DLCs like this are special; many other post-release game offerings are two to three-hour experiences that act as an epilogue to the main game’s conclusion. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is different; it feels more like an expansion in the same vein as The Witcher 3’s Heart of Stone or Blood and Wine, or Destiny’s yearly additions. It is huge. And so, so much fun.
Last year, Monster Hunter World released with the intentions of bringing a wave of new players in. And it did so brilliantly, selling over 13 million copies and easily becoming the best-selling game in the series, welcoming Western players into a community that had beforehand been predominantly Eastern. In a nutshell, Monster Hunter World is an action-RPG where you fight larger than life monsters to solve the mystery of the Elder Crossing, a migration of Elder Dragons to the New World that occurs every ten years. These Elder Dragons represent the most difficult challenges in the main story, but are nowhere near the hardest battles overall, in a game that’s well known for its challenges.
Iceborne follows the same mentality. To even access it, players need to be Hunter Rank 16 – that is, defeat the final boss of MHW Xeno’jiiva – which is some 40+ hours of gameplay just to get to that point. After these punishing Elder Dragon fights, I expected the first few battles in Iceborne to be a gentler affair, easing me into the new area and new features. I couldn’t have been more naïve.
Ultimately, Iceborne features the exact same gameplay from the main game. The same cycle of hunting monsters repeatedly for better gear to equip, to then be able to tackle even bigger and more dangerous monsters. It’s still addictive, incredible amounts of fun and hugely satisfying, and even as I pass the 70+ hour mark across the main game and the expansion, I’ve still barely scratched the surface.
This expansion brings with it a new rank, known as Master Rank. This follows previous Monster Hunter games bringing out higher level enemies that were previously known as G-Rank, but the naming convention was changed to make it a bit easier to understand.
Iceborne continues straight after the main game’s story, as your Handler notices a large migration of Legianas heading towards an undiscovered location. Upon following them, the Fifth Fleet discover Hoarfrost Reach, the new icy area unlocked in this DLC, which is also the biggest area in the whole of Monster Hunter World.
Of course, it isn’t too long before the monsters start attacking and indeed the first two monsters you fight in the expansion – Beotodus and Banbaro – are already suited to this frozen tundra so present a healthy challenge to introduce you to the new area. But the Legiana migration has also had a knock-on effect back in the original hunting areas, so a decent portion of the DLC is set in more familiar locations, with familiar monsters. With decidedly unfamiliar twists.
Not to be confused with ‘Variant Monsters’ – which are near endgame battles with some of the toughest foes in the entire game – these subspecies of existing monsters subvert your expectations. Early examples include a Nightshade Paolumu which has the ability to inflict sleep on your hunter, and the Coral Pukei-Pukei which now shoots water at high pressure out of its orifices, instead of poison as per the normal version. These new takes really breathe fresh life into the existing fauna; they’re essentially brand-new battles such is the diverse change in tactics required to defeat them.
Just as well then that you can unlock new tiers of weapons and armor to fight these new breeds that bring with them plenty of new loot to collect, and then forge into a wide variety of new outfits.
Another new feature is the Clutch Claw, and after only a short time using it I wondered how I ever managed without it. This is an upgrade to a hunter’s slinger that allows them to grapple onto a monster and unleash an attack at that area you attached to. You can also do a flinch shot with this, that unloads all your slinger ammo into the monster and can be used to make them flinch or slam into nearby enivronmental hazards. Providing you use this when a monster is catching its breath or already dazed and not rampaging around the area, it can quickly turn the tide in your favour.
Iceborne also has a brand-new social area called Seliana. This is also snow covered, much like the new hunting grounds, complete with wooden gangways and huts housing the usual amenities you would expect such as the kitchen and smithy. It takes a while to get your bearings though, and even then, the old Astera area can still be used and is preferable.
One thing you will want to stick around in Seliana for is the Steamworks. This is a minigame where players must guess a three-button sequence from the A, X and Y buttons. There is no skill to it – though a nearby Palico can give you hints – but big prizes are on offer; unique items such as Steam Tickets that if you collect enough can be cashed in to earn some high-level new threads.
You also have a new room in Seliana to relax and unwind in, and it’s a lot more interactive than the one in Astera. For a start, you can redecorate it to your heart’s content with hundreds of customisation options, which can be earned through completing hunts and various other activities. You can even spend some of your amassed Research Points on unique items. But you can also stretch out in your own private hot spring or have a splash around with your Palico buddy.
A hefty expansion needs a hefty achievement list, and Iceborne can even provide that. There are an additional 49 achievements for 1000G, meaning the full Monster Hunter World package is now 98 achievements deep, catering for a whopping 2000G. Many achievements are duplicates of the base game – so you will be collecting miniature and gold crowns once again – but this achievement list doesn’t want you to forget where you came from; there is an achievement for helping out those hunters on low and high rank quests. This community is already very helpful and friendly, so an additional incentive is a welcome one.
As with the base game, expect a long completion time if you are aiming for every achievement.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne on Xbox One is quite simply an exceptional expansion to an already exceptional game. Combined, they make one of the best games of the console generation. What’s more, the team at Capcom are already planning post-release updates, the first one being the ape-like Rajang as a new monster to hunt. If you already enjoyed Monster Hunter World, this is the perfect time to jump back in with one of the best DLC packs out this year.