Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (PS4) Review – Experienced Hunters Only

Sep 4, 2019
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GAME INFO

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne

September 6th, 2019
Platform PlayStation 4, Xbox One; PC (later)
Publisher CAPCOM
Developer CAPCOM

Capcom’s signature monster hunting series of similar name made its first running leap from Nintendo handhelds onto the more powerful consoles (and PC) last year with a surprisingly well-paced new entry. Monster Hunter World felt familiar enough to veterans while changing up the core formula just enough to entice new players. Now that players have had more than enough time to hunt rare Tempered variants of the main cast of monsters or farm seasonal quests night after night in search of a Mighty Bow jewel, it’s finally time for a new challenge. It may be Pumpkin Spice season for the Western world, but for the expeditionary fleet stationed in Astera, winter is coming in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.

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Monster Hunter World: Iceborne opens up shortly after the hunters of the Fifth Fleet had successfully driven off Xeno’jiiva and saved the seaside town of Astera for another day. When a mysterious song drifts through the air and sends some of the local wildlife off westward for a hasty migration, the player is recruited to find the source of this song and solve the mystery of why all of the Legiana are all flying off. This leads the players to a new icy region known as the Hoarfrost Reach, home to permafrost and the locale for Monster Hunter World’s first (and only) expansion pack.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne continues the action RPG loops that previous Monster Hunter titles codified as its core concepts: pick a mission and big bad wyvern (or three) to fight off against, don your preferred weapon and armor and load up on potions, venture out into the sprawling battlefields to engage in a little mano-a-mano boss fight action, and once victorious, carve up your prey (or capture them alive for additional rewards) to use to craft new weapons and armor to become a more efficient hunter. In this specific style of action RPG, there are no character levels, with all of your stats instead coming from the gear of your choosing. That gear you acquired in the base Monster Hunter World will be suitable for the first tier of fights in Iceborne, but like any MMORPG expansion, expect to shelf that gear the moment you can craft a new sword or chestpiece. Perhaps the single most important thing that carries over into the Iceborne expansion are those skill decorations that many fans spent hours farming Lavasioth over the past few months.

The Hoarfrost Reach is a biome larger than any of the other individual regions that make up the regions surrounding Astera. Covered in permafrost and high enough to reach across two layers of playing field, this snowy battlefield is home to a number of arenas that take advantage of the new Clutch Claw and offer players enough tools to speed up their hunts, whether it’s traps and natural environmental hazards to knock a hunted monster into or natural hot springs to take a moment to relax in and build up some temporary immunity to the cold. In comparison to the vertical regions of the Rotten Vale or Coral Highlands, Hoarfrost Reach feels a bit flat. All of the areas are easily connected to one another with only a couple of arenas taking place in the underground, with little reason to explore down below if you aren’t hunting for endemic life or more mining nodes. While it may not be the most exciting locale visually, the number of secret wildlife (if you’re in the mood for hunting Iceborne’s version of the Downy Crake, keep an eye out on the Popos towards the southern edge of the map when night falls) and collectibles for the canteen will ensure that players return to the area over and over again.

All across the arctic shelf are giant arenas to take on the new ice-themed monsters that live where the Legiana migrated to. Save for the brutish Tigrex and Barioth, nigh all of the frigid monsters are first time comers to the Monster Hunter roster. Others are subspecies and variants of existing hunts, typically with a completely different strategy and elemental affinity to take on. All in all, the roster of giant-sized wyverns to take on easily exceeds sixty different fights to look forward to. Even the existing wyverns from early Monster Hunter World quests are given new life, with new attacks and tendencies that can be trapped and skinned to unlock new ranks of armor and gear.

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You won’t be limited to just the icy locales if you want to see the new content of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. Through the various optional assignments or investigations, you’ll often see monsters venture outside of the snowy locales for warmer weather and perform quite a bit differently. The queen monster Velkhana (who I’m sure some of you have barely managed to sneak out a win against during this week’s beta test) is known to wander off into the Ancient Forest from time to time, just as I’ve seen Banbaro hang out in the Elder’s Recess, trading the giant tree trunk he can wield in his horns for an explosive boulder. 

In order to do battle with the new denizens of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, players must first fend off Zorah Magdaros and the other elder dragons of the base game, playing through enough content to raise their hunter rank to 16 and completing the majority of mandatory low- and high-rank assignments. Once the player hunters are experienced enough to see the new world, a missive arrives to venture out west and follow after the massive Legiana migration. 

Save for the balance changes and adjustments (especially with the Clutch Claw to come), much of the content to Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is geared towards the hunter that’s experienced all there is to see in Seliana and wants a greater challenge. You won’t see Namielle or Nargacuga show up in High Rank hunts, nor will you be able to explore Hoarfrost Reach as a fledgling hunter. If you’re looking to get into Monster Hunter World for the first time, Iceborne is absolutely the best way to get in, as you’ll have the base game and all of the new more challenging content to look forward to. You may just need to take a couple of weeks of hunting lessons and get your bearings before you’re ready to hit the slopes and 

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne’s biggest change to gameplay comes by way of the Clutch Claw. This retractable grappling hook gives hunters a way to reach out and touch their hunt and maybe soften them up a bit. Depending on whether you’re using a light or heavy type weapon (Insect Glaive for the former, Charge Blade for the latter), you’ll either smack the monster around and release some usable slinger pods or weaker that particular body part, opening it up for more damage. This also leads to a bit of extra damage from a short combo but it does some with its own risk/reward mechanic. For example, trying to claw our way onto a monster while it’s enraged is a sure way to get flung off for massive damage (and monsters like Rathalos or Ebony Odogaron can affect you with status effects at the same time). However, the amount of damage you can unleash and be able to soften up a body part for even more effective damage (especially given the changes to the Weakness Exploit skill) usually outweigh the risks of taking a big spiky tail to the face. At the moment, weapons like the Switch Axe are overpowered compared to other weapons given its ability to unleash multiple Zero Sum Discharge attacks on a monster every time you attach yourself with the Clutch Claw, but I can all but guarantee that this strategy will be adjusted and patched out by the time Iceborne reaches the general audience. 

The other massively useful feature of the Clutch Claw utilizes your slinger to great effect. By climbing onto a monster’s head, you can slash at its face with your Clutch Claw to steer it in a particular direction then unload whatever slinger ammo you have collected in a quick burst that can occasionally send a wyvern staggering forward and into a wall or trap, guaranteeing a free knockdown and a rather large window of opportunity for free damage. Now those stones and scatternuts that used to litter the arenas can be useful and wind up being one of the most important tools in a hunter’s arsenal in Iceborne. 

Nearly all of the attention to Monster Hunter World: Iceborne has been focused upon the Hoarfrost Reach. After all, bringing in an entirely new biome region is a big deal that raises the total number of regions up to six. What’s important to note is that this is only just the beginning of the new content that’s exclusive to the Iceborne expansion. Once the mystery of the Legiana migration has been solved and hunters get that credits to roll by, the main story ends but the adventure only just begins. It isn’t long after that players are given a chance to venture out into a new area known as The Guiding Lands.

The Guiding Lands is more than just a single new biome. It’s an amalgamation of every other zone in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (with only a small selection of regions available at the start) connected together into one massive map. Within this map are new investigations, new upgrades, and of course, new monsters to fight. Your very first trip into The Guiding Lands is heralded by a brief glimpse of Zinogre and a three-way turf war against two of the more iconic monsters of Monster Hunter World. This is only a small taste, as there’s a lot of work to actually earn the right to challenge this good dog of thunder. Each region has its own discovery level that must be raised by collecting bones and ore or taking part in expeditionary hunts against the various wyverns that roam about. Every so often, players will earn a new quest or investigation to fight off against a unique new monster, the first of whom being Yian Garuga. If you’re expecting to face off against Zinogre, expect to spend a good five or so hours of hunts exclusively in The Guiding Lands before the opportunity presents itself to challenge him.

As you collect bones and ore in The Guiding Lands, these can be used to augment your endgames weapons in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. The augment system functions a bit differently from that of the base game. Previously, rarity 6-8 weapons could be given up to three augmentations (the lower the rarity, the more augment slots) that could boost attack, defense, affinity, lifesteal, or decoration slots. This system is mostly the same in Iceborne, with the main change coming to how augments now operate on a point-based system. Adding in augments will consume a certain number of augment slots, such as one slot for extra elemental/status effect or three for a raw attack increase. 

Most maximized weapons can also be granted Custom Upgrades that utilize monster parts from The Guiding Lands to add in extra upgrades that also change a weapon’s appearance. These operate on yet another mod system that works in a secondary slot on the weapon. Crafting your favorite weapon will only be the first step towards being a peerless hunter and the new augment/upgrade systems will incentivize players to stick with a weapon they really like and upgrade it with a bit of personal customization that hasn’t been seen before in a Monster Hunter title.

During my time playing Monster Hunter World: Iceborne on a PlayStation 4 Pro, I hadn’t noticed much change in performance beyond that of the base game. The same loading times didn’t feel any shorter or longer than what I was used to and the animation and character graphics felt quite similar to what I’ve already played over the past year, although the new armor models do have more complex details and unique designs. Despite the more complex weather patterns and trails in the snow left behind by wandering hunters, Iceborne handles the new environmental effects quite nicely. Expect to see the same 30-40 FPS performance on a PlayStation 4 Pro and slightly less on the base model. Those that want the uncapped framerate and performance of Iceborne on PC will most likely have to wait until early 2020, if the timetable for console-to-PC release of the base Monster Hunter World title is anything to go by.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is one of the meatiest expansions that’s come to the series to date. While it doesn’t have a G or other letter signifying its importance in the name, Iceborne is as close to the complete experience that players will see for Monster Hunter World. Nigh all of the new content is geared towards experienced players and keep giving them a reason to return to Astera or venture out to Seliana with friends in search of danger and glory. The refinements and upgrades to the combat offer players more versatility in their builds and finally give charge blade users a reason to focus on more than just raw attack. Iceborne has already captured my attention greater than the base game, and while the fights are far more challenging than what I played last year, they’re some of the most rewarding. If you can only pick one RPG in September to dedicate the next couple hundred hours of your life, perhaps you should pick one that’s well done.

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro (code provided by the publisher).

9.4

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne comes close to matching the perfection of the first adventures with the Fifth Fleet but this new expansion is all but guaranteed to lead to more times being carted back to camp.

Pros

  • Clutch Claw adds more versatility to a hunter's arsenal and makes slinger pods more useful than ever
  • Rajang slated to arrive shortly after release as free DLC
  • Two massive new areas to hunt in
  • Elemental weapons overhauled to be more useful than pure raw damage against most monsters
  • Updated augment system gives more flexibility to weapon crafting
  • The Guiding Lands is the single best piece of new content and fills out the post game robustly
  • Final elder dragon an actual challenging encounter rather than Zorah Magdaros' idle

Cons

  • Very little content for players uncomfortable with the challenges of High Rank and beyond
  • No Lagombi despite the perfect region
  • Most monsters from the base game don't make an appearance in the story/optional assignments, instead being exclusive to The Guiding Lands and investigations
  • Lavasioth still an obnoxious encounter
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