips around with its tail and spits out poisonous barbs – make sure you’ve got enough antidotes and healing potions when dealing with this one! Oh, and I got a glimpse of a Fulgur Anjanath, Iceborne’s earliest subspecies that stomped through and got stuck in with one of my battles, actually doing me a big favour against the Viper Tobi-Kadachi.

I soon learnt to lean on the new gameplay crutch of the Clutch Claw, letting you grapple onto the beast and attack a specific limb. In truth, I ended up leaning on this a bit too much, lowering my overall damage output and using it as an escape from close quarters scrapping. Sometimes it even backfired, catching myself out by grappling into an attack. It’s bound to be much better for veterans who can integrate it into their habits and combos with different weapons. While there aren’t any new weapons to master – it’s not like Monster Hunter is light on different weapon types, to be fair – there will be new upgrades to work toward with new elemental attacks and combos to learn.

Somewhat disappointing is, once again, the hard line in the sand that Capcom are drawing between Iceborne and the base game. Though it feels more like a gameplay utility, the Clutch Claw will be exclusive to Iceborne players, and while they will be able to take it back and tackle hunts from the base game with it, with no Iceborne, you get none of its potential benefits. While I can understand new high end armour and weapons, locking the new Slinger abilities behind a paywall feels a bit too cheeky to me.

While it might not present a fresh starting point for those looking to get their first taste of Monster Hunter, Iceborne will check a lot of boxes for a lot of others. With a big new landmass to explore, giving a frosty new twist to the game, and plenty of new and returning beasts to take on (and with a new Master Rank difficulty for the absolute high end players), there’s plenty to look forward to in this expansion.

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