Monster Hunter has always been a franchise that hooks players with a mercilessly addictive gameplay loop: Make a weapon out of a monster, then use that to beat more monsters into submission so you can make new weapons and pants out of them. Monster Hunter, truly, is a game series all about fashion, as who wouldn’t want to slaughter murderous dinosaurs with literal swords for tails while in your most dapper dragon-pants? The Monster Hunter series, we reviewed the core game earlier, typically have a superabundance of content for their base games, but go well beyond that for their expansions- called “Ultimate” versions in Western countries for the previous generations. So is Iceborne worth spending another several hundred hours with, or will this game leave you in the cold? Let’s find out.
Iceborne, as with most of Monster Hunter’s G-rank expansions, takes place after the game’s main campaign- so this means that you would need to spend the time completing the game before jumping into this content. The story is very similar to World’s: Monsters are suddenly migrating when they probably shouldn’t be, we find a new location because of it, and then we set forth to murder whatever is causing the climate change because we’re really just a simple people. The story itself is very simple, as most Monster Hunter games are, but the development team tried to give the secondary and tertiary characters of the Research Commission more screen time in order to flesh them out. This can be viewed with varying levels of success, as a lot of it is just background noise before you get to go back out and hunt new, interesting monsters.
Monster Hunter is a game that plays very much as a series of boss fights- every monster, even the ones that you are supposed to learn the mechanics from, can kill you pretty easily if you don’t watch what you’re doing. Players are expected to select from one of the 14 weapons available and learn a monster’s tells and attack through openings- each weapon has its own completely unique list of commands, so there’s a veritable ton of customization before you even get into how each piece of armor that you can craft in the game has skills tied to it, and those skills can make your hunts go substantially faster by providing you with more power, or give you ease of mind by boosting your maximum health or enhancing your evade.
Each monster has its own unique set of attacks as well, with new monsters like Glavenus, last seen in Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, having fast attacks with his seething hot tail-blade that can cut through a hunter’s armor like butter if you’re not careful. Iceborne is World’s “G-Rank” expansion, newly dubbed Master Rank, where monsters hit harder, the challenge is greater, but so, too, are the rewards. New items and gear you can’t get anywhere else exist in Master Rank, even from monsters that existed in the base game. Weaponry and armor crafted in base World can still be upgraded, with varying degrees of effectiveness, but will require Master Rank materials from versions of old monsters that hit harder and have entirely new attacks.
On top of this, players also have access to a new tool no matter which weapon is at your disposal: The Clutch Claw. While it’s oddly alliterative name sounds kind of childish, it’s an absolutely indispensable tool in your arsenal for tackling Master Rank monsters, both new and old, as it allows you to grapple onto the monster and smack it hard with your weapon, temporarily weakening the spot hit so it takes more damage from your attacks for a limited time. Each weapon can also use their slinger to fire projectiles with their weapon unsheathed (from flash pods to blind monsters to thorn pods that will stagger them momentarily), and you can combine the Clutch Claw with your slinger ammo to slap monsters and drive them into walls, objects, or even other monsters. This deals big damage, knocks the monster(s) out temporarily, and more importantly: Looks really cool.
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That’s not to say, however, that Monster Hunter World or Iceborne is for everybody: Hunts in these games are not quick one or two minute boss fights like players may be used to in contemporary video games. With optimal gear and appropriate skills, hunts may take only three to 10 minutes, but while working your way up through the story you’ll likely be spending 15 or 20 minutes in every single hunt. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that you can fail a quest by fainting too many times: There’s only three shared ‘lives’ among players in any one quest, and while that number can be increased with skills or could be lower during special investigations, this relatively holds true for the majority of the game. So one guy not paying attention, walking into a giant, glowing spot of lightning death created by a majestic unicorn is forgivable once, but if the guy does it twice more, the quest is failed for everyone and nobody gets materials to make new pants today.
As mentioned before, the core gameplay loop is: Make pants → find monster → fight monster by learning its attack patterns and hitting it whenever you can → make new pants out of monster. If you don’t get enough materials by hunting the monster once, it’s back to hunting it again, each time sharpening your skills and making your completion times a little bit faster as you learn the ins and outs of your prey. You engage in what are essentially 10+ minute boss fights, collect items, and use those items to craft new equipment and prepare items for your next hunt. Farming materials to make better gear to approach the next difficult monster is something commonly done as you progress through the game, as it may be difficult for you to tackle the ice Elder Dragon Velkhana with gear that has a negative resistance to ice, meaning you take more damage from ice-based attacks.
Iceborne adds a total of 27 new monsters to World’s original 37 monsters, with some being variants or subspecies of base game monsters, such as Viper Tobi-Kadachi, who uses poison and paralysis instead of electricity to subdue its foes. Returning monsters from previous games like Barioth, Tigrex, and Nargacuga look similar to one another in model, but could be any more different to fight- Nargacuga stalks around its prey and uses frequent fake outs and attacks from behind, much like a large cat like a panther would. Meanwhile, Tigrex spends most of its time roaring and throwing itself at you relentlessly, hoping that you’ll die so he can go back home in time to watch Maury or whatever it is monsters do.
Each weapon, on top of the slinger-with-weapon-out mechanic and Clutch Claw, each get new moves they can utilize as well- the Lance can now counterattack with the Clutch Claw itself, blocking an attacking and then grappling directly into the monster to tenderize them for follow up attacks or drive them into walls. The Charge Blade gets a fancy new Savage Axe mode that powers up the axe at the expense of discharging your phials slowly over a period of time, but it definitely allows you to keep your DPS high while a monster is downed. Each weapon gets at least one new thing that players can add to their arsenal, which can help keep gameplay fresh as you work to optimize its utilization in your hunts over hours of play.
On top of new monsters and weapon mechanics, there is, of course, tons of new gear to craft. Master Rank has more gear to craft than the entirety of High Rank (the end of base World) by itself, and new decorations are present that feature two skills on them- allowing you access to two powerful abilities at the cost of one jewel slot in your armor (so while armor sets seem to have fewer slots in Master Rank, the double-decorations seem to make up for it). Mantles can now equip decorations, as well, and give you the benefits of those skills while the mantle is active, giving you the flexibility in your offensive or defensive options depending on your skill set, your weapon, and which mantles you’re going to use.
The new gathering hub has almost all of the features a player could want, which were sorely lacking from the previous game’s gathering hub. The hub, itself, is where players can see each other and interact, and in base World if you wanted to craft gear or set up your botanical research to farm items, you’d have a couple loading screens ahead of you as you’d have to leave the hub. Currently, most items are present in there, so players seem to be more active in interacting with one another, more akin to previous games.
The end-game activity of Iceborne won’t be spoiled here, but it’s largely where players will find the materials to augment their fully upgraded weapons again, so if you want health regen or critical hit chance bonuses on your weapon, you’ll likely be grinding out Iceborne’s end game for dozens of hours. The whole of Iceborne’s campaign is probably in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 hours, but you continue unlocking monsters for dozens of hours after (a particular Elder Dragon can’t even be hunted for his materials until you hit MR100, which will likely take you quite a while. There are also new monsters unlocked at varying capstones between MR49-69 as well).
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is the best we could have expected from a G/Master Rank expansion. Tons of new monsters to hunt only add to the deliberate combat, and the new levels of challenge will greatly reward players who stick with it till the end. Players who don’t like farming materials to make new gear often, or who didn’t enjoy the base of Monster Hunter World likely will not enjoy Iceborne. After all, this is roughly the same as World but more. It’s also a fair deal more difficult, to boot, so players who may have found World too hard may not appreciate all of what Iceborne brings to the table, as it’s pretty easy to use up your collective lives in Iceborne until you get better equipment. However, those who enjoy positive feedback gameplay loops, those who enjoy robust equipment crafting systems, and those who just outright enjoy a challenging game will find hours and hours of enjoyment in Iceborne.