Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is an expansion that just keeps on giving. We've sunk close to 100 hours into Iceborne and it feels like we're still discovering something new every time we boot it up. Capcom has gone above and beyond with this one, transforming an already amazing action role-playing game into something truly special. This is Monster Hunter at its absolute best.
Iceborne takes place after the events of the main game. It features an all-new story, an entirely new zone to explore, a roster of new monsters to hunt, and numerous other additions and enhancements. Described by Capcom as a "massive expansion", Iceborne more than lives up to expectations. This isn't Monster Hunter World 2, but it's the closest you can get without crafting a full-blown sequel.
Those who adored the base release will undoubtedly adore this, but if you just couldn't click with World, then Iceborne won't do much to change your mind. There have been refinements -- the new hub areas, for example, are much more compact and efficient -- but World's unruly inventory menus, clumsy crafting trees, and countless unwritten rules still exist. But if you're already in for Iceborne, then surely you know what to expect.
Having said all that, the expansion does start off rather slowly, as if to ease returning players back into the life of a hunter. Once again, the New World's ecosystem is being impacted by some unknown force, and it's not long before you and your researcher pals are setting sail for a newly discovered landmass. Coated in thick snow and even thicker ice, the new Hoarfrost Reach region is the game's biggest location. It's intricately designed, stuffed with the kind of little secrets that make investigations consistently interesting. All in all, it's probably World's most impressive environment.
Iceborne's story doesn't tie you down to the Hoarfrost Reach, however. Several early missions see you return to previous locales in order to hunt all-new wildlife, as well as subspecies -- mutated versions of previously discovered monsters. The story continues like this for most of the expansion, but it's actually put together quite well. Although the storytelling itself continues to be Monster Hunter World's weakest aspect, there are some undeniably cool cutscenes on offer here, especially when new creatures are introduced.
It remains difficult to care about a cast of characters that don't even have real names, but Iceborne's narrative is still a cut above the guff that was the base game's plot. Oh, and there are no mandatory Zorah Magdaros missions either, which is a massive bonus right off the bat.
Indeed, Iceborne feels like a whole new adventure from the word go -- and not just because of its fresh storyline. The entire expansion is based around the new 'Master Rank' tier of difficulty, and this means that every single monster -- both new and old -- can be carved up to create brand new armour sets and weapons. Your old endgame gear -- the stuff you likely spent weeks putting together -- will only carry you so far in Iceborne, but you can at least make immediate use of your decoration collection.
In truth, it doesn't take long to get up to speed in Master Rank, and veteran players will no doubt blast through the main missions, but even the most seasoned hunters may run into a few problems here and there. Many of Iceborne's beasts can provide a real challenge if you're unprepared, with potentially devastating status effects being much more common among the new foes. As such, using decorations to boost your resistances can sometimes feel like a necessity. In short, Iceborne ain't easy -- but that just makes it all the more rewarding.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that all Master Rank monsters have increased health. Playing in a group, this doesn't make a huge difference, but alone, longer fights can start to feel like a slog. If you thought Kushala Daora took too long to kill in the base release, then you're going to love taking it down here. The health boost is pretty much the only gripe we have with the expansion -- we don't mind a steady challenge, but when brawls begin to feel like they're wasting your time, it's a bit of an issue.
Fortunately, the additions to combat keep even previously mastered battles feeling surprisingly fresh. All weapon types have been reworked in one way or another, while the universally available clutch claw brings a welcome new dimension to scrapping. With the clutch claw, you can anchor yourself on a part of the monster, either wounding that area for increased damage, or forcing it to drop ammo for your slinger. It's not the kind of mechanic that's going to fundamentally change Monster Hunter combat forever -- and no, it's not as spammable as some feared -- but it is a very enjoyable and useful addition.
As always, though, it's the monsters themselves that steal the show. Iceborne offers up some excellent encounters that'll have fans on the edge of their seat. Learning the ins and outs of fresh foes is always a pleasure, and that's testament to just how brilliantly balanced the game's combat system still is. With this expansion, the development team has really let its creativity flow, leading to some genuinely memorable clashes. When you're in the heat of battle, going blow-for-blow with a seriously pissed off monster, there are few games more satisfying.
And then just when you think Capcom's outdone itself, Iceborne's endgame grind comes rolling in, and it's genius. We won't spoil it here, but it somehow manages to take Monster Hunter World up another level. If you live for the hunt, you're going to feel like you've hit the monster slaying jackpot.
With everything that it brings to the table, Iceborne is a truly monstrous expansion. Capcom has gone above and beyond in crafting an additional adventure that breathes a shocking amount of new life into Monster Hunter World, setting a new benchmark for the series in terms of pure quality. Although many of the base game's gripes remain, it's ultimately very difficult to pick holes in such a supremely satisfying experience. Iceborne is Monster Hunter at its absolute best.