Monster Hunter World Iceborne is at its best when you’re fighting tooth and nail
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is at its best when you’re fighting tooth and nail against something that you know could crush you within its teeth in a second, even though this might feel like it came at the expense of a more interesting narrative. Nothing is quite as good as the biting chill cutting through the furs of your armor, the shrill cry of your Palico as it comes to your aid, and the wind roaring in your ears as you latch onto a beast’s flank and climb up its side while it bucks and roars. This expansion is rife with moments like that; all of the tweaking and the improvements feel like they were done with the excellent building blocks of Monster Hunter World in mind, which means that getting to the meat of the matter is quicker and more satisfying than ever. There’s no more fussing about with new systems or worrying about ruffling the feathers of hardcore fans with a direction change in the series; those teething problems have already come and gone. Iceborne is a confident step into the future of the franchise, and it’s hard not to think about what might come next.
Since the game’s launch, the game has seen a steady drip-feed of DLC content in the form of in-game events. Many of these follow the formula of transplanting something fearsome into an already familiar environment–the Witcher 3 crossover saw a Leshenn loom large in the Ancient Forest, and the Final Fantasy XIV collaboration had you running for cover when Behemoth reared its head. The design philosophy behind Monster Hunter World: Iceborne takes a similar approach in implementing that sort of content, though on a larger scale; it uses touchstones in the form of storied foes and familiar locations to build upon the robust ecosystem of the base game to deliver an experience that will test your mettle without breaking you. Iceborne is all about building on existing foundations. This is most evident in the narrative that has been spun out in the wake of the base game’s single-player campaign. Monster Hunter World was notable for introducing a clear-cut, story-based incentive to throw yourself against the biggest and baddest beasts out there. Iceborne takes a slightly crooked step forward by spinning a story that revolves not around you, but around your Handler. Shortly after the successes of dealing with the base game’s Elder Dragon predicament, a mass migration event shakes the recovering ecosystem of Astera and prompts you to investigate. What comes next is a tale of family legacies, mysterious scales, and your Handler embarking on her own personal quest. To shift the focus of a story from the protagonist to what is essentially a side character is a bold one–for all the aid and assistance that the Handler gives in Monster Hunter World, she’s still fundamentally a living, breathing quest board. Monster Hunter World players will no doubt have become attached to her over the course of their travels, but is that attachment is deep enough to shoulder a full expansion’s narrative conceit? Not quite.
As soon as you’re introduced to the latest curveball about Iceborne’s new signature location, Hoarfrost Reach, and how that intersects rather conveniently with your Handler’s past, you’re immediately whisked back to lands and territories from the base game to cull a couple of monsters that have gotten too big for their boots. It’s not exactly narrative whiplash, but it’s certainly not as compelling as it would have been had we been the ones to follow the Handler from the first step of her journey to the new lands of Iceborne. The changes that Iceborne makes in the form of these variant breeds has a twofold effect: First, they provide you with a motivation to form new strategies to slice and dice their way to the next story beat. Secondly, they’re just distinct enough in terms of attack patterns and additional elemental considerations that you never really feel like you’re just fighting a reskin of something that you made mincemeat out of 80 hours ago. It’s as if there’s been a concerted effort to balance the difficulty of what many fans might rightfully view as the second coming of the coveted “G-Rank” in this latest iteration of Monster Hunter. Charge Axe users can now cancel into a particularly fun multi-directional attack when caught unawares, and Gunlance users no longer have to worry about running out of ammo in an emergency before getting to use their new signature move that is, quite literally, explosive. Hunting Horn users have also had their ability to do damage buffed, with the addition of a new move that lets you stick your horn in the ground and spin it like some kind of demented Beyblade to catch whatever’s charging towards you off guard. That’s just a few new examples, but overall these additions seem to be informed by the dual precepts of style and lethality.
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