Monster Hunter World gets considerably bigger today with Iceborne, a $40 expansion that adds a frigid new area, dozens of new monsters, and much harder missions. It doesn’t do much to change the formula, but it’s a very welcome burst of new content and a great reason to return to a game that had gotten a little stale.
Expansions that add new monsters and a higher tier of difficulty, previously known as G-rank, are a tradition for the series. But with previous Monster Hunter games, which were never released on systems where hefty downloadable expansions would really have been practical, Capcom put out entirely new games to accommodate the extra content and difficulty. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, for example, was called Monster Hunter 4G in Japan, and it came out sometime after vanilla Monster Hunter 4, which wasn’t released at all in the West. G-rank was the main draw for the new versions, sure, and you could usually transfer characters over, but you also got a bunch of low- and midrank missions to work through to help you get your Monster Hunter legs back.
Iceborne isn’t like that. It essentially replaces the original World, giving it a new icon and title screen like an MMO expansion. You can’t even access Iceborne’s content without completing World’s main campaign. You are specifically paying for the hard stuff here.
As such, Iceborne gets brutal fast. I’m not the best Monster Hunter player on the planet, but I found World’s campaign to be pretty easy to get through playing solo, with very few roadblocks. With Iceborne, that has absolutely not been my experience. It always takes me a while to remember how to play Monster Hunter properly, but even Iceborne’s early fights proved an unforgiving way to settle back into the game’s unique controls and combat. I have no shame in admitting that I’m looking forward to getting online with some better players now that the game is actually out.
That isn’t a complaint. Monster Hunter World did a great job of easing new players into the series, but it was arguably too easy for experienced players, who had to make do with stat-boosted “tempered” versions of monsters and the occasional difficult downloadable quest. With Iceborne, each new monster you find puts up a serious fight, making the campaign much more satisfying to work through. The expansion is explicitly aimed at high-level players, and it’s all the better for it.
This means Iceborne isn’t really going to do much for anyone who has yet to get on board with Monster Hunter World other than the promise that there’s now a much longer endgame. You’ll still have to play through all of World’s content before you get to take on an Iceborne monster. You do at least get to use some of Iceborne’s minor tweaks and improvements, like a fun new “clutch claw” that lets you latch on to monsters from afar, with the original missions. Iceborne owners also get access to a high-powered armor set that should make the older content much smoother to burn through.
In some areas, Iceborne doesn’t quite go as far as it could have. The online / offline lobby system is still clunky and confusing, for example, even if anyone playing Iceborne will be used to it by now. I would also have liked to see more than one new major area, vast and beautiful as the single new addition is. And while there are a lot of new monsters, too many of them are “subspecies” variants or, more subtly, built on the same skeletons and animations as existing creatures. Monster Hunter World is obviously a huge technical leap forward, but its menagerie is still much less diverse than the previous games.
In general, though, Iceborne does exactly what it needs to. Monster Hunter World was a pretty great template to work with, and now it’s deeper, broader, and far more challenging. My biggest complaint is that I have to move back to the PS4 from the much smoother PC version, which is, unfortunately, not getting Iceborne until next year. On the other hand, that’ll just be another excuse to get into the grind all over again.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.