The Monster Hunter series got a facelift with last year's Monster Hunter World. The series, mostly associated with handhelds, got the HD treatment as well as modern online play. The story took things to a new world, allowing the developers to create new monsters and entirely new lore. Mundane tasks like item gathering, questing, and crafting were streamlined much for the better. All of this newness also allowed World to serve as a great entry point for newbies. Overall, Monster Hunter World was the greatest game in the series. Except that it was too easy.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is an expansion that aims to address this problem. And boy does it address it. It gives an hours-long seminar on it and a lengthy test afterward. But it's the kind of difficult that makes you feel accomplished when you finally succeed. Just make sure you go into this test with sharpened a pencil (and longsword).
Basically Monster Hunter World 2
The word "expansion" has lost some of its meaning in 2019. It seems mostly relegated to MMOs, taking on the role of being another chapter in the ongoing story. Standalone game series are more likely to use DLC or sequels. The cynic in me wants to say this is for profit. If you're a gaming publisher who sees how much money people will throw at mobile games for small bits of progression, why not charge them $10 for a single new character? The goal of DLC these days seems to be to give as little as possible and charge as much as you can get away with. If there are enough players post-launch to merit bigger additions, those are saved for a sequel and go for full price. That's why it's refreshing to see Iceborne stuff new mechanics, new (and returning) monsters, new locations, and a new story into a $40 package. And the developers have teased free post-launch DLC.
The story does that sequel thing where your crew is getting complacent only to have everything they thought they knew shaken. Sudden monster migrations lead to a new investigation, this time to a frosty unknown filled with both wonder and death. The mysterious migrations change the whole ecosystem, explaining why a horde of new monsters appears out of nowhere. It gives some new characters the spotlight, which will be a welcome change for those who aren't too fond of our trusty handler. But of course, the monsters are the real stars. The developers really went all out with these guys. Returning favorites look glorious in HD, and the while the newbies are mostly re-skins of World's monsters, they come with nasty status effects that make them worthy of being hard mode bosses.
The value here goes beyond new content, too. Pretty much every flaw in World, be it major gameplay issue or minor inconvenience, gets some kind of fix through Iceborne. You can't actually play it until you complete World's base story. This makes Iceborne the high-difficulty endgame that longtime fans felt Capcom abandoned to bring in new players. A new mechanic allows you to assign clothes that go over your armor, meaning you never have to choose between stats and looking cool ever again. The new base is efficiently laid out so that you can visit all your pre-hunt shops and NPCs in a quick loop. They even threw in a hot tub for the sole purpose of letting you goof off with other players in the online meeting room. This is prime sequel content right here, again in a $40 expansion.
A Time Sink, For Better And Worse
It's no secret that Monster Hunter games are grind fests. They're intentionally designed so that monsters rarely drop the best loot. The best equipment requires multiple units of the best loot. Beating the toughest monsters requires wearing the best equipment. So, you take on the same monsters for hours on end hoping to make them drop the good stuff. World's base game eased the grind a bit. Iceborne brings it back with full force.
I ran out of time for the first time ever in Iceborne. There are two fail conditions for a monster hunt: get KO'd three times or have the cock run out. I've gotten knocked out three times before. Usually that's a sign that I can try again right away, just with more awareness and better dodging. When my time ran out, though, that meant I needed a more powerful weapon. The only way to fix that was to succumb to the grind. For many players, myself included, this gets you invested. You spend hours struggling, grinding, and crafting a badass new set of armor and weapon. When you finally slay that one monster that's your arch enemy, you feel like a pro. Iceborne leans heavily into this dynamic. This is the big leagues, and that's just what some of us ordered.
The grind is a double-edged sword, however. I came into Iceborne eager to face new monsters. When I needed to grind to make a better weapon, that meant facing the same old ones several times in a row. It's not the most exciting gameplay moment when you have to replay a bunch of old content just to get past the barrier to the new content. Grinding can be tedious even when you love the game. For those beginners who Capcom designed Monster Hunter World to court, Iceborne is going to be downright punishing. Some will embrace the grind and become battle-forged into grizzled hunters. Others may drift towards another game, and I don't blame them.
We're Gonna Need A Bigger Review
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne adds so much to the game that I'm still processing it. I don't think I could address it all even if I was granted the word count to do it. The bottom line is this: it is so very worth it. The new location adds great new mechanics, the old locations get deadly new monsters, new tools change how everyone will fight monsters, you can ride mounts now, it's as hard as longtime fans could ever hope for, and there's a hot tub. The grind and challenge are demanding, but in a way that doesn't feel cheap. You can always win if you're willing to put in the work. If Monster Hunter World ate up your time, Iceborne will eagerly take the leftovers.
4.5 Out Of 5 Stars
A PS4 code for Monster Hunter World: Iceborne was provided by Capcom for this review. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is available now for PS4 and Xbox One, with the PC version coming in January 2020.