This expansion is not particularly new news as it has already been released on consoles for a few months now, but it finally launched for PC just a month ago and now a month has passed to soak in all the content for PC players like myself. How does MHW: Iceborne enhance the Monster Hunter experience? Overall, the expansion is excellent and is well worth its $40 price tag, but its not an absolutely flawless experience and it definitely has its share of issues that should be acknowledged.
Right off the bat I am going to say that the PC port was absolute trash at launch. While it was not quite the disconnect festival that was the base game’s PC launch, it had an absolute ton of performance issues, with many users reporting freezes and problems with excess CPU usage. Supposedly it was due to an anti-cheat system put in place so players who have not purchased Iceborne cannot access it illegally, but all it did was just prevent a ton of players from getting to properly enjoy the game, even players with relatively higher end rigs. I did not run into too many problems myself, but I did notice my performance being a noticeable downgrade from the base game, though that could also be due to the fancier visual effects that arrived with the new monster additions. Either way, the PC launch was not exactly a smooth experience, which begs the question of why we had such a long delay compared to consoles; players were under the expectation that the delay was to ensure that the PC port would arrive without significant performance issues, but in the end the launch was a dumpster fire anyways. There was also the fact that players who primarily used keyboard/mouse to play the game got screwed over massively by the overhauls to the keyboard button mappings, and a lot of those changes seemingly cannot be easily changed. While I do think Monster Hunter is a game that is usually better played with a controller, messing up the controls for the people who actually do want to use keyboard/mouse, especially on PC platform, is pretty unacceptable.
Ok, so the PC port is terrible. That aside, regarding the actual content of the expansion itself, Iceborne is utterly fantastic. Even the small quality-of-life updates Iceborne brings over the base game are great, and it seems like the developers saw some of the most popular gameplay-related mods on Nexus and decided to incorporate some of those changes. Shiny loot pick-ups from monsters are far more visible and easily discernible, one’s SOS-joining settings are saved between searches and hunts, and the ability to save layered armor load-outs in addition to regular equipment are all awesome features that either didn’t exist in base game or had to be modded in. Unfortunately, forced, unskippable cutscenes make a return in Iceborne, which makes me scratch my head as almost nobody I know who plays this game enjoys them being unskippable.
The new hub, Seliana, is gorgeous, and is way more compact and more easily navigated than Astera, the old hub. Important locations like the Blacksmith and Canteen are more easily accessible and do not require the player to trek a mile in between stops. The gathering hub, which is the location where players go to hang out and organize group hunts is also vastly improved, mainly by making a lot of the important functions in the main area accessible from the gathering hub so that way players do not need to waste time with pointless walking. The new corresponding winter-y area to hunt monsters in, Hoarfrost Reach, is also great and features a ton of different landmarks with unique mechanics like hot springs and breaking ice. The cold nature of the region also forces the player to stay warm via hot chili drinks or otherwise face gradual stamina loss (which could potentially be incredibly annoying but fortunately the drinks last a long time before wearing off).
As for the core of the Monster Formula, the new monster arrivals with Iceborne are all fantastic as well. With a combination of returning monsters from previous games as well as newcomers, Iceborne more or less doubles the roster, with a bunch of new creatures to hunt and craft gear out of. The new added monsters look incredible and are just as well animated, and the team also put a lot more effort into the direct interactions the monsters have with each other, with a lot more turf wars than I have seen in the base game. The new master rank armor sets from these monsters are also generally a step above the base game armor as far as visuals go, which was pretty surprising because I actually thought the base game armor was already really good. Unfortunately, the weapons lack the same consistency and are generally more hit-or-miss. Some of the designs are absolutely gorgeous (notably the Royal event weapons), but there are a good amount of weapons that lack a proper unique model and just look like some generic bone/metal weapon with monster parts stapled on that probably could have been designed by a ten year-old.
Probably the most significant improvement of Iceborne over the base game was the changes they made to the end-game (post-story content). In the base game, after beating the main story pretty much the only end-game content asides from new DLC/event quests were farming tempered monsters for rare decorations to customize one’s build, with skewed drop rates so that the rarer decorations were extremely hard to find as a way to artificially extend playing time. While the core gameplay loop of MHW was good enough to make the grind itself fun, it did not make up for the fact that the end-game system was overall mediocre. Unfortunately, Iceborne did not get rid of this system (and in fact added another set of decorations to grind for), but it did add a completely new end-game activity that is overall a huge improvement. This system encourages cooperative play among players and overhauls the base game’s augmentation system in a much fairer way as opposed to the decoration grind. I will not elaborate much more about it as it technically is spoiler content for those who do not own Iceborne, but it is certainly way more engaging than base World’s end-game system.
As far as content goes, Iceborne is an improvement in almost every way. However, Iceborne did not just add more monsters/gear/etc., it also introduced quite a few changes to the combat system, with the biggest change being a new mechanic known as the clutch claw. Every weapon in the game received mechanical changes to incorporate this clutch claw as well as some other changes, and overall I’m a fan of most of those changes (such as Charge Blade receiving Savage Axe mode, the overhauls they made to Switch Axe making it feel significantly less clunky to play, etc.). The clutch claw allows players to attach themselves to monsters and “tenderize” different parts of their body which makes them more vulnerable to damage, as well as allowing them to fire slinger bursts either mid-weapon combo or while latched onto a monster to send them into walls or other monsters. Depending on weapon class, some weapons can tenderize a monster part in a single attack while others require two, though the ones that require two also have the added benefit of dropping more ammo for the slinger than the single-attack ones do not. In theory, the clutch claw adds another dimension to the combat by giving players an additional tool to incorporate into their arsenal as well as encouraging cooperative play between different weapons due to the differences in tenderize attacks. Sounds great right? Unfortunately things on paper do not always turn out well in practice.
The light/heavy weapon distinction they applied to the clutch claw, in practice, is a complete disaster and more or less just unfairly gimps weapons that need two tenderize attacks. One, there is only a limited amount of slinger ammo that can drop from monsters before the monster just stops dropping them, and the requirement for two attacks to tenderize makes it much riskier for light weapons to actually weaken a monster hitzone due to the animation commitment required to latch onto a monster and soften the corresponding part. In multiplayer the issue is not as pronounced as between four players coordination can be achieved so that the heavy weapons do the softening while light weapons generate slinger ammo, but that does not exist when one is playing solo. This is compounded by another issue that is an indirect consequence of the clutch claw. The clutch claw is undeniably a powerful tool; being able to make a monster take more damage and create a free window to beat down on it via wall-bangs would be pretty overpowered in the base game, so in Iceborne they compensated for such tools by making monsters generally very resistant to damage without tenderization and by ramping up their AI so that they act like hyperactive monkeys (both literally and figuratively). Tenderizing also takes one out of the natural flow of combat where a monster acts and the hunter responds to its attacks and punishes appropriately, as the hunter needs to stop every now and then to find an opportunity to re-apply tenderization if they do not wish to gimp their damage output (also tenderization does not last a long time, nor does it remain permanent if a body part is already broken for some reason). Thus, some of the fights in Iceborne can feel very annoying and tedious where in base game there were not a lot of fights I genuinely thought were unfun. I do think the clutch claw was a cool experiment at least with some good ideas, but it definitely needs some significant re-works if Capcom is to keep it for the next generation of games.
Iceborne has also managed to make fighting flying monsters an even bigger pain than in the base game, through a couple of different changes. One, they severely gutted the usefulness of flash pods, making them work only once in a while and getting rid of the “helpless” state the monsters would enter once flashed out of the sky in the base game. So the next best solution is to clutch claw them and flinch shot them out of the sky, but that’s also horribly implemented. There are times where the monster will not even crash to the ground (not sure if it is a bug), but the infuriating thing is that every time you flinch shot a monster out of the sky the hunter gets sent flying a mile away from the monster, so that 90% of the knockdown duration is wasted because the player is forced to spend most of it getting back to the monster. Then there is also the issue of clutch claw attacks/flinch shots enraging the monster, which means one cannot flinch shot them out of the sky again until they are no longer angry. The easy solution to this? Grab a ranged weapon because Capcom clearly does not know how to balance combat for ranged weapon users so once can just grab one of the few grossly over-tuned bowguns (over-tuned meaning hilariously overpowered) if they want a frustration-free flying monster hunt.
Having acknowledged Monster Hunter World: Iceborne’s biggest flaws in its clutch claw execution and its currently awful PC port, overall the expansion was an absolute blast, and despite my general opinion that the quality of fights has decreased, there are still a lot of excellent fights added and a lot of older encounters improved so players can still easily choose good monsters to hunt while completely avoiding the terrible ones. And this is only a month into the release; who knows what future content Capcom has in store, especially considering the amazing post-launch content they added to the base game. If you enjoyed the base game’s overall experience, get Iceborne.
Rating: You get basically the same amount of content in the base game for only $40 as opposed to the standard $60, so even at retail value it is definitely worth it.