Monster Hunter World: Iceborne might be the best expansion I've ever played

Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World (Image credit: Capcom)

In a past life, Capcom was busted for helping generate some of the earliest backlashes against DLC, by cutting gameplay content available on-disc, selling it again as separate DLC. Alongside various other similar controversies from various publishers, Capcom helped create the meme that DLC is all about cheating a game's most passionate users out of their cash with minimal effort content. Capcom has turned a corner in recent years, however, and nothing proves that fact to me more than Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, which might be the best expansion I've ever played.

Unfortunately, there was no early access review program for the Xbox version, so take this as a review-in-progress. Iceborne has already enjoyed a ton of praise, getting over 90 on Metacritic for the PlayStation version. Albeit late to the party, I thought I'd offer some thoughts on my Iceborne experience so far, and why it has already totally shattered my already-lofty expectations.

Visually stunning, atmospherically enchanting

Monster Hunter World

Monster Hunter World (Image credit: Windows Central)

Monster Hunter World was already one of the more visually impressive games on Xbox, enhanced further on the Xbox One X. Iceborne takes it to a whole new level.

Equal parts enthralling and haunting, Iceborne deserves a heap of praise for its sound treatment.

Hoarfrost Reach is the name of the huge new landmass, as part of the "New World" continent that represents Monster Hunter World's setting. Frozen caverns, frost-blasted cliffs, and glistening icy forests make for a hugely diverse array of areas, despite the wintry theme. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne also has some of the most impressive dynamic snow and ice effects in the business, with monsters leaving huge tracks and 3D impressions in the drift, which has varying depths. Monsters and players also get covered in snow and ice as they do battle, which adds a level of immersion to the combative drama that other games rarely match.

To complement the jaw-dropping visuals, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne also enlists a range of new musical treatment, most often specific to monsters. The mascot monster, the ice dragon Velkana, has a particularly enchanting theme, which truly emulates the deadly grace of its glacial attacks. Equal parts enthralling and haunting, Iceborne deserves a heap of praise for its sound treatment across the board.

"Story" has never been Monster Hunter's biggest focus, but some of the cutscenes Capcom weaved into Iceborne are easily among the most impressive I've seen this gen. Cleary the studio has opted to step up its efforts in this area, showcasing each new monster in highly-choreographed in-engine sequences that are always a thrill to digest. Although, yes, it's still a bit annoying that they have to be experienced in solo play, before you can join the same battle in multiplayer.

From the most basic ambient creatures, to the art direction for monsters, to and the incredibly impressive snow and ice tech, Iceborne is a marvel.

The best RPG combat made even better

Monster Hunter already boasts some of the most satisfying combat in the business, but it climbs to new peaks in Iceborne, with various weapon tweaks, additional moves, and features. The Clutch Claw is perhaps the biggest and most pervasive change, giving all weapon classes the ability to grapple onto the monster with an extended rope, followed by various acrobatic, tactical moves.

My main weapon, the Gunlance, for example, can hook shot onto a monster's face, and give me the opportunity to create weak spots with point-blank range shots. The Hunting Horn grapple performs a swinging kick, and Bow users can fire arrows with some backflips that look straight out of the Matrix. Every class also gets the opportunity to cause a monster to lose balance and lunge forward, slamming into walls to knock them off their feet. It's not always easy to pull off, but it's oh so satisfying when you manage it.

Please forgive me Dodogama.

Some of the new weapon abilities are equally as impressive. The Iai Slash counter on the samurai-like Long Sword creates incredibly satisfying anime-like stand-offs with monsters. If timed just right, you'll cut through them, perhaps taking a tail off in the process.

The new moves heap on added freshness to Monster Hunter World's combat.

The Heavy Bowgun gained some almost first-person shooter-like abilities from previous Monster Hunter games, allowing you to zero your scope for making precision shots and extra damage. The Gunlance now has a sticky grenade-esque device you can embed into monsters for additional explosive damage. The new moves heap on added freshness to Monster Hunter World's combat, which was already industry-leading in pure satisfaction factor.

Great combat mechanics also require great enemies to battle, and Monster Hunter has the best of them. Velkana, in particular, has absolutely spectacular abilities that throw icicles, create frost fractals all over the ground, complete with an icy stabbing tail. Monster Hunter also revamps a lot of the armor sets from the base game with new Master Rank difficulty, giving you new reasons to battle existing beasties. Some of them have even received new variants with new visuals and abilities, including the frost-bitten Shrieking Velkana, and electrified Fulgur Anjanath. I've been taking Iceborne relatively slowly, soaking in the story, optional quests, and additional features, but I've already had dozens of hours of fun despite only going through a fraction of the new battles.

It's the little things

Beyond the core gameplay loop of fighting monsters, carving them up for parts, and creating badass armor, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne also incorporates tons of new mini-games and additional features to keep completionists busy. Random small monsters can be captured with a net, and now have size ratings that have unique placement options in your new Seliana homestead. Additionally, the new Seliana base can be customized far more than the previous quarters, allowing you to change the materials used on the walls and floor, as well as their colors, down to the drapes, furniture, and even trophies collected in the field. You can even take a dip in the hot springs out back, if you fancy it.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne also now has a camera side-quest chain, reminiscent of Pokemon Snap. A researcher will request various photographs of animals and creatures exhibiting different behaviors and will reward you for doing so. It's completely inconsequential to the main game, but for those times you want to take it a bit easy, Iceborne still offers new ways to play. There's also a Steamworks mini-game, which is effectively a slot machine which rewards consumables for helping keep the Seliana base supplied with heat, which is fun in its simplicity.

Every NPC has something fun to say as well. There's such a high density of small features to be found in the new areas of Seliana and Hoarfrost Reach, which is something far too many game developers don't seem to value. I might only swim in the hot springs once or twice while playing, but it's that sense of over-delivering on simple, fun features that makes exploring Monster Hunter all the more rewarding.

A winter wonderland

Monster Hunter World is already Capcom's biggest game of all time, and although the franchise might not have achieved Western mainsstream status on the same level as games like Destiny or Call of Duty, that owes more to its difficulty curve than its quality.

Hey Capcom, you're crushing it lately. Keep it up.

Monster Hunter is a game that wants you to learn the unique combat mechanics of every fight, and will reward you handsomely for doing so — no other online RPG I've played has emulated the sublime satisfaction of counter-slashing a Glavenus' tail in half. Iceborne delivers those types of experiences in droves.

From magical visuals, piles of features, a huge expanded storyline, and tons of new monsters, Iceborne might just be one of the greatest expansions ever made. And I'm barely even halfway through it. Hey Capcom, you're crushing it lately.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!