Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Review - A Very Ice TimeTime: Jan. 14, 2020
Monster Hunter World was an exercise in refinement upon its release in early 2018.
Not only did it manage to simplify a franchise-wide burgeoning quest system,but it
also had a very successful stab at creating an open-world ecosystem absolutely
teeming with things to do and colossal monsters who want to hunt you.
Best of all, these changes never overwhelmed--the new mission and upgrade systems
that were introduced were relatively straightforward to grasp, all whilst leaving room
for experienced hunters to master them.
The design philosophy behind Monster Hunter World: Iceborne takes a similar approach
in implementing that sort of content, though on a larger scale; it uses touchstones in the
form of storied foes and familiar locations to build upon the robust ecosystem of the base
game to deliver an experience that will test your mettle without breaking you.
Iceborne is all about building on existing foundations. This is most evident in the narrative
that has been spun out in the wake of the base game’s single-player campaign.
Monster HunterWorld was notable for introducing a clear-cut, story-based incentive to throw
yourself against the biggest and baddest beasts out there. Iceborne takes a slightly crooked
step forward by spinning a story that revolves not around you, but around your Handler.
As soon as you’re introduced to the latest curveball about Iceborne’s new signature
location, Hoarfrost Reach, and how that intersects rather conveniently with your
Handler’s past, you’re immediately whisked back to lands and territories from the
base game to cull a couple of monsters that have gotten too big for their boots.
The changes that Iceborne makes in the form of these variant breeds has a twofold
effect: First, they provide you with a motivation to form new strategies to slice and
dice their way to the next story beat. Secondly, they’re just distinct enough in terms
of attack patterns and additional elemental considerations that you never really feel
like you’re just fighting a reskin of something that you made mincemeat out of 80
hours ago. It's as if there's been a concerted effort to balance the difficulty of what
many fans might rightfully view as the second coming of the coveted “G-Rank” in
this latest iteration of Monster Hunter.
Despite some focus on iterating established systems, there are innovations introduced
in Iceborne that truly set it apart from its predecessor. Brand-new monsters and the
implementation of legacy series favourites like Nargacuga look and feel impressive
thanks to all the new ways monsters can interact with other beasts and the various
locations. But more importantly, there is a library’s worth of new weapon moves
for you to take advantage of.
That new, frosty landscape is beautiful and treacherous in equal measure. With new foes,
more verticality than the Coral Highlands, and frozen terrain that can crack and send you
plunging to your death, it really is a sight to behold. More than ever, it feels like the
environment can be turned against you; some monsters will uproot trees and throw them
at you, while the wrong move on cracked ice can mean certain death.
By that measure, however, there are also more opportunities to get the jump on your enemies,
especially with the Clutch Claw giving you the ability to walk them into vine traps, blinding
light, and more. Having a grasp of every bit of the map is integral to truly mastering what
Iceborne has to throw at you, and it’s incredibly satisfying when everything suddenly clicks
and you go from the hunted to the hunter leading their prey to a painful trap that attempts to
even the scales.
Being dropped into this intricately-designed location as a relatively new player may be
overwhelming, but no matter your experience level, joining up with other hunters and
picking your way through this icy dens of beasts together is incredibly rewarding in its
own way. Iceborne benefits from the matchmaking improvements introduced since the
release of the base game, which have made it relatively seamless on console to find
fellow hunters--no more messing about with PlayStation parties and friends lists--and
dropping into a party to help friends tackle these fearsome monsters is easy.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is at its best when you’re fighting tooth and nail against
something that you know could crush you within its teeth in a second, even though this
might feel like it came at the expense of a more interesting narrative. Nothing is quite as
good as the biting chill cutting through the furs of your armor, the shrill cry of your Palico
as it comes to your aid, and the wind roaring in your ears as you latch onto a beast’s flank
and climb up its side while it bucks and roars.
This expansion is rife with moments like that; all of the tweaking and the improvements
feel like they were done with the excellent building blocks of Monster Hunter World in mind,
which means that getting to the meat of the matter is quicker and more satisfying than ever.
There’s no more fussing about with new systems or worrying about ruffling the feathers of
hardcore fans with a direction change in the series; those teething problems have already
come and gone.