The long-running Monster Hunter series is built squarely on its multiplayer-centric beast mashing and iteration, with each major release often followed by an upgraded Ultimate version. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is that Ultimate version of Monster Hunter: World in all but name, and as has gone before, you’re now going to be setting out into what is the best version of the game. With more monsters to thrash and a couple of chilly extra areas to feast your eyes upon, Iceborne is a spectacular return for Capcom’s most successful game to date.
There is a story, and you might be surprised to find that you’re actually quite invested in the returning group of hunters and their support staff, despite most of them being named simply The Tracker or The Handler. This time it’s a migration of Legiana that sets alarm bells ringing, and the hunters set out to see where they’re all going, because that’s what hunters do. As with every Monster Hunter game it’s simply an excuse to track, hunt and carve some mythical creatures, but it is actually well told with plenty of well-crafted cutscenes to flesh the story out. It is certainly not a narrative tour de force, but it drags you on to the next battle perfectly well.
Iceborne is a hugely generous expansion and one which gives Hunters a wealth of new content to sink their blades into. For returning players it’s likely to be the addition of Master Rank difficulty to the game that’s piqued their interest, though Monster Hunter aficionados may still feel slightly hard done by the fact it wasn’t in the original game. You can let it go now though, as the extent of the Iceborne additions speaks volumes to just how much has gone into making this a reality.
It may not have been immediately obvious, but Iceborne is a continuation of everything that World set in place, so rather than functioning as an adjunct or side story, this is effectively the sequel we’ve been waiting for. It continues where Monster Hunter: World let off, so while you may have battled your way through the Elder Dragons hundreds of times, crafted your perfect armour, and honed your hunting skills to a razor edge, prepare for it all to be dashed away in the heat – or chill – of Iceborne’s frosty wilds.
There are two new areas in Iceborne, Seliana, your new home away from home, and the new hunting ground, Hoarfrost Reach. Both offer a snowy and visually appealing new twist on World’s schtick, and they each offer a few new elements to go alongside all that ice. Seliana is a full habitat, and brings over all of the mod cons that you have in Astera, from the workshop where you craft your new gear to a new canteen run by an elderly feline Palico (there’s a much more sweet and wholesome meal animation this time around).
The main new addition to the mix is the Steamworks, which powers Seliana and provides their heat. For Hunters it brings you a button mashing mini-game where you can earn heaps of useful items like Armour Spheres and Mega Potions, turning in the fuel that you find while mining out in the hunting grounds. It’s very simple, and very silly with Palicos dancing all over the place, and not much more than a distraction, but it’s integral to upgrading your endgame armour.
The Hoarfrost Reach meanwhile shows the same level of care and attention that the other hunting grounds had. It’s a multi-level treat, with deep snow to plod through, icy mountains and destructible cliffs that can see you plummet down into the caverns if a monster steps on them a bit wrong. You’ll need your Hot Drinks on hand unless you want the cold to quickly sap your stamina, though in a pinch there are a couple of hot spring where you can have a dunk to bring the feeling back to your nethers. It also offers an exceedingly slow health boost if you’ve literaly run out of every other healing option in your arsenal, but prepare to die of boredom before a monster gets you.
It is ultimately all about those monsters though, and Iceborne adds an array of new creatures to the mix, with many fan favourites returning from previous games to beef out the roster. From the explosive stickiness of the Brachydios to the infuriating leaping of the Barioth, they each bring new challenges to the game, and for those who are new to this generation they’ve never looked more realistic, or more lethal.
Iceborne is an incredibly generous offering. Besides the new monsters there are also new varieties of World’s central cast, and whether they’re Shrieking, Acidic or Savage variations, they shouldn’t be underestimated just because you’ve faced a version of them before. The Paolumu may be a fluffy wretch in the main game, but the Nightshade Paolumu is a much tougher challenge thanks to its near-constant use of sleeping gas. A Shrieking Bazelgeuse meanwhile is an even more horrible version of the Bazelgeuse – if you can imagine that – with an increased range and even more explosive options.
Fortunately Hunters have a bunch of new attacking options, with the Clutch Claw by far and away the best one. Your grappling hook can now lock onto enemies and you can leap onto sections of their body from a distance. If you’re not immediately thrown loose you get the chance to cause a nice chunk of damage and weaken that area, allowing you to then focus on it for even more damage. Besides that, if you leap onto a monster’s head you can direct them towards traps which will buy you a few vital moments to lay into them even more.
Each of the main weapons has also gained new additions to their combo flow or a few tweaks at the very least, such as the Great Sword’s newly powered up True Charge Slash, that causes even more damage if you successfully land every hit. You can also fire off a slinger shot mid-combo, not only potentially causing a monster to flinch, but also allowing you to jump into the final cycle of the True Charge Slash early. These changes aren’t integral – you can even bypass them completely if you wanted to – but for returning Hunters there’s a few new options to keep combat fresh and exciting.