Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (PC) — Glorious PC Master Rank Hunts

Just one more hunt, and then I’ll write the Iceborne article… Okay, just one more hunt…

As a game series, Monster Hunter is about as straightforward a concept as you can get. Everything you need to know is right there in the title. What do you do in Monster Hunter? You hunt monsters. Makes sense. What about any extraneous stuff? Nope, everything in it is killing monsters, or else giving you the means and resources to hunt monsters more efficiently. There’s something really pure about it. Monster Hunter World brought the predominantly handheld series to consoles and PC in a big way, shaving off some of the rough edges to make things a little more approachable. In return, the game exploded in popularity and success, selling more copies than any other Capcom title by a sizeable margin.

That sort of success was basically guaranteed to see the game produce DLC, if not a sequel. And so that brings us to the release of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. But is it a DLC or sequel? Well, this expansion pack is practically hefty enough to be both!

While console players have had their hands on this for a few months — you can read our review for the PS4 release here — PC players are now finally able to catch up once more. So let’s don the winter armor and unpack what’s here.

“If you’re wary of the price tag, I assure you that there’s more than enough here to justify it.”

Iceborne is an expansion pack in the 90s PC game sense of the word. There’s enough video game here to justify its own disc, and the new content approaches the level of what was included in the base game. If you’re wary of the price tag, I assure you that there’s more than enough here to justify it.

There’s a new tundra region to explore and hunt in. We’ve got new moves and adjustments to the weapons. There’s the addition of the Clutch Claw to your moveset, which lets you grapple to monsters and soften up their body parts or force them to go careening into walls. The slinger is now usable with your weapons unsheathed, combining nicely with the Claw to give you more options and flexibility in combat.

Most importantly, there’s the addition of Master Rank hunts, building on from the High Rank of the base game. Every monster already in World (barring a couple of exceptions like Xeno’jiiva) has a Master Rank fight, and all the new inclusions are Master Rank exclusives. These higher rank monsters drop different materials needed for the upgraded weapons and armour sets, and the base stats on all these newer models instantly obsolete the older ones. If you’ve not kept up with the base game so far or are just jumping on now, you won’t be held back in terms of power for long. If you have kept up with the Monster Hunter World meta, that will only make the adjustment phase a little smoother.

Ultimately though, this is all window dressing to Iceborne’s main selling point. You’re here for the new monsters. So what do we get? Well, you’re looking at about two dozen new encounters — almost as many as the base game. Half of these are unique to either the series or World, and the other half are variants or subspecies of existing monsters.

It might sound like a cop-out to lump these different varieties as new monsters if you read it like that. The vast majority of these subspecies have substantial alterations, moves, and gimmicks from their original versions though. I was genuinely taken aback by how different some of them were, and I was caught off guard by this on at least one occasion. Coral Pukei-Pukei, Fulgur Anjanath, and Seething Bazelgeuse, in particular, varied from their initial encounters in surprising ways, enough to keep them feeling fresh.

That said, the real stars are the creatures wholly new to World. There’s a good selection of iconic designs from older games that series veterans should be pleased (or are dreading) to see again. Monsters like Nargacuga and Tigrex make their triumphant return in high fidelity, and they easily stand out as some of the better fights available. Newcomers like Namielle and Velkhana can stand alongside these fan favorites proudly, featuring great designs and fun encounters. There’s a good mix of creatures on offer.

The pacing between new and variant monsters is reasonably balanced in the story, rarely dwelling on familiar faces for too long before thrusting you into a fight with something original to test your mettle. Some of the usual monsters are still going to be effortless punching bags in Master Rank — a Great Jagras is still a Great Jagras — but the newer fights don’t pull their punches. It might not reach the sometimes esoteric levels of earlier Monster Hunter games with what preparation is required, but you certainly will be punished if you come in expecting a steamroll.

What would a new set of monsters be without new sets of weapons and armor crafted in their likeness, though?  It’s present, naturally, and Capcom has done a really great job in making the gear look fantastic. There are practically no sets that I found completely unappealing, and there was always something creative or outright badass about what I was forging. The drive to assemble a great set was definitely stoked both by their skills and looks, so Fashion Hunter World players can rejoice. The gameplay loop of “hunt monsters to get parts to hunt monsters better” remains as compelling as ever.

All of this is without going into the inclusions of more layered armor, house customization, and the Guiding Lands endgame area. Even after playing through the main story and dabbling in the side content, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. That’s not even mentioning playing with weapon types I’ve not become thoroughly acquainted with yet.

Being an expansion pack, most of the Iceborne changes are available only after you’ve beaten the base story of Monster Hunter World. Upon doing so, there’s a new set of story missions on offer that will take you through Iceborne’s plot, gradually unfurling the new fights and features. The story is still paper-thin and mostly just padding, but it is charming nonetheless and knows not to take itself too seriously.

Capcom has taken steps to make it easier to clear the base game content in the meantime. Defender armor and weapons have been added to the game already, and they’re strong enough to get you through the bulk of challenges leading to the new content. That said, you won’t be accessing many of the features until you’ve finished the World storyline, so do keep that in mind before you commit to the purchase!

“The gameplay loop of ‘hunt monsters to get parts to hunt monsters better’ remains as compelling as ever.”

Regardless of how far along you are, all Iceborne players will gain access to the new movesets and Clutch Claw right off the bat. Having now played with the Claw, it’s hard to imagine going back to the game without it. As such, it’s not for absolutely nothing if you end up buying ahead of time–just be mindful. Despite that warning, there’s a large amount of content for those who have exhausted Monster Hunter World’s offerings and just want more. Iceborne absolutely delivers that in spades.

For those who’ve patiently waited for the update to come on PC, how does the port hold up? Reasonably strong, really. I experienced almost no issues in my full playthrough on a review copy, with only the occasional brief pause that I attribute more to my own PC struggling to keep up. Despite the high demands and imperfect optimization, Capcom has made improvements on Iceborne compared to World’s original PC release. What remaining issues I experienced are very minor and should be fixed up by release, if not soon after.

The Steam release rolls out with all the bells and whistles for PC players to tinker with. Higher resolutions and 4K support, ultra-wide support, DirectX 12, uncapped frame rates… it’s all here to tinker with to get your hunts looking utterly stunning. If you don’t have an elder dragon of a rig needed to run everything cranked to the max, have no fear. Even on lower settings and lesser hardware, the game’s performance remains relatively stable.

“If you don’t have an elder dragon of a rig needed to run everything cranked to the max, have no fear. Even on lower settings and lesser hardware, the game’s performance remains relatively stable.”

If you’re not sure that you can handle the full graphical displays on offer, your gameplay shouldn’t be affected too much at all. Load times are still incredibly streamlined compared to console releases. Mouse and keyboard controls were already strong in the base release. Still, there have been numerous tweaks and improvements to better suit the Claw’s inclusion, with plenty of control customizations available to adjust as needed.

Unfortunately for PC players, this release still won’t quite put us at parity with the console release. Some of the balance adjustments and bug fixes have already been incorporated, such as tweaks to the Guiding Lands endgame, but event rollouts and free content updates are still to come. We should be seeing the addition of the imposing Rajang in early February. Keep an eye on the official Iceborne website for their roadmap. Hopefully, we’ll achieve parity with the console releases before long and can tackle each new hunt without having to wait enviously.

All things considered, Iceborne is an excellent expansion to the already great Monster Hunter World. It’s been an impatient wait for those of us playing on PC, but having played on both versions, this is a solid port that will see me sticking to this over consoles. At long last, we can get back into the hunt. There’s not likely to be anything in Iceborne that will change your mind if you didn’t care for World, but I know that there’s plenty — myself included — who are happy with the formula and will gladly leap at the chance for more. And that’s what Iceborne is: a quality expansion containing more of everything present in the awesome base game.

If you’ve been looking to get into Monster Hunter for a while, Monster Hunter World is still the most approachable game in the series by far. If you’ve been holding off on World up to this point, it’s a fantastic game that is worth playing. And if you’re already a fan of World, Iceborne is new content with that same great taste. See you in the New World.

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Kris Cornelisse

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