Monster Hunter is a series of video games that has only very slightly changed with each new iteration. It has adhered to very strict game design rules, making it so that while gameplay is refined and smoothed out in more recent entries, they still play more or less the same as the very first game. This was fine. Fans were fine with this iterative approach.
Then Monster Hunter World came along last year and smashed all of those rules. Not the least of which was that the fact that all DLC for Monster Hunter had always been completely free. Though to be fair, MHW only asked you to pay for superficial, silly things like costumes and gestures. You could ignore all of that junk and still enjoy the game to the fullest. All of the major updates that added new monsters and quests came at no cost to players. What we didn’t see coming was a paid DLC expansion pack.
Well, I guess that’s really only a half-truth. Much like Pokémon, each new generation of Monster Hunter is inevitably followed by an “Ultimate” re-release, which is the same game but with more content. Unlike Pokémon, the Ultimate MH games typically get a very significant amount of new stuff, helping to justify your second purchase of the game in question. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, in particular, had probably five times the content that was included in the original release. And I might even be lowballing that.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne both follows and bucks that trend. When it was announced to be a DLC expansion instead of a full re-release, I was wary of how much Iceborne would actually add. But then it turned out that it was a lot of new stuff! Iceborne brings in 20ish new monsters, which are a mix of completely new beasts, returning fan-favourites, and new subspecies of existing monsters. There’s a new hub town with a new story and tons of cutscenes, two new hunting locales, and what is more or less a new gameplay mode. Plus a whole buttload of balance tweaks and gameplay refinements that got pushed out to all MHW players.
Ultimate versions, or “G” versions, as they’re known in Japan, are called such because their big addition is typically the “G Rank” mode. This is essentially a flowery way of saying “Super Very Hard Mode.” Meaning that the Ultimate games are mostly for people who have played the original release to death and need more content with a stiffer challenge. Make no mistake about it, I’m exactly that kind of people. Iceborne is no different, although it just gets right to the point and calls the new difficulty tier “Master Rank.” All of the new content falls under Master Rank, too, so Iceborne is absolutely not for the faint of heart.
Now that I’ve had a month and change to slowly pick my way through the new campaign, how do I feel about it? Simultaneously delighted and frustrated. I like pretty much everything that Iceborne brought to the table. Hoarfrost Reach is a cool new location, the new monsters are awesome and include some of the first dual-element monsters in the series. The new story content is quite a bit beefier than I had expected (although the plot is still as much pretentious fluff as it’s ever been), and there’s still tons of post-game to play through. But man, when I said that Iceborne’s Master Rank is very to the point, I really meant it.
Iceborne is friggin’ hard. Not all of it, really, but I came across a handful of different walls on my way through the game. Shrieking Legiana and Velkhana in particular are so frustratingly difficult that they made me wonder if this is where Monster Hunter finally becomes too hard for me. Barioth and Tigrex are as terrible as ever, but I’m used to them destroying me. I have a sneaking suspicion that Namielle and Shara Ishvalda are also super difficult, but I had the advantage of playing in a very good group and winning on my first tries against both of them. It’s been a while since I had to stop playing MH for a day or two to preserve my sanity, but it happened several times while I played Iceborne.
Speaking of Shara Ishvalda, that’s Iceborne’s fancy new final boss. It’s a pretty cool fight that could maybe drag on a bit too long, because the thing is a tank among tanks. What made me really happy about it, though, is that I had no idea it was even a thing until I was fighting it. Yup, I went into the game somehow completely unspoiled on the final boss. I didn’t even know there was a final boss (or, I assumed it was Namielle), nevermind any details about it. So, uh, sorry if I spoiled it for you. Still, I thought it was a really cool fight, and it was full of fun surprises. Shagaru Magala will always be my favourite MH boss, but Shara Ishvalada ranks pretty high on my list.
The other thing that kind of blew me away because I knew nothing about it before release (sorry for spoilies again) is the new map called The Guiding Lands. It’s a whole new hunting area, but with several twists. Firstly, it’s the embodiment of one of my favourite video game tropes: the final level that’s an amalgamation of all the previous levels. The Guiding Lands is a giant map with five distinct sections based on most of the other maps (Hoarfrost Reach is omitted because ????). The other twist is that it seems to be exclusively for expeditions. Which means you just sort of pop in and see what monsters are prowling around. Then each area will level up or down depending on where you spend the most time, affecting which monsters and collectibles appear there. It doesn’t radically change the gameplay, but it’s a neat little way to mix things up a bit. I’m still not entirely clear on how it works, but eventually you can even have the Handler summon specific monsters whenever you want. Handy if you want to grind a specific monster without having to load up a quest over and over.
I guess those are the major points I wanted to touch on. Iceborne adds so many new things to Monster Hunter World that I simply couldn’t go through them all, and there’s really not all that much to say about the new armor sets or the fact that some skills can be over-leveled now. I still don’t know how to use the clutch claw to any degree of effectiveness, and there are some great new Poogie costumes (Dodo-ham-a forever!), but they certainly aren’t much to talk about. So my final worlds on Monster Hunter World: Iceborne will be… it’s a really good expansion. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, aside from the sometimes frustrating difficulty, and I sincerely wish I had more time to dedicate to it. Also, it kind of sucks that I had to start paying for PS+ again to play it properly (read: online), but that’s the cost of progress, I suppose.