Sunday, February 2, 2020

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (PC) Review

Did you miss your old pals Brachydios and Tigrex? Well, they're back in Monster Hunter World's first and final expansion, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. Yeah, Capcom already said they won't be doing another one. This expansion is basically the Ultimate version of MHW, except you don't have to restart from the beginning. It picks up right where the first game left off. Iceborne features a new story campaign, 2 new hunting areas, a new hub village, a handful of new monsters, a bunch of returning monsters from previous games, and of course, tons of new weapons and armor sets.

In order to unlock all the new quests and monsters, you're going to have to play through Iceborne's campaign. Now, don't get me wrong, MHW's gameplay is still solid as ever, and the new and returning monsters are a welcome addition, but Iceborne's campaign is pretty underwhelming. The structure and pacing just feel too restrictive, grindy, and slow after basically being able to do whatever I wanted for months in the base game.

It starts off well enough with a quest that takes you to the new snowy area, Hoarfrost Reach. That sounds exactly how you think it does. But it quickly goes downhill from there. By the fourth quest of the campaign, you're already back in Astera. I hadn't even checked everything out in the new village. Then you're sent right back into the Wildspire Wastes to fight a recolored Paolumu, as if everyone wasn't sick of the Wildspire Wastes by now. Way to deflate that hype balloon, Capcom. It feels like the game is stalling already. The Master Rank 1 Optional quests available at this time actually send you to the Ancient Forest to kill Great Jagras and Pukei-Pukei. I was fighting Deviljhos and Elder Dragons before Iceborne, and you send me to Ancient Forest to kill a Jagras? Capcom, please.

The pacing of the campaign is horrible. One of the biggest issues with it is that you can’t just play the Assigned Quests. You have to play the Optional Quests, too. You’re not forced to, but monsters in the campaign go up in rank at such a rapid pace, and each rank is such an upgrade for them, you’ll have to upgrade your gear if you don’t want to die in 2 hits. As the game progressed, I would have to spend more and more time making sets to take on each one because they all have different types of elemental attacks and blights you have to counter. Monster Hunter is 50% about preparing for a fight, I get that, but I didn’t buy Iceborne to make yet another Rathalos set. I was very disappointed seeing so many old MHW monsters in the Optional Quests.

Then, as if the time spent making and upgrading gear wasn’t enough, the campaign starts stalling by making you do filler quests, like going on expeditions to explore areas you’ve already been to, and going back into old areas to collect monster tracks, just like they did for the Tempered monsters in the base game. This is padding. The whole thing feels like something that should have been about 10 quests, but was spread out into 20. I would’ve liked to have seen more new monsters used in the campaign, and then have been able to repeat those quests in Optional to finish the armor sets. I would also have liked to have had more quests in Hoarfrost Reach and less in the old areas.

Your endgame reward for playing all the way through the campaign is the new hunting grounds, The Guiding Lands. This zone combines 4 of the major environment types into one huge zone. They say it’s the biggest zone, but I think Hoarfrost Reach is actually bigger. The Guiding Lands has Ancient Forest, Wilspire Wastes, Rotten Vale, and Coral Highlands themed zones. These are not reused zones, they just look like the old zones. The Guiding Lands also has a leveling component to it. Each zone can be leveled up by killing monsters and collecting monster tracks in them. The higher level the zone is, the higher the level of the monsters that spawn in it will be. That means that level 1 zones will have Great Jagras and Barroths in them. The Guiding Lands is the Iceborne campaign in a nutshell. It makes you collect footprints and fight monsters you have no interest in fighting for the 500th time to get to what you want. I kind of hate it. The leveling of the zones is also not permanent. There’s a balancing effect that levels down zones as you level others up. I think a zone that can have all these monsters in it is cool, but the execution is terrible. I don’t want to level these zones by killing more Rathalos, and I don’t want to collect more monster tracks, either.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about The Guiding Lands is that you still can't change decorations at the camp. So if a monster spawns and you don't already have a set to fight it, you have to go back to town to put one together. And since the monsters leave this zone more quickly, they might leave before you get back. You also lose all your buffs once you go back to town.

Even though the campaign sucks, I stuck with the game because MHW’s gameplay is still great. I’d even say that this is the best MH has ever played. I didn’t think Monster Hunter needed any more mechanics because, frankly, the game is still kind of bloated, but the changes they’ve made are actually really good. Every weapon has gotten new moves, there’s a new clutch claw mechanic, and there’s even mounts/taxis.

The new clutch claw move allows you to use your claw shot to cling to a monster and attack it. You can hit it with your weapon, or shoot it in the face if you have some slinger ammo equipped. This might sound like the mounting mechanic, but it’s actually a totally different thing. If you shoot a monster in the face with some strong ammo, you can knock them down, stagger them and make them run into walls, and even make them fall off cliffs for massive damage. The clutch claw also gives melee weapon users something to do to flying monsters besides shooting them with flash bombs.

My favorite new feature is the mounts, which are more like taxis. If you befriend a zone’s Felyne tribe by doing a quest, your Palico will learn how to talk to some of the monsters in that zone and it will get a new item that calls a mount for you. You can’t control this mount directly, but you can have it take you wherever you want in the zone by setting a destination for it on the map. These taxis are much faster than running, and you can use items while mounted.

Iceborne had a rocky start in regards to performance, but some of that has been ironed out with patches by now. Apparently, some of it had to do with the new anti-cheat program attached to the game, which was using a lot of CPU power. The game itself has gotten a pretty big performance boost, though. I can now run the game with higher settings and at a higher framerate on the same PC. I actually used the volumetric rendering for the fog this time around because I think it looks really good in the snowy environments. Besides the performance boost, the snow area has a new snow deformation effect to go along with all the snow everywhere. You and the monsters make trails in the snow as you run through it. I haven’t tried writing my name in it, but it looks pretty cool.

There is a new soundtrack to go along with Iceborne, but the way the game uses music dynamically doesn’t really let you listen to all of it as much as I’d like. The new songs are really good, though. They're all orchestrated, just like on the first game's soundtrack. The OST is on Spotify, if you want to hear the entire songs.

Wow, this review sounds really negative. Well, I’m not very happy with the campaign, and I think the Guiding Lands is a cool idea with a bad execution. Iceborne does add a bunch of monsters to the game, though. That’s what I really wanted out of Iceborne. The game badly needed more monsters. I really like the new moves and mounts, too. I guess this should be obvious, but this expansion is strictly for the hardcore Monster Hunter fans.