Here's what we loved about the Iceborne expansion
January 2018 was a big month in the gaming calendar (August 2018 for PC gamers) as action RPG Monster Hunter: World came swooping in like a majestic Legiana over the Coral Highlands.
Smashing records and selling millions of copies, it was clear that Capcom's decision to bring the main Monster Hunter franchise to the western PC and console market had paid off immensely. But it didn't stop at the launch as Capcom has continued to support the multi-award-winning title post-launch, with regular updates and a roster of special events and quests for Hunters to enjoy.
In December 2018, Capcom announced that Monster Hunter: World would receive an expansion, called Iceborne. Fans were in awe as the trailers and developer diary videos that followed displayed a vibrant, beautiful new ecosystem within the New World that would be added as part of Iceborne - as well as a new story, new monsters and hours of additional challenges and items to discover.
Capcom stated before launch that Iceborne would be the biggest map within the game to date, and they were not wrong. Itching to get a piece of the icy cold action, and not wanting to wait until it defrosts for Steam PC players in January, we jumped into Iceborne on the Xbox One to get a feel for the new expansion and what it got so right.
An incredible new world
Watching one of the first cutscenes where a flock of Legianas is seen flying across the ocean towards the new locale is truly a sight to see, and instantly gets the player excited for a grand adventure.
Before long, Hunters will arrive in the Hoarfrost Reach, the biggest area of MHW so far.
The game has a variety of locations that each have a unique look and feel, and the Hoarfrost Reach is no exception. The soothing sound of crunching snow as you walk to an area of interest, the small and large monsters roaming in their natural habitat and the (sometimes) gentle orchestral music create one hell of an atmosphere and hunting ground.
With the intense drop in temperature for this area, Hunters need to be aware of the maximum stamina depletion that occurs if players haven't warmed their cockles before leaving camp. A quick swig on a Hot Drink will help keep the cold a bay for some time and replenishing your stock is very easy as Hot Pepper plants are scattered across the Reach.
Alternatively, another way to shake off the wintry conditions is to take a dip in the Hot Springs, a brand new feature introduced with Iceborne. These areas of wonderfully warm water will replenish stamina and adds the same perks as consuming Hot Drinks.
Aside from the cold, the Hoarfrost Reach delivers even more challenging gameplay as Iceborne introduces the Master Rank, opening up opportunities to fight stronger beasts and be rewarded with even better armor and weapons. It was clear from my first couple of hours into Iceborne that I would be tested, as your initial mission to investigate the location of a Legiana comes to an abrupt end when a Beotudus appears.
This 'snow shark', which has similar characteristics to the Jyuratodus and Lavasioth, burrows beneath the snow and launches itself into the air with aggression and determination. Being at Hunter Rank 40 and having some decent armor and Insect Glaive weaponry at my disposal, I was under the impression that this pesky beast would be a pushover... I was wrong.
Beotudus was a tricky foe, and thankfully after a lengthy battle with my trusted Palico at my side, we left victorious. Another monster that you fight early on is Banbaro, a Brute Wyvern with giant horns that can collect boulders and tree trunks that can then be tossed across the battle zone at you and rivaling monsters.
When I got to the likes of the Viper Tobi-Kadachi and Fulgur Anjanath, the sub-species and variants of MHW's common foes, I started to notice that my weapons and armor were not quite up to it. Rather than push myself to limits that I was often struggling to reach, I began using Master Rank expeditions as a way to fight new and old monsters to gain new materials, to then craft brutal gear that would give me the boost that I needed to win.
Sure enough, the battles began to turn in my favor - these ferocious foes that would bite, slash, whack and spray me with a variety of ailments were no longer the predator, they were my prey. Of course, quests and assignments further down the line have proven to be tough, as they are still in World's base game, but with each challenging fight comes the satisfaction of seeing the monster give out its last roar before falling to the floor in defeat - or being expertly trapped and captured.
After a hard-earned victory, or sometimes a defeat, retreating back to the new hub area is a spectacle in itself. Selina, which acts in the same way as Astera, is where Hunters can gather resources, plan their next quest, grab a huge bite to eat and craft new gear. There's also the addition of the quirky Steamworks machine that grants players extra items by completing a form of sequence-based mini-games.
Hunters who prove their worth and beat the endgame and final 'boss monster' will gain access to The Guiding Lands, a special area that is split into sub-sections. Learning more about your environment and reaching new levels within each sub-section will allow you to fight majestic, powerful species including some tough tempered monsters.
Hunters receive fewer rewards with each faint in this are, so be sure to head back to The Handler between each hunt to retrieve what you deserve!
Handy upgrades for new and existing players
As well as adding a whole new area to explore and plenty more monsters to slay, Iceborne brings changes to the core mechanics of the game overall. Players who buy MHW and the Iceborne expansion together and play them both for the first time will be none the wise, but for veterans players, these upgrades will help a lot.
First up is the Clutch Claw, a gadget that allows Hunters to latch onto monsters in order to perform attacks and additional damage. You can either hop onto a monster and make it rotate in another direction (B on the controller) or offload all of your slingshot ammo and send the monsters hurtling off balance into a wall - inflicting a good amount of damage.
It takes some getting used to, and be aware that monsters that are enraged (acting aggressively and have a red icon above them on the mini-map) will instantly swipe you away like an annoying bug. There's also the long-awaited squad difficulty balance, which has proven to be a great feature in Iceborne.
In MHW, players had two difficulty levels depending on the number of players in a quest - when more than one Hunter joins a quest, etc, the difficulty level increased.
With the introduction of a mid-tier difficulty - which is now solo-player, 1-2 players and 3-4 players - if a player drops out or gets disconnected, the difficulty will now adjust to the correct level. There's nothing worse than a Hunter joining a quest, fainting and then deciding to disappear - with this change, it doesn't affect you as much.
View Mode is another new feature and one that is pretty fun to master. It acts as a sort of 'photo mode' which can be used at any time, but is primarily used for collecting specific images. Researchers will call on your photographic skills, as well as your fighting, to study the environment.
Fantastic beasts and where to hunt them
The name speaks for itself, Monster Hunter: World's main attractive feature is the large monsters that roam across the New World that require being captured or hunted down. Their bodies hold the key to vast upgrades and rare materials that are not only great for increasing your offense and defense, but also a way of gloating to others that you've defeated a tough opponent and wear its fur or skin to prove it.
Iceborne introduces over 25 more large monsters to the roster, each with its own unique attacks and behaviors. Battling brand new beasts like the deadly Elder Dragon Velkhana is both exciting and terrifying while welcoming original beasts from former Monster Hunter games like Brachydios, Glavenus and Tigrex is fantastic as these popular beasts have received stunning visual upgrades and get to roam the New World.
Getting used to fighting sub-species can be quite tricky, Tobi-Kadachi and Viper Tobi-Kadachi spring to mind as the former is a Thunder elemental monster that inflicts Thunderblight and is weak against Water - while its new Viper form is a Paralysis and Poison-based creature that is weak to Thunder attacks.
Learning each monster's weaknesses and attack patterns is fascinating and worthwhile. There's no better sight than seeing 'Parts Broken' flash up on screen before seeing your foe limp aware to its lair - awaiting one final battle or an imminent capture.
Introducing a glorious new area to explore with a selection of exciting monsters to hunt and capture, as well as neat new tools and adjustments to the base game's core mechanics, Monster Hunter: World - Iceborne excels as an expansion. Capcom has delivered additional content that goes far beyond a couple of hours extra game time or some little perks, Iceborne is practically a main game within itself.
I've only scratched the surface of this icy wonder, but from what I've experienced on my travels through Iceborne's well-written story and entertaining battles, I'm going to enjoy throwing another 100+ hours at it!
SAM'S SCORE: ★★★★★
Be sure to add Monster Hunter: World - Iceborne to your Fanatical Wishlist ready for the Steam PC release in January 2020.