We played Monster Hunter: World on PC when it came out last autumn, but the meaty Iceborne expansion lands first on consoles this month (and is expected to stalk its way onto our computers in January 2020) to bulk up the offering on PS4 and Xbox One. In order to unlock the new region, you first have to reach Hunter Rank 16, which you'll gain automatically after killing the main boss of the base game - Xeno'jiiva - for the first time.
So, to experience the new area for ourselves, we first had to complete the entire game on the PS4 again - which easily takes up to 30 hours, even if you know what to do. In the end, we had no other choice but to jump back into the bittersweet Venus flytrap that Monster Hunter: World really is underneath its flashy exterior.
Since the original console launch, a lot has been added to the game. Since launch we have been surprised by new missions and monsters coming from Final Fantasy and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and there are plenty of hunters who must have spent hundreds of hours completing their collections. Anyone who has reached this stage will experience a pleasant transition into the master ranks, as the high-level monsters offer a somewhat similar level of challenge. Those who come along with their wannabe hunters, like ourselves, will sooner or later find themselves needing to do a bit of grinding, which is at least more fun when you've got an entirely new territory to explore.
Hoarfrost Reach is one of two new areas being introduced by Iceborne. This frosty region was already prominent in the preview phase and consists of 16 linked districts, which we gradually unlocked after completing certain missions. Although the map covers different habitats, they are all fairly cold, which is a contrast to the main game. As the master rank progresses, we unlock new missions that, from time to time, lead us back to the New World with its familiar terrain. Often the local fauna is being plagued by some stronger subspecies coming from the Iceborne landmass, so we need to kill them to preserve the natural order of things.
The story of Iceborne follows the path of the main game and has us research the phenomenon of Legiana leaving their homeland in the Coral Highlands for reasons unknown. They set flight to an island that has suddenly emerged on the horizon (our surprised hunters hadn't noticed it before) and so we follow them. This icy landmass becomes the central location of this expansion as we set up a town called Seliana, securing transport routes and conducting investigations from our new base of operations. While the plot unfolds we gradually understand what may be the reason behind the deviant behaviour of some monsters.
During all of this, the supporting cast works together. Our trusty Handler, for example, has a lot to say about how fascinating it is to observe the region more closely. We also learn more about her past, likely more than most players ever wanted to know. The secondary characters become more approachable too, and that is certainly a good thing. However, in a game where our Palico cat companion is given more screentime during the cutscenes than even the star of the show, we really shouldn't focus too much on the staging.
Seliana is our new base and it largely replaces Astera (and is equally busy). We find all the important things there, which fortunately come together at one location. Every facility can be found within a small area and we even found some nice additions here and there. For example, there is a building called the Steamworks, which grants a lot of materials, once we feed it some ore. It's another way to get items on a regular basis, but you can also just ignore it if you wish.
With the master rank, a third difficulty setting enters the game, and so too does a new range of gear sets, weapons, and gems that you can acquire. Early on, we were disappointed about the new armour sets. After all, Monster Hunter thrives from its incredibly rewarding progression system - if we no longer wanted to make ourselves nice accessories out of the creatures we were slaying, our motivation and enjoyment would quickly decline. Luckily, this mood lifts after a time because later on Iceborne offers some handsome items that you will surely want to spend your time working towards.
In master rank, all creatures received additional movement patterns to spice things up a little. More exciting are the new sub-species, which ultimately only represent adapted versions of some already known monsters. The Coral-Pukei-Pukei is by far the best example of this, as it takes in water from the natural reserves that can be found in the Coral Highlands and spits it out at high pressure through its tail and mouth (it even uses its tongue to split the stream and steer it).
As soon as the new monsters are introduced, Iceborne turns up the heat, both in terms of the fun you'll have and the challenge you'll face. You just have to experience a fight against the mighty Glavenus for yourself, because it's fantastic to see what Capcom did with this sword-tail swinging dinosaur (that some of you may know from the Nintendo 3DS game Monster Hunter Generations) - plus, getting something nice and shiny out of this tough adversary felt really good. Before we knew it, the dangerous loot spiral was back and we found ourselves immersed once again.
However, playing on console has its drawbacks, and Capcom hasn't tackled some of the existing problems we had with Monster Hunter: World. The game's hitboxes are still a big nuisance, which is more striking in battles that last 30 minutes or more (especially if there are several big critters on our tail). Defeating a dangerous creature for the tenth time is still no fun either - how difficult is it to extract the right bone from a monster we've studied so extensively before? And while we are at it, what is with the loading times on console? We have to wait for ages to load the environments while the game is slowing down our PS4 Pro to the point where we experience noticeable lag and freezes when navigating the menus.
As annoying as those things might be, Monster Hunter: World is still a great and gorgeous game. Iceborne is indeed massively expanding on an already vast content offering. We talked about a lot of different things already, yet we've not even touched on the late game, where you can look forward to another area besides Hoarfrost Reach, called The Guided Lands. This is where very good players can be rewarded for their stamina, talent, and effort. There are many cool surprises waiting for us out there, especially if you want to farm effectively.
In the main game, more than 30 giant monsters were available for the hunt (plus those creatures that were added later), and in Iceborne we've already slain more than 20 new species. There are modified versions of existing ones and all-new Elder Dragons, who have impressive abilities in store for players, as well as some cool monsters that were last seen on the Wii U or the 3DS. There are also new traversal options that we haven't mentioned, such as the Clutch Claw, which allows us to pull ourselves onto big opponents and land some nice hits while other hunters keep the beasts busy. On top of that, there are advanced techniques for all 14 of the weapons types the game has to offer. With that being the case, there's a whole new world for players to hunt in and plenty to do while they're there, and that makes Iceborne an expansion well worth hunting down.