Sometimes, it takes a while to breakthrough. Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t win his first Oscar until “The Revenant” (it should’ve been “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Don’t @ me). Kofi Kingston was a top star for over a decade before this past WrestleMania where he took home his first world title. And then there’s Monster Hunter.
With its first installment dropping in 2004, this franchise was, to put it mildly, a slow-moving train. It was big in Japan, like Bobby Caldwell or corn on pizza, but didn’t cross over. That is, until 2018’s Monster Hunter: World. This title changed everything for Capcom, becoming its greatest success not only in years but, indeed, of all time. As of this writing, the game has shipped 13 million copies and with an expansion imminent, shows no signs of stopping.
On September 6, the monster hunting world will get bigger with the release of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. I got to go hands-on with this game in beta and early release and I’m here with some Day 1 (or earlier) impressions. On the whole, the game sticks with its tried and true formula – one to four players, or hunters, get put on a map with a monster (ranging from a lizard of unusual size to a lizard of REALLY unusual size), and must use their wits and comically oversized weapons to win the day. You also employ traps, bombs, bigger traps, bigger bombs, and an army of anthropomorphic cats.
You go places and do the thing, craft new equipment, do the thing again, repeat. This is the way and this game does what the series does best: double down. More places to explore! More weapons! More cats! And MORE MONSTERS.
Your World, But with a Parka
I have lived long enough to thank god that not every game has an ice level. However, from Ducktales to Mega Man X to Devil May Cry 3¸Capcom has a rich history of engaging and, dare I say, fun ice worlds. Iceborne, thankfully, is no different. The game takes place in the original locale of Astera (itself divided into six monster zones and two human settlements), and the newly trekked lands of the Hoarfrost Reach. This area is, if I’m being honest, about as big as the whole of Astera, and has a huge amount of diversity for such a weather-limited environment. There’s new endemic wildlife, new research missions, and of course, new monsters.
On announcement, I was skeptical of introducing a single new area with only one weather condition. Monster Hunter is a series that prides itself on ecological diversity and being a hunting game before it is anything else. To that end, a wide array of environs are not only welcomed, they are expected! Worry not: even in its lone and it’s cold, the Reach has a great deal of what we’ve come to know and love. There are challenges, there are beautiful pictures, and there are booby traps on top of booby traps. For some good fun, try luring a monster to the cliffs in the northeast corner of the map. You’re welcome.
I’M ON A MASTER QUEST
Historically, Monster Hunter has been lauded for its rewarding gameplay system and backbreaking difficulty. While the latest installment in the series is known for its accessibility to new players, there was still a substantial base clamoring for that tradition and looking to get mushed by some Mons. Capcom listened, and gave these players master rank. I’m here to tell you, friends, it does not disappoint.
The original MHW has tempered and arch-tempered monsters. These are a challenge to be sure, but not one that can’t be handled solo with enough time to prep. Iceborne introduces Master Rank, this generation’s answer to the previous ones’ G-rank, a difficulty beyond the most difficult monsters in the base game. These monsters pack more punch, tank more hits, and are generally the things that keep people like Geralt of Rivia awake at night. Bring the squad. Bring potions. Bring a lunch; you’re gonna be here for a minute.
This mode is a task but never a chore. For the initiated, it will be a fun way to test skills and get a lot of sweet new equipment. For the uninitiated, there is still not only the base story, but an entire other story added with the expansion.
Something for Everyone
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne has features that are not for the faint of heart. And of course, this game is known for its somewhat unforgiving learning curve. However, there is still plenty here for the new or new-ish player.
As I said, there is a serviceable, if not mind-blowing, story to this game. IB adds to it by giving us the mythos of the Hoarfrost Reach, complete with new alpha monsters and a mysterious “Everwyrm”. The story involves solving a mystery and making new monster friends along the way. And by friends I mean mortal foes.
This balances the new Master Rank well, serving as introduction where needed and a palate cleanser where needed. I like this versatility and wish I could see it in other multiplayer-focused affair. Newer players may, however, still find the action a bit hard to get into due to difficulty.
Worth the Wait, Worth the Price?
It’s been just shy of a year since Iceborne was announced. In that time, they’ve announced a new area, new story, new difficulty, and over two dozen new and returning monsters. They also added new mechanics, with new moves and combos for each of the 14 weapons and the new universal gear, the clutch claw. I don’t have time to go into all the magic of the claw, but I will say: use it. Make mistakes. Get messy! Have fun.
When I consider what this expansion costs ($40 USD), I feel like Capcom went above and beyond to deliver bang for that buck. I have grown to expect less, and judge new content accordingly while also appreciating a good effort. There’s months of new content here, plenty enough to bring us to whatever’s next, and they’ve already announced the first bit of post-launch DLC (Rajang, the thunder ape). For those who weren’t thrilled originally, I can honestly say there’s enough here to warrant a second look. For those that were, there’s enough here to keep you thrilled for a long while to come. This is what expansions are all about. Expanding. Making the game (even more) expansive.
With that in mind: what’s cooler than being cool?
I’ll see myself out.
I give it 9.3 super hardcore anime slashes out of 10. Let’s chat.
— Monster Hunter (@monsterhunter) September 5, 2019