With the majority of recent triple-A releases being bogged down by multitudes of microtransactions, 2018’s Monster Hunter World has been one of the rare games that has rewarded its players with loads of free postgame content, from new monsters to track down to unlockable costumes to various seasonal events. After providing players with such quality free content for more than a year, Capcom has now released its first paid expansion pack, Iceborne, for its best-selling monster-slaying RPG.
Those who have played Monster Hunter World will know what to expect here. Newcomers, however, should know that they will have to complete a significant amount of time in the original before embarking on the new adventure available in Iceborne. There hasn’t been any drastic changes to the formula and the latest expansion still provides one of the most satisfying gameplay loops currently available. Players still prep for monster hunts by supplying themselves with necessary items and eating food which will give them stat boosts for the upcoming expedition. Said marks are then tracked and, hopefully, brought down, rewarding the victorious hunter with a number of trophies from its titanic carcass that can be used to create and upgrade armor and weapons that will allow them to ultimately take on stronger, and much larger, creatures. The more monsters you hunt, the higher your hunter ranking becomes.
The ultimate goal in Monster Hunter is to increase this hunter ranking, but the game’s true heart is in the epic boss battles against the many exotic behemoths that dot the landscape.
Iceborne begins right where Monster Hunter World’s story left off. You and your extremely diverse group of colonizers, dubbed the First Fleet, have apparently become bored with the New World. While out investigating the mysterious migration patterns of the Legiana, a large moth-winged dragon, the hunters start to realize that there’s something mysterious afoot. Because there’s nothing else to slaughter in the New World (you killed them all already), the First Fleet decide that you will need to track these wayward Legiana.
Lucky for you, this strange new migration pattern leads the group right into a major discovery: the snow-covered region of Hoarfrost Reach. In Hoarfrost, it seems, mysteries pile up as high as the snowdrift. Without getting into spoilers, it seems like the Iceborne expansion is trying to do a better job than the base game at providing an interesting story for the player, though it still felt lacking. There is nothing groundbreaking going on here, narratively, but, let’s be honest, you aren’t playing these games for the story. No, most are here for the otherworldly locales, flamboyant gear and insane monster hunts. Luckily, Iceborne delivers in all these areas.
There is much to enjoy about the new player base: Seliana. As someone who has spent countless hours in Astera, the base game’s central hub, Seliana was a very welcome change. Feeling more like an actual home than just some huge storage facility, Seliana is what I imagine vacationing in the Aspen is like, which is nice, because I will never be able to afford to go to Aspen.
There’s even a plump new Palico chef to provide you with meals, an absolutely adorable addition to your colonization team, even if it should probably do some more push-ups after cooking meals. Can cats be at risk for diabetes? I digress.
I do admit that as much as I enjoyed Seliana, I can’t say I felt the same about the rest of Hoarfrost Reach once I embarked on my first hunt. Hoarfrost is an absolutely brutal landscape that will punish you mercilessly if you aren’t paying close attention. You must keep track of your vitals if you want to be survive. The new area is devastatingly cold, so you must drink Hot Drinks so that you can survive. Monsters can cause inflict you with Iceblight, so you must have an ample amount of Nulberries in your supply at all times. While these new systems added another layer of complications for me to worry about while hunting, the challenge never seemed to be unfair.
A bigger issue is that you aren’t given much room to fight most monsters, a major problem considering that most of Hoarfrost Reach’s marks occupy a great deal of space when launching attacks. I often found myself engaged in battles within areas that were entirely too small for me to maneuver. It made this already challenging game into a monster of an experience. Har har. That said, after the initial frustrations, it became a bit easier to dodge, attack and counter in the confined environments.
Iceborne offers a multitude of new beasts to track down, such as the snow-shark Beotodus, the flying saber-toothed Barioth, the terrifying bat-like Nargacuga and many, many more. There are also a wide variety of new subspecies of familiar franchise fauna, such as a water-spewing Coral Pukei-Pukei, an agile and poisonous Viper Tobi-Kadachi and the icy, kamikaze-inclined Shrieking Legiana. Each one of these foes requires a radically different approach and strategy to take down as these wintry abominations must have heard about the First Fleet from the New World monsters and upped their game accordingly. The hunts in Iceborne are intense, daunting and often exhausting, taking up to 30 to 45 minutes to complete. It’s going to take hard work, time and an incredible amount of effort to increase your Master Rank.
Iceborne is a great addition to the Monster Hunter franchise for players looking for a new challenge, but there may not be enough here to excite new players. Those who enjoyed the original game (and that’s a lot, considering it sold over 13 million copies) will find enough new features and creatures to justify the expansion’s $39 price tag and what better way to prepare for the upcoming holiday season than slaying behemoths in a winter wonderland?
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.