When you get right down to it, most video games try to answer a simple question: how do we make fighting giant monsters more fun? Shadow of the Colossus made the monsters bigger. Dragon's Dogma let you climb the monsters as if they were giant jungle gyms. But Monster Hunter World: Iceborne knew the truth: you should add a grappling hook, or in this case, a Clutch Claw. And the addition of the Clutch Claw is just one of many ways that Iceborne improves upon Monster Hunter World. It adds and changes so much that it really does feel like a whole second game – one that's every bit as compelling and rewarding as Monster Hunter World itself.
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is to Monster Hunter World what Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was to, well, Monster Hunter 4. It's an end game focused expansion that adds new monsters and gear, more challenging Master Rank hunts, more story content, another biome, and some new hunting techniques like the Clutch Claw I so intrigued you with in the last paragraph. This Slinger-mounted gizmo lets you grapple onto monsters once you stagger them by hitting weak points, and once you're latched on, you can wound their hides to make them more vulnerable to attacks, or unleash your Slinger ammo to send them stumbling right into a wall for heavy damage and an added stun.
Release date: September 6 on PS4 and Xbox One, January 2020 on PC
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
I never knew how badly Monster Hunter needed a combat grappling hook until now. The Clutch Claw adds another level of strategy to hunts which accentuates Monster Hunter's combat, fitting its game loop beautifully. If you're trying to break a specific body part to get the items you need to craft some gear, you can wound it and concentrate your attacks. If your weapon keeps bouncing off a tough part, you can wound it to soften it up. And if you're just doing some casual hunting, you're still incentivized to attack monsters' weak points to create openings for the Clutch Claw to go to work – it's free damage, and it's just plain badass.
Apart from the Clutch Claw, all 14 weapons also received one or two new tricks which flesh out their play styles. They're fun to play around with, but weapons still feel the same – in a good way. And at the end of the day, Master Rank is the big draw here. Iceborne's story? It's fine; more of the same, really, with some added character moments. The ecosystem is in chaos, there are some absolutely stunning cutscenes here and there, and each story quest contrives a new reason to Kill The Thing. The new biome, the Hoarfrost Reach? It's lovely, especially if you like snow and wooly mammoths, which I do. The new hub, Seliana? Gorgeous, and more intuitively laid out than Astera. Good stuff all around, but those are the appetizers. Master Rank is the reason to get Iceborne. It's the main dish, and it is delicious.
In Master Rank, monsters have more health, deal more damage, and – now this is the best part – have new attacks compared to their High Rank versions. There are all-new monsters exclusive to Master Rank, as well as subspecies like Coral Pukei-Pukei and Ebony Odogaron which put more dramatic twists on familiar monsters. To put Master Rank in perspective: I can kill a High Rank Pukei-Pukei in one minute and change, but my average Coral Pukei-Pukei time is currently around 11 minutes. Master Rank monsters have health on health, and they freaking hurt. After farming the same monsters for so long, having them actually kick my ass for once is genuinely refreshing.
Iceborne's roster is a mix of brand-new monsters and returning beasts from previous games, and there are considerably more than Capcom revealed in the lead-up to Iceborne. I was thrilled to discover monsters not seen in any trailers, so I don't want to spoil exactly what or how many there are. Let's just say there are comfortably more than 20 new monsters total, including some surprising and incredibly tough deviants. One nice thing about Iceborne is that it introduces many new monsters via Expeditions rather than actual quests, meaning you have infinite time and lives to burn while learning new fights. Of course, you'll still need to get a solid handle on monsters to continue the story, upgrade your hunting tools, and craft gear.
Of the publicly revealed monsters, my favorite returnees are Tigrex, Nargacuga, Barioth, Glavenus, and Zinogre. These monsters retain the flavor of their previous iterations, but Capcom's also given them just enough new attacks to shake up veterans. From the newcomers, I'm partial to Coral Pukei-Pukei, Nightshade Paolumu, and Acidic Glavenus. These subspecies require dramatically different strategies than their base monsters, and they really help sell the prestige of Master Rank. Banbaro is also exactly what I was hoping for: an absolute unit who hits you with trees. And now that elemental weapons have been buffed, I'm really enjoying the spread of elemental weaknesses among the new monsters. Where World's base roster leaned heavily into Thunder and Dragon weaknesses, Iceborne features a lot of Water, Ice, and Fire weaknesses which are a huge boost to often-overlooked weapon trees.
Even after playing through G-Rank in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, the jump to Master Rank in World felt like a bit much at first. But as I crafted Master Rank gear and upgraded my hunting tools by completing side quests, I could feel my character getting stronger and I could tell that I was getting the hang of the new monsters. That feeling of progression has always been at the heart of Monster Hunter, and the added difficulty of Master Rank really hammers it home.
Monster Hunter World was very easy compared to previous installments to the series, but with Iceborne, Capcom's really given it some teeth, and this benefits so many parts of the game. I completely ignored environmental traps like boulders and pitfalls before, but now that monsters are much harder, I actively seek out tools like these because they feel more impactful. I'm more meticulous about what Mantles, Boosters, and items that I bring on hunts, and I value defensive and supportive skills more highly when building armor sets. Likewise, I'm constantly playing toward Clutch Claw openings because I want every advantage I can get.
In the same vein, I'm hungrier for gear than ever before. In terms of build options, the jump from Low Rank to High Rank doesn't even compare to Master Rank. The new armor sets not only look amazing, they also come with new and stronger skills which allow for more ambitious builds. The new four-slot Decoration sockets – which can also be found on upgraded Mantles – make gemming in certain skills easier than ever, and there's a great spread of two- and three-cost set bonuses that you can combine in powerful ways. I just wish the weapons were as appealing.
New world, old problems
When World launched, many longtime Monster Hunter players – myself included – were disappointed in how samey the weapons were. Most end-game weapons used the iron and bone trees as a base and superficially attached monster parts to them. There were still some standouts like the Nergigante and Vaal Hazak weapons, but weapons were homogenous overall, with less individuality compared to previous games. I was hoping Master Rank weapons would fix this with more bespoke designs that highlight monster traits, but sadly that's only partly the case. There are a ton of stunning weapons in Iceborne, don't get me wrong, but there are still dozens of flat, boring, bone and iron bases, even for colorful subspecies like Coral Pukei-Pukei and iconic monsters like Glavenus. Suffice it to say, I'm still thoroughly disappointed in the way many weapons look.
There are some other problems Iceborne fails to address, too. I haven't had a lot of time to farm Tempered monsters for Decorations and Streamstones, but in my experience, acquiring either is still a crapshoot. The best Decorations are obscenely rare, and the odds of getting the Streamstones you want are about as low, even with the new Streamstone Melding option. The RNG behind these systems can be so bad that several builds and upgrades are basically walled off unless you spend literally hundreds of hours grinding Tempered Investigations. I get that Capcom needs some scarcity to drive players to grind post-game hunts, but the current system is too limiting. I was really hoping Iceborne would improve upon this failing of World, but it hasn't from what I've seen so far.
I've got some other complaints, and while they are minor annoyances, in a game as cyclical as Monster Hunter, recurring minor issues can add up to very big headaches. For reasons I cannot fathom, Iceborne – or at least its accompanying update – nerfed Flash Pods into the pavement. They barely do anything now. You can basically only use one every few minutes, and they don't stun flying monsters like they used to. This makes fighting monsters like Azure Rathalos, Shrieking Legiana, and Kushala Daora an absolute nightmare, especially with weapons like sword and shield or dual blades, which have next to no reach.
On top of that, just while playing Iceborne for review I've had more hunts interrupted by roaming monsters than I have in my entire Monster Hunter career, including the hundreds of hours I put into World. Sometimes I can't go three minutes without stopping to fire a Dung Pod at a Rathian or Tigrex or what-have-you which wandered into the area to disrupt my fight. I've seen upwards of five roaming monsters in a single hunt, each encounter more frustrating than the last. Remember how often Bazelgeuse used to show up in High Rank? It's like that, but worse. Getting stunned by a roar or getting knocked out of a combo by another monster from off-screen – a monster I didn't even come here to hunt – is not interesting or challenging, it's annoying.
These issues definitely get on my nerves, but none of them are deal-breakers, and there are also some quality of life changes that offset them, like improved mounting and the Tailrider taxi which lets you ride small monsters to designated locations. Besides, Iceborne kicks so much ass that I'm more than willing to ignore the occasional hiccup. Between new monsters, added challenge, exciting build variety, and flashy new combos, Iceborne delivers a strictly better version of an already great game. Every Monster Hunter World fan should play Iceborne, and now more than ever, everyone and their dog should play Monster Hunter World.
Reviewed on PS4.