Monster Hunter World: Iceborne – New Expansion for Capcom’s Action RPG is a Great New Step

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In September, Capcom’s newest installment in the Monster Hunter franchise released online and in physical copies. Within days of its release, I was diligently playing the game – and it’s taken me over a month to finish. The gameplay loop of the classic games I adored was updated for Monster Hunter: World, and now Iceborne puts its own spin on that idea. This review will be based off four sections of the expansion’s content: the monsters (the main draw of the game), maps, the gameplay, and the story craftsmanship.

Monsters

The monsters of Monster Hunter have always been a great part of the game, and Iceborne’s additions to the roster are exceptional as always. We get old beasts, like the Brachydios, and new subspecies of World’s original monsters, like the Viper Tobi-Kadachi.

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The Viper Tobi-Kadachi, a subspecies of the original Tobi-Kadachi with added poison and paralyzing attacks.

Iceborne’s additions to World’s roster provides not just new challenges for the hunter, but welcome changes to the already well-developed ecosystems.

Luring a Diablos to a Glavenus, for example, can result in a turf war where the monsters smash each other around for massive damage. You might also find a Rathalos in the Ancient Forest who’s simply hunting in one of the northern areas, eating his meal peacefully, and roaring at the smaller monsters who invade his territory. The game’s extensive attention to detail is what makes the series so good, and it’s shown in the little things like the individual hairs on our Tobi-Kadachi friend.

Maps

MapsWorld, when it was released, already had 5 extensive maps to explore and find new things in, and Iceborne adds to those. Alongside the Ancient Forest, Wildspire Waste, Coral Highlands, Rotten Vale, and Elder’s Recess, there is now the Hoarfrost Reach and Guiding Lands. Without getting into too many spoilers, the Reach is far bigger than most other maps in the game, and expands throughout the story due to events caused by Velkhana, the story’s antagonist. The Guiding Lands itself is a spoiler, so I won’t cover it in much detail here. The Reach has tons of content inside of it, from hot springs to freezing ice caves. In the springs, you can find monkeys and unique plants you can’t find anywhere else in the game. Monsters around the map will interact with each other, seemingly more than they did in World’s initial release, and make the map feel alive.

Later in the game, after fighting off some of the expansion’s coolest monsters, the Guiding Lands are opened up. This map is a combination of a lot of the maps from the original World release, adding all the monsters that could appear in those maps to one big jam-packed mess. It’s an amazing mess, though. I won’t go too far, but Iceborne’s endgame is one of the series’ best so far.

A picture of Iceborne’s beautiful but deadly Hoarfrost Reach.

In terms of the other five maps, not much has changed since World’s initial release. You’ll find new monsters here in Master Rank, but areas don’t differ at all, which is a little bit of wasted potential. Of course, later on, the Hoarfrost Reach has enough to scratch that itch, but I do wish something would have happened to make returning to the older maps more engaging. However, Iceborne’s more aggressive monster AI means that other creatures will be fighting even more than they did in World, so look forward to quite a lot of that.

Gameplay

Monster Hunter hinges on how the fights go, and how each monster stands out in their own way. Iceborne handles the gameplay aspect incredibly well, balancing challenge with success and making each fight feel new, even if you’ve fought a monster before in a previous game. New additions to the player’s set of moves and options make combat more fun too, as they jump around the battlefield with Iceborne’s clutch claw.

Each of the 14 weapons from World has been updated with at least one new move. Not all of them are game-changing, but they certainly are fun to use. For example, the Long Sword’s new Iai Slash is similar to the famous Omae Wa Mou… Shindeiru meme that circulated around the internet a year or so ago. The hammer’s new Clutch Claw combo allows them to stick a heavy hit to a monster and then grapple onto their face to deal even more damage.

The Clutch Claw allows players to grapple onto monsters and attack certain body parts, possibly softening them up so they’ll take more damage. In my hours with Iceborne so far, I’ve heavily enjoyed slamming a monster’s face with my hammer or cutting off a tail with a greatsword, as it’s a satisfying expansion of my movement abilities.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Monsters will grow more aggressive the more you use the Clutch Claw, specifically after using its ability to fire Slinger ammo to knock a monster into a wall or (!) other monsters. The new variants and subspecies of older creatures, along with entirely new additions, will surprise seasoned and new players alike with their speed and attack power. In fact, the difficulty curve is far higher than World’s, but is more organic, unlike World’s sudden introduction of arch-tempered Elder Dragons.

The balance between player and monster is satisfying so each new fight feels like a great new victory. The classic loop of gameplay (of crafting weapons from a monster you fought in order to be able to fight harder monsters) is great and is put to a lot of use throughout Iceborne’s story.

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A group of hunters fight one of Iceborne’s new creatures, the electrifying Fulgur Anjanath.

Story and other Elements

Monster Hunter has never been known for its story, but the developers have certainly put a lot of effort into World and Iceborne’s campaigns. The basic story follows the Research Commission as they explore the New World to find out why the Elder Dragons (essentially, forces of nature) are migrating there. As they go, they find deep secrets and new species, all while the hunter hunts the creatures blocking their expansion. Iceborne’s story revolves around a song drawing monsters into the Hinterlands as Velkhana blocks every attempt by the Commission to research. Eventually, a greater power than Velkhana is discovered, and the hunter has to take it down.

It’s a simple story, but it works to provide a motivation for the hunter to go out, fight these creatures, and feel like they’re doing good. However, one specific character, the Handler, is very annoying and unfortunately is the player’s companion throughout the entire story. Changing the in-game language from English to something else lessens how annoying it is, since her voice grates on the player after a while and she’s constantly messing up in-game, delaying the player’s progress. However, she at least gets some development in Iceborne, so there’s that.

The music of Iceborne is beautifully composed, providing a victorious melody for the Commission’s theme and providing many varied battle soundtracks for monsters. Some of my personal favorites are the Rotten Vale’s theme, Vaal Hazak’s theme, Zinogre’s theme, and Velkhana’s theme. Every piece provides new instruments, like Vaal’s organ and Zinogre’s electric guitar (arguably toned down from other recent games, but still electrifying and motivating). I can’t say I dislike any music in Iceborne, honestly, but I could do without the chanting ending song.

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The expansion’s new spin on an older monster, Ruiner Nergigante, facing off against the player and NPCs they meet throughout the story

One of World’s biggest issues was being unable to skip cutscenes, which unfortunately skips over to Iceborne. For those of us who started a new save (for whatever reason) it was annoying to have to sit through the new two minute cutscenes every time we fought a monster. Introducing their abilities through cutscenes has always been a good idea and worked well for the development team before, but you could also skip them. Now, the credits have to be sat through to the end. To be fair, though, Iceborne’s new monsters are engaging enough that players shouldn’t want to skip their scenes.

Iceborne’s overall appeal is to anyone who has enjoyed an action RPG in the past, or wants to get into them. Its difficulty curve is definitely above World’s, as the player will find themselves in 30-40 minute fights, but with the new monster interactions and more aggressive AI, it’ll feel like only 10 or 20.

With Capcom’s new additions to the series, we’ll see an entirely new direction for the next Monster Hunter installments. Resident Evil DLC is coming soon, along with new Horizon Zero Dawn crossovers and new monsters in December. Thanks to all the effort the developers and the quality of the game itself with only a few missteps, I give Monster Hunter World: Iceborne a 9/10.