There’s a reason I gave the original release of Monster Hunter: World a 10/10 a couple of years ago. I had fallen passionately and romantically in love with it. I would have taken it home to meet my Mum – not my Dad, but that’s a longer story – and lived the rest of my life in happy cohabitation with it. It’s not a perfect game, none of them ever are, but its rendition of monster hunting, of incredible creatures, fantastical lands and community in the face of adversity, made it the perfect game for me. It’s a game I truly believe you could play forever, and I was willing to forsake all other games for it. When I looked into its eyes… ok, I think that particular metaphor has probably gone far enough.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is the affirmation, the permanent honeymoon, the renewal of vows, and the timing of its arrival was fortunate as my eye was just being turned by Dauntless. Console players have been hunting monsters in the frozen wastes for months now, but if PC players are looking for proof that their wait hasn’t been in vain, they’re about to receive the definitive version of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, and by that virtue Monster Hunter: World. How’s that for a second date?
Monster Hunter isn’t some new series that just appeared out of nowhere, Capcom have been plugging away for years at its ‘hunt insanely angry dragon-dino-chickens and then chop them up and turn them into fancy new gear so you can fight even angrier electric horse-fish-bat things’. World arguably perfected it by sticking it all into beautiful open areas and making the titular monsters more realistic than ever before.
Iceborne is mostly the sequel that never was, adding the snowy new village hub area of Seliana and the arctic conditions of Hoarfrost Reach to the previous five hunting grounds. Seliana is a perfect little staging area, compacting the Astera hub’s myriad traders and other helpful souls into a much smaller footprint, and Hoarfrost Reach is cold. Very cold.
It’s a beautiful snow-covered area with multiple sections to explore, bringing in bucketloads of the white stuff to slow your movement, plenty of ice to slide down, and a couple of hot springs to warm your bones if you’ve forgotten your flask. It’s a great addition to the previous hunting grounds, and one that’s both fresh and exciting while paying homage to the wintry regions of previous Monster Hunter games.
While Iceborne’s hunts can easily take up to fifty minutes – which is fine except for the times you actually need fifty-one – it’s a lot more forgiving of your time than World itself was. There are fewer random moments of meandering than in the base game and it feels slightly less stretched out because of it, focussing more on the mythical beasts at the heart of things rather than meaningless busy work.
It’s not an easy game, with Iceborne’s new and returning menagerie powered up to horrific levels. The newly introduced combos and equipment, including the Clutch Claw that lets you grapple onto the monsters, help to even the score a little, and if you’ve played through Monster Hunter World or any of the preceding games you know what to expect.
Master Rank – the level of quests you’ll find in Iceborne – make a mockery of any equipment you’ve had previously, so you’ll need to start crafting new stuff immediately. If you’re just starting out with the game as a whole, the newly added Defender armour will speed you through World’s campaign before you run aground at Iceborne, but even with that equipped you’re likely to be looking at a twenty hour run before you hit the new campaign.
If you’re coming at Iceborne and World fresh though, it’s something you should think about carefully before strapping it on. The Defender armour and accompanying weapons basically erase the base game’s central gameplay loop, removing the need to collect monster parts to turn into new gear. If you zip through World you’re not only going to miss out on the lovely world building, you’re going to hit Iceborne in poor shape for understanding half of the game’s most enjoyable metas. Don’t do it to yourself.
One thing the PC version of Iceborne has over its console-bound compatriots is a raft of lovely graphics options, and if your rig is more of a runter than a hunter, it’s not horrendously power hungry either. My GeForce GTX 1070 is still pretty high end and let me crank every single option to the max for a locked 30fps at 1440p, while shooting for the magical 60fps still allowed me plenty of bells and a few whistles.
With the Hi-Res Texture Pack installed, PC owners can rest assured that they’re seeing Monster Hunter World: Iceborne at its absolute best. What was already an attractive game on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X looks incredible on PC, and the monsters themselves get this biggest bump, coming to life in a way they never have before.
The only downside to that realism is that it might just fire a few synapses that Monster Hunter never really used to. As another one of these terrifying and beautiful creatures limps off in an attempt to escape your torrent of vicious attacks, it’s hard not to feel remorse for them.
This is a game that elevates monsters beyond the one dimensional tooth-filled horrors they could easily be to living, breathing beings in a wonderfully realised world. It’s little surprise that their demise tugs at the heartstrings that bit more. Of course, If it gets too much it’s possible to become a ‘vegan’ hunter and try to capture as many of them as possible. Sure, it’s harder… but it ultimately might make things easier.