Like a lot of people who purchased “Monster Hunter: World” back in early 2018, I had a firm interest in the eponymous concept of “monster hunting,” but the franchise’s primitive visuals and reputation for inscrutability always prevented me from fully-investing in the series. While “World” was far from a perfect game in many ways, it managed to modernize the series’ core charms while jettisoning some of its more prickly elements, and that was enough to keep me carving up beasts for more than a hundred hours. Now, more than a year later, it’s not at all clear to me whether or not “World’s” first expansion, “Iceborne,” is absolutely worth the $40 that developer Capcom is charging for it for an average player. However, I definitely know that I’m going to get it myself, because I’m ready to get back into MonHun.
The expansion isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel; the main changes boil down to a handful of bullet points, and most of them are the names of monsters that you’ll go toe-to-toe with by yourself or with three other Hunters. Each weapon has a new move or trick to keep you guessing – for example, my beloved Switch Axe now has a charge mode that boosts its damage after a few wild swings, and you can sheathe the Long Sword for lightning-quick iaido-style attacks.
True to its name, “Iceborne” introduces a tundra-like environment to the game, which necessitates a few tactical adjustments. For one thing, your stamina will drop far more quickly than normal unless you consume a “hot drink,” which temporarily staunches the drain. Taking a dip in a hot spring has a similar effect, but smaller monsters like to congregate around them, too, which can be a bit annoying. At first, I had some issues remembering “World’s” somewhat-idiosyncratic default control scheme, but after a few minutes of fumbling, I was hacking and slashing once again. Some of my lingering issues with the series still remain – the fact that monster howls can interrupt your combos still strikes me as very cheap, and I don’t understand why dodging quickly after healing should stop the effect – but I doubt the masters of the series are going to listen to a dilettante at this point.
The demo pitted I and three other hunters against a grounded wyvern called the Banbaro that absolutely loved to pick up giant trees with its horns and dash at us. Though it was a tough battle, we eventually overcame it, knocked it over on its side three times in a row, and savaged it until it stopped moving. After that, we faced the fearsome Tigrex, another flightless wyvern with a penchant for darting and charging back and forth, scratching the ground with sweeping claw attacks. We dropped like flies in the early stages of the bout, eating up precious continues, but we eventually found our rhythm and, in part thanks to an assist from a fellow monster, managed to defeat him with just a few seconds left on the 20-minute time limit.
While I didn’t know the fellow journalists that made up my team, the feeling of achievement in defeating such a formidable foe still flooded through me, as though I had never put down the game. Even if I’m not sure if “Iceborne” offers enough new content to justify its fairly steep asking price, I know that “World” scratches an itch for me that few games that replicate. If you also feel that rush when you land the killing blow on a Jagras, this DLC is probably for you, too.