Truth be told, I’d never touched a Monster Hunter game prior to the last few weeks. Starting Monster Hunter World fresh so close to Iceborne‘s release had one very curious addition, though. Before I even got out of the character creator, my new hunter was strapped into some fancy armor by default. During my first few hours, I didn’t quite get that this armor was meant to give my early hours with the game a giant boost.
But something felt off. Enemies were barely doing any damage. The defender weapon that was easily forged at the outset also seemed insanely powerful. I spent those initial hours steamrolling the already weak early monsters before Googling what the deal was. The armor and weapons are meant to get new players ready for Iceborne as soon as possible. And almost everyone I played Monster Hunter World with during these early hours was using this gear. I stopped using it immediately upon learning what it was for, and I’m glad I did. The early hours of Iceborne gave me some serious grief that I doubt I would have been ready for had I coasted.
The best defense
Even though that armor was supposedly going to carry players through to the expansion ASAP, it won’t exactly let players new to it dive right in. As I was on a tight timetable, I jumped into Iceborne right after beating the final boss of the main game’s story, so I didn’t have time to experience Monster Hunter World‘s original endgame. Fighting the first couple of monsters was actually a bit of a pain with my high-rank armor and rarity 8 weapon that had seen absolutely no significant upgrades fresh off the boss.
It’s not that I kept getting carted or anything. The problem was that these fights were taking a very long time compared to what I was used to. In the base game, a solo hunt would rarely take me more than 30 minutes at max. But in Iceborne, running out of time became a recurring thing for me. At first, I figured this was simply due to how outclassed my gear was. My first order of business after taking down these two monsters was to get myself a whole new set of armor and weapons.
It took a few hours, but I eventually settled on how I’d gear myself for the time being. Iceborne‘s weakest armor severely outclasses MHW‘s pre-endgame stuff by a very wide margin. It also allows you to forge a few rarity 9 weapons of each type from scratch if you don’t feel like grinding your way through weapon trees or upgrading the weapon you brought with you. But rarity 9 weapons aren’t that much stronger than the rarity 8 ones that you can easily make by the end of the base game. And I think this is where most of my trouble came from.
Master of the house
One of the big draws in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is that it’s not just a new area and some different monsters to fight. Sure, you gain access to the snowy sixth zone and a dozen all-new (to World, at least) monsters, but the expansion also introduces the Master Rank (MR) difficulty. This is, arguably, the most substantial aspect it brings to the table. The jump is exactly like going from Low to High Rank.
You can return to any other location and fight MR versions of any of the previous monsters. Locations have new items to gather, and the MR monsters drop new crafting ingredients for making more advanced armor and weapons. Although it seems obvious, it’s worth mentioning that you need to own and install Iceborne to even access MR. Suffice to say, anyone with just the base game will feel this. If you want to keep going in Monster Hunter World now, you will need the expansion.
The interesting thing to note, though, is how Iceborne practically kills the original endgame. People who get the expansion before they’ve dispatched Xeno’jiiva will likely just go directly to it and bypass what millions of players spent hundreds of hours on. Of course, it replaces it with a new endgame that features yet another new area that changes things up significantly. But anyone currently in the middle of farming AT Elders for decorations and stream stones might be more than a little miffed.
Ice to see you
Iceborne has an all-new story campaign to play through as well. Surprisingly, its narrative is more grounded and focused than that of the main game. It begins with a large flock of Legiana being observed migrating, which leads to the discovery of a new, icy landmass in the distance. You and your handler head to this new land to set up a forward base and learn about surprising connections to the past.
The narrative here isn’t necessarily any more intriguing than that of the main game. However, focusing on specific characters, as the game does here, makes the world feel more lived-in. It’s also nice to have character arcs drive the story, rather than “we’re chasing this giant monster because it’s giant and a monster.”
Along with that, the new main area, Hoarfrost Reach, looks great. Watching your hunter drag themselves through the snow as it displaces relative to your movement really makes the environment come to life. And the new base, Seliana, is much more to my liking than Astera. It’s got a completely open floor plan that lets you accomplish all of the same things, just without having to use lifts or go back and forth between sections, which is appreciated.
Obviously, one of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne‘s biggest draws is the new monsters. The base game has 31 unique monsters, and the expansion has 12. On top of those, there are also 12 variations on the pool of 43 unique ones. Some of these feel more like palette swaps with status effects slapped on them, like a Tobi-Kadachi that’s venomous instead of electric, or a Paolumu that creates sleeping gas every five seconds. Fighting these is almost exactly like tackling the original versions once you gear up to make yourself immune to them.
But others feel totally different. The Coral Pukei-Pukei takes one of the game’s weakest monsters and substitutes poison for water while drastically changing its moveset and making it far more dangerous. But the new monsters seemed exceptionally tanky to me. During the base game, I only ran out of time on a single story hunt. Even then, that was because I insisted on trying to fight a Legiana with a weapon that couldn’t quite reach it. But fights during Iceborne often saw me run out of time.
I’m not sure if it was because my weapons weren’t good enough, but I always had the best ones I could make. Perhaps it was because I had no choice but to fight everything solo. But I repeatedly found myself ending fights via capture with only a few minutes left to spare. And this was often after dozens of minutes of swatting monsters. It was definitely an added layer of frustration that I didn’t enjoy. This shouldn’t be so much of an issue for hunters who travel in packs.
Clutching at straws
Aside from monsters, new areas, and Master Rank, there are even more additions in Iceborne. You now have access to an item called the clutch claw, which allows you to grapple onto monsters from a short distance away and briefly attack a specific part. This is great for doing some quick damage, but it’s mostly used to soften up tougher monster parts and can be instrumental in breaking them now. But using this is surprisingly cumbersome.
You use it by pressing the B or circle button (or appropriate key if you don’t prefer the controller) while aiming with the left trigger and right analog stick. That makes it trickier than needed to latch on immediately, as you must take your thumb off of the stick. And even then, monsters move around a ton and some parts can’t be grabbed onto at all. It’s really easy to fire your claw off at a part, have the monster move a tiny bit, and then find yourself getting knocked off its face instead of a leg.
Iceborne also has new levels for Palico tools to boot. The vigorwasp spray, for instance, now has a revival feature that pretty much just gives you one additional cart, which is insanely helpful during solo hunts. You even get to keep the effects of your meal or ancient potion intact. Your Palico still loves to deliver a vigorwasp to you when you’re almost done healing, though.
Performance in the cold
The PC version of Iceborne is just like the base game. I didn’t see any weird glitches or crashes of any sort. It’ll be exactly what players expect on day one. However, after installing, I started having some framerate issues. Beforehand, I could run the base game on max settings with the high res texture pack at a very consistent, high framerate. But afterward, I started seeing some frame drops.
This occurred most frequently in Hoarfrost Reach, but it also happened a fair amount in Astera. The drops are significant, too. Sometimes the frames dip into the high 30s, which proves rather annoying when you’re Superman diving in the snow to get out of harm’s way.
When all is said and done, Iceborne is a must-buy for MHW players. I say that seriously – if you want to keep playing, you must buy it. Otherwise, you’ll be completely outclassed in terms of equipment and difficulty options. I will say, the price does seem a bit steep, though. It’s $40, which is two-thirds of the base game’s original price, but it definitely doesn’t offer two-thirds more content. Still, I suppose that’s fairly standard for DLC and the like.
Price aside, the new monsters definitely round out the roster, the snowy environments are enticing. Plus, the new endgame will keep you busy for a very long time. Just don’t be afraid to lean on that SOS flare to speed things up if you don’t go in with strong enough weapons.