Editors’ Choice: Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Raises the Series’ Bar

PS4

Returning to a game as deep and customizable as Monster Hunter World after a month away intimidated me at first. But like a musician picking up their chosen instrument after years away, my muscle memory kicked into satisfying results. I was surprised by how quickly I felt at home once again, swinging my hammer into monsters’ faces. Even more surprising is how Iceborne redefines what an “expansion” can be. A host of new monsters to hunt, a frosty land to explore, and gameplay tweaks make this feel closer to a true sequel.

Seasoned hunters can dive right into a new Master Rank echelon of quests, foes, and craftable gear. Iceborne also features various systems that allow newer players to join the hunt with little difficulty: The Hunter Helper feature incentives series veterans to help lower-rank hunters with rewards, hopefully making it easier to find a helping hand, and the hardy Guardian Armor set gives newcomers a fighting chance against Master Rank monsters. No reason to tuck tail if you’re brand-new!

The true appeal of Iceborne is the expanding bestiary of monsters to hunt. The aforementioned Beotodus is a brand-new monster, boasting subterranean traversal, icy armor, and a fearsome lunge attack. The antlered Banbaro charges into battle, uprooting entire trees and trampling you into oblivion. The flagship Elder Dragon, Velkhana, soars with a frigid majesty that almost makes you feel bad when carving materials off it (almost…). These tough new threats will challenge even the most seasoned hunters.

Iceborne’s monstrous roster also features a variety of altered subspecies to shake up beasts from the core game. The Coral Pukei-Pukei subspecies blasts pressurized water instead of the original monster’s deadly poison. Fulgar Anjanath crackles with electricity, which charges up its overall power. These subspecies shake up combat against familiar Monster Hunter: World creatures so much they’re essentially brand-new encounters.

Returning favorites from the long-running Monster Hunter series trample their way to Iceborne, as well. The intimidating Glavenus sharpens its razor-sharp tail with its own teeth (how metal is that?!), then attacks with a flurry of red-hot slashes. The brutish Tigrex also returns – a ferocious wyvern whose wings have evolved into powerful legs. The list goes on, but new players who haven’t battled these behemoths before should prepare for intense, thrilling battles. This is one of the fiercest lineups in the series’ history.

Iceborne offers robust new gameplay mechanics in addition to its frosty new environment and monsters. The Clutch Claw adds a new layer of strategy to every battle, letting hunters can latch onto specific monster parts. Trying to slice off a Rathian’s tail? Clutch Claw onto it from a distance and slice away. Is your target fleeing from the area? Hasten the chase with a well-timed grapple. The Clutch Claw blends seamlessly with the Monster Hunter experience, but it’s not an instant-win button — hunters would do well to strategize their use of the Claw, lest their quarry buck them right off, leaving them vulnerable to counterattack.

On a deeper gameplay level, Capcom has even shaken up — and added new — weapon combos. For example, in the core game, a solid Great Sword strategy for landing a powerful true charge attack involved canceling animations with a tackle. Iceborne allows players to fire their Slinger ammo at monsters mid-combo to segue into a big attack. Nuances like these help even tried-and-true weapons feel fresh. Hammer-loving hunters can also Clutch Claw straight onto a monster after an uppercut, and Switch Axe players get a useful new combo that increases the utility of the weapon’s axe mode.

Iceborne is an expansion so massive and rich that it feels like a true sequel. The Clutch Claw grappling mechanic, frosty locales, and inventive monsters (new threats and returning favorites), coalesce into an irresistible co-op adventure. This expansion is more than a fun excuse to return to an excellent game, it’s the best the series has ever been.

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